Makeup Artist, Model and YouTuber: Joseph Harwood
Another interview! I talked with Joseph Harwood on his experiences with LGBTQ issues.
Joseph Harwood is an extraordinary makeup artist and former androgynous model based in the UK. His clever male to female makeup transformations have won him competitions including Simon Cowell’s You Generation competition to find the best makeup artist in the world! A successful YouTuber with plenty of tutorials and advice videos, he has a large following of over 35, 000 subscribers to his channel. This year Joseph relaunched the YouTube channel Perfect Androgyny, where androgynous personalities discuss their views and opinions. It has already reached over 10,000 subscribers.
How do you define yourself in gender, sexuality and appearance? (Could you please define androgyny for our audience here too.)
Well let’s start with gender. I really believe there are 3 components to this and a simple and erudite way of calculating it is by combining the identity of our mind, body and soul. I think humans are very spiritual beings, if it’s energy or something else, whatever your personal belief system is I think we have an energy core which is indefinite. As an adult I’ve been surrounded by trans people, drag queens, androgyny, gender benders… every non-cis being on the gender spectrum you can possibly attribute, yet for me, I don’t find much familiarity. There’s this concept that’s as old as dust that’s even present now within many indigenous cultures and that’s the idea that you can be ‘two spirited.’ The idea that your essence is actually two souls of both genders, or one soul which is a combination of the two, whatever it is. This is something that’s been around before gender reassignment, without any modern organized religions dictating gender norms or exposure to modern day trans ideas, these people have historically shown attributes or both genders either in their anatomy or their behavior within their culture. For me that’s the only thing I’ve been able to identify as, I grew up organically as someone who looked ambiguous, who displayed qualities of both genders, yet I wasn’t exposed to the idea that I was trans or let anyone dictate to me what gender I was or should be, I just accepted that my ‘soul’ or essence consisted of both male and female energy and I embrace it. If we look at the body we’re born as, I’m completely male, yet I have very ambiguous qualities. I don’t have an adams apple or brow ridging, my features aren’t naturally very masculine in proportion, yet I’m 6’2 and I’m quite well built. The last component for me is our minds and I genuinely believe this is the most malleable factor when it comes to gender, because we subconsciously decide what gender we are. If I was born in a different upbringing where I was surrounded by stringent transphobic culture, or even the opposite where someone in support would suggest that I could be trans, I know I would have a very different perspective. I honestly believe our minds are a product of what we’re taught. So taking all three attributes in to consideration I consider my gender to be male. My soul is two spirited, my body is male, my mind is neither, and for that reason I identify as a male. If my soul was female and my body was male, then I’d maybe consider adopting with gender reassignment but I’m simply not, I don’t see any benefit of changing physically.
Sexuality is easy, I’m very fluid and I’m attracted to all people. My appearance is just a reflection of my ideas at that moment, I spent my whole childhood sketching and painting cultures and now I just translate that into my image. It’s like an artform, I don’t take it that seriously.
Androgyny is just a word that means attributes of both genders, we’re all somewhere on that spectrum, we’re all androgynous.
Have you always known your sexuality or was it a later realisation?
I remember coming home from school when I was in reception, which is like kindergarten in England, and announcing that I’d found my husband. I was actually talking about a girl lol, but at the end of the day I was always open to either.
You seem quite sure of yourself in your videos, did you ever give yourself a hard time?
In the videos I’ve done I’m totally a characateur of myself, like Joseph Harwood is a fictional character Joe came up with, sketching concepts as a kid. Whether it was my work as a model, or building my business, I have a professional persona that I wear. I don’t think anyone should take themselves that seriously, I would never be so stupid as to put my entire self out there, it would be too invasive. I’ve dealt with control issues and eating disorders throughout my whole life and I’m very self critical, but I’m just a regular person, I have my insecurities. I think when we focus too much on the bad or the good we lose sight of what’s actually going on so I don’t take it that seriously, but I certainly think my perfectionist attitude fuels the nature of what I do. I wouldn’t be working in makeup had I not been insecure about my appearance.
How was coming out to your parents and friends?
I honestly didn’t come out to anyone, I never saw why I should have to. My cis, heterosexual sister didn’t so why should I? We’re both on the paths we’re meant to walk and I’ve always been open about who I am. I posted a video recently about a drunk conversation I had with my mum, but there was no moment where I discovered myself and said wow guys, I’m into men and I look like a girl so I wanna wear more ambiguous clothing. I’ve always looked like this and I’ve always been the person I am. My parents are very strange creatures themselves so we all get on with it haha!
Have there been any LGBT people you went to for advice on LGBT related matters, e.g. Other YouTubers/books/friends/family?
This is a difficult one because I’ve always been very outside of the umbrella until really, very recently. I was not brought up around anyone gay or had any gay friends through school, I never frequented the gay scene or had any experience with people of the trans community, I was very organic in my growth. Being a kid born in the 90s I grew up with MySpace and my first encounter with anyone remotely close to what I was, happened through a computer screen, and although I was greeted with a lot of positive support and my horizons opened, the people who I saw the most similarities with were hostile and very volatile towards me. It in truth struck the fear of god into me when it came to interacting with other people who looked androgynous or venture too far into the gay scene. I certainly became aware, and even in some cases in awe of many of the androgynous creatives I stumbled on but I had no direct interaction with them until I became around 19? I had a moment of realization and went through a slight metamorphosis when my family home fell down, my parents parted company and we had two years of tumultuous renovation that honestly felt like a battle field. But in that time I really researched and invested time into finding out all I could about LGBTQ issues, I plucked up the courage to reach out to many of the people that had inspired me and looked into the history. That introduced me to all the references I needed to know about, so I guess that was my late education. In regards to YouTube or other social media I think I’ve been incredibly lucky in the last two years, having many of the people I’ve looked up to show interest or support in my creativity.
How have your experiences been with hosting the channel? What type of feedback have you received from viewers and how have you influenced them?
I think the story of me on YouTube is quite well known by now, I was the ghost creative behind other YouTube projects all the way back til 2007 so I’ve always loved the interaction and the way an idea can be instantly seen all over the world. The negative for me was that moving from the beauty and fashion industry into the YouTube genre, you are immediately placed among 99% of bloggers who have never worked in that industry and unless you have an inordinate amount of online infamy you aren’t taken seriously. That for me was the main point of contention, I definitely felt that at the start I lost a lot of respect from people I had worked with either as a model or a makeup artist because I was on YouTube. I think since I won Simon Cowell and Pixiwoos search for the next makeup talent it really did affirm to people that my talent as an artist is in the highest tier and I’m very proud of where I’ve come to. Personal experiences aside, I have loved meeting all the amazing people I’ve worked with and alongside on Perfect Androgyny, I have certainly built life long friendships. I spoke recently in a blog about homosexuality and the laws across the world, we forget how difficult it is in other places. Not only last week an amazing guy from my audience ran into me at a club event and expressed emotionally how our channels had inspired him and helped him, even though in his country it was illegal to be homosexual. That really negates all the negative aspects I have to deal with, because we can reach people everywhere.
Do you like to be a role model for your viewers?
Absolutely not, I find this so bizarre. I just think it’s totally insane, I cook vegan food for my family and argue with my little sister about perfume. I drink too much rum and say too much. I still get insecure standing in front of a camera or preparing for a big makeup shoot. I’m just a regular person, I can be an idiot at times… like all I do is beat my mug every now and again and have fallen on my feet. I don’t feel like I’ve even started yet. I’m currently working on music and I’ve been working so hard to develop the ideas and what I wanna say that like I think, once that’s out in the open I might take the title a little more. Right now it’s just crazy to me.
As you have both energies of female and male, how have your experiences been with dating?
Wow haha, this is a tricky one. This has really changed for me in the last two years I think. I had my hair cut into a Bowie mullet when I was 16 for a shoot and it was really my signature look growing up. I was this skinny little androgynous punky looking vampire with shocking blue eyes and red hair. I dated a mixture of guys of girls and it was easy going and I was more interested. I think it changed slightly when I first started growing my hair out, I lost all the appeal to straight girls and gay guys because I looked female to them and the majority would settle for the stereotype. I definitely attract a lot of people, but I’m a bit of diva nowadays and when I date, I wanna be with people who offer what I can, I think I’m a lot more mature than my age group so it’s a little bit like sieving gold hahaha… The qualities I’m attracted to are height, confidence and intelligence, whatever the gender.
Have you had any strong experiences with homophobia? (Here I’m referring to both discrimination based on sexuality and based on appearance.)
I think everyone in the world has experienced some kind of stupidity in their life, from a rude person on the bus or at work, or at school. everyone’s met an idiot. I’ve never put this down to homophobia or transphobia, however I guess the more distracting you appear to the mundane the more components there are to critique if you are said idiot. At school I had slight growing pains but more than less I’ve been pretty lucky.
I think that the main reason I’ve flown over a lot of homophobia is because my mum said to me when I was starting to express myself in my image, if you’re going to stand out for the way you look make it look expensive. I think this is why drag queens or rock stars that typically look androgynous get away with a lot, people really get distracted with the glitter that they forget their fears. I also don’t take much seriously. I just think of the way we look as armor and warpaint, once you’ve created your confidence people will embrace you.
Where do you think homophobia stems from?
Fear of the unknown. It turns people feral.
Have you encountered any prejudice within the LGBTQ community?
I would say most of the negative backlash I’ve experienced has come from other LGBTQ people, especially those who are either androgynous or trans who are just catty. The first thing that I noticed integrating into any kind of gay scene is that people assume firstly that you are transsexual or that you are a drag queen, and won’t accept your male name. It’s incredibly tedious but I know a lot of gay people project their insecurities because we have far more to deal with than a straight counterpart, so I accept it and I try and know better haha. I do it sometimes myself, I have to catch myself being defensive and I try and grow to be a better person.