In any other year, DJ and producer Honey Dijon would be preparing music for a dizzying round of club gigs, festivals, fashion parties and Pride events. This year, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the former New Yorker is staying put in her new hometown, Berlin.
But it hasn’t been a holiday. The tastemaker has been working on Honey F–king Dijon, her fashion collaboration with Dover Street Market, her second album, “Black Girl Magic,” and remixes for the likes of Lady Gaga. She has also been keeping a philosophical eye on social unrest back in the U.S.
As a Black, transgender woman and creative, Dijon has plenty to say about inclusiveness in the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the impact of the COVID-19 virus on the fashion and music worlds:
You’ve been busy despite lockdown: What kind of impact has the pandemic had on your work? Are you doing things differently?
This has been a really weird pandemic for me. Just because everything has come to grinding halt. But nothing has really changed in terms of the statement I want to make as an artist. I was working toward more of a political statement on the new album anyway. I worked with a lot of Black women and queer people, as well as some heritage artists, and the culture and the mission statement of the record actually feels more timely than ever.
There’s also a lot of sexuality in the record, which I think is also really interesting in light of the most recent Supreme Court ruling [barring discrimination against LGBTQ workers].
How about your work in fashion — any impact on that?
It’s a really interesting time to be in fashion because people are asking things like, “What is the role of fashion? What does it mean?” Status isn’t a good look right now.
Fashion is really going to have to address the post-pandemic world and the conversation about racism that’s happening. You can’t go back to where it was before because where it was before clearly wasn’t working. I mean, what do you want to go back to? Just shopping, just buying more stuff? Conspicuous consumption?
Then again, we all have to get dressed every day. So it’s about finding a balance.
It feels like, as an industry and even as a society, we might have to be prepared to be uncomfortable.
Well, that’s a lot of the problem. Americans don’t like to be uncomfortable.
For me personally, I can’t wait to see what comes out of this. Think about the Civil Rights movement and all of the conscious music and art that came out of that.
I’ve read a lot about New York at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. So much amazing art came out then. That’s why I always talk about club culture. Before the Internet, you had to go out to meet, make, create, participate and elevate. I live by that — because I love how artists and musicians and painters mixed together and created things, in pre-AIDS, post-disco New York. For me, it’s so fascinating.
Between 1980 and 1990 there was a whole cultural shift. I feel like we’re in the middle of something like that as well.
And how does it feel watching what’s going on in the U.S. from your new home in Berlin? Do you get a different perspective seeing all this from Germany?
I think people forget that this is a humanitarian issue. It’s not a New York issue or an expat issue. The pandemic has been a great equalizer. It doesn’t care about borders or status or race. And that’s been followed by a racial and social uprising. I think what this has done is exposed America for what it really is, and now the whole world gets to see that, too: The deep, deep racism that the U.S. has been founded upon. It has also made people in Europe look at their own past with racism. It’s been world changing.
You recently went to a BLM demonstration here in Berlin. In the past, you’ve spoken out about transphobia and homophobia inside the Black community. Where do the two movements — BLM and LGBTQ rights — intersect for you?
There are so many intersections between gender, race, sexual identity and social inequality. Even in the fine print of the BLM movement, it says “all lives matter.” It’s not just “cis lives matter.” Gay lives matter, too, and I think that needs to be an ongoing conversation. You can’t separate certain people you deem undesirable from a movement.
The same thing happened in the gay movement [at the start] — they didn’t want a lot of drag queens to take part because they felt it was a bad look or somehow didn’t align with what they wanted.
There needs to be a lot of understanding and a lot of conversation about what is so upsetting in Black culture, about queer bodies. Where does that come from? I think about the role religion plays: Is it the church? I mean, where did you get that information?
I think it just comes from Black people never having any power, the emasculation, the raping of Black women, so many atrocities during slavery. The oppressed prey upon the oppressed in their own community. There is just so much healing that needs to be done in America and within the movement itself. So much.
Pride is a celebration: What do you hope to be celebrating, after all the unrest we’re seeing at the moment?
I hope that movements like Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter are not trends, but the beginnings of change and the dismantling of a lot of ills. I hope it wakes people up to the connectivity of humanity and that all of the s–t we impose on people is just illusory.
I don’t want to live my life based on fear that I have been taught, and these definitions, that are not my own. I question myself a lot: What does it mean to be trans? What does it mean to be Black? As James Baldwin said, Black people didn’t create the negro. And I know this is a very controversial thing to say, but I even question what trans-ness means, because it’s really just a reaction to binary gender.
So how do I stop feeling negativity about the things that I am, and because of definitions that society has given me, which have nothing to do with me? I always say, just because somebody told you so, doesn’t make it true.
Could you recommend a way — say, literature or other art — that might help other people to know what it feels like to be you?
Well, I mean, it’s not my job to educate you on that. That’s your job: To figure out what you need to do in order to understand where your discomfort or your ignorance comes from. It’s not Black people’s job to dismantle racism. That’s white people’s job. I feel the same way about coming to understand gender.
But how does that happen? How do you get people to do that?
How do you force somebody to have an uncomfortable conversation? If I had the answer to that, I’d probably be running for president. You just have to listen to people and listen to their experiences and deal with violence and oppression. It’s uncomfortable s–t.
But you have hope, right?
If trans people can do anything, it’s to inspire other people. Because to go from one gender to another, when the whole world tells you you’re not what you are, you have to deal with all that societal, physical and emotional pain — just [in order] to be. And that resilience and that strength, to me, is one of the most beautiful things in the world. Because no matter what, we still have the courage to live our truth and that is so powerful for anybody.