Healing In Public: Indya Moore Speaks Her Truth

By Morticia Godiva

Morticia Godiva: Hello Indya, thank you so much for agreeing to sit with me and get a little tea for this interview for this year’s issue of Spectrum. How did you sleep last night? 

Indya Moore: I rested pretty well thank you for asking. I had a really full day. My night ended with seeing the Xenia Rubinos concert with my friend Isabelle and it was so beautiful and we had a lot of fun. We got some Mexican food. By this time it was probably about 1:30 a.m., quite late, we were just dilly-dallying. I had rode my bike from Elsewhere and by the time I was on my way home, the battery died about halfway so I was just peddling manually from Bushwick all the way to Sunset Park. It was really fun and I didn’t know I just had so much energy after riding. I smoked a little toke and watched an episode of “Love, Death, & Robots” called ‘Jibaro,’ and oh my God it was incredible. I have to watch it again. It’s one of the most beautiful, painfully emotional visual experiences I’ve ever seen. 

 

MG: You are a timeless beauty and at this point a national treasure. What made you decide to take the leap into television and film?

IM: Well I really appreciate you for uplifting me in that way, it’s really beautiful. Thank you for saying that. I also think you’re a timeless beauty, I think that you are an infinite beauty. Your beauty knows no measurement, it’s beyond quantity and price. Priceless and intergalactic. Your beauty is cosmic and infinite. Anyways and also [Indya and Morticia share laughter]. Well…I’ve always been fascinated by film and TV, ever since I was a kid. I’m just thinking about my first wonders of film and TV being so deeply engaged with the storytelling. It was very difficult for me to imagine that the stories I was seeing on TV and in the theater weren’t really happening to the performers, weren’t really happening as we saw it. It was always really profound to me, you know, that people can tell these stories and step in and out of these characters. Angelina Jolie was definitely someone that I really appreciated as an actress growing up. Amongst many other actresses, I remember thinking about her like, ‘What is it like to be an actress like Angelina Jolie? Like what if somebody hurts her and she’s crying, will her partner or her family believe her because she’s an actress?’ That was always a thought in my mind, just that juxtaposition of being a performer that brings imagination to life and how do people have trust in you—in your truth and in your sincerity and being outside of the performance, when you perform so well. I was always like ‘What is it like?’ The life of a visual artist, an emotional artist which is what I think an actor is. Those are always my wonders. Look, a cardinal flew over there! I used to play dead when I was younger with my cousins and my siblings, that was like my first form of performing: can you trick somebody into believing that you’re not alive (which is kind of a sick joke)? I used to always play with the idea of just performing from that simplicity of playing dead when I was a kid. Also imagination. You know, imagining that the floor was lava. You gotta stay on the raft and we got to walk a certain way to avoid the lava; those imaginative experiences were so easy to dive into and to believe. That’s really a lot of what childhood is–imagination. I’m able to make the connection now, but I think then you know a lot of us as kids were acting. That was the first form of play that we had, the first form of interaction wasn’t necessarily storytelling, but in a way it was. This shared imaginative world is almost like telepathy and I just remember having a lot of those experiences and those being really adjacent to the way that I understand performance art now, visual art, and acting.

You know coming from my background, my experience growing up, I don’t have artists in my family. I mean, I think everybody is an artist; some people try to argue that, but to be a human being is to be creative, it’s to be an artist anytime you imagine something you create. Anytime you find a way to make something work, especially if you’re poor. I think of most people having to find different ways to make little resources work, like kids creating games out of nothing. Sometimes your parents can’t afford to buy you toys and stuff or you can’t really go to the park; there’s this artist in all of us that kind of comes out circumstantially. So in that way, yes; however, not in the way that I bought it as a consumer. I didn’t really imagine myself being able to be in a place of the characters that I saw on television and in movies, as a consumer. I just always thought we would just be consumers that we wouldn’t be creators as well and producers, you know. My dad is an artist in that way. Papa might not see himself this way but he’s an artist as a construction worker, as a plumber, as an electrician. You know all of that is art, too. The different ways he makes things connect, the way he makes things work. We see art as this sort of thing we have around and hang on our walls, we watch and we look at, but I think there’s something really indigenous about the ways in which tools that we use are art and the tools that we create and so you know in that sense I have artists in my family. I can’t say ‘oh it’s because I was a kid and you know growing up in the hood and you know having parents who work 9-5 to support us you know that I didn’t imagine myself being able to’ and I can’t say that’s the reason why I don’t really know, but I just know that I didn’t really imagine and I didn’t really believe in my ability to be that. It was nice to imagine and to fantasize about that possibility but it wasn’t something that I never felt like I would be able to pursue and it wasn’t something that I was really encouraged to do. 

My mom did believe in us. She wanted to be a model. I remember this story she told me when I was little. She told me she took the test shots of all of my siblings and then I was like, ‘Mommy look! I could be a model, CHEESE!’ So, I did believe in myself before I fully understood what it meant. I’m grateful to my mom for planting this seed, but I definitely didn’t see myself as an actress or being able to be one. There were so many things that I wanted to go to school for. I wanted to go to school to be a doctor, then I wanted to be a psychologist [because] I wanted to help people. The more that I learned about the different occupations that existed that were in service to people, the more that my imagination bloomed in that direction. I was always inspired by love and help and then being of service as a kid. As I grew up, my mind expanded in other ways; I have an interest in plants and I want to go to school for holistic medicine, I want to study that. 

MG: I have had the pleasure of working with you and witnessing you in your element. Something that I’ve always admired about you is how you show up in your friendships and seeing you carry that same energy into workspaces is so beautiful to watch, healthy even. There is this expectation of trans femmes to be meek in nature and to not show up as our full selves. What is it like for you when you experience people gagging at you simply showing up as your full self?

IM: I think that people don’t know what to expect from people that they’ve never really been able to work with before, especially in the capacity of professional work. This is often my experience. I often work with people who have never worked with trans people before, never worked with trans people who are homeless, trans people who are traumatized, and trans people who have actually lived the stories that they want to write about and profit from. My full self also encompasses the ways that I have survived, the ways that I’ve had to depend on myself to access safety everywhere I go and in everything I do and with everyone I’m around. All of the ways that I’ve navigated everything that I needed to survive is how I survived and all of those ways are so deeply intrinsically a part of who I am. I have a very particular awareness of who I am because I’ve had to find a way to identify with myself when I had nothing at all. So many different times in my life, the only thing that I had to lose was myself and I think there are so many different colors that make up who I am because of how I’ve survived. 

Keeping what happened to me separate from becoming me was something that I’ve always been very adamant about and so having that consciousness and having that judgment, I never lost it. I came into the workspace in this industry conscious of what it looks like for people to be safe and what it would look like for me to be respected. I’ve been disrespected before in very deep ways that a lot of people who think that I should just be grateful will never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever know and I don’t ever want to wish that on them. In this industry, I come across a lot of attitudes that treat me like I am profiting more from being in a space and that I am so lucky. I get this projection of luck and gratefulness put on to me that completely erases the value of what  I bring into the spaces that I step into. The ways that I contribute, the parts of me that are the reasons for my survival (which are priceless and invaluable); you cannot quantify or put a number on that. I’m able to perform stories without having gone to acting school because I understand the full spectrum of my emotions in a really deep way due to the experiences that I’ve had. Which is not to say that acting school is not going to be helpful and that people who’ve been through it don’t need, you know, support from acting school and coaching but just to say that I know the value that I bring. I also know what I need in order to do a good job. It may take me a little time to learn and figure that out, but as you go on in working you get depleted and you realize you need care. You start to identify, “Okay, this level of care exists, well how can I gain access to that?”

People look at me like I’m crazy for asking for that level of care. I do good work when I’m fed, when I’m cared for, when I’m protected, and when I’m compensated well. These are the things that make me feel confident to work well when I’m respected by the people who are asking me to move my muscles right; I’ve always been vocal not only for what I need but for what I’m identifying as the needs of others around me as well. I always like to check in, ‘Hey did everyone eat?’ if it’s a very early morning. I know what it feels like to have to show up for work with an empty stomach and not have had time to eat because your call time was so early, and then for the people who hired you to expect you to just be grateful for the job and to not actually care about your physical body. And at the same time, needing the space and time to be cared for and respected in order for you to perform good work. I feel like it’s also dishonorable to show up to work with an empty cup in the same way that it’s dishonorable to show up in relationships with an empty cup. You need to be able to take care of yourself so that you can show up in the healthiest way in relationships and work etc. This is what I’ve learned and I picked that up very quickly. 

MG: You recently took to Instagram to share with folks about a very violent experience you had with someone coming to your door and assaulting you. First of all, I’m extremely sorry that you went through that. The invasion of privacy for people that experience ‘celebrity’ is disgusting and also seems to be normalized by the media and consumers. When we add the layer of being trans to this kind of scenario, I can’t help but think of how it’s only been recently that we’ve seen more humanized roles of trans people in television and film. The portrayal of gender in the media has been historically destructive up until now. What steps would you like to see taken towards making sure that we are seen and cared for beyond?

IM: The spaces that I work in are really the business of smoke and mirrors. It’s all very imaginary and illusionary, and even down to media and PR. I often think about the ways that I feel like my experience doesn’t really matter when it’s not a really beautiful, incredible performance that is entertainment for people. When I’m actually going through some real sh*t and I share about it on Instagram or whatever just to let people know, ‘yo, this is happening and I’m gonna get through it, but this is what’s happening.’ Sometimes I feel like people don’t care, so I really appreciate you asking me questions and creating a space for it to matter in some capacity. I feel like when messed up things happen, which they do, I feel like not only am I not believed and not only am I not trusted but I feel like I’m also blamed for it and called difficult because of the things that happened to me. I’m made to feel inconvenient because of everything that has happened to me. I wish that people actually were invested in deconstructing, ‘What’s happening to Indya is actually in line with what happens to trans people in the community.’ I don’t necessarily feel protected by the public sectors that love my work or would be so excited to invite me to an interview to talk about it. I don’t feel like these things I’m experiencing are reflections for what happens to other people in my community outside of fame. I think people just dismiss me by saying that I have privilege and that I will be okay; I feel like any excuse or reasoning that people try to create around my privilege erodes the attention to my safety, as being part of a demographic of marginalized people. I don’t know how I want other people to respond, I just know that what the response is is even more hurtful. As Black people and trans people, we exist and try to thrive in systems that set us up for failure, and I feel that really deep. I don’t know what it is that allows people to deprioritize the ways that they understand what my safety should be and my inclusion in the movement for our safety and for being humanized, but I feel that in every sector in every way.

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MG: Indya, you just became a new mom, congratulations on your family expanding! I know it hasn’t been that long but what’s your experience like as a working mom in entertainment?

IM: I have one puppy now, I gave the other puppy to my mom so we’re co-parenting. It’s really stressful for me to balance work and make sure they eat 4 times a day, and also for me to have space to go out and be in the park to ground myself. I haven’t been able to take them because they hadn’t had their shots yet, but now they got them. It’s a lot, you know, but it’s also really beautiful. One of the things that my Shi-Tzu, Nino, has helped me understand is how deeply connected we all are through feeling; how important emotions are and how emotions and feelings are the first forms of language that we have; and that it’s also the universal language that we all share. Everything feels. Feeling is such a universal language, it’s the first thing that we do when we’re born. You’re cold, you need safety, you need to be held and you can’t communicate what’s happening, you can’t even understand it yet. So I think about Nino and I’m so grateful for Nino teaching me how important feelings are and that even though we don’t share the same language verbally, we do have an understanding and emotional one.

MG: There is a strong desire for people to know ‘who is dating who’, and I get it but I think that platonic and non-romantic relationships are just as important to our livelihood. I’m not going to inquire about who you’re dating because that’s late. However I am interested in knowing, when do you feel the most loved? 

IM: I feel most loved when my friends call me and see how I’m doing. I feel most loved when people check on me. I feel most loved when people ask me questions and don’t make assumptions and dismiss me. I feel most loved when people believe in and trust me, when people give me an opportunity to be trusted. I feel loved when people take time to see me and understand me in the ways that I take time to see others and understand them. I feel the most loved when people that I love tell me that they love me and mean it. When they love me in ways that increase my safety, that protect my security. That they care about me before I die and you know not just at the funeral. I feel loved when people ask me for consent to take pictures of me or ask for my autograph when I’m enjoying a meal with loved ones, trying to have a human experience. Also forgetting the ways that I mean so much to other people while I’m in public. I feel loved when my presence doesn’t only amount to just a picture, but also a conversation. 

My favorite thing is to have a conversation, not just a photo. There are so many ways that I feel loved in my immediate relationships and close circle. I think what makes me feel loved is when people want for me to have an experience just as great as theirs. When I’m at my highest point and I am experiencing complete euphoria or immense gratitude for anything, the first thing I think about is, ‘I wish I could share this with other people. I wish somebody else could feel this experience with me.’ That’s why it’s so difficult for me to have fun by myself ‘cause I always want to share everything that feels good. That makes me feel loved when people share their joy with me too.

MG: This was tender, thank you again for joining me in this year’s issue of Spectrum. Is there a mantra or anything that you’d like to say to the people who appreciate and look to you?

IM: Don’t judge people. Don’t be so quick to judge. Don’t be so quick to dismiss. Don’t be so quick to dispose. I really do believe that we are all mirrors of each other and I don’t want this to sound cliché, but I really do believe that there are alternative possibilities for thinking, believing, and viewing each other and ourselves that can help us all access the healing and the kindness and compassion that we all deserve. My second thing is something that I learned recently: the people who hurt us, say negative things, or carry really powerfully negative attitudes, are catalysts for the way that we see ourselves and the way we walk away feeling small or down, in addition to going through something and not having alternative possibilities of being. We can actually push that back and not hold it because it’s not ours and it also be a positive catalyst. We can alchemize that energy with, ‘No, I’m not going to leave the space, I’m actually going to deepen the power of my love and my compassion’ In such a way that I affect that person and that they don’t just affect me and make me feel small. I’m going to bring the opposite energy. I’m going to bring love and compassion and I’m gonna do it so powerfully and poignantly that it’s going to inspire this person to think about the way that they’re showing up. And my third and last one is that I often think about how we are recycling this idea and this culture that you have to be the most powerful person in the room. You have to own the room. I don’t believe in that. I feel like unless you want to own the room you must be prepared to stand alone, but there’s no way for you to own a room that you share with other people. We have to learn to be confident in the space that we have in every room that we share with other people, and to know that we hold the power as a collective as well. We don’t have to be centered and supreme in order to thrive and to feel good and proud of ourselves. We can be at peace with sharing the pie, and for everybody to have an equal part of it. I know we have different strengths in different areas. We have different ways that we can all contribute to how that pie is made but at the end of the day, we should share it. We shouldn’t just be trying to own the whole thing and make other people pay for it or give everybody else crumbs. That’s what I believe in. I believe that there are ways that those of us who are young, kids, and the babies are going to grow up and they need alternative model possibilities to build from and to create our future out of. I put my hope in my faith in the babies and I want other people to do the same. Be a catalyst for positivity, there’s enough space for all, and don’t be so quick to judge.

About The Author: Morticia Godiva is Now. Godiva is a multi-hyphenated artist currently residing in the Boogie Down Bronx. Some of her work includes “Feeling Like An Orchid”, a short film that she wrote, produced and starred in. The film tells a colorful story of Black queer love. Last year Godiva released an experimental film titled “Boomerang”; the film begs the question of our intention. In the fall of 2021, Tony- Award-and-Pulitzer Prize-Winning, Long Wharf Theatre produced “Poly Pockets”; an Afrofuturism stage play that Godiva wrote. As an artist, Morticia often engages in work that intersects with her identity. She currently serves as the Director of Community Engagement for the Black Trans Travel Fund; a black trans-led collective that works to provide mutual aid for Black trans women internationally.

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