Model And Activist AJ Clementine On Being The Gal You Want To See In The World

For a lot of us, high school (and puberty generally) is characterised as a time of awkward growth, that one fringe moment (yes, you know the one…) and generally shying away from baring our souls to strangers on the internet—I mean, outside of novel-length posts on semi-anon Tumblrs and LiveJournals. 

AJ Clementine’s (@ajclementine_) story went a lil differently. 

The Filipino-Australian model and content creator started sharing snippets of her life on her YouTube channel during her teens. Alongside makeup routines and swimsuit try-ons were intimate and endearing videos of her experience of being a transwoman. The videos document her journey on estrogen, dealing with gender dysphoria and her surgeries, which, by any measure, is an incredibly Big Deal to decide to put on the internet.

When it comes to being a role model, educator and someone whose very online presence carves out a space of trans-representation, Clementine wears what could be a heavy mantle with grace, charm and a very well-tuned Tumblr aesthetic. 

She talked to Syrup about the intersections of her identity, how being half-Asian was an early sticking point in fully embracing her identity, and how the online spaces like Instagram and Facebook that help bring together the LGBTQI+ community were pivotal in helping her learn to love all aspects of her identity. 

Clementine describes her Instagram audience as a literal family. By empowering queer expression and allowing unfiltered cross-pollination between content creators and their audience, some Instagram communities can become just as protective and uplifting as families can be. You know, if your family was hundreds of thousands of people across the world smiling at you from their bedroom. 

In celebration of Mardi Gras (please enjoy those hashtags on Insta—certain LGBTQI+ terms from now until the end of Pride month will appear as ~rainbow gradients~) we sat down with the inspiring Instagram content creator to chat about growing up online, working as a trans model and how she’s learnt to embrace the journey to loving her whole self.

Being online for a long time, how have you found navigating the different intersections within your identity as a transwoman and as a Filipino-Australian as well?

Being so public has taught me a lot about myself. It’s made me really aware of my interests, things that inspire me, and what makes me feel creative. It’s made me think about who is really “me” outside of the public profiles I put out there. 

From the beginning to where I’m at now, it was definitely about growth. I grew with my platform, in the sense of having different quirks or languages, or just whatever was influencing me online being adapted into my personality. 

For example, growing up half-Asian, half-white, I felt like most of my childhood was about trying to suppress the Asian side of me, because there weren’t really any other half-Asian kids that were like me where I was growing up.

Having the access to the internet and seeing this whole other community and personalities where it’s like, “Oh, okay, like it’s okay to express your Asianess and bring in that culture,” which I was trying to neglect and hide because people would make fun of other Asians. I was like, “Oh no, I’m half Asian, too. It’s not as visible, but maybe it’s going to be easier for me to hide it.” 

Plus I had trans in the mix as well, so I was like, I just want as little attention as possible!

I found places in online media and social media that kind of explored the parts of me I hid. I was always ashamed of being trans or being Asian, just because of what I saw and was being told or was surrounded by in my daily life, or kids making fun of it, or the media like portraying it as a bad thing, or the lack of visibility or representation. 

Social media didn’t have that filter, you could literally be exposed to anything. It was like “Okay, wow, there’s so much more you can be in this world.” 

Were there particular online content creators that you did look up to in your early days on the internet in terms of carving out that space for yourself?

One of my favourite YouTubers in high school was Jenn Im, her channel used to be called clothesencounters. I met her last year and I was telling her how much her YouTube channel helped me so much with my identity in terms of style and feeling passionate about being Asian and embracing that world.

That was something that, as a teen, I could go home and feel like, “Oh, this is something I could do one day,” I might not have the funds to have a cool wardrobe right now, but I could work towards something. Her showing her life helped me so much, to not be so ashamed of even little stupid things like being ashamed of having an Asian mum. Why was I so embarrassed with her around my friends and stuff like that, it’s just so stupid. That’s not cool. My mum’s doing the best she can to try and fit into like Western culture. You don’t need to be rude about it.

When Gigi Gorgeous started to showcase her transition online, I felt like it was really a defining point in my own transition. It was really out there, and at the time I was in denial about it, but it was really stuck with me like, “Yo, this could be you. But you face that when you’re good and ready,” kind of thing. Having her as a voice for trans people, because there weren’t really any at the time, really helped a lot.

Kim Petras, as well. She’s a crazy good pop singer at the moment, but at the time she’s was on the news as the youngest trans woman to have sex reassignment surgery at 16. As a 14-year-old, I was like, “That’s crazy. I’ve never heard of something like that before.” So I had that as well, as something I can get in the future and have it as a goal.

How have you found working as a content creator? Has your identity influenced your career and how you operate in this space?

On all my platforms, I just wanted to be the most creative person I can be, in terms of how I told my stories and experiences. I didn’t really think about the aspect of making money from it. But when that became a thing, and before having management that dealt with that kind of stuff, I felt the weight of it.

Lots of brands just want to push having a trans person [on the team], or they have a certain agenda with it. I was like, “Okay, this is a different world that I’m kind of entering.” I need to kind of be a bit more precise with what I’m sharing with different people because, of course, I can have all the control with my own platforms, but when you’re an ambassador for a brand you also need to do what they want.

I’ve learnt a lot. I live in this world where it’s, like, “Everyone should just accept trans people”. And that’s where we’re kind of heading…  but there is this case where it’s, “We’re not ready to use a trans girl yet.” That’s something that they don’t want to touch yet. They would rather avoid the controversy, because they view it as still “new,” and that’s what’s crazy to me. When I was in high school, that’s when I would think it was “new” and that it was so different. It’s crazy to me that that’s what people are still trying to wrap their head around.

The content that I create on TikTok, why that goes viral, is because like people are finding this information in a different form. Whenever I make one about surgeries or my transition, people are like “Wow, this is actually happening,” and when they share it around, it starts that conversation. 

But it’s still fresh and ‘new’ and people are now figuring out that like trans people have been here the whole time. But it hasn’t been seen in media, or been vocalised, or have had anything visible about it.

Do you have a favourite platform?

If I had to pick one, I would go full-force with Instagram. It’s the only platform I can connect with the people that follow with me as well. That’s where the community is at. 

And I feel like, if that was taken away from me then I feel like a whole chunk of who I am would be taken away from me. It’s like a family and I would miss them. No matter what platform I’m on, Instagram is home. It allows me to be creative with my Instagram posts. It allows me to document my life daily with the Stories. To share my portfolio. It’s a good combination of being professional and also just being… me.

On Instagram, you’re a role model, and a source of advice and a source of comfort for a lot of people. Do you have advice for people trying to find their true selves?

I feel like I’m at a point where my skin is so thick, I can handle being that for some people. Because it’s so needed. I’ve made my bed with taking on that role. Just that thought of what it does for the younger generations and also for people just be more aware. 

For example, I was going through my DMs the other day and this mum messaged me to say ‘Thank you for being visible because now my girl has someone to look up to!’ That goes right back to the reason why I started and wanted to put the stuff that I created out there and to be so vocal about my views. Just being a trans person, living her best life… it’s because of moments like that. 

Hearing about her daughter seeing my face in a campaign and in stores… She said that it was the best feeling, that her daughter has some to look at and say “Wow, that could be me.” It puts it into words. Being seen in everyday life—every minority should have that. That feeling… You know? “That’s you!”

What have been some of your favorite fashion and makeup aesthetics that you’ve evolved through over time?

I grew up with that whole Tumblr aesthetic. And I’ve never really let that go. In high school, I lived on my Tumblr. It was everything to me and my whole friendship group was obsessed with it.

And that has evolved into the VSCO girl thing, which is a transformation of the Tumblr girl thing. But I’ve always kept those elements. Even that ’90s feel, as well. I’ve never really switched up since! I’ve tweaked it a bit as I’ve explored my style, but it’s always been inspired by that. 

Obviously, Jenn [Im] has been like a huge style Icon for me, too. I told her that! Like, ‘If I could have your entire wardrobe then I would.’ I would wear everything she wears. 

Is there a favourite accessory or trend you’re into right now? 

I’m really vibing with the wide-leg, high-waisted mum jeans at the moment. It’s my go-to. I’m wearing them right now! It’s a good basic staple. I basically get a new pair like every few weeks. It’s a piece of clothing I didn’t wear for most of my life, because I was uncomfortable with how it looked on me. I was pre-op, as well, so there are other things I needed to do in order to wear certain pants like that. So I would just stick to lots of dresses and skirts, before going through surgery. 

But now, after, I don’t really have that dysphoria or that discomfort anymore. So it’s cool to explore this piece that, before, I would never think about because it would make me uncomfortable. It’s a huge staple for me. I’m going to wear them for the rest of my life!

What about your favourite beauty product?

An item I cannot live without in like my daily life is [Sukin] rosehip oil. I swear by it. I use that under makeup sometimes and I drown my face in that before going to bed because it’s so hydrating and it makes my skin really dewy. I use it for so many different things and I bring it everywhere with me. It’s my secret little beauty weapon.

What does self-care look like for you in 2020?

I’m reconnecting with my passions, outside social media. Also, I’ve been a crazy-obsessed fan of the Animal Crossing franchise, and there’s a new one coming in a month! So, in 2020, I’m going to be living that up in my spare time. It’s one of the things that really helps with my anxiety. It really feeds my brain, gets me thinking!

What are you manifesting this year?

I’m manifesting being able to provide more visibility. Whether that’s doing more campaigns, so people can go in store and say, “Yes! That’s a trans woman living her best life!” or that they get to walk into an audition and go for a role and be a lead. I’m manifesting more trans-visibility.

This Mardi Gras you’re invited to join in the celebrations and connect in safe and supportive ways on Instagram by following #MardiGras2020 as well as some of your favourite content creators, including our gal AJ.

Monisha Rudhran (@monishamay) is a writer and chronic Pisces. Formerly at Syrup, she's now a Digital Content Producer at ELLE and marie claire Australia. She’s into trying to be a better person and sparkling water.

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