Read part one here.
Having spent the evening with Scotty Sussman – Instagram handle @THATGIRLSUSSI - in the lead up to the New York event, ‘Straight Acting’ that he played host to, I was intrigued to get to know him in more intimate detail. We meet in East Village later in the week over coffee and in private, with fewer distractions.
The day arrived, and I meet Sussman in a small coffee shop in the East Village. He is in what he refers to as "boy looks," however that hasn't made him any less distinctive. His shirt has the word JPG on it and the bleached eyebrows and red hair make an impression. After the standard greetings, he informs me he is just back from LA. "Wait, but you're in high school, right?" I ask quizzically.
"Yes. I go to school in Boston [on] Monday through Friday, then I come up to NYC on the weekends to go out." I ask if Sussman’s classmates know about Sussi, his alter-ego. Some of them do, but he tends to block them on Instagram. Most don't: Sussman tells me that he tries to keep his NYC life very private, as he could be - and almost was - expelled because of his Instagram.
I am struck instantly by the absolute absurdity of this notion; having to keep an Instagram profile that seems to be all about self-expression in a visual medium "private" from some people seems like an oxymoron. Yet, Sussman speaks without sarcasm and what he says makes sense, if only in today's world.
Certainly, it makes more sense than the jeopardy in which his academic career is placed for doing, essentially, what most of his classmates are also doing, albeit in a different city, and with plenty more make-up - plus with total disregard for current middle-American social conventions. "So how did this all start for you?" I ask.
"I have been coming to NYC since I was 14. I spent about a year in the clubs just sitting back and watching everyone, essentially figuring out how I wanted to present myself, what ‘Sussi’ was going to be." And finally it was time for the question I had most wanted to ask, so important it needed to be slipped in casually as if almost an afterthought: "So, I wanted to ask you, why are you doing all this? Is it primarily for Instagram?"
"For me, dressing up is more about self-expression. I consider myself to be a kind of painter; I am essentially painting a picture with every look. They are portraits of what I want to be. I like taking an archetype and breaking it down, I think it is constructive to confuse people and provoking a reaction is a good thing… oh, and I have never worn anything twice."
Though I manage to hide it, I am a bit blown away by the sophistication and clarity of the answer. So many gay men come to NYC and explode - socially, sexually, chemically - it sometimes makes me think it is an act of rebellion; breaking free and taking full advantage of an earlier suppression, sometimes even with over-compensation. I ask Sussman if that is what is going on here:
"I don't think I am rebelling. I don't have a sad story and I am not doing this to compensate for something. I have had very supportive parents; they have even helped me pick out looks. I don't support drugs and am not about excess or boys. I want to create a safe space where people feel free to express themselves. I dance with everyone, I will take pictures with everyone, and I am not interested in VIP or the velvet rope. I would really love to grow old in the New York subculture scene and be known for throwing parties and creating an atmosphere that is safe, where all different types of people can come and be themselves."
Sussman likes to call himself a “bear in training”. And so he is: I think Sussman is a bit of an enigma. He seems well ahead of the game in terms of confidence and street smarts. People generally come to NYC for the energy, opportunity, freedom, anonymity – and sometimes it ends up draining them, eating them alive, and they are left bitter and jaded. I feel the total opposite here; Sussman may just eat NYC alive. When I think of Sussman, the lyrics of the India Arie song Video come to mind:
"I'm not the average girl from your video
And I ain't built like a supermodel
But I learned to love myself unconditionally,
Because I am a queen."
This precocious 18-year-old, in the face of prejudice and close-mindedness, coupled with the condescension and cruelty that is the norm for modern teenagers, seems to effortlessly rise above it all, working towards what he wants in his own colourful way; what we all want really: to be ourselves. It’s a breath of fresh air that I truly want to stay a part of.
Words & Photography: Sam Evans-Butler