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Planet Sex with Cara Delevingne

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planet sex with cara delevingne

Cara Delevingne is one of the world’s most photographed people and an award-winning LGBTQ+ icon. On this immersive journey, she puts her mind and body on the line in search of answers, donating her orgasm to science in Germany; making art from her vagina in Japan; hitting up a women-only sex club; taking a masturbation masterclass, and visiting an “ethical” porn set, all in the name of understanding our deepest desires. In every episode, she shares her own personal experiences. Uniquely unfiltered and authentic, there’s no limit on how far Cara’s willing to go to explore what makes us all human.

This intimate and inclusive six–part documentary series is produced by Naked Television (a Fremantle label) and Milkshake Productions for BBC Three.

Executive Producers: Simon Andreae & Fiona Caldwell | Series Editor: Kate Dart, Naked Television (a Fremantle label) | Executive Producer / Talent: Cara Delevingne, Milkshake Productions

In conversation with Cara Delevingne

This is your first presenting role. Were you nervous?

It wasn’t easy. I’ve spent a lot of my career – for the last 10, 12 years – in front of the camera, but I’ve never really been myself in front of the camera, so that was difficult. It was very awkward. The first thing we shot was going to Dinah Shore [a lesbian festival], and I was so uncomfortable. I was sweating all over the chair, didn’t know what I was doing. I just was very, very nervous. I had to strip back everything I’ve ever learned and just be myself, which is very energetic, inquisitive, curious and vulnerable.

It’s a very personal film. Was that aspect of it hard?

Yes, but I think that’s the point of documentary making, especially with a subject like this which I care so much about. I felt like I knew so much about what was happening, what the stats were or what the general consensus was of people around the world, but I realised I knew way less than I thought about everyone else and also way less about myself.

Were these subjects – like gender, monogamy, sexuality – that you had been thinking about before you met Simon Andreae (Executive Producer and CEO, Fremantle UK)?

Definitely. I mean, I wasn’t thinking specifically about making a documentary but it’s what I think humanity at its base level is about: connection. That’s how I look at the world. I love psychology, I studied it at school, that’s the world’s currency in a way. Whenever I go to an event or dinner or something, I always ask these kinds of questions anyway. If someone’s got something that they’re not dealing with or an internal conflict or a barrier they have up, I like to break through it and find something out or expose something that they may not know – only if they want to, of course. So it was something I was already doing anyway.

Why did this feel like the right time to turn that internal curiosity into making a documentary?

That’s what I have to thank Simon for. There are a lot of things in my career that have happened because other people have suggested them. It’s weird, because I’ll be thinking about them and then someone will come out and be like, “Would you like to do this?” and I’m like, “Yes. How did you know?” I think I exude certain things. And we are now, more than ever, living in such an incredible time. People are becoming more open, but people are also becoming more closed off to things. So this is a great time to do this. I want there to be conversations – not arguments at all, but debate– for people to come out and talk about these things.

Which parts do you feel might be controversial?

Well, I think men might find it hard to hear about the orgasm gap. I think that families will find some of it difficult depending on their political or religious standpoints. But you know what? One person in a family watching this might have a hidden secret, whether it’s someone’s sexuality or a husband or wife married for 50 years and the husband has been having an affair the whole time. So it might make people think.

You’re non-judgemental on Planet Sex with Cara Delevingne. Is that how you are in real life?

I mean, look, I have a certain taste level, I have opinions on whether I like certain music or stuff like that, but within people – who they are, who is their inner-most self, or what they decide to do in their free time – I don’t think there’s any point in judging people. What right do I have to judge people? I’m no better than anyone else.

Tell me how you chose your contributors. Some of them have quite sad stories, but as a whole the series ends up feeling quite uplifting.

Every contributor has an unconventional story, which means that they have gone through some adversity. Like River: River’s story made me so upset, but to come to a place where they are so positive and they are such an advocate and such a spokesperson for intersex people was amazing to learn about. Gottmik is a friend of mine, the first openly trans man to compete on drag race. One of my favourite things to do was to have people that I knew well on there, but it was a mixture, because I also think it’s very important not just to have my friends.

Episode 1: The Orgasm Gap

What were your preconceptions going into the episode about female sexuality?

I think this is one of the ones I was more educated in, although I didn’t realise how far we haven’t come since the discovery of the moon landing, which was way before the mapping of a clitoris. I was dumbfounded. I was completely shocked by how little education there is.

It does come from both sides. You can’t just sit there and blame men, you also have to look at women and see how we’ve been trained to not ask for what we need, or not talk about what we want, or even know what we want. We always go for ‘less than’. [Sex] is always just to serve a purpose, which is usually the man, in my opinion.

You masturbate twice on the show: once at a science lab to measure your responses. Did you have any hesitation about doing that?

No, I find that easier than getting emotional. I find that way easier than getting vulnerable, because that is science and I’m excited by that. I’m like a little kid when it comes to science exploration. And this is for the show, and this will help people. Having an orgasm for my job, that’s easy. Being vulnerable and opening up, that’s way harder.

Episode 2: Out and Proud?

Why did you want to cover sexual orientation?

In the past it has been such a black and white topic where people would – and still do – say, “I’m 100 per cent gay”, or “I’m 100 per cent straight”, without trying the other side. I just don’t think you can ever say you’re 100 per cent anything unless you try both sides. Because you never know! Who the hell knows what’s going to happen? To decide that means that there’s some fear behind it. I had a conversation with someone the other day, he was like, “I’m 100 per cent straight” and I was like, “Okay, but if you had to sleep with a man, who?” and he said “Brad Pitt” so fast. I was like, “How the hell did you come up with that name so fast if you’ve never thought about it?” So that kind of thing is really important. And again, it’s changed so much. Every time I meet young people they’ll be like, “Well, I’m bi [sexual] until I find out I’m not”. That’s kind of the base level now, in my opinion.

You go into the sexual orientation episode with questions about your own sexuality. What did you learn about yourself?

I’ve always been an advocate for the queer community, and have done things to wave the flag, but actually, in the world that I live in, most of my friends are straight. I’d never been to Pride before making this show. I’m not saying you have to go to Pride to be a “good gay”, there’s no such thing as good or bad gay, but I just felt that there was more that I could have done with my voice and my platform.

Has that changed since making the programme?

Definitely. I’ve gotten a lot more entrenched in the community, for sure. I have a lot more queer friends now.

So, you’ll be down for judging more twerking competitions in the future?

One hundred per cent! Any time. If anyone sends me an offer, please. I’m sure there’ll be more.

Episode 3: Can Porn Be Good?

Tell me what preconceptions you had going into the episode about pornography?

I knew that all the porn I watched, and I’d stopped watching porn at that point, was dangerous. Not just for myself but for the world at large. The internet and what it can be used for in educational ways is amazing, but that whole system and that whole world is so dark and so sad.

I met a woman called Cindy Gallop who was having sex with younger men, and she’d really noticed that the way men have sex has changed in recent years because of porn. That adds to the reason why the orgasm gap is getting worse – or perhaps not worse but certainly not better. That’s one of the subjects that hasn’t moved along at all.

You talk on the programme about how porn often revolves around women just being there to please the man, and how it uses aggressive language.

I do, but also women’s whole mindset has changed. Very strong women can love to be objectified and that’s fine if that’s their choice, but it’s how you can feel powerful in objectification without buying into this toxic culture.

You also meet director Erika Lust who makes “ethical” porn, and you watched her cast having a consent chat before filming.

Yeah! I loved that they were so open about it. And of course, the women talked about where they wanted to be touched or not touched. But again, a lot of times women in the porn industry perhaps just don’t always know what they want, because they may have only experienced or seen violence in a sexual situation. And therefore that might be what they want because that’s what they think they deserve.

Erika made a film based on your own fantasies. What was it like to see that?

Unbelievable. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of porn. But that was amazing, especially in the sense of like, “Oh, wow, they’re actually good at sex.” In most porn, they’re not. That’s also the funny thing: I think a lot of women don’t ever expect to have an orgasm when they have sex, because they are just thinking that feeling anything is feeling something; so whether it’s feeling hurt, feeling objectified, feeling disrespected, that feeling of something, as long as it’s pleasing the other person.

What conclusion did you come to in that episode: is all porn bad?

There are so many porn makers who do make “ethical” porn, and I think there are good types of porn. But if it’s well made, you have to pay for it and I don’t know many young people who want to pay for porn. That’s the problem here. All the free streaming sites, they are still very much the easiest to access. Those are the ones which are male dominated, and the people appearing in them get no rights.

Episode 4: What’s Your Gender?

Gender is quite a personal area for you because you’ve been thinking about your own gender recently.

Not recently, always, and it’s less something that I think about, more something that just kind of flows through me.

On the show you talk about feeling different as a little girl: can you expand on that?

Yeah, I didn’t feel different at first. It didn’t feel weird until I got older, when everyone in society made me feel different. I didn’t feel different on the inside. It was more to do with not wanting to put a dress on and being like, “Well, I’m going to be climbing a tree so I need cargo pants that I can unzip and turn into shorts because that seems more practical, and I don’t want to play with oversized kitchen sets when I can be building different things that I can make myself.” And it just confused me that everything was so gendered and boys’ toys were blue and girls’ toys were pink. It was just weird.

If somebody tells me something isn’t right, but they don’t give me a good reason as to why it’s not right, I’ll continue to do it. So now I love playing with the extremes of gender. I love dressing up. My tits are huge at the moment and I love looking like Jessica Rabbit sometimes. I also love wearing a red lip and a power suit or being a drag king for a night. I love playing those extremes of gender. When I was younger, people thinking it was weird made me want to do it more.

There’s a bit where you get really emotional in that episode where you imagine what it would be like to say to your friends and family that you’re going to transition as a man. Can you explain why?

Yeah, because I think in terms of never coming out to my family and saying, “I’m gay” – see, I can hardly say it now – or “I like women”, I just can’t imagine what trans people have to go through a lot of the time. And my family are not bad at all. But imagining me saying, “I want to transition” – not that that’s how I feel at all – but I just didn’t even want to think about what that must be like. Some people will never understand that feeling of alienation, that feeling of being an outcast. It’s just horrible. How dare anyone tell someone that they are less of a person than anyone else because of how they feel inside?

You did suggest that you might have transitioned if you’d been more aware of it as a child, and you also dressed in drag for the first time. Did you draw any conclusions by the end of it?

No. There are no conclusions apart from the fact that I’m gender fluid and queer gendered. But my pronouns are still “she, her”, that hasn’t changed because I’m proud to be a woman. I still fight for what women deserve. But I also don’t feel that if your pronouns are women’s pronouns that you have to behave in or dress in a certain way. That’s kind of what I believe.

Episode 5: Monogamish

The next episode is monogamy and you undertook an experiment to see if you were genetically built to be monogamous or not. The results said you were not genetically a nester. How did you feel about that?

I knew whatever results came out they were going to annoy me because it’s genetic and to do with nature not nurture [laughs]! I’d been in a place where I had been single for two years, but I also know that I’m a person who strives for connection and I have a real problem with trust. So anything other than a monogamous relationship doesn’t really work for me, unless it’s something casual, but if I’m talking about love and real connection, monogamy is the only way I can trust someone. By the end of the whole series, I found myself going into a really lovely, strong relationship, because I think this opened me up into being really ready for it.

But the programme does explore the fact that polyamory works for some people.

Yeah, and what’s amazing about polyamory is that it’s an open conversation. Now what I take into relationships is that it’s good to be able to have a conversation and be honest about the fact that you think someone’s attractive or they find you attractive; to have a constant open dialogue and conversation is the way to stop things from leading to cheating and breaking someone’s trust. There are no rules, that’s the thing. You can be in a monogamous relationship and that might change. It’s just taught me that you’re not obliged to be with someone, your love is not a bind, and you can also be honest about the way you feel.

Episode 6: Do You Think I’m Hot?

The final episode is about beauty, in which you talk about your own insecurities, which seems ironic given you are often described as one of the most beautiful women in the world.

It’s all the hair and make-up teams! I said to my hair and make-up people yesterday, “I wouldn’t have a job without you guys”. Me in the morning – nobody’s going to hire that person. And besides, it doesn’t matter who you are, everyone has insecurities. I’ve met some of the most beautiful women and men in the world and they’re still like, “Urgh, my photos are so gross”. I really do think beauty is far more than skin deep, and I feel more of a beautiful person because I’m not a bad person rather than because of the way I look.

Do you feel less insecure as you get older?

Yeah, definitely. I just feel more accepting of myself. It’s not, “Oh, I’m really growing into my 30-year-old body”, it’s more that I love myself the way I am. I’m lucky to have a healthy body and to be alive.

You went to a plastic surgeon, but didn’t end up saying yes to botox. You said you’d think about it: what are your thoughts now?

I had botox after the show. I tried just a little bit between my eyebrows. I had to think first, “Do I really want this because I’m feeling bad about myself, or do I want this because I do actually have a really big line right down in the middle of my forehead right here?” And if it’s the latter, maybe that’s okay. It doesn’t mean I hate myself.

It’s something I want to talk about. When I was 16 I wanted a boob job so badly and I really hated myself so that’s more something that’s deep-rooted than having a tiny bit of botox.

It sounds like overall this has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for you?

Yeah, it’s very much changed my life. Now I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve also just never been so proud of a show or anything I’ve ever done. I’ve always said to people, “Oh, it’s really bad, don’t watch it” but with this I’m like, “Watch it. It’s amazing”. I feel really, really proud of what we created.

I’m excited. I’m ready for it to come out because I lived it, and it’s so interesting. When I see people I haven’t seen for a long time I say, “Guys, I went to a scientist where they put a probe in my vagina” and as soon as you say that, you just see someone’s mouth drop… when my family and friends have watched it they’re like, “What? When did you do this?”

What do you hope audiences will take away from it?

I just want people to watch it and see what they think. And they can disagree. I just want people to know the stats, to be educated. Because really, education is power. It’s something that can really free you. If we can change anyone’s minds to be more willing to accept themselves or someone else, that’s all I want.

Do you think you’ll make more documentaries?

Yes, for sure. I would love to. I’ve got ideas, there’s a lot more to discover in this subject matter alone: so much more.

Interviews with series contributors
Skirt Club founder Genevieve LeJeune – features in Episode 1 The Orgasm Gap

Skirt Club is a women-only sex club. When did you launch it and why?

It’s almost nine years now since I started the first Skirt Club in London, now we have 16 across the world. I set it up really because I found I couldn’t meet other women who were in a similar situation, looking for friendship and maybe more. In my experience, finding other bisexual women can be difficult.

Why do you think that is?

I think there’s a little stigma attached to bisexuality that prevents women identifying that way. You’ll hear a lot of women use the words ‘fluid’ or ‘queer’. They are a little, you know, warmer to use. I’ve been called ‘greedy’, ‘indecisive’ and ‘in the closet still’. But we have our own letter in the acronym LGBTQ+, it’s right there in the middle.

Is there a shift in the terminology among a younger generation?

Yeah, and I think there are lots of ways to describe how you feel, and how you feel changes every day; embrace what it is, you don’t have to have a label. There’s a lot that is yet to be fully discovered and the more we dig deep the more we find out. I mean, I’m not sure if I even carry a label myself these days.

Cara also said that young people these days are more likely to say, “I’m bisexual until I know I’m not”. Again, is that something that you’re seeing?

Oh, definitely with the younger generation. I mean, Gen Z is totally on that wavelength. Nobody wants to be straight anymore. For Gen Z, straight is kinda dull. I’ve found along the way that a lot of women have curiosities, and they’re much more comfortable discovering those with other women. They feel safer in all-women environment and they’re more accepting of each other. There’s no conditioning there and it’s also a new world to explore. My generation, we’ve grown up in traditional circumstances, but that’s out the window now because there are no rules and we’re just free to be and I think that’s beautiful.

Where do you see the future for bisexual women?

One of my missions has been to normalise this for women, to help them be in touch with their sexuality and to be proud of that. I think there’s too much shame in society causing women not to acknowledge that they enjoy sex, especially amongst friends and peers.

Cara attended one of your parties. What was she like?

She threw herself into it! She really does represent a lot of people at once, which is really important. I’m proud of her: someone with her status didn’t have to do this but she’s taken that risk and that’s a very courageous person. If it opens people’s minds and gets people talking then great: let’s talk.

Buddhist monk and make-up artist Kodo Nishimura – features in Episode 2 Out And Proud?
Tell me a bit about your background.

I was born in a Buddhist temple in Tokyo. I really liked Japanese anime but when they portrayed LGBTQ+ characters, they were often portrayed as perverted or villains. So that’s why I felt that if I were to come out as a homosexual person, then people would see me as creepy. I found it very scary and pressured.

Did you have anybody to talk to, anybody in your community that was gay?

Nobody. I didn’t even know the word “gay” until I was 16. When I was growing up, I started to use the internet and I would look up something like “good looking man” and that’s how I started to know who I was.

Where and when did you “find” yourself?

I moved to the US when I was 18. In New York my professor was a homosexual man, I saw New York Pride parades, and I started assisting make-up artists – many people were part of the LGBTQ+ community and I saw sights that I’d never been exposed to.

Before then, I was even scared to vocalise the word “gay”. I remember my first time at a gay club, it was shocking to me but everyone was so happy and I could feel happiness at being able to express desire. My universe was expanded. I started to learn about LGBTQ+ history.

How do you describe your sexuality and gender now?

I don’t identify as a gay man now, but I consider myself gender gifted. I’m able to think beyond the binary and I can inspire other people to think beyond the binary as well. It’s a gift, I can empathise with men and women without borders.

Tell me a little bit about your relationship to Buddhism and how that works alongside your make-up career and your sexuality?

My father is a professor at a prestigious university, he is a scholar and writes books about Buddhism. He understands diverse teachings and scripts, therefore he was able to teach me that some Buddhist teachings contradict each other. I learnt that Buddhism is not only about being humble and minimalist, which is the famous part, but there’s a Buddhist deity who is gender ambiguous and wears a crown, jewels and silky robes. They say if you want to be a Buddha, you should decorate yourself, because if you’re wearing something shabby how do you expect others to respect and listen to you? Sublime virtue requires sublime appearance.

It’s a contradictory way of thinking than commonly known Buddhism. Freedom in sexuality or beauty is encouraged in religion but it takes extensive thinking. I think we have to not follow rules blindly, but to study diverse teachings and seek the essence of each teaching.

You say on Planet Sex with Cara Delevingne that you have one foot in tradition and one foot in fashion?

Yes, I like to present myself in a contradictory, contrasting way, so that people are startled. As a child, I really hated Buddhism, but through my father’s teachings I was able to pursue my passion and evolve as a Buddhist monk and as a make-up artist.

The teaching of my school emphasises that everybody can be liberated regardless of any differences. Using make-up and Buddhism is a way for me to encourage people that they are worthy from the inside and out. Now I’m doing something that’s totally different from any other monks in the world, and I feel really privileged that I am introducing an evolution of Buddhism.

Have you encountered people who perhaps don’t agree with what you’re doing?

Yes, mostly online, I get people doubting my activity. People have said things like: “You’re not a real monk; that is not what Buddhist monks do”.

In my view, leaders of faith should support and help people to live their lives well and to go beyond their limits.

I would like to liberate people from their expected way of living because if they are comfortable living authentically, then they wouldn’t mind about anybody else who is living authentically too. So when I read these comments, I’m not upset, I just know that I have a huge role and feel that I’m responsible to inspire more people.

Tell me about meeting Cara, who has questioned her own sexuality.

What was interesting is that she told me that she had never been to a Pride parade. We often feel somewhat pressured to unite with other LGBTQ+ people and celebrate together, but she was very natural and not too affected by that pressure. That was very refreshing to me, because heterosexual people don’t feel the need to march in their tribes. That is something LGBTQ+ people should feel as well: the freedom from categories.

Porn director Erika Lust – features in Episode 3 Can Porn Be Good?

How did you become a porn director?

When I was a young adult, porn existed and was a big part of people’s lives but it was not part of mass media as it is today. I first saw explicit images in magazines, then on video cassettes, then on cable TV. And I think that is really one of the important reasons why I decided to get into this business and start making my films. Like any young person, I struggled with my sexuality and I used pornography to figure out stuff about myself and to see how other people did it.

I remember the first time I watched a porn film, that feeling of excitement and anticipation and then the feeling of disappointment that it wasn’t at all what I had expected. I think I had expected something more romantic, something more intimate, but it felt very fake, like parody and not at all erotic.

I am very interested in eroticism and what happens when I start fantasising, and that’s what I want to see when I watch a movie. I want to understand the characters and be part of their erotic joy, but I want to see that in an ethical way, where people in the process are being taken care of. I feel that most mainstream porn is not at all representative of that, it’s just about having people penetrating each other and body parts bumping around.

That’s one of the key elements to how we make our films: we really care about everyone involved and make sure that we are representing people the way they want to be represented on screens. We don’t go the way that many of the free sites out there do in terms of fetishising people, dividing them into groups depending on their race or ethnicity, background, body types or ages. My films are about people coming together, meeting and their stories.

In Planet Sex with Cara Delevingne we see your cast having a consent conversation before filming. Can you tell me more about that?

As far as I’m concerned there’s no other way of doing it. How are you going to start filming people without having an idea of who they are, what they like, what they are into? To me, it feels very obvious and necessary. The performers have favourite people that they’ve built relationships with, who they feel safe around, and if you put them together in a film then the result is going to be very different compared to people meeting for the first time and getting straight to it.

Similarly, when I send the script, I ask them how they feel about this character, how they feel about doing what they are going to do, what do they need to feel safe?

Your films are subscription only. How do you feel about free pornography?

I mean, it’s obvious – if something is free, you’re probably paying for it in another way.

So it’s important to have that in mind, but it’s also important to have in mind that if you feel that the porn industry should be a fair industry, then you as a consumer are part of that industry, and you vote with your time and with your money. If you want to make sure that the production companies take care of the performers, that they’re paid fairly, that they care about everybody involved, then you have to make sure that you pay for what you’re looking at.

That’s how I can offer quality. In the end, I think many people want quality, they want to feel part of a responsible chain of command.

You made a film specifically tailored to Cara’s fantasies. Tell me about that.

Cara was really interested in my new project where people from all around the world send in confessions or stories about their fantasies, kinky things they want to see in films. We were talking about Cara’s and she came up with this idea of a sex party in the seventies, so we turned this into a film with some of my favourite performers who have open minds and feel comfortable in a pansexual environment.

We really wanted to make sure that everybody understood what was happening and had that chance to talk about what role they wanted to play and who they wanted to be in this party. I worked with many women and LGBTQ+ people on the crew because we really feel that when it comes to the idea of independent porn, alternative porn, feminist porn, that it’s not just about who we’re representing on screen, but it’s also about who’s behind the cameras. I think we created an absolutely wonderful film.

Do you see the future being brighter for the porn industry?

This isn’t just creating adult cinema, it’s also activism. For me it’s very important to tell the world that there are many different ways of enjoying ourselves, that women are allowed to have pleasure. But now we are in this era where we actually have this opportunity to feel good about ourselves, our bodies, our sexualities, not feeling as some kind of object that’s just out there for men’s pleasure.

And it’s not only me, there are many creators. We are a small corner of this industry but we are starting to change things. Porn has a huge impact on how we see ourselves and our sexuality and if we only look at free porn on the internet then we’re going to believe that is the way it should be done.

In the end, it’s really about understanding that porn is media, and as media it’s sending out messages about sexuality and sexual identity. If we don’t acknowledge it, if we don’t talk about it, young people are not going to know how to process that.

Gender advocate and author Alok Vaid-Menon – features in Episode 4 What’s Your Gender? and Episode 6 Do You Think I’m Hot?

Can you explain your journey, that you talk about on Planet Sex with Cara Delevingne?

In my opinion, it’s a very funny thing living in the United States because on the one hand they say, “Be yourself” but when you do that, you get punished for it. It’s very much, “Be yourself within predetermined categories”. There’s always a limit or a threshold. So when I started to understand myself as non-binary I was like, “okay, I’ll be safe in New York City, that’s the safest place in the world for people like me”, so I moved there and I began to experiment with my self-presentation. I was wearing wigs and make-up, and I was met with a lot of resentment and backlash and street harassment: people throwing trash at me and insults.

It was heart-breaking for me because as a young person, I genuinely thought that would stop when I grew up, that people would stop behaving like they do in the playground. But then I realised that continues your entire life.

I needed to learn how to accept myself so I was able to take a negative situation to actually encourage me to do the more difficult work of self-acceptance, which I think a lot of people hold on the shelf or don’t ever explore. They’re waiting for someone else to validate them, rather than validating themselves.

People might not like me, but I like me. People might not agree with what I’m wearing, but I like what I’m wearing. And I get to be me. No one else gets to tell me how I dress and how I live my life.

When did you first start to realise you were non-binary or “different” from your peers?

I think I’ve always felt that, but when I was a young kid I didn’t really have the vocabulary for it. I just never felt like I fit in and I felt this deep sense that I was always watching the world, not actually being a part of it. From a young age I was a really precocious reader because I was like, “This reality that I’m living right now isn’t the only reality. There are other worlds. There are other cultures. There are other time periods. There are other histories.”

Now that I’m able to express myself fully I finally feel a part of the world. Back then I was really traumatised by the way I was being treated and the negative reaction I was getting from people.

How did your family treat you?

So the cool thing is, my parents were really accepting of me and that’s because I had an aunt who was a lesbian. She explained gender and sexuality to my parents and my extended family and she was clued into the fact that I was queer before I was. My parents were badass and let me wear what I wanted to wear.

As a young person, I could dance around, I could be free, but it was an issue when I started to interact with my peers at primary school and that was so destabilising for me. I felt shame and I had never felt shame at all about myself at home as I was allowed to express myself. And so then I just shut down and I didn’t even really tell my parents what was going on. I wanted to protect them and insulate them.

Things are changing, slowly. What is your ideal vision for the future?

I’d like to see a world beyond the gender binary. That doesn’t mean everyone has to be non-binary, it’s actually where everyone is allowed to determine what their own gender is. Gender is actually something that you own about yourself in your life, not something that other people get to tell you.

I’d like us also to recognise that there’s no single standard definition of what it means to be a man or woman. That’s something that you get to define for yourself. And I’d like us to recognise that gender is deeply felt and it’s deeply individual, and we allow people to tell the stories of who they are, rather than just collapsing them into categories. My bigger vision is allowing us to experience each other beyond categorisation.

You also talk about beauty (episode 6: ‘Do You Think I’m Hot?’) on Planet Sex with Cara Delevingne. How do you think we traditionally see beauty?

So often beauty is marketed to us as a very narrow one-dimensional thing, which is large European eyes, skinny, hairless and traditionally gendered. But what I think is really beautiful is that with the rise of social media, people are pushing back against those harmful advertisements which make us feel like we have to change who we are fundamentally in order to be seen as valid or beautiful. People are popularising a new definition of beauty.

What would your advice be to people who may be watching this programme and struggling with gender or beauty norms?

Just to be gentle and compassionate to yourself because we keep on thinking that shame will change us and it doesn’t, it just stalls the process. A lot of my conversation with Cara on the programme was saying this to her. We grow up in societies and families that often invalidate us and make us feel like we’re woefully inadequate, or that we have something to prove and so of course we cling on to conformity because we think that that’s going to save us or protect us or give us love.

You’re going to get negative feedback, of course, but depersonalise it because nobody gets to tell you you’re a problem for just existing.

Did it surprise you when Cara, often described as one of the most beautiful women in the world, said she had insecurities?

Yeah, it surprised me when we were filming in the department store, I thought that as she’s a runway supermodel, she’s going to be able to really “own it”, and when she told me it still scares her, that was a really humbling moment for me.

Why do you think Cara is so admired in the LGBTQ+ community?

I just think it takes a lot of guts, especially in an industry where you’re someone else’s muse, to assert your own aesthetic identity and explore yourself. When other people have preconceived ideas of what you should be wearing and what you should be looking like, especially when you’re a publicly-facing person, it’s brave to express that you’re queer. And to question gender norms is often met with a lot of resentment and backlash and validation, so I think it’s a really vulnerable and important thing.

Do you feel hopeful for the future?

I think we’re experiencing both an improvement and an extreme backlash which is leading to some really draconian stuff including an outright crusade against trans and non-binary people. But alongside that we’re seeing such deep celebration, affirmation and diversity of especially Gen Z, who are just completely agnostic to so many traditions and norms that my generation was so deeply invested in.

I think it’ll get worse before it gets better. That’s the way that backlash works: people are really loud and vocal and critical and mean, but then they don’t last because at the end of the day, this is a message that resonates deeper than politics. “Be yourself” is one of the most foundationally loving things that there ever was in the world.

Polyamory activist Muvumbi Ndzalama – features in Episode 5 Monogamish

Could you explain what your story is and why you took part in Planet Sex with Cara Delevingne?

I think I’m one of the few African women that’s polyamorous and open to sharing my story with the world. I’m a pleasure activist, so it’s important to me that people see how other people are living so that they can reimagine their own lives. I’m very open and willing to talk about the relationship dynamics in my life.

Growing up, did you assume that you were going to get married to a man and have children?

Definitely. That’s the narrative we’ve all been fed, no matter where in the world you are. But as we grow, and we see what the world really is, we realise that’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

At what point did you realise that narrative was not for you and there were other options?

I think that’s when I first had a child. My first child opened my eyes to how much more love was expanding within me. During that time I felt not just the love of my child, but also the love of my community. During a very difficult relationship, people really pulled in and loved me in a way that I didn’t think was possible, in a way that I thought was only reserved for certain kinds of people in your life.

There are different sorts of love, aren’t there?

Yes and I felt those different sorts of love, whether that be from the community around me, the love from my mother, love from friends. But I guess I also realised that I can love people in the same way I love my intimate partner, just adding more people to that kind of love that’s meant to be reserved for one person. Those kind of “I’m in love with you” relationships.

So what’s your situation now: you have more than one partner?

Yes, they have different roles, different hats, but they also fall under the same category of people who make me happy and people I can trust.

I’ve got my nesting partner and fiancé, who’s the father of my two youngest children; he’s also co-parenting my oldest child with me. He’s somebody that I spend most of my time with and that’s the longest relationship that I’ve been in. He’s also polyamorous.

My other partner is more like having a high school love affair, that sort of relationship where the expectations on each other are very light. Unlike my nesting partner we’re not talking about our children, and we’re not doing finances together. We just see each other once every so often and talk.

My other partner is in Sweden and has been in my life for quite a while, we don’t see each other very often but I’m seeing him soon and it’ll be a week of passion and romance. All my partners know about each other.

Do they get jealous of each other?

Not really. There might be a bit of envy here and there but, actually, I’m usually the one that experiences jealousy around the partners. When you’ve been polyamorous for eleven years, you learn to deal with the jealousy monster. We get excited for each other and each other’s partners and each other’s happiness, even if that’s not something that we are causing or contributing to. If you’re happy, no matter who’s making you happy, how can you be mad about that?

I’m not saying jealousy doesn’t exist; there are definitely moments, especially around insecurities and boundaries that have been crossed. But I’m starting to really get the hang of it, even though I still have my trigger moments.

What sort of reaction do you get from people?

We live in a world of duality. There’s definitely a lot of “slut-shaming” and a lot of confusion. There’s a lot of making fun, but I also get a lot of people that resonate with me, a lot of people that say they’re grateful that I’m out here telling and sharing my story, and other people who say they want to experiment with creating polyamorous lives for themselves.

What is your hope for the future?

My hope is that people catch up to change collectively. If we can all just be a bit more tolerant and accepting of each other’s differences, there would be more peace.

Nyakim Gatwech, model and activist – features in Episode 6 Do You Think I’m Hot?

Tell me about your background.

My family fled South Sudan due to war, so I was born and grew up in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. When I was seven we went to another refugee camp in Kenya.

In 2007 my family migrated to Buffalo, New York. As a happy child of 14 years old, I was so excited to come to this land of opportunity, start school, have dreams and make friends – but America hit me with a different reality. I experienced bullying and I was told I didn’t belong, I’m not what the American Dream is, or what American beauty is. Dealing with that affected my self -esteem and I went into a dark place. I began to think, how do I start to learn to love myself again? My mom moved us from New York to Minnesota where there were more people that looked like me, and slowly I started making friends and being comfortable in my own skin, started loving who I was again.

You said you weren’t really interested in beauty as a child, so when did that begin?

My oldest sister came to America before we did and did some modelling. While we were still in the refugee camp she sent us some pictures from a photoshoot, I called her the next day and told her whatever that is, I want to do that. That was the first time that I saw what beauty is. I looked at my sister and I was like, “Oh my God, she’s drop dead gorgeous. I want to do what she does”.

Why did you get bullied in New York, do you think?

I got bullied because of the colour of my complexion – I was the darkest person in the room – and that’s what they call colourism. The people that have lighter skin are considered beautiful because they are higher on the chart, closer to the white people which is the “beauty standard”.

Even up till this day, if I go to a grocery store, I still get stares. People will still comment under their breath, but now I’m at a place where I’m so comfortable. Those stares do not affect me, but once upon a time they really did.

How hard was it to break into modelling?

Really hard. The agencies would say to me, “I’m sorry, we already have a girl that looks like you”, meaning they already have one girl with my skin colour. I’d be like, “Oh, wow, I didn’t realise I had a twin”. You need more than one dark-skinned model on your books! We’re all different. It took a while but the whole time I just kept thinking, I’m human too, and I am beautiful too, and I am allowed to have dreams.

What do you think needs to happen to make people realise beauty comes in all shapes, colours and sizes?

You have to have women of all different types of beauty on the covers of magazines, so that people can see how much beauty there is in the world. Beauty is not going to tell me I have to be a certain way. I’m going to stand here and tell you I’m sorry, but my nose is beautiful and my colour is beautiful and my hair is beautiful. Representation matters.

What is beauty to you?

I think beauty is how you feel about yourself from the inside. When I look at the mirror I’m not looking at my nose or my body, I’m looking into my eyes and I’m thinking, “How do I feel about this person from the inside?”

I once told my sister I was thinking of bleaching my skin colour and she said, “bleaching your skin colour is not going to bleach your inside”. I’m so glad I listened to that piece of advice. Looking back, that was crazy that I was going to do that, but it’s a journey that I had to go through to be where I’m at today. Now you can put me in a room full of thousands of people that look nothing like me, and I’m gonna sit there and be as confident as I am. You could never get me to do that before.