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‘Banana’ Is Highlighting The Asian-American Experience In A Whole New Way

Culture

Vicki Ho & Kathleen Tso peel back the layers

In 2014, first generation Asian-Americans Vicki Ho and Kathleen Tso launched Banana Magazine, a lifestyle magazine dedicated to Asians that explore both Eastern and Western cultures. This week, the creative duo is on track to release its third annual issue of Banana, which includes pieces grappling with topics like Asian-American identity, as well as a guide to New York City's Chinatown and a look at different takes on the traditional Asian hot pot.

"Kathleen and myself are still trying to figure out our identity as well learn more about Asian culture, as we build each and every issue," says Ho. "We by no means are experts at Asian culture or history or anything like that, so it's really cool, 'cause we get to discover all these things at the same time that our readers do."

By day, Tso is a strategist at a digital media agency and Ho works at a fashion PR company, but they are both extremely hands-on with Banana. While most of the administrative tasks for the brand are handled internally, the majority of the content comes from an external network of contributing writers, artists, and designers. 

"We work pretty seamlessly together, and we even share that one email together, to make sure that we're both signing off and agreeing on things together," Ho says. "I'm more business-oriented, so I do more of the operational things—I take on more of a managing editor role. [Kathleen] takes more of a creative role, she works closely with our art director who's designed our last two issues."

Issue 003 of Banana is available to pre-order now. Tso and Ho will also be hosting a pop-up shop for the zine and an "All Things AZN" marketplace at Canal Street Market in New York on April 29 and 30. Learn more about what the co-founders have in store for us in the interview, below.

What are some of your favorite pieces in this issue?
Vicki Ho: We have a story about exploring the Asian-American identity and what that exactly means. A lot of first-generation Asian-Americans feel this way, where they don't truly feel American but they don't truly feel Asian either, so we've kind of explored this third identity of being Asian-American and what that means. We also talk a lot about the identity of being Asian overseas. We have a piece by this British writer, and she talked a lot about growing up in a Chinese takeaway. A lot of things are threaded throughout the theme of identity. We have another story called "China's Next Great Export," which is a first-person view of rap and hip-hop in Asia and China specifically—the bubbling industry of it, how they perceive American rap, how they are breaking the barriers of hip-hop in Asia, and how they're influenced by American rap. And then we have an interview with this illustrator and artist, Shawna X, who is also our cover artist for Issue 003, and she talks a little bit about identity as well.
Kathleen Tso: "Welcome to Chinatown" is definitely a favorite. We asked Issue 002's Wilson Tang to curate a group of movers and shakers he believes are helping pave the way for Manhattan Chinatown's future—Sophia Ng of Po Wing Hong, Phil Chong of Canal Street Market, Calvin Ng of Nom Wah Nolita, director Evan Leong, photographer An Rong Xu, and Christopher Wong of Breakroom and L.E.S Kitchen. I also love "Asian Glow," where we invited friends, family, and industry folk to get wasted with us and get their photo taken with their Asian glow. We want to celebrate the symptom, rather than hide it with this photo series. 

How is this issue different than the previous ones?
KT: We say this every issue, but this is our best yet. The talent of our contributors keeps leveling up, and the stories we tell are becoming better and better. There's been quite a learning curve for us building a magazine, and though we're still learning, we're starting to get the hang of it.
VH: The issue itself has been growing in pages and in stories since Issue 001, so now we're at 12 stories.

Have you seen any improvement in terms of representation for Asians and Asian-Americans in mainstream media?
VH: I think there is definitely an improvement. I mean, we started [Banana] ourselves 'cause we were very inspired by Eddie Huang and what he's been doing with his book, the TV show, his channel on VICE, and his own social channels. We look at people like Awkwafina, who has been a huge supporter of ours, and she's been getting so much press. She was just on a billboard in L.A. doing something with Comedy Central; like, she has her own talk show. Things are definitely getting out there, and I feel like, especially in the time that we're in, a lot of people are frustrated and angry but also inspired to voice their opinions and feeling positive about being true to their identity and exploring their culture more. I see more bylines from Asian writers, which is really exciting, and more Asian leadership in top companies, which is a really big deal too. It's slow and steady, but I think right now is a really good time for more Asians to speak up and really be proud of their heritage.
KT: There are definitely improvements, year after year, since the days where we only had Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, and a few others to look to in the media. We still have a looooong way to go, but with figures like Eddie Huang, Constance Wu, John Cho, and more, we're definitely getting more representation in the media. We're seeing more Asians cast in relatable roles, and even more male lead love interests cast with Asian actors, like Vincent Rodriguez III in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Aziz Ansari in Master of None. However, missteps like Ghost in the Shell are still happening, so there's still work to do. 

What are you hoping to accomplish or achieve with Banana?
KT: I hope to give something back to my community that I didn't have growing up—something that Asians across the globe who are caught between the East and West influences can fully relate to.
VH: I really want to get it as big as possible, so that people all over can read it and relate to it. Everyone in the Western hemisphere is really intrigued by what is happening in Eastern culture, and then everyone in the Eastern culture is very inspired by what's happening in Western culture. With the internet and social media, it's so easy to reach someone in Seoul or Shangdu and to be able to relate to each other. My hope is to really get Banana out globally so that we can all collect our stories on our collective identity together, and it's not a segmented thing between Asian-Americans and Asians because there's so much inner-connectivity between the two. Secondly, we want [Banana] to be something that people can look at 10, 20, 30 years down the line and know that this is what was happening in Asian culture during that time and this is what was interesting at that time and this is what people our age and our generation were interested in.

How has Banana impacted your community?
KT: It still humbles and surprises me when we get emails from Asians from all different countries who take the time to write us, thanking us for creating a magazine that they feel truly represents them. I hope to achieve that feeling with every issue.
VH: As far as reactions from readers and supporters, it's been tremendous. I didn't think anyone would write us emails, like personal emails or anything, but we have consistently been receiving really personal emails from total strangers from around the world. Most of them are just like, "Thank you for making this magazine. Nothing like this exists, and I wish I had this when I was growing up or like I'm so glad I have it now." There was one email that really stuck out to us; this one girl emailed us saying that she was so inspired by the magazine that she came out to her parents that week because she wasn't afraid to be who she really was. I was shocked. The fact that we are really helping people feel like there's a community and a voice out there really changed everything for us, and it proved to us that we had to keep doing this. 

How have your families reacted to the magazine?
KT: They're completely supportive. My oldest sister Stephanie actually helped us come up with the name, and my other sister Tiffany contributes her talented writing to every issue! There's also a pretty great cameo of my mom in Issue 002.
VH: They're super stoked. I don't think [my family] realized how much I appreciated the history and the heritage behind being Chinese until they saw the magazine come out, and they were like, "Oh, didn't know you were that passionate about it," and I was like, "Yeah, it's cool to be Asian." I think Asian-Americans do struggle with appreciating it and realizing that it's really cool to know a different language and to have a different culture and to have different traditions. After I put out the first issue, I appreciated it even more. 

Where do you hope to see Banana a year from now?
KT: Issue 004! We also hope to continue to get involved in our community by hosting more panels and meetups.
VH: I'd love to expand it into something more than just a magazine. Right now it's a platform, and one of the outlets is a print magazine, and we also have a monthly newsletter and our social channels to grow. Hopefully, within the next year, we can turn it into more of a brand. We're working on a few cool merch items for the launch of Issue 003. We have a Baesian nameplate that's coming out, for which we partnered with this really awesome jeweler we featured in Issue 002 called Tommy the Jeweler based out of Chinatown. We have a few T-shirts coming out and things that you could own outside of the magazine that will make you really feel part of the community and part of the message and the brand. 

Photo by Rachel Dennis

Finally

"What do girls even do together?" This question, or some iteration of it, is frequently posed to me once someone finds out I'm bisexual or hears me mention my girlfriend, or if I make any reference to being interested in girls. I would be annoyed by it, but I have empathy because I know how hard this kind of information can be to find. In fact, the details of how two people with vaginas have sex isn't very widespread information. And, I know that I didn't really have all that much information about girl-on-girl sex before, well, actually having it myself. It's precisely this kind of situation that queer sex educator Stevie Boebi is trying to fix.

Boebi has gained a big following for her informational YouTube videos about how to use a strap-on, how to scissor, how to fist someone, how to choose a vibrator for yourself; any question you could have, she will get you an answer. She doesn't shy away from topics that people wouldn't be quick to ask someone about IRL, either, like BDSM. And she covers the kind of things that are definitely not what we're taught in sex education classes—likely not even in the most progressive curriculums. A study from GLSEN notes that only 4 percent of teens reported learning anything positive about queer sex in their sex ed classes, and points out that in some states, it's actually prohibited to mention queerness at all.

Particularly when it comes to sex with two vaginas, the lack of available public education leads to a general lack of understanding of how we have sex, which then leads to a lack of understanding in the queer community, too. "I just think that lesbian sex is so oversexualized, and we're the least educated," said Boebi when I asked her recently why it's so important for her to spread knowledge about queer sex in particular.

Boebi said that she started out on YouTube making videos about technology, but after she came out as a lesbian, her audience flipped from mostly male to mostly female, though she would prefer a less rudimentary gender breakdown ("the algorithm only deals in binaries, sorry," she quipped).

Ultimately, her sexuality led her to change her content entirely, because she wanted to educate people who couldn't find answers to their questions anywhere else—even on the internet.

"I started getting a lot of what I called 'stupid questions' from very confused teenage girls saying, like, 'How do I do it? Can I get AIDs from fingering someone?'" Boebi told me. They were questions that probably should have had easily Google-able answers, but, when Boebi looked for lesbian sex education content to send to fans who were asking her, she came up empty-handed. "I couldn't find anything. I think I found, like, two articles on Autostraddle, and that was it," she said. "And then I was like, Well, shit! If no one else is going to do it, then I guess I will."

Boebi's audience is mainly comprised of 13- to 24-year-olds, so she keeps in mind that she's helping people who may not be experienced, or even out yet. She uses her own experiences to inform her work sometimes, but also researches extensively and talks to people she knows who "have fancy Ph.Ds in sexology and shit," who can answer her questions or point her to resources she should be referencing.

Boebi's charm is in her relatability; even if she's talking about things we've been conditioned to feel shame around, she does it in such an open and honest way that all that shame disappears—as it should. She does this by perfectly meshing professional talk with jokes and sarcasm, and even uses characters based on star signs. She knows the importance of taking on taboo topics, because there are so many people who won't otherwise find answers to their questions. "I don't actually struggle in my everyday life asking people if they've ever been anally fisted before," Boebi joked with me. "I'll take that burden."

And keeping her tone light and humorous is of the utmost importance to her. "When people are laughing, they're comfortable, and I want people to feel comfortable," Boebi said. "And I want people to know that I'm comfortable talking about sex, and they can be, too." It helps also, Boebi told me, that her audience is separated by a screen, and she's not "in a room with a 12-year-old talking about my labia."

Beyond instructional sex videos, Boebi also deals with other rarely discussed facets of sexuality and physicality. Boebi is polyamorous, and talks openly about it, confronting the stereotypes and the misinformation about the identity head-on. And, she was also recently diagnosed with Ehler's Danlos Syndrome after going years without a diagnosis, and she aims to start working more with disabled queer sex educators to make her work more inclusive of people with disabilities. Though she pointed out to me that her work was already encompassing of disabilities, she "hasn't been a part of the disability activist community for very long," and so she has a lot to learn.

And, though Boebi's happy that she has the platform she does, she wants a more inclusive array of sex educators to join the scene. "My voice is my voice, and it's unique to me, but I think there should be way more," she noted. "Especially people [with intersectional identities]. That would make me so happy if we could diversify sex educators."

And, though Boebi says there's no "ideal way" to educate people about sex, she's definitely on a better track than the public education system, and she makes clear that there's nothing shameful about sexuality—in fact, it's just a part of being human, and a really fun one, at that.

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FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Screenshot via YouTube

The band shared details about their new St. Vincent-produced album that will drop "you into the world of catastrophe"

Sleater-Kinney just shared more information about their St. Vincent-produced album and dropped a new single.

Per Billboard, Sleater-Kinney revealed that their new album, which they've been teasing since early this year and will be their first since No Cities To Love from 2015, will be called The Center Won't Hold. It's due out on August 16 via Mom + Pop Records. "We're always mixing the personal and the political but on this record, despite obviously thinking so much about politics, we were really thinking about the person—ourselves or versions of ourselves or iterations of depression or loneliness—in the middle of the chaos," Carrie Brownstein said in a statement. Corin Tucker further noted that the new album will "[drop] you into the world of catastrophe that touches on the election."

Janet Weiss noted that the band will "explore a different sound palette" with this album, and pointed to St. Vincent as the reason behind it. She said that St. Vincent "has a lot of experience building her own music with keyboards and synthesizers so she could be our guide to help us make sense of this new landscape and still sound like us."

To satiate us until then, the band released a lyric video for new single, "The Future Is Here," which is very grungy. Bump it, below.

Sleater-Kinney - The Future Is Here (Official Lyric Video) www.youtube.com

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This is so satisfying!

Even Jon Snow knows just how unsatisfying the final season of Game of Thrones was, and he's ready to apologize. Well, a deepfake of him is at least. A heavily-edited version of Snow's speech from the fourth episode—just before the bodies of those lost in the Battle of Winterfell get burned—now features Snow apologizing for the conclusion of the show and lighting the script on fire.

"It's time for some apologies. I'm sorry we wasted your time," Snow begins. "And I know nothing made sense at the end. When the Starbucks cup is the smallest mistake, you know you fucked up! We take the blame. I'm sorry we wrote this in like six days or something," he adds, before signaling to his peers to light the script with torches and "just forget it forever." "Fuck Season 8," he says before the pages begin to crackle and burn.

If there were more lines left to alter, we would have loved to see Snow also tackle how messy Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister's story line ended up, as well as Bran's kingship, Cersei's boring demise, and the water bottle appearance.

Watch the entire deepfake and try to heal the wounds left by HBO below.

BREAKING: JON SNOW FINALLY APOLOGIZED FOR SEASON 8 youtu.be

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Photo by Darren Craig

It premieres today, exclusively via NYLON

In LP's song "Shaken," the most recent single from her 2018 record Heart To Mouth, she tells the story of seeing her lover out with someone else—ouch. Today, exclusively on NYLON, she releases a cheeky animated music video that pokes fun at the song's heightened drama and perfectly demonstrates all the angst that comes with falling hard for someone.

"She looks at you like I used to/ And I'm just sitting in the corner sh-sh-shaken," LP sings, as the visual—with art by Maayan Priva—depicts the singer hanging out in a bar, watching the girl she likes meet up with another girl. Despite the situation's inherent drama, "Shaken" is less of a ballad and more of an upbeat bop. LP told us she loves the way "this little video captures some of the fun of the song, and its inherent comical anxiety." Sure, heartbreak isn't that funny, but our (sometimes) overly dramatic reaction to it kind of is.

"'Shaken' feels like a bit of a wild card on this record," LP says. "It's the closest I've come to writing a musical, which I hope to do one day." We heartily endorse this idea: Please, LP, give us the queer jukebox musical we crave.

Until that day comes, though, you can watch the music video for "Shaken," below.

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Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

This cameo has the Beyhive buzzing

I went to see Men In Black: International alone. Which would have been fine if it wasn't for the shock I received when I saw two specific characters on the screen. Unable to keep it to myself, I shared a curious look with the stranger next to me, who was obviously thinking the same thing as me. "Is that them...?" I whispered first. "I think… so," she replied. Then the two men in question started to dance, and we were both sure: "Yep, that's them."

It was Laurent and Larry Nicolas Bourgeois, better known as Les Twins. Fans of Beyoncé will recognize the duo as the talented brothers who often accompany her on tour and in music videos. In Men In Black: International, the two of them play shapeshifting entities—they're more like energy forces than aliens—who pursue Tessa Thompson's and Chris Hemsworth's characters throughout the duration of the film. The twins' ability to manipulate their bodies in ways that are graceful and otherworldly really helps sell them as extraterrestrials and is fun to watch.

So if Thompson in a suit or Hemsworth shirtless weren't enough motivation, here's another reason to go see it. If you look close, you can see them in the trailer below.

MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL - Official Trailer www.youtube.com

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