Natalia Del Rio
Nude photographer. Cycling to each country in the world to do her photography project - Full Disclothesure.
[Interview location: Bathtub at my home in Colorado Springs, Co]
With the infinite possibilities of gender identity and expression, when did you know….
“When I was in middle school and I would have like hella girl crushes… but I thought that was normal. I thought everybody would have daydreams of their best friends. Until I got to high school I realized that that was not, what society would say is, normal. That's when I started realizing I was, low key, in the closet. I was so in the closet that when I was in high school all I would do was hook up with boys, and just really try to hide it. I was a make out whore in high school. And everyone else knew [I was gay], but me. And I was the last to know because I could not accept it at all. I ran and I did the opposite. I thought, ‘OK, I think I like girls so I'm just gonna hook up with guys…”
On her coming out experience...
“So I feel like I'm coming out now again in 2019 at 25 years old. But my first coming out process was when I was 18 years old. I remember I had my first girlfriend, and she was from Montreal and I was living in New Jersey… so she would come and visit every 3 months or whatever. One time, she wasn't gonna come visit, and, I wanted my mom to meet her. My mom always calls all my friends that are girls, my ‘girlfriends’. So I remember calling her and saying, ‘Hey mom, I want you to meet my friend…’ She goes, ‘Oh okay… your girlfriend?’ I'm like, ‘Yeah, but like I really want you to tell me if you like her or not…’ She goes, ‘Why, is she your girlfriend? Or is she your girlfriend, girlfriend?’ I was just like, ‘Yeah… She's my girlfriend, girlfriend, mom…’ She said, ‘Oh, okay... Did you see the new photo I posted on Facebook?’ She did not even care… but the thing that they bother me is I told my mom, ‘Don't tell anyone… let me come out on my own terms…’ She's from Jersey. Like, when you’re from Jersey… We are so extra…. She told everyone, press release to the family. Natty is gay! Yeah, but no one cared.
I am blessed that I grew up in a family where my parents and everyone has been super accepting. My mom's always said since we were children, ‘We don't care if you're a fairy… (We didn't even know what that meant) I don't care what you are... I will still love you!’ …and it's always been like that. I have very supportive parents and family.
My dad is Mexican from Mexico City, but he's also like the hippie of the family. He went traveling for 10 years of his life. He's just very open-minded. My mom did end up telling my dad on her terms, and I remember him calling me and we were just talking normally… and right before he hung up he was like, ‘Hey listen… if you have something to tell me… just to let you know, I'm here to listen… and I'm just here for you…’ We both knew what he was talking about, but I told him, ‘Papi… I would rather talk to you when I see you in person…’ He goes, ‘Okay. Just take your time...’ But I wanted it to be in person, and I knew he was already thinking something because he asked me a lot of questions like… Like, we would be at lunch and a girl would be passing by, ‘Okay… What is it that you like about it this woman? Is it her *ss? Her boobs?’ I know he was just trying to be supportive… like he didn't know any other way. And he was just trying to be as accepting as possible & understanding. So, I really do appreciate that.
Socially… I feel like everybody knew, but me. You know it's kind of like, there's that saying, ‘Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind…’ And it was just like that.”
Fears or concerns with coming out?
“So definitely [fear] of being rejected by my family and friends. And once I saw that that wasn't the case I was able to be more expressive.
Initially, I said I feel like I'm coming out again now, because I came out as bisexual first. Until maybe like 2 weeks ago, I would’ve still considered myself bisexual. In the sense of I'm attracted to women, I can have an emotional connection with women… With men, I'm attracted to men, it is harder for me to be in a relationship with a man, because I have such a strong personality. If we're going to stereotype here, to generalize… Usually these men are more like masculine and like all this stuff, and that's why I butt heads… that is why it's harder for me to be with a man. But I realize I'm attracted to like sensitive men that have a lot of feminine qualities. But I just still can't find myself to be in a relationship with them.”
Frustrations within our community?
“When I would identify myself as bisexual, it was like, ‘Nah, you ain't…you’re just a lesbian…’ That doesn't feel right with me, you know? And it would be this conversation every time it would come up… and this is coming from the community itself. That's the most frustrating part. For example, ironically enough, the first person I shot for the Full Disclothesure project was this Mexican woman… I shot her in Madrid. I met her in Madrid and…
So, just to backtrack and give you a little sense of what Full Disclothesure is about… It started off with accepting your body, and sexuality. So it was specifically just shooting LGBTQ+ people in bathrooms, because it's such a place for self reflection. Really putting who you are in front of the mirror in life - inside and outside. So, I end up shooting this woman this - The Mexican girl. - and she identified, I guess as a lesbian at that time… I meet her 5 years later when I was doing my cycling trip, I passed through Mexico and I met up with her because she from Leon. I meet up with her and I meet her girlfriend, etc… etc.. Well there we're talking about me shooting her girlfriend for the project, and then it gets brought up… she's like, ‘Yeah, Natty’s a lesbian…’ so I'm like, ‘No I’m not… I’m bisexual. What do you mean?’ She was like, ‘You're just afraid to say you're a lesbian…’ And I'm like, ‘No, I'm not. As I'm getting older, I’ve realize I'm more bisexual than ever…’ And we just got into this heated argument where I just could not… I’m like, you say you have been suppressed so much from your family, and you tried so hard to liberate yourself and finally become this person who you are… and now that you're part of this community, I cannot even believe that you are scrutinizing me for how I identify. You were trying to fight that same struggle 5 years ago… about how you identify. 5 years later you're doing the same to me, like people were doing to you…’
Maybe this is why in 2019, and at 25 years old, I feel that maybe I should call myself ‘queer’, rather than bisexual. Maybe if I wasn't getting scrutinized every single time about calling myself ‘bisexual’ I wouldn't have to be thinking I need a new term for myself.”
Favorite part about our community?
“The love... there's just so much love and support. I guess you could really find that in every community, but I feel that since we have gone through this struggle… where it's like, I graduated high school in 2011. So in 2011, there were only 2 openly gay people when I graduated. That was just not a thing. 2 years later, 4 people graduating in 2013/14… it was like, ‘Oh cool, you're bisexual…’ That was just 2 years later… you think it’s nothing, but 2 years makes such a big difference. It's just so amazing how fast these rights for the LGBT community have been progressing in such a rapid pace, where before it was so glacial.
The support and love that comes from this community… and just you just see everyone just feeling so liberated. I went to a queer slam in San Francisco right before I came here, and I just feel like I am part of different communities… I mean I'm part of the cycling community, etc… but it’s the love and warmth that you get from this community is uncanny, and it's unlike any other.”
What is something you would tell a younger you? Advice for anyone out there who feels like they can’t come out, or they don’t have a community to be a part of?
“’Those who care don’t matter, and those who matter don’t care…’ I wish I really understood that way younger, and also, Rihanna once said in her song - Cheers To The Weekend - ‘people are going to talk whether you're doing bad or good…’ Regardless of you being yourself, people are going to talk. So why not do it while you're being your true self?
A 16th Century French philosopher, Montaigne… he writes and spent his whole life seeking truth in how to be honest, and what not. So in his book he says, ‘…in order for one to be honest with oneself one would literally and metaphorically have to show and present themselves naked to the world.’ And that's where my project comes through. Just being as honest with yourself, and people will respect honesty rather than this ‘fake original’ version we're trying to put out…”
What in your life are you most proud of?
“…definitely the Full Disclosure project. Like I said, the goal is to cycle to each country in the world to photograph at least one person in their bathroom. That way I can map out the cultural taboos surrounding body image and sexuality. And my goal in life is to liberate the human body, to de-sexualize it. So my biggest accomplishment is that in itself… and I cycled from Canada all the way down to Costa Rica. I mean I'm supposed to get down to Argentina, and then I'll go to Africa and Asia… that that is one of my biggest things about ‘who I am’ rather than just this queer person.
Also, one of my biggest accomplishments was doing a 10-day silent meditation. The silent part was the easiest part. The hardest part is being 10 days with yourself and your thoughts, and really trying to eradicate these issues that you have within yourself. That, hands down, I recommend that to every single person on this earth… to spend time with yourself to get yourself into a better place, because we think we know who we are but we don't. We are constantly changing that. We can only attempt to know we know who we are. We can only attempt to know who we really are.”
With the state of the nation and the world in its current state, what’s one thing you would change if you had the power?
“That's a huge question. Yeah wow. I would make it mandatory to do that 10-day silent meditation… Self reflection is, going back to French philosophy, that is what Montaigne said… ‘…in your whole lifetime, if you're going to study one thing, it should be yourself.’ That is the most important thing. I'm not in a relationship with anyone, but like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith… or Barack Obama and Michelle Obama… they always talk about bettering themselves first, so that they can better their relationship. That's even if you're not in a romantic relationship with someone, I need to better myself to have better relationships with my family, my friends, etc., etc… So if we're going to think about it as a core value and we all were forced to do this meditation, maybe even the leaders and everybody would have a better, more clear vision of an ulterior motive for this planet.”