Conversations in the Desert


Other than surprise Rihanna performances, the best thing about music festivals is that you get the chance to hang out with really cool people who are all in the same place for one weekend (and all hoping to see Rihanna). In this case, the cool people were singer (2) (3)” and prepare to become obsessed); actress Amandla Stenberg, who you first saw in *The Hunger Games* as Rue and then got to know as an activist when her excellent ” (4)” video went viral; and model (5), whose organization (1) aims to open up the conversation around mental health and addiction for teen girls by fostering mentoring and communication between peers. They represent a new wave of young activists for whom the personal is inextricably political, so Calvin Klein invited them (and me) to meet up at Coachella and talk. Under a sunny California sky, we discussed how the Internet functions in our lives, what it’s like being a nonbinary person, growing up, and, of course, knitting. Here are the best bits of our conversation.​


*On the Internet:*

**Amandla:** I feel like social activism is often rooted in the Internet these days because that’s how we organize, how we have conversations, and how we spread information. Right now we’re having this really intense buildup, with all these conversations going, and we’re starting to organize into something that I feel will culminate into a modern civil-rights movement.

In terms of my personal relationship to the Internet, I joined Tumblr in like ninth grade, and then I started using it more and more as I got older to talk about things that I care about. Finding that Tumblr community was really important to me in terms of figuring out my values and how to use my words to get ideas across.


**Shamir:** The great thing about the Internet is that it’s now a portal for people who live in places that block them off to the world. Anyone is questioning their sexuality or anything , they don’t have to feel stuck or ignorant because the Internet is there them figure it out.

**Adwoa:** I think, for me, I used to feel as if I was fighting against the fast-paced movement of social media, and I saw it in a negative view, but now it has opened up this other world for me. It’s showing me other people who are passionate about the same things that I am, who are using it for much more than just taking a selfie, and who are building a community.

I have girls that I’m only in contact through the Internet. We know everything about each other. It’s weird, but it’s really a genuine and authentic relationship.

My journey has taken me into researching a lot about mental health and understanding myself. For so many years I felt so different. Now I’ve found, in this other dimension, all these people that are feeling and going through the same things that I am. And you don’t see that in print, you know? It’s all smiley faces in expensive clothes … and that’s fine, but I need something more.


*We’re all knitters under 40!*

*On Gender*

**Shamir:** I’ve always been a person who couldn’t fit in a single box. I’ve always had this voice, so people are like, “Are you a boy or a girl?”

There’s no nonbinary representation in mainstream media, and it wasn’t until I discovered other nonbinary people and androgynous people online that I started feeling less like a weirdo. I thought I was an alien! I was like, *I don’t feel like a boy, I don’t feel like a girl, does that mean I have to go to a weirdo camp?* That’s honestly what I was thinking until I found other people that were not only living as their true selves, but having careers and being creative.


**Amandla:** I also identify as nonbinary. It’s not something that I’ve publicly come out as, although I hope that it has slipped into people’s subconsciouses. People get weird about it. They think it’s this wild thing, where you identify as this new breed of human, and it’s really not like that. You know, it’s just: “I don’t believe in these constructs that we’ve created around men and women, around boys and girls. I don’t believe in them, we made them up.”​


*On Growing Up*

**Adwoa:** There are things that I’m still learning about myself, and I keep overthinking it but I have to stop and say, “No, I’ll get there at some point.”

**Shamir:** It’s not a 30s thing, or a 40s thing, or a midlife-crisis thing. You’re always going to feel like you’re missing something because you are getting older. You should always be constantly changing — if you don’t grow, that means there’s a problem.

**Amandla:** I always thought that growing up meant knowing exactly who you are, when actually growing up is letting go that you have to be a certain way and just realizing that every second you are changing and you are a different person.​

*This interview has been condensed and edited.*

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