Mia Dennis and Basjia Almaan met through a mutual friend at a vegan day out and have been best pals ever since. The pair share many commonalities—they are women of colour, models and creatives—and they also belong to the same community; a cultivated space for acceptance, care and nourishment.
In collaboration with Calvin Klein and to celebrate Pride, we asked our pal Jamie Heath to snap the beauties in their hometown, Sydney, and then sat down for a wide-spanning conversation. Mia generously opened up about the role of ‘chosen family’ in allowing her to safely express and understand her own queerness. And, as a member of the House of Silky, Basjia reflected on the icons who paved the way for Sydney’s thriving ballroom and voguing scene. Be prepared to take notes as the duo dish out their practices for self-love, provide advice on how to confidently express sexuality online and illustrate the best way to live authentically.
Hi! Can you introduce yourselves for any CPC readers who might not yet know you?
Mia Dennis: My name is Mia Dennis, I’m a queer, South African woman of colour. I’m a model, lover, dog-mom and creative.
Basjia Almaan: My name is Basjia Almaan, I’m 26 years old, I’m of African, Australian and Greek descent, I am a queer black woman, a model, a creative, a student, a lover and many many other things!
How did you meet?
B: I met Mia through our friend Pasepa at a vegan day out in Glebe! She’s got the best heart, and she’s the kindest soul. I’m so grateful to call her my friend!
As queer people of colour, we’re often forced to carve out our own spaces and forge our own families. Can you elaborate on the importance of community?
M: I think of ‘community’ as a chosen family. As a young person understanding and coming into my queer identity, I repressed my queerness for a long time. It wasn’t until I moved to Sydney and found my community that I started embracing my queerness.
B: Community is family! Community is so much more than people we exist amongst, our community are our chosen family who love and celebrate each other for being exactly who we are. We nourish and care for each other in ways that are so deeply rooted in pure love and acceptance. It’s so special to be a part of the community I am surrounded by. I feel seen and loved.
Who in your community do you look up to the most?
M: I look up to all my queer elders as they have all paved the way for the freedom we have today.
B: There are so many people in my community I look up to! First are definitely my House of Silky parents Xander and Miranda. They have really helped make me feel like I have a special place within the community. I look up to my silky sister Akashi so much. She is such a safe place for me and I honestly believe she is my soulmate. So many powerful divine women in the community like Bhenji Ra and Kilia, all the people who continue to cultivate safe spaces like Kelly, who created Leak Your Own Nudes! There are so many! Honestly everyone around me inspires me in so many ways!
How has your idea of queerness changed over time?
M: While I haven’t always been confident and open about being queer, I now embrace it and find pride in it rather than shame. The internet really aided in validating my identity over time. Prior to this I had a lot of internalised shame.
B: I think my idea of queerness has shifted. It’s not just subject to who you're attracted to, but also broadened to how you see yourself outside of the basic gender structures we’ve been programmed to identify with. For me my idea has been about not just being attracted to a person based on ‘gender’ but just attraction to a person based on who they are as a person. Also I feel like queerness has become deeper, it's not just a political ideology, it’s an identity, it’s community.
How do you think queerness and creativity are linked?
M: Through the ability to live freely as one self allows for creativity to breed in an organic way.
B: Creativity is queerness and queerness is creativity. If you look at history and culture, queer black and poc people have been at the centre of art and creation, of culture, of fashion and movement, of all creative genres. They are the pioneers!
How do you navigate expressing your sexual and/or gender identity in online public spaces such as Instagram?
M: I just be myself and post whatever I want to. I am aware that it is easier for me because I am a cis-het light skinned woman, so I am always hyper-aware not taking up too much space.
B: I think for me I just express myself as authentically as possible. Online, I’m just doing me and expressing my truths without thinking about how I’m being perceived because people will always have thoughts, opinions or comments so I just allow my essence to shine through on its own. Being a black queer woman it feels important for me to just sit in and celebrate that in a way that feels right to me.
What are you most proud of?
M: I’m most proud of myself for being vulnerable enough to fall in love last year. My relationship with my boyfriend has changed my life. I’m also really proud of seeking help for my mental health.
B: I’m most proud of how far I’ve come with my self confidence. I used to be painfully shy, painfully insecure, uncomfortable in my own skin in a multitude of ways. I always wanted to look or be someone else. Over the years I’ve worked so hard on my self acceptance and self love and to be happy in my own skin. To try to free myself from society’s typical standards of how a woman should look or act, think or dress, and be the best possible version of me that I chose to be!
How do you practice self-love?
M: Having a beautiful candle lit hot bath and ritualistic skin routine (that I’m not consistent with lol), making myself tea (Rooibos with honey and a few cinnamon sticks), masturbating, journaling and cuddling my cute baby girl Peggy.
B: For me practicing self love is about spending quality time with myself, doing things I love and that brings me peace. It’s about honouring my feelings, my thoughts, about creating boundaries for myself and not allowing people to cross them. It’s also about self awareness and understanding how i can heal and grow in order to be a better person.
Any advice for people struggling to express their authentic selves?
M: It takes time, trust the process and be comfortable with having to lose people and versions of yourself along the way that no longer serve you.
B: I think there’s no real rules or advice that I could say that applies to the individual. Everyone does things on their own time, but just be patient with yourself, it will come, that self acceptance to be yourself. Also remembering that I don’t want to waste my life worrying about what others think of me helps to remind me that I have to enjoy my life and be myself because you honestly don’t know when it’s your last day. Also surround yourself with people who appreciate you for you.
How do you think others can be better allies for the LGBTQIA+ community?
M: By actively doing the work through donating to queer organisations, to crowd funding campaigns, speaking out against queerphobia and transphobia within friendship groups and family. Just anything more than sharing a slide on your Instagram story.
B: I think people can be better allies by calling out the people around them who are homophobic or transphobic, educating their friends and family, de-centring themselves from conversations regarding issues pertaining to the community and elevating the voices of those within the community. Hiring people within the community for work and paying them for their art and their time!
Feature: Martyn Reyes Photos & Film: Jamie Heath Fashion: Miguel Urbina Tan
Created in collaboration with Calvin Klein