Meet Sean Munar, a fashion-forward organizer for D.C. Asian Pride

With the joy of LGBTQ+ Pride can come a lot of super valid concerns: Will there be cops at Pride? Just where are the proceeds for rainbow capitalist this and rainbow capitalist that going? Are trans and genderqueer individuals at the forefront of our parades and campaigns, like there was at the Stonewall Riot in 1969? (Cheers to you, Marsha P. Johnson!) And to double down on that, where are our queer people of color at Pride?

One answer to that question — in Washington, D.C., at least — is Asian and Pacific Islander Queers United for Action (AQUA). AQUA is committed to championing “gay, bisexual, transgender, and other queer, male-identified members of the API communities.” The organization co-hosts monthly queer, Asian support groups every first Thursday at the D.C. center. It also co-hosts an annual charity banquet for the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) to raise funds for building leadership in D.C.’s queer Asian community. As an addition to Capital Pride, AQUA has organized D.C. Asian Pride. The organization recently competed in the Dragonboat Festival with its Out2Paddle team (sponsored by the DC Mayor’s Office on Asian Pacific Islander Affairs). [Update: AQUA would like to add that it won several medals and a trophy in the top division during this event.] An AQUA contingent will also be marching in the parade performing doing poongmul aka Korean drumming. [Update: AQUA would also like to add that it will be handing out information about Washington’s queer Asian community.]

Ahead of June’s Pride festivities, Sean Munar, a self-identified “gaysian” and one of AQUA’s new board members, let me pick his brain about queer advocacy and fashion. Below is the conversation we had prior to hanging out at a place that just brims with America’s questions of self-expression, identity, and the aesthetics that accompany them: The Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art. Even in Munar’s personal experience, you’ll find just why it’s crucial we have intersectional LGBTQ+ pride — 365 days a year.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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On advocacy

CC: How long have you been involved with AQUA and how did you get connected with the organization?

SM: I’ve been involved with AQUA since June of 2018, when I attended their Pride & Heritage Potluck celebrating the transition from Asian-American Heritage Month in May to Pride Month in June. I was recommended to the organization by a friend who believed that I should go and meet members of the LGBTQ+ community in a more wholesome environment than what I was used to.

It’s funny because even though I was born in D.C. and lived in the nearby Maryland suburbs all my life, I’d never heard of it before. People usually find their way to AQUA if they’re recommended by a friend (something I do quite a lot). Or if they take the initiative and research online to see if there are any groups that do what AQUA does.

CC: How do you describe what AQUA stands for and what AQUA does?

SM: AQUA seeks to promote advocacy and solidarity among gay Asians in the D.C. metro area. AQUA is very much a catch-all for gaysians in the area who seek to connect with others. It’s also for those who also want to advocate for that identity in the public sphere. The organization provides educational and advocacy-related opportunities for members to engage in — most notably when we’re working with NQAPIA, but also locally, as we participated in canvassing and phone bank operations for the midterm elections.

I believe AQUA’s most important role is also the simplest: providing a community an LGBTQ+ person of Asian descent that they can relate to and feel at home with. Many people in D.C. are transplants — people who uproot themselves and try to venture out to advance their career, and take advantage of other opportunities that the nation’s capital can offer. Starting a new chapter in your life is already daunting, but for those who belong to marginalized groups, striking out on your own without a support system can be extremely isolating. Being able to find a group of friends to meet over boba or kamayan, to train with for the dragon boating or for the kickball league, to go on bar runs or catch a drag show in town, or to do any other myriad of activities with while exploring D.C. is such an important catalyst for so many in the organization.

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CC: Why was it important for you to join an organization like AQUA?

SM: For me, AQUA has been one of the main sources of support I’ve drawn on since I started to try and engage with the gay and Asian community in public. Before my time with AQUA, I did not really have a forum to talk with others that closely shared my identity — nor a community that I felt that I fit in well with. Many aspects of both my Asian heritage and my sexuality were not really developed when growing up or even when I went to college at a small, predominantly white Catholic school in the mountains.

To be able to fully engage with people who identify like me — in both aspects of my identity, and who come from many walks of life, and around the country and the world — has been unyieldingly enriching as I continue to try and explore my identities further.

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On fashion

CC: How would you describe your personal style?

SM: My fashion style can really be segmented into four different types of looks that I go for: AsianStreet Fashion, Bold Prep, Youthful Kawaii, or just simple. Regardless, most everything I own falls on the greyscale (white, black, grey) and shades of blue!

  • The Asian Street Fashion look really draws upon designs and lines often found in clothing markets in Asia compared to the U.S. It often has a more form fitting design, with bolder lines and embellishments that really make a piece look unique. The cuts are also different as it seeks to promote that slimmer look. My particular favorite is the use of asymmetry. I almost always have to buy these types of clothes online from Asia because there simply isn’t a shop in the U.S. that really captures that aesthetic. I hope that in the near future that these styles become more readily available as the popularity of the Asian street style rises with K-Pop groups penetrate the US market.

  • The Bold Prep look is very much the westernized idea of “business casual.” A nice button-down shirt with a bold pattern/features, with the sleeves rolled up, and a standout color combination. The shirt and pants cuts are always skinny, with a matching belt and shoe combo. Floral designs are always fun and classy, and brings an elegant vibe to your closet. And a good color block will give a bold and confident vibe! And in the winter, if you pair it with a scarf with a smart knot, it’ll even give you some artsy points.

  • The Youthful Kawaii look really is just used for the spring or summer, where I would wear oversized tops and pullovers with some above-the-knee shorts to create an “aw, you’re adorable!” vibe. Also, by adding a baseball hat to any outfit, you lose at least a few years.

  • And of course The Casual Look is familiar to everyone. Not every day has to be a dress-to-impress type of day. Sometimes — maybe most of the time — you just want to be comfortable. And that’s perfectly OK! Whether it be a plain tee and some shorts or sweatpants, you can still look totally awesome in it! A look that evokes that you don’t have to try too hard to look good. For me, this always includes simples tees with some sort of stand out design, whether it be on the sleeves, the neck line, or maybe a fun pocket in front. And when paired with some nice fitting bottoms, and matching shoes and some accessories – comfy look achieved!

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CC: Where do you look for fashion inspiration?

SM: Korean idols are currently driving the Asian fashion market — most notably “street fashion” with their bold and undeniably stylish looks. Whether it be from a highly stylized music video or just them in just everyday wear, their looks make a statement — a highly crisp, clean, and often times experimental statement.

And these looks which most would think would only appear in a music video or something, can actually be found in the common marketplace. These idols perpetuate an ideal look 24/7, on account of their star status and the strict nature of the Korean entertainment industry. Their fans often times would want to look (or have their significant other look) like their favorite stars

And with the use of a more and more highly sophisticated technology, it is actually commonplace to use a fashion search engine to find pieces of clothing that were worn or were inspired by something worn by your favorite idol from whatever picture. This allows easier than ever access to stylish looks for the mainstream to replicate, so that the mainstream itself is found to be super stylish.

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CC: Are there any people (friends, family, celebrities) who have influenced your style?

SM: Actually no! The greatest influence for my style would actually come from anime character designs. As weird as that can sound, I’ve always appreciated how bold and stylish the looks were. I’ve always been drawn toward looks that take a moment to fully process it.

That being said, by no means would a design ripped straight from a cartoon totally work. But that the idea of a a character being recognizable on the basis of their clothes is endearing. Which is one of the main reasons I respect the cosplay community so much. The way that people in the cosplay community bring these designs to life and make them so visually appealing is completely mind-blowing, and showcases how interesting concepts and looks can totally be brought from an idea to a sketch to the real world!

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CC: What’s one thing in your closet that you can wear that makes you feel affirmed, empowered and confident?

SM: I feel like I have a piece of clothing that gives me confidence for almost every situation.

For a more formal event, I have a lovely blue party blazer I just adore. It has with such a sleek and rich hue, and a great fit that really pops and lets me stand out from the crowd. It makes me feel as if I’m standing a few extra inches taller (even though that would practically be my shoes with a large wedge heel that would be doing that).

Clothes that make you look good can totally enhance how you feel about yourself and can bring out an inner confidence that you might not even know that you had.

CC: What item of clothing are you excited about bringing out, now that D.C. is starting to thaw?

SM: Just regular short sleeve shirts and shorts! This winter has been absolutely punishing. Though it allowed for some cute jackets and coats be on display, there’s nothing just like being able to go out in a shirt/tank top and some shorts for a run and be comfortable!

But as for an actual item, I might be thinking of joining the romper trend. I didn’t get into it when it first sprung up, but maybe this next season I might try it out!

CC: Do you have a Pride outfit planned?

SM: Nope! I’m right now still planning accommodations for the Prides I might go to! Besides Capital Pride in D.C., I’m thinking of going to New York for World Pride. I just know that I’d be avoiding rainbow as the overall motif. I understand that it’s the community’s symbol, but it’s so hard to integrate in a coherent outfit. I’d much prefer to go in something cute with a small homage to the community with maybe a small pin or whatnot.

CC: Drawing on personal experience, do you feel like fashion and beauty is important to LGBTQ+ expression? Why or why not?

SM: Fashion and beauty are extremely important to the LGBTQ+ community and its individual members — simply because it gives them the opportunity to showcase how they wish to physically express their inner spirit. Those in the LGBTQ+ community often find themselves in situations where their family, friends, and the general community they’re in believe that they are morally wrong.

Fashion and beauty allow LGBTQ+ individuals to detox from negative energies, and allow them to look and feel as fabulous outside as they know they are on the inside. These glamorous looks can also be seen as an offensive tactic against those that malign the LGBTQ+ community. By expressing themselves in such a public and personal way, that draws attention to themselves, their community, and how their place in society should be normalized. And more so, it inspires confidence!

When people think they look great, they feel great, and they act more assured in what they do and who they are. And it lets them live their best life, despite what anybody else may have to say. 🍒

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