Unearthing the importance of ‘saying it with your chest’ – London-based online content creator, Char Ellesse provides a platform through Girls Will Be Boys and the podcast Saying it With Your Chest for those who feel as though they are screaming into the void when discussing issues of marginalisation. Inspired by her own struggles with mental health, she uses social media to tell the in-depth stories of others, working on creating conversations to educate on issues that are often glazed over, or appropriated as ‘trendy activism,’ in hopes to create a more permanent, impactful message.
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To begin with, would you mind introducing yourself, and giving us a brief overview of your work to those who may be unfamiliar? 
I’m Char Ellesse, the founder of the online story-telling platform, Girls Will Be Boys. We pose the question, is it always binary? Kind of a rhetorical question, but it’s to do with gender, identity and sexuality – basically a platform to showcase people’s journeys to self-acceptance, and pass on experiences of that. I’ve also just launched a new podcast.
What inspired you to get involved with the platform, have you always wanted to be able to tell other people’s stories? 
I’ve always been a people person, so I've always loved bringing people together and finding out their stories. I’m always interested to hear and learn. I remember when I was younger, I had been obsessed with ‘girly’ magazines, always writing to get pen pals because I was so intrigued by the fact that someone is halfway across the world, living a completely different life, so I think just being intrigued by other peoples' stories has guided me in my personal life, and then it came into work life and I just wanted to make a film about women that had shaved their head, which launched the platform. Finding out that people liked to know about other people's stories, I wanted to make more films, which led to me creating the podcast. 
Activism can be a huge topic to try and grasp alone, how did you get started? 
I think just through hearing other people's stories, and using my own stories to speak of injustices. I feel like sharing my story and helping other people led me to continue to help others. The first thing I did regarding activism was sharing my story of anxiety and depression – the reception was crazy at the time, and I was so shocked. It was at the time when Instagram had still been food and outfit pictures – but loads of things were going on in my head. At the time, I still had a job, and I didn't go freelance with Girls Will Be Boys until 2019, and I started it in 2018. I just started captioning my Instagrams with things that were raw, honest, and just my opinion, and then it turned into activism – but I wouldn’t call myself an activist, if people learn something from me, then I guess my stuff is educational.  
What role has social media played in growing your platform, and giving you your own voice? 
Instagram has been massive, but now I feel as though it has become a little bit detrimental just because it has become something different to what it was when it started, but I’ve definitely met a lot of my friends, and I was able to get a lot of people together, get a lot of messages out there – even just being able to share my platform, and my work on Instagram has been really helpful. It was like a community, as a lot of the time, people don’t have access to in-real-life communities, so they are able to build them online, and on social media.  
You talk a lot about identity politics, but how would you describe identity? Do you think it has any real meaning? 
I feel like identity is all of the puzzle pieces of you, that are put together to make one big thing – your opinions, your values and your appearance – just your views, your personal taste, that all make up pieces of this puzzle that become your identity. 
Do you think that Instagram and the ability it’s had to bring Black and queer culture into the mainstream has had a positive effect on people in marginalised categories, or do you think it’s become a way to appropriate this culture? Do you think it's important to speak up about it? 
I definitely felt it was at a time when everyone was listening. I’d felt like I had been shouting into a void, but people were actually listening during the resurgence of Black Lives Matter in 2020. That’s kind of when it probably seemed like I was a big activist, but I was just speaking about the same things I have always spoken about. It’s a difficult one, and it’s bittersweet, as it has helped in a way that a lot more people have access to accidentally being educated, but I don't necessarily think it feels like progression, because a lot of the same things I speak about, still exist. Just because people know what they are now, like microaggressions that happen in the workplace, it doesn’t mean that they’ve stopped happening – it just means that now more people know what they are.
It’s had a tiny dent, and it definitely did in 2020, but I'd say that, personally, and I know for a lot of Black creators, it felt like we got lifted, and then dropped when no one gave a shit. It’s become more detrimental to have been raised higher, as the fall was bigger, because there's obviously shadowbanning, and our content is not being seen, due to the issues that we talk about. I just don’t like what Instagram has become, but there are always other platforms – such as TikTok now. There's a whole load of other emerging social media platforms that could help.   
How do you feel about tokenism and activism as a ‘trend’ that seemed to have occurred in cases such as the BLM movement? Do you think your work has become more essential now this trend has subsided? 
I do feel like it definitely felt like a trend, it was quite upsetting. I would say that I’m disappointed but not surprised, it’s not a huge shock to me that it was a trend. People didn’t care before, and these things have been happening for ages. BLM started ages ago – but it only got picked up when it did. So I do think it is important for conversations to still continue, but I don't necessarily think it is the role of marginalised people to have to talk about their experiences all the time. I think that there is a responsibility to help make a change, even if it's not your story it's about becoming aware of your impact, and also sometimes it has more of an impact when it's coming from someone else. That's not to say that I don’t feel like I need to talk about anything, obviously, I do, because I have the podcast, but the responsibility shouldn’t solely be on people like me.  
In 2017, you created your first film OMG she’s bald which became a popular hashtag and movement across Instagram. What does baldness represent for you, in a society so obsessed with physical and gendered categorisation? 
I just wanted to know, or be able to share other people's reasons for shaving their heads – there were multiple reasons why. I wanted to inspire people who didn't have a choice in losing their hair, give them a chance of reclamation, and show that it doesn’t have to mean any of the negative things that a lot of people associate with women having no hair, it can also be a choice. I just find it so bizarre that people make such bold assumptions about people based on their hair, it's literally just hair! Also, I always say that in the same way that people don’t dress to suit their bodies, why do women have to get haircuts to ‘suit’ their faces? Sometimes, for some people, it can be the same as getting a bob or growing their hair out, it's the same thing. I just wanted to show that it doesn’t necessarily mean something negative when a woman shaves their head.  
The podcast that you have been talking about, Say It With Your Chest is a safe space for unfiltered conversation with members of marginalised communities, what led you to create it?  
It just felt like a natural marrying of the two sides of what I do; like on my platform, I write big captions about different topics that I am passionate about. So there's that side of my personal Instagram, and then there's my platform Girls Will Be Boys, where I was talking about other peoples' experiences, so I just felt like it was the perfect way to delve further into these topics. And also, I feel like the podcast was the best format to really get into the corners of the conversation. A lot of the time, these issues tend to become an infographic, a short and snappy message, but a podcast can allow for layers of conversation, discussing things that are not so simple – it is the best way to allow people to speak freely, but also combat any chance of misunderstanding. It's an extended version of something that is skimmed over a lot.  
How did you work on curating the kind of guests you wanted to have on the Say It with Your Chest podcast? How did you figure out the kind of issues you wanted to raise? 
Initially, I looked through the Instagram posts that I had done, and was like: ok, which topics do I want to go into further? Because I had already decided that season one was going to be unapologetic, and at the end of every episode I ask: what's one apology you’ve given that you would like to take back? And I ask every guest that. I was like: ok, which topics related to that? So I kind of just laid it out.
I had a few guests that I definitely wanted to talk to, and built episodes around them. Because I've been close friends with one of the guests, Joss Jaycoff, literally for 6 years now, I used to work with her in retail, she’s actually featured in one of my other Girls Will Be Boys films, and she’s done a lot of work around binary identities in Spain and in pronouns. The way that she articulates herself shows how much knowledge she has, and I feel like if I can help bring that conversation to the United Kingdom, I’d definitely want to do an episode on that. Also, just through having conversations with my partner. She grew up in foster care, I didn’t know much about it, or Black kids in foster care, no one was talking about this, so I wanted to do an episode on that.
There was also a post I had made previously about shame being a weapon of manipulation, and I was like, what topics could that relate to? So I picked guests for those specific topics.  
Why do you think marginalised people feel like they have to apologise a lot of the time? 
We get made to feel like it is our own fault, that our existence is a burden. We have to constantly justify why things that happen to us are wrong, or why there are so many injustices. I think when you’re constantly defending that, it does make you feel like you’re sorry that you’re even here. It feels like a burden when there are so many injustices that happen to you, so I think it’s definitely that.  
You often discuss this idea of desirability politics on the podcast. For those who may not know, could you give an overview of the issue, and its importance when discussing gender, race, and sexuality? 
It was an issue close to my heart. The episode with Steph, my mum said it felt like a conversation I was having with myself. That episode was very honest, and very complex, but desirability politics is skimmed over a lot. It's the structure in which women are seen as desirable, by society, and how they can navigate through life, depending on what level of the desirability scale that they are on.  
Do you think it's become more important now social media has become abundant with photoshopped images of women and young girls? Do you think it has become detrimental to young Black women, and those who feel as though they do not feel as desirable by society's unrealistic standards of beauty? 
Definitely, I wish I had heard that episode when I was younger, just to know that I'm not alone and I'm not making it up, because sometimes you can feel like you’re making these things up, or being overdramatic. I know how damaging it was for me and my self-esteem, but also, it’s not our fault, and to know that it’s happening because of a certain structure that has been created in society. I think that understanding these issues makes it a bit easier to digest, but it's important because people need to know that they are not the problem, it's a problem with the system. 
Are there any particular topics you hope to discuss further in upcoming episodes? 
There’s so much, not all of the episodes are out yet, but i already have ideas for season two. There’s so much to talk about, and so many peoples stories, and opinions that I want to get on the podcast. There are so many things that I feel like people don't realise are happening. I don’t want to give too much away but there's definitely more coming.  
Is there an ideal guest that you would want to bring on? 
There's a lot, there's definitely a lot, depending on the topic, but there's people in general I would love to have a conversation with, like Michaela Coel, I don't know how I’d be able to conduct that interview as i’d be fangirling, but I’d love to sit down and talk to her. 
If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling against societal systems of binaries, what would it be? 
I would definitely say listen to the episode! But also I think I would say that a lot of the things you feel are because people have put them on you, it’s not to do with who you are, and there is nothing wrong with you, it’s the world. In the Side A and Side B of the conversation. On the episode Is It Always Binary, they speak about it better than I ever could.
Where do you see your activism going in the near future? Do you have any further upcoming projects in motion? 
I do, I have a lot of ideas, I think I want to move into the broadcasting space, I want it to be less about influencing or activism, and move into conversations. I’d also like to grow Girls Will Be Boys, as a platform, and reach the people that it would help, who haven’t had the chance to access it that may need the support.  
To finish, what would your ideal vision of your own progression be? What steps do people need to take to enable progression as a society? 
The steps other people need to take are just to start. I am a control freak, and a perfectionist, but I had to just start. There are things that I see in my first films where I feel like I wish I had done something different – but it just needed to be out there. So I'd say just start, start somewhere, it doesn’t matter where. I want progression to be more of a big deal, on the level that reaches the amount of people as say, Gurls Talk. I'd like to be able to work in different countries, and be able to bring people together in real life. I know that we are still kind of in the pandemic, kind of not, but just to have more physical things, and help more people where I am able to.
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