In the top center, white text set against a pink backdrop reads “Trans and Caffeinated. The Podcast.” Underneath this text is an image of Felix, a Vietnamese-American trans masculine person, stands between two large green plants. They have short, dark hair, a light blue, floral-collared, button down shirt, and rust-colored pants. They’re leaning one arm on a white planter, with a subtle smile aimed toward the camera. “Felix Tran (he/they).” Underneath this square, against a pink backdrop, is white text reading “...on cancel culture, being horny, and softvelvetboy.” Behind the photo on the left side is a vertical light blue square.

Trans and Caffeinated, Episode 13: Felix Tran (he/they) on cancel culture, being horny, and softvelvetboy

You can listen to Felix Tran on cancel culture, being horny, and softvelvetboy on:
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Living Artists Collective

Transcription (trans cription…)

Arielle: Have you heard of Felix Tran? …no? Well, that’s surprising!

Felix is a Seattle-based, Vietnamese-American, transgender artist voted most likely to have huge bursts of energy at 1:00 AM and work until 5:00. 

A little under two years ago, Felix co-founded and designed a logo for Coffee at Large—or “CAL”—which launched with a barista-led coffee-shop walkout that rocked the coffee world. Within days, everybody and their cousin had set CAL’s logo as their Instagram profile picture, in solidarity with industry workers facing workplace mistreatment.

Felix—also known by their impulsively yet aptly-named art alter-ego softvelvetboy—has since become one of the industry’s go-to digital illustrators and graphic designers. Felix is hugely self-aware, and I constantly admire their commitment to growth—both as a person, and as an artist. 

This episode mentions sex and genitals, cancel culture, the prison-industrial complex, workplace mistreatment, hormones, and transmedicalism.

Before we get into the meat of this episode, I want to provide a little more context to our conversation about cancel culture. 

I wholeheartedly believe that folks should be held accountable for harmful behavior. If a harm occurs publicly, or has the potential to negatively impact more folks, I fully believe that harm repair must also occur publicly. 

When Felix and I discuss cancel culture in this episode, we are specifically discussing the idea that, in certain cases, there can and should be paths to redemption — if, and only if, the individual or individuals who caused harm actively seek to repair the harm and engage in a process of transformative justice. 

This is Felix Tran on cancel culture, being horny, and softvelvetboy

Cheers, queers! I’m here today with coffee person, artist, and Coffee At Large co-founder Felix Tran, who uses he or they pronouns. Felix, why don’t you kick us off by sharing a little bit about yourself?

Felix: Hi, everyone. I’m Felix. I’m a trans, Vietnamese-American, digital artist based in Seattle. I like, like to label myself as a freelancer, but I do have a few part-time jobs where I’m like, managing social media accounts, and do some in-house graphic design, and yeah. I started Coffee at Large, and I am part of an artist collective called Living Artists Collective.

Arielle: Cool. Do you mind sharing a little bit about some of the social media stuff you do, some of the freelance artwork that you do?

Felix: Yeah, for sure. Uh, currently I do a lot of freelance graphic design and digital illustration. I started off as a digital illustrator, but a lot of folks like to lump in digital illustration and graphic design, so I kind of fell into graphic design and just taught myself how to design stuff. Um, and, for social media work, I manage Fuel Coffee’s social media account, and I do some of their graphic design. And I also, uh, work as a barista and manage Union Coffee’s social media account. So, those are the accounts I, like, run on the side.

Arielle: Cool. So, I first found you through an organization that you co-founded, which we both just talked about, uh, Coffee at Large, which aims to empower baristas and shine a light on mistreatment within the coffee industry. So, first off, can you start off by sharing a little bit about, like, why Coffee at Large Started, and the kind of work that you do?

Felix: Yeah, for sure. So, Coffee at Large started when a group of baristas and I were pretty unhappy with our workplace. We all worked at a company called Slate Coffee, they’re based in Seattle. We met for like three to four days in a row for like ten hours straight to talk about like, what launching Coffee at Large looked like, and what walking out looked like. Yeah, we just all walked out because it was, like, an awful, toxic work environment. And honestly, none of us knew much about unionizing, so we didn’t realize unionizing was an option. But now that I, like, am aware, I wish we would have unionized. I think that would have been, like, a really powerful move. But because of Coffee at Large, I can engage in more conversations around workplace activism, so yeah, very grateful for that.

Arielle: Yeah, so what are some, like, conversations and things that that has allowed you to do, like, what have you been able… what conversations have you been a part of, like, what kind of movement have you seen within the coffee industry since starting Coffee at Large? 

Felix: It’s kind of hard, because a lot of our activism is online, and we’re trying to move from online activism to actually, like, community-based, like, organizing. Like, it’s great that we have a social media platform, but also, we want to serve and support our community. So we’re trying to transition from, like, posting stuff online to actually doing the work, and seeing the products of our labor. It’s been a while since I’ve done, like, community activism, but I think we shared a lot about, like, what a toxic workplace looks like, and what a healthy place looks like. And I think we wanted to create like, resources for the community to make, like, this information accessible to baristas and business owners. That’s, like, what our goal was. I mean, small goals… our main goal is to obviously, like, unionize baristas across the nation, but, you know, gotta start small, and then, like, unionize small communities first, before you can fucking take on a nation full of baristas, or, like, a nation. Yeah.

Arielle: Yeah, so, it’s something… you’re kind of trying to focus your efforts back in Seattle. Um, because I know you were kind of like, at the beginning, taking a more macro stand. And obviously, social media allows you to do that, social media allows you to reach a whole lot of people pretty quickly. Do you have an idea of what that might look like? Cause I know, like, Coffee at Large is currently on hiatus until at least May, but do you know what that might look like for Coffee at Large after you reconvene? 

Felix: Hmm, I’m not too sure. And I think that’s why we’re taking a break. Because I think there’s… there’s so much need in the community, but there’s also so many folks who are, like, addressing those needs, and doing a much better job than we are addressing those needs. And it’s like, it’s not like, a matter of, like… well I guess it is a matter of, like, taking up space and how we take up space. Like, yes we have a platform, but we also shouldn’t take up space if we’re not being intentional with what we’re doing. And if other folks are doing the work better than us, we should, like, honor that and let them take up that space, if that makes sense.

Arielle: Yeah, I think that’s a really important self-awareness to have as an organization. So you’ve also talked a lot about the concept of cancel culture. Specifically, I’d love to talk about how…a) how cancel culture ends up being self-defeating, but also, like, the kind of work that you want to engage in that goes beyond cancel culture, and actually works to make our industry better.

Felix: I mean, I feel…I feel a lot of, like, complex slash mixed feelings about cancel culture. Mostly because Coffee at Large… our initial actions, like, really represent what cancel culture is, like, we cancelled Slate, you know? And, like, I understand also, cancel culture is, like, a hot buzz word right now, and I honestly don’t have, like, a solution, since it’s such a complex, like, topic. And, I mean, I have so many friends who can explain and talk about cancel culture in more in depth way than I’m able to, but… for me, it’s like… If I were to make a mistake, I’d like not to be cancelled. I’d like the space to grow, and learn, and be a better person.

And I know that there are instances where, like, cancel culture is appropriate, and where it’s, like, inappropriate, and I wish more folks would understand and realize that it’s more complex than, like, cancelling someone. Like, when you cancel someone, you’re assuming that they’re not going to be in your life ever again, and that’s just simply not true. 

And also, another thing is, when folks are cancelling each other, it’s usually folks within the community who are like, the ones that are open to having these conversations, and when you’re cancelling them, you’re not giving them that space to grow. Rather, like…yeah, what is the intention of cancelling this person? Are you trying to hurt them? Are you actually trying to, like, help them grow? It’s just, there’s so many questions, and it’s also complex. I just like, wish folks were—including me—were…I think they need to be more aware of, like, who it’s actually harming, cancel culture, at least. 

Arielle: I think you make a really good point. Like, not only does cancel culture assume that people aren’t willing to learn and grow, it also… if the community is engaged in a transformative justice process, in a process of growth with this person, rather than cancelling them, it provides this external motivation that is sort of stripped away by cancelling people. Cause when we cancel someone, we basically tell them, “there’s no path to redemption. There’s no way to, uh, repair the harm you’ve caused.” And not only does that hurt the person that has been cancelled, it also hurts the community, because it doesn’t give the community a chance to heal, it just kind of blows it up further.

Yeah, and I think it’s a really important distinction that you’ve made there, and I also love that you are sort of like, self-aware in that, taking stock of the way that Coffee at Large has participated in that, and thinking about, you know, how to do this differently in the future. Umm, why do you think we are so quick to cancel people?

Felix: Well, I think it stems from anger. I, like, struggle a lot with, like, managing my emotions, and I also have, like, anger issues. And when you’re triggered, it’s easy to, like, hurt someone, or want to hurt someone when you’re feeling hurt. Like, when I’m triggered, I want that person to feel that same pain, so maybe that’s why? Also, I feel like a lot of people, especially online, operate on, like, a black-and-white basis…like, it’s either this or it’s this, and there’s no in-between, and there’s no opportunity for conversations. 

But also like, a lot of people bring in their own trauma, which is valid. Umm, it just like, again, having these conversations and, like… I wonder if people engage in these conversations with the thought or idea of possibly, like, having a different opinion by the end of it, rather than, like, making a point, and making sure it’s heard. You know what I mean?

Arielle: Well, that’s a really great point. And I think it goes back to a quote that I heard at one point, which was, “one of the biggest problems with communication is that we often listen to respond, instead of listening to understand.” 

Felix: Yeah.

Arielle: You know, we have these conversations and just listen to people, trying to figure out what we want to respond, often already know what we’re going to respond and say before even listening to the person, without seeking to understand someone else’s perspective…which is a huge breakdown in communication, especially on social media, because it’s become sort of this echo chamber where, like, somebody gets cancelled, and then suddenly, like, ten thousand people have it on their Instagram stories, and it’s viral, and suddenly the chance to grow has been taken away. And it’s really, really toxic. Um, and I’ve seen it happen a lot in coffee, I’ve seen it happen a lot outside of coffee. 

But there are alternatives, and there are ways that we can heal as a community, rather than sort of hopping on this bandwagon, or having these conversations that lead to both people walking away angry and believing the exact same things that they believed going into the conversation, but perhaps, being even more heated than they were before.

Felix: Mhmm, for sure. Yeah. I mean, I’m, like, I literally was…or maybe, still am that person,  like nine months ago. And only did, until I met, like the owner of Union Coffee, Geetu, did I really understand, like, that cancelling folks is just so much emotional labor.

Really, to keep track of the folks you cancel and why they’re cancelled is just so much labor, rather than giving them grace to grow, and if they do disrespect your boundaries, then, like, maybe breaking off that relationship. 

Oh, and another thing I think that happens in cancel culture is, like, folks taking on another person’s trauma, and making it their trauma. But, like, you can have exclusive relationships outside of someone’s experience, if that makes sense. 

Arielle: Yeah, and folks almost, like, getting mad at folks who are still having a relationship with someone who was cancelled, rather than trying to understand motivations… you know, not only, like, taking on other peoples’ trauma, but also, trying to put their own trauma onto other people, from this place of anger.

Felix: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah, you said it.

Arielle: And I think it goes back to this idea of punishment in our culture that’s so prevalent. This idea that is prevalent, sort of this cycle with the prison-industrial complex, where we, as a society, operate on the principle that punishment is the natural and only viable solution to harm, when in fact, punishment doesn’t repair harm to the community, doesn’t encourage someone to be better, and doesn’t make it any less likely for further harm to occur. Cause, just because someone is cancelled, that does not mean that they can’t commit further harm. And also, cancelling someone is committing a harm in a failed attempt to repair a harm….

And that’s not to say that nobody should ever be deplatformed, like you were saying earlier, but I think deplatforming and calling someone out and giving them a chance to respond to that is a different thing from cancelling, and I think those two often get sort of lumped together.

Felix: Yeah, yes. Yes. I would snap. Or, I guess, folks wouldn’t know that I’m snapping.

Arielle: You can emotionally snap.

Felix: Ha! Emotionally snap.

Arielle: Aren’t we all always emotionally snapping? You know, that wasn’t what I meant to say, but also, you can emotionally snap, this is a safe space.

Felix: Constantly. I watched someone get deplatformed, actually, and the way this person who got deplatformed handled it was with grace, and with a lot of empathy. And they like, were like, “okay, I’m gonna deplatform myself, I’m gonna take the time to, like, grow and addressthe things that I haven’t worked on that I thought I did, and I will be a better person.” And like, yeah, just apologized to the community, and the person, the people that they harmed. (sighs)

Arielle: Yeah. Pivoting a bit here, now that CAL is on hiatus, what does that look like for you?

Felix: Oh, wow. It’s been so delightful. I know that sounds really awful, but I feel liberated. Truly liberated.

Arielle: Yeah, well burnout is real.

Felix: Burnout is so real, and it, um… the way Coffee at Large was operating, it wasn’t sustainable, to be honest. And, I mean, a lot of community organizing isn’t sustainable, so props to the folks who are like, doing it, who are making it sustainable for themselves… that shit is just so fucking hard. And also, I think that, like, the Coffee at Large team are all folks that hold a lot of privilege. Like, I am a light-skinned, Asian-American, and I come from a middle-class, like, household. So, I hold a lot of privilege, and I’ve never had to, like, consider what community-building, and what investing in my community looks like.

And these are things that, like, I need to take time to step back and, like, grow these skill-sets, you know, these, like, emotional slash community skills. Community-building skills, I guess.

And, I mean, now I have the time to focus on things I’m excited about, rather than being constantly triggered by what’s not, the needs that aren’t being met in the community, in the coffee community specifically. Like, that shit just wears on you and really sometimes feels like a burden.

Arielle: Yeah, no, absolutely. It totally does. Um, and also, so one thing that’s happened for you personally, uhh, in CAL’s hiatus is that you have made the decision to start testosterone, which is—congratulations, first off, that’s awesome. And I think a lot of cis people, like especially transmedicalists—which for those of… for those listeners that aren’t familiar with that term, are folks that make a demand upon trans people that you need to medically transition in order to be valid, and that dysphoria—

Felix: (chuckles)

Arielle: Yeah, right? And that dysphoria is required…

Felix: (chuckles)

Arielle: …as part of the trans experience, like you have to have dysphoria in order to be trans. And like, it’s not just cis people that say that, it’s other trans people policing trans people about these parts of their transition. But I think a lot of folks like that see it as a given that all trans people want to medically transition. But obviously, this isn’t the case. You know, I faced a lot of this when I was unsure that I wanted to go through with bottom surgery, and people said, “well, isn’t that just the natural next step of your transition,” and I’m like, “well, absolutely not, like maybe? I don’t know! There’s no such thing, like, what is a natural next step of your transition as a cis person, like I don’t fucking know!”

Felix: Yeah. This is gonna sound, like, kind of problematic, and I hope it doesn’t, but like, I am glad I have, like, a little man pussy, cause I don’t want to get like, butt-fucked. You know? Like, I just, like, I really don’t wanna have to like, douche my asshole… I’m a little scared of that. 

Arielle: (overlapping) No, I get that.

Felix: I mean, I’m assuming once I practice, I’m fine, but like, I’m grateful for my man pussy. Like, yeah.

Arielle: Oh my god, yeah. Sometimes it’s nice to have an extra fuckhole. I was just talking about this with someone last week, like sometimes it’s just fucking nice, like… you just have options, you don’t have to even fucking worry about it. Um..

Felix: Yes. Here for that. We’re here for options. 

Arielle: Yes. 

Felix: And like, it’s sad that…I’m…I don’t know. I’ve talked about…I don’t have a lot of body dysphoria. I’m… and I feel very, like, grateful for that. I feel like it’s a privilege. Like, I don’t worry about what my body looks like a lot, and I’m, like, pretty happy with, like, what my body looks like, and how it’s functioning.

But I started testosterone because I was following a lot of, like, trans masc Asian-American artists on Instagram, and I noticed I was, like, envious of other Asian-American, like, trans masc folks (playful gagging sound) — uhhhhh, I have so much saliva in my mouth! 

Arielle: (laughs)

Felix: Uhhh. Okay, so I noticed I was envious of other Asian-American, trans masc folks on Instagram. And I couldn’t necessarily pinpoint what exactly it is. And I still don’t. Like, maybe it’s the small features that masculinize a person. So, honestly, I wondered if, like, testosterone would do the same for me. 

And, to be blunt, I’m on my parents’ health insurance for another two years before I get kicked off, so I wanted to see if T was the right choice for me. And honestly, I should try it now, before I lose access to health insurance. And that’s mostly why I decided to start T. Cause I have about two years. And, in two years, if I don’t like the process, I can stop… and if I want to move forward, I can find avenues that support that process for myself.

Arielle: Yeah, yeah. And one of the things that, you know, I love to talk about is like… transition is not linear. Umm, sometimes people start things and stop things, and often, that’s highly stigmatized. People are like, “oh, well like, then you’re not really trans if you’re doing this” or “you’re de-transitioning,” and like, that concept is so heavily stigmatized among trans people… like, no, realizing that a certain transitional step is not right for me doesn’t mean that I’m any less trans than I thought I was, it just means just that, take it at face value, this specific step wasn’t right for me.

Felix: Yeah.

Arielle: And I think something people don’t think about a lot is: it’s not all about dysphoria. Like you talk about, you don’t necessarily have overwhelming body dysphoria. But sometimes it’s more about euphoria, it’s more about, like, damn, it would be really cool to look like that,” or “it would be really cool to, like, have my body work in that specific way!”

Felix: Yeah!

Arielle: Until a few years ago, like, in order to get letters for surgery or letters for hormones, even, people had to lie about that. People were forced to say, like, “I have overwhelming dysphoria about this” in order to be approved for any stage in their transition.

And more and more, the medical and mental health industries are realizing that that’s not important. That’s not the most important thing. Like, all that matters is that people like, a) you, know have informed consent, like, know what is going to happen, or have a basic understanding of it. And yeah, how have you felt since starting T?

Felix: Um, pretty much the same. Like, yeah, there are… I mean, I mostly feel the same. There are just a lot of changes that I, like, was not ready for, even though I knew I, umm, I guess, like, addressing them was a different experience. 

Uhh, and this is gonna sound counterintuitive, but I’m not necessarily interested in growing, like, more facial hair, or body hair, and I actually am, like, very obsessed with, like, the quality of my skin. And I’ve talked to you about this. And, like, I love my skin, and I think it’s… I feel blessed to not have, like, acne ever.

Arielle: That’s some nice skin on your face!

Felix: Yeah I’ve been blessed. Good genes, you know.

Arielle: Thanks mom, thanks dad!

Felix: Yeah, I think “thanks Dad.” My mom does not have the best skin. 

Arielle: Thanks, dad!

Felix: But she taught me how to have a great skin care routine, so, you know…

Arielle: Okay! 

Felix: Just learning… learning from the best. But anyway, my voice started cracking, my skin is, like, constantly breaking out. It’s really awful, and I’m growing, like, hair everywhere. But initially, I was, like, complaining about these changes, and I was… it was really hard for me to come to terms with it. And I had to assess, like, whether or not T was the right choice. 

And honestly, I think right now it is. Like, these are subtle changes that are happening, and change is always fucking scary. And I’ve never had to deal with, like, facial hair or acne, you know? So, of course I’m fucking scared, I’m like, “oh my god, I have a pimple! What the fuck do I do with this? How do I address this?”

Arielle: Use that skincare routine your mom thought you…

Felix: Well, the skincare routine is for already perfect skin, so…I don’t know how to deal with not having perfect skin.

Felix: Yeah, I’m just excited to handle these changes now. Like, I’ve come to terms with it, and I’m just like, “of course change is scary.” Ad that’s why I was being, like, aggressive and triggered all the time.

Arielle: Yeah, well that’s a thing that people, like, often don’t even talk about about T, is like, T, by nature revs you up, and I can’t imagine having to learn how to manage that. So I’m curious to hear more about, like, what it’s been like to learn how to control the, uhh, T rev-up for you.

Felix: Ha! The “T rev-up.” I…I….the only emotional differences is the inability to cry as often. Like, I’m still such a… I’m such a bitch. Like, I will watch a fucking show, and I’m like, sobbing, like…. Avatar the Last Airbender, bitch is sobbing every episode.

Arielle: That’s a good fucking show.

Felix: It’s so good! I talk about the pillars of my identity, and Avatar the Last Airbender is one of the many pillars of my identity. Um, yeah, I fucking am obsessed with that show.

Arielle: Oh, it’s such a good show.

Felix: Yeah, the only issues I have is, like, crying when I’m having a heart to heart with someone. Like, I’ll tear up, but it’s, like, hard for me to start crying. Yeah, that’s about…that’s about it so far. I’ve always had, like, anger issues, so I’m an angry person by nature. So I don’t know if that’s like, fueled it, or, I don’t know.

Arielle: That’s like, which came first, the chicken or the egg. Has T affected anything else in your life that you weren’t expecting? Or has anything, like, new developed?

Felix: Umm, I’m like literally horny all the time. 

Arielle: (laughs)

Felix: Like, I’m so horny, it’s really awful. And it’s, I hate that. It’s like, kind of, like, ruining my productivity. Umm, but, yeah, having to, like, navigate that is, like, something I didn’t expect. 

Arielle: Oh my god, yeah.

Felix: Like, how do I maintain being a functional adult while being, like, horny like a fucking twelve year old? 

Arielle: Well, I remember being a horny twelve year old, and like, when testosterone first started fucking up my system, and being like, how does anyone focus, ever? Like, is this what my whole life is gonna be like? (both laugh) Umm, it’s a lot. It’s really a lot. Um, and like, people don’t talk about that, there’s so many aspects of testosterone that people don’t talk about. Cause it’s stigmatized, or it’s just like, yeah.

Felix: So wild!

Arielle: Yeah!

Felix: It doesn’t help that I’m at home all the time, cause I can literally get horny from anything.

Arielle: Yup.

Felix: Like, literally anything. I’ll see, like, a hot K-pop boy on the internet, and I’m just like, “wow.” I’m like, “wow.”

Arielle: “Wow, now I’m horny”

Felix: Now I’m horny, and what do I do? Uhh, yeah, It doesn’t help that I haven’t gotten laid in like, nine, ten months. And that’s all I think about…

Arielle: Yeah. Yeah!

Felix: It’s like, how does one get laid? When will I get laid? Will I ever get laid? Am I just gonna be, like, disgusting and horny all the time for the rest of my life? That’s what it feels like, I’m gonna feel like this forever.

Arielle: Oh my god, it feels interminable. And, well, the whole quarantine thing feels interminable, too. It’s just like, there’s no clear end in sight… even with the vaccine, people are like, “oh, this is, you know, almost over.” But it’s not! It’s not almost over. That’s fake. We’re making that up. 

Felix: And… did anyone learn anything in 2020? Like don’t—

Arielle: Clearly  not.

Felix: Like, don’t have… like, if I learned anything, I’m not gonna be optimistic. And, if I could get vaccinated by the end of 2021, I would be so pleased.

Arielle: Yeah.

Felix: That idea makes me pleased. I—A lot of people are like, “oh, by the summer!” And I’m like, “I don’t know, bro, like, I don’t know. That’s, like, a lot of hope, and summer is pretty soon. Just, end of 2021, that’s like… yeah! End of 2021, I think that’s like, good.

Arielle: Yeah. Well like, my bottom surgery’s in April, and that’s literally three months. This year, is like… I know it’s January, but this year is almost over, like…

Felix: (overlapping) Like, twelve months.

(both laugh)

Felix: It’s almost done, we’re almost done with the year! Oh my god! Wow! What a wild ride 2021 was. I can’t wait to listen to this in December 2021 and, like, tell, be like, “wow, these bitches don’t even know. They don’t know.”

Arielle: So, I want to pivot a little bit here. Cause in addition to, you know, working as a barista, you’ve also talked about your art career. So, you run a shop called Softvelvetboy. So first off, why “Softvelvetboy,” like, why did you pick that name?

Felix: Uh, god. I’m like, a very impulsive person. 

Arielle: I get it.

Felix: I really like velvet. Like, I wear a lot of velvet. I wanted to sign up for, like, a business license—news flash, I didn’t, cause I literally don’t make enough money to even, yeah. And my good friend Anthony and I were, like, I was like, “I need a business name, what should it be?”

My previous IG handle was my full name, “Felix Kim Tran.” But I thought it’d be fun if I could also go by my artist persona. And I think, like, that we were just going through different options, I was just like, writing out different aspects of my personality. Umm, something I say a lot is, like “accept death now.” And I was like, “that would be a really fun, like, username”

Arielle: “Accept death now.” Very grim.

Felix: I love it! It’s so good. And I think, uhh, we settled on softvelvetboy. I don’t really remember how. It was like a five minute conversation.

Arielle: But like, parts of your personality.

Felix: Yeah, I was like, “I really like velvet. What if we did this?” And then, it, softvelvetboy just kind of was the thing.

Arielle: That’s really funny. So, what has it been like for you to go from doing art as a pastime, to suddenly, like, being commissioned and getting paid for your work, and kind of, like… I don’t know, I see it this way, I don’t know if you see it this way… you’re kind of, for many folks, like a go-to digital illustrator graphic designer for coffee people, like, your name is just out there.

Felix: Uhh! That’s so great. Well, folks, my commissions are open. So, please hire me. 

Arielle: Hire Felix! He’s super cool and talented.

Felix: Thank you! I know, everyone and their mom is starting a fucking podcast, so I’ll design the fucking logo for that if you want.

Arielle: Yes, please.

Felix: Um, to be honest, it’s kind of surreal. It’s really exciting. And, uhh, honestly, most of the time, I feel like a fake artist. I’ve only been drawing for a total of two years now. Like—

Arielle: Which is still so amazing to me.

Felix: Thank you! I appreciate it. Very humbled. Like, I literally have only been drawing for two years, like, being intentional with putting my pen on my iPad. Like, I know people talk about, like, “Oh, I’ve drawn my whole life, and like, I’ve always doodled!” But, literally–no! Like, I, no! None of that shit growing up. 

Like, maybe coloring pages and stuff growing up. But, um, I just started drawing, and I feel very, like, grateful to even, like, have commission work as a new artist. It started off with, like, me taking illustration classes with my friend Sam when I was working at the “devil café” Slate. After my shift, he would give me illustration classes on this iPad I broke from Slate, and bought for myself (Both laugh).

I like, broke Slate’s iPad, umm, and I used the company card to fix it, and, because I was panicking, I like, bought a new one. And when I bought the new one, I realized, “oh, I could have just fixed it with the company card.”

Arielle: (Laughs)

Felix: So I did that, and then I kept the iPad. So that’s how I started drawing. Literally, because I was like, “well, I bought this for a lot of money. So I’m keeping it.”

Arielle: That’s very funny.

Felix: Yeah. I feel very humbled. And, I don’t know, to be surrounded by so many seasoned creatives, and that just helps me, like, fuel my desire to grow, to be a better illustrator and designer, yeah.

Arielle: Yeah. Well, I think you touched on this idea a second ago, but this idea if imposter syndrome that is so prevalent, especially among creatives—this idea of, like, “what am I doing inhabiting this space? Like, why do I deserve to be here?” And then like, I don’t know about you, but over time, I sort of developed this awareness that, like, I’m not the only one who feels that way. And, in fact, like, most of my friends who do similar shit to me, or, you know, things that aren’t similar to me, like, also have that level of imposter syndrome, of like, “why am I worth this?” 

So anyway, this idea of imposter syndrome—what does it look like for you to wrestle with that, like, while actively having commissions and doing art for people?

Felix: When I’m illustrating or creating or being creative, the… what I produce, I see as, like, a product of my privilege. And that’s how I reason with, like, “being a fake artist.” I feel grateful that people have put me in connection with, like, folks who will, like, hire me as a freelancer. Like, I’m so grateful for that.

And I hope that, like, as I grow, I can do that for others. And like, I feel grateful that I’m able to look at something, and know what looks good and what doesn’t, if that makes sense. Like, I know that a lot of people don’t have that eye, and I’m just grateful that I do, and that’s why I’m able to grow. 

So, I see those as, like, privileges, and also, I do see it as, like, a product of my hard work. I do network a lot… mmm, actually, I don’t… I don’t network in the same way that freelancers do, but I do put myself out there, like, my personality out there. And I hope to see the rewards of that moving forward. And that’s how I kind of quell the whole, like, feeling of being a “fake artist.” Like, you know, the only way to get better is to do more of it intentionally, and I mean—

Arielle: Yeah, you gotta start somewhere.

Felix: Truly. And I know a lot of people say, like, “fake it til you make it.” But, umm, that mindset doesn’t work for me, mostly because then I’m like, consumed by how I’m faking it…rather it’s, like, address why I feel like I’m faking it, and, like, figure out what my privileges are, and also, like, what my vices are, and how I can grow, and focus on that rather than focus on being “fake.”

Arielle: Well, I think that’s such an important distinction. Because the idea of “fake it til you make it” implies that there’s, like, any validity in your imposter syndrome… when, like, in fact, you are, you know, someone who’s been doing art for two years but is really fucking good talented…and like, doing shit that, you know, is really really valuable, and people love.

And it may feel like you’re faking it, but you’re doing it the same as other people are. Like, even if your route is different, even if you didn’t draw from the time you were little, like, you’re doing it! There’s nothing fake about it! Like, yeah, you can address the reason why you feel like it’s fake, and why you feel like an imposter… but that doesn’t validate those feelings. 

Felix: Yeah, for sure. I just feel so grateful that I have, like, a good eye (laughs). And I think that’s what, like, fuels my art.

Arielle: I get it. So where can people follow you and or support your work?

Felix: You can follow my work on Instagram. My username is @softvelvetboy. I also have a pretty sick website that I’m obsessed with.

Arielle: (laughs) It’s pretty cute. 

Felix: Thank you. It’s softvelvetboy dot me. It’s like, my portfolio, and pieces that I’m really proud of. So, yeah, you can check that out if you’re interested in seeing my work. 

Arielle: Is, uh, two trans boys in a trench coat on there?

Felix: I don’t think so. But, umm, it’s mostly because I didn’t organize it into a file.

Arielle: Fair. Fair, fair, fair.

Felix: Like, in a folder, yeah.

Arielle: For context, I commissioned Felix to do uh… artwork for a trans masc friend of mine who had come out. And it was two trans boys in a trench coat, which is a callback to an episode of Bojack Horseman. Um (both laugh) but anyway, umm. And, do you have any other words of wisdom to share with listeners before we part?

Felix: mmmm. The only way to get better at something is to do more of, with intentionality!

Arielle: Yes! I love it.

Felix: I love it.

Arielle: Cool! And you all should consider commissioning Felix for the next art piece that you want done, because Felix is really good, and he’ll like…work for like, six hours, late at night, and like, first thing in the morning you’ll wake up with an email of really great artwork in your inbox… and it is a great way to wake up. You’re like, “Oh, I assume Felix will do this tomorrow!” and suddenly you’re like “oh, I got an email at 3:30 in the morning, this is cool! This is cool, I have art ready for me!”

Felix: (laughs) ahhh, oh my god.

Arielle: (laughs) Cool.

Felix sits on a turquoise couch, one arm posed across the back of the couch. He wears cuffed blue jeans and a polka-dot, floral print shirt. He has eyeliner applied around his eyes, forming the shape of a four-pointed star. Both behind and hanging above him are luscious green plants, including a number of succulents.
Felix has bright, orange hair and wears a polka-dot party hat. He is shirtless, with his shoulders visible above a white tablecloth. In front of him are numerous desserts, including a cake with rainbow sprinkles and a cherry, as well as chocolate chip cookies. His hands are pressed up against his chin. His makeup includes dark-colored lipstick, red blush, a teardrop drawn with black eyeliner, and winged eyeliner on his eyes.
A grayscale image of Felix wearing a white blouse, sitting in an armchair. He holds his head on an angle, his eyes turned toward the camera. He has black eyeliner, drawn to resemble a four-pointed star.

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