Stanley Burton Co-Founder's Personal Journey with ACON
There is hope even when you are broken
My history with ACON goes as far as the early 2000s when I first moved to Sydney. I was in my early 20’s, had just completed a series of university studies in Melbourne in photography, then got into a film school and finally a masters at Monash. Although I won several awards throughout my studies, I was not happy with anything, I desperately wanted to set myself free, whatever that meant. I needed a big change so I packed my bags and left for Sydney without telling a soul, literally just disappeared with 50 bucks in my wallet.
I had a small but great network of personal friends when I first arrived in Sydney, we have already been chatting through IRC Chat for over 3 years. IRC chat (or Internet Relay Chat) for the guys who are born after 1995, is a text based chat rooms that you belong to. You give yourself a handle, mine was Artboy77 and Ambience and when you went out onto the scene you greet each other by the handle - the simple times. Social media did not exist but IRC was a great platform for anyone with any interests, ranging from music, hobbies, studies for any discipline, support groups, I was mostly in GayAsian.Syd / GayAsian.Melb / Alt.Fan.Madonna / Alt.fan.LucidDreams ...among others. Laurie from IRC Chat Sydney group let me stay for free in Redfern for a few weeks when I first arrived and he introduced me to a bunch of other gay guys in Sydney.
Running away is never a solution
In the early 2000s, the people in Sydney were genuine and a lot nicer, they made me feel like home in just a matter of two weeks. I did not feel like an outsider. It’s amazing!! I am sure many Sydney expats would agree. What more can you ask for right? But sometimes you just cannot talk about personal issues at the risk of being judged, that was my insecurities in my early 20s and that’s one of the reasons why I escaped Melb to start a new life in Sydney. I thought that if I ran away everything would fall into places and for the better.
Being true Taureans, displaying our vulnerabilities is not our strongest suit - this still applies now that I am in my 40s. I don’t talk about my emotions publicly and never seek advice. Ask any Taureans, we are fairly similar. But you can’t always use your star signs as shields. Sometimes you break and that’s ok! If you know your weakness, how are you going to break that spell and do it better?
My first encounter with ACON HEALTH
Right about the same time I had fallen very ill at the age of 21, my GP from Holdsworth House referred me to a service that I could reach out to in regards to my mental health to support my personal health and growth. I was introduced to ACON's Asian Project - Silk Road.
Throughout my recovery, I have gone through a few Asian Project officers and community health officers from ACON. Matthew Hua, whose voice I still remember vividly, animated character, well spoken and passionate about his work in Asian Project - Silk Road. This was also the first time I learned that there was a great network for Gay Asians. In Melbourne there was no such network, other than the Gay Asian night at Opium Den in Collingwood every Tuesday night. Matthew also made time for my ‘one-on-one sessions’ every fortnight to discuss my issues and just to catch up so that I had someone to talk to. Before he relocated to Europe around 2003/4, he introduced me to the new Asian Men project officer named John Wang. He took over the role and continued the ‘one-on-one sessions’ with me, sometimes when I was ill, he would visit me at my home or sometimes out for a coffee. The time spent talking to both Matthew and John, I was able to open up for the first time.
I believe he later became the Community Health Promotion Officer specialised in Asian Men’s Health and presented the topic at a conference in Sydney. (thanks Google)
ACON brings people together
Since 2004, ACON has contributed towards my personal growth in more ways than one. I have been a guy who sought help, a volunteer to several events organised by ACON, a contributor to arts projects, and a commissioned photographer for other community groups in ACON. I must have already been on their database as a service provider, because Wanjibung (Shaun) Edwards from ACON Aboriginal Community Group rang me one morning late 2009 to ask if I was interested in photographing their Mardi Gras 2010 campaign titled ‘Haus of BlackSTAR - Fierce 2010’. I was very intrigued by this proposal because I didn’t have any connection with the ACON Aboriginal Group.
At the photo shoot I met many amazing people from the Indigenous Australian community as well as allies. I hit it off with everyone, they didn't treat me as 'just another photographer' and to me this was more than 'just another photography gig' I saw this as a great opportunity to learn about other cultures and community within the diverse Australian LGBQTI community. I later collaborated with the makeup artists on several other projects in the next two years and still friend with some of the talents from the shoot. I remember Shaun referred me as being ‘real and authentic' aka no B.S.
This photoshoot for the ACON Aboriginal Group laid the foundation for our Asians and Allies concept at Stanley Burton. Each ethnic community group cannot do this alone, we need allies. At Stanley Burton, we are not limited to speaking out for the Gay Asian community, but we also put other marginalised people in focus.
I never think twice about anything other than the things I do naturally, also being an extreme introvert, a common personality trait among many creatives. I also see that as my strength, because I use my energy to meet like minded people. As I matured, I find that this is all you need in life, you don't need to get along with everyone. My circle usually expands and takes on a life of its own then you get to meet other souls out of the blue who may contribute to your life down the track.
Every volunteer has huge impact on others in the community, ultimately you stand for what you do and what you believe in. You can network within a great community network like ACON, you become friends with people who think like you, challenges you, have something important to say, have similar interests and holds the key and power to strengthen the community. And you get to meet great people and often become friends for life.
My personal contribution towards ACON Asian Men Project
In 2012 Roderick Ng, an influential fashion designer and creative director in Sydney approached me about a concept that he was working on with ACON Asian Men Project and he wanted me to be one of 4 Gay Asian influential photographers to contribute towards the project. I met Roderick in 2009 when he was the stylist for a fashion shoot that my former Sydney hairstylist had organised. The Asian Project was a great opportunity to showcase my work as a storyteller but most importantly contribute to a great cause to empower the voices and identity of Gay Asians in Sydney. During this era, the bond within the Gay Asian community was really strong and they volunteered their Sundays to show up for a community project. Back in the days, guys never asked for anything in return, the spirit of the community force was bloody amazing.
I remember our first focus group meeting at ACON’s new office, we formed a circle in a semi dimmed room on a Sunday afternoon. Roderick asked all the contributors consisting of photographers and artists, the type of work we wanted to produce for the proposed A-Men project. I attended the meeting unprepared so when it was my turn to speak I basically blurted out “I love to photograph guys in a Vanity Fair style magazine concept with photos and stories about their lives, I am interested in people’s lives” There was silent as if they wanted me to elaborate. I literally just made it up as I go which I excel at, I continued “I want my subjects to bring one piece of personal item that they cannot live without and talk about why it is important to them.” Not gonna lie, although I made all that up on the spot and the concept went amazingly well. I bonded with a bunch of guys and I am still friends with several and one in particular I visited in Ipoh, Malaysia a couple of years later. In fact I will also collaborate with him on an upcoming project as part of Stanley Burton’s diversity and inclusion project.
The A-Men project at ACON brought me a lot of great opportunities and great network of diversity and inclusion. I am not a clubber and I am practically anonymous on the scene which is the path I chose. I can still cause a vibration without stepping into the club - which I think can inspire a lot of people who think they don't belong in the gay community just because they are into parties.
The contributors' photography ended up in a photo essay book and launched in a one off exhibition titled 'Unmask' on Oxford Street in Sydney. The evening also had a great mix of Asians and friends, musicians, food, fashion show featuring guys in Marcuse swimwear and underwear with speakers such as Judge Kirby (actually Judge Kirby approached me to chat about my photography that evening and I am a man of few words). My photography also attracted a number of other people in the community who then reached out for future collaboration. To this day, the photos from the A-Men project and the work I created with people who reached out of collaboration are some of my best and meaningful work as a photographer. I have become a better photographer from all these experiences.
Stanley Burton's contribution to ACON Honour Awards Charity Gala
Fast forward to 2022 at Stanley Burton we are contributing to the silent auction at this year’s HONOURS AWARD charity gala with
Underwear for 12 months, valued up to $840.
Winning bidder gets to select 12 pairs of underwear from Stanley Burton online store which stocks a wide range of underwear from XS to XXL across 5 brands of quality, great design, colours and styles from Skull and Bones, Alexx Underwear, Marcuse, SvenNordin and Lure.
Funds from the highest bidder goes towards supporting the community in NSW for health and services provided by ACON.
Auction goes live this week before the gala. Please come back for the link.
We work closely with a few of our underwear brands by initiating and discussing socially inclusive issues. We establish empowering networks across the communities across international borders, not only in Australia.
ACON also supports the entire community as much as marginalised communities, a lot of gay men in NSW might think this has nothing to do with them. However the sole reason that you are able to live in a healthy community is due to the work, education and research provided by ACON Health. Also if you have friends from the marginalised community such as Asians, Muslims, Indigenous, Greek, people living with different types of challenges, such as living with disability and people living with HIV often lacking self confidence, they have a close knit community. You may never understand their culture or challenges completely but ACON can provide a safe place for them.
We also have great understanding of other marginalised communities, ultimately we are all fighting for equality with our diverse skills to strengthen the community like blogging, working with brand champions through our engaging conversations during consultation. We reach out to customers to gain more insights as to how to make the underwear marketplace in the LGBTQI community a better place.
How do you define authentic inclusion?
It is almost too easy for brands and fashion retailers to put out an ad campaign featuring different types of people they want to represent but the harder work isn't about organising a photo shoot, in fact that's the easiest part. The hard work that is much needed is research and engagement which is something we excel at Stanley Burton. I have found this process more fulfilling because we get to understand people and their stories.
We will discuss the idea of authenticity in other posts and projects. Watch this space.
So what’s your story? We would love to hear from you. You can email us firstname.lastname@example.org
Followings are some links that you can visit.