Who Is Samson Bonkeabantu Brown? New Details On The Trans Man Getting First Shave In Gillette Commercial

Photo: Gillette
Who Is Samson Bonkeabantu Brown? New Details On The Trans Man Getting First Shave In Gillette Commercial
Contributor

Remember when Gillette used their power and influence to showcase positive expressions of masculinity in a Super Bowl advertisement and some people criticized it for being “too political” and “painting all men as bullies or sexual harassers?" Gillette just gave all their haters a metaphorical middle finger by making another dope commercial, this time featuring a multitalented trans man, Samson Bonkeabantu Brown.

What’s there to know about this jack of all trades (or, as he likes to call himself, "Jamal of all hustles”)? Who is Samson Bonkeabantu Brown?

1. He focuses on trans advocacy and the arts

According to his website: “...he uses the arts (acting, tap dancing, playwriting, stage and production managing) to create visibility for men of trans experience and to educate the general public on trans issues.​” Like his father instructs him in the commercial, he does everything in his life and art with confidence.

2. He’s deeply in touch with his ancestry

Through matrilineal ancestry, he’s South African. Through patrilineal ancestry, he’s Portuguese. When he was lost, confused and lacking the terminology to claim his identity, he turned to his background to discover who and why he is. He feels “blessed to be gifted from birth with the gifts of necromancy, narcomancy and mediumship,” all of which are tools he’s used to come to terms with his gender identity.

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3. He acknowledges the grieving that comes with transitioning

He actually sees it as a kind of shapeshifting. “At least that is how I understand it from the messages my ancestors have told me,” he says in his Playwrite’s Manifesto. He also sees transitioning as a form of dying. “The female me completely died when I began to medically transition and I had already grieved the female I never related to or identified with. When I transitioned my family had to grieve the female they assigned me as. For some of them, it’s been the longest grieving/funeral process ever. For others, they had grieved along with me, long before I ever went under the knife. I think my mum is still grieving. She is just putting on a better show of being okay with having to grieve.” To him, “coming out” is a rite of passage that should be celebrated.

4. He wrote and performed a monodrama

A monodrama is a dramatic piece written for one performer. Brown’s is called 11:11, a bio-mythical work he crafted unapologetically in an effort to explore “the other side of fear through the eyes of a young, black transman struggling to obey the ancestral messages saturating his dreams.” It’s presented as part of RISER Project 2019, a Canada-based collaborative producing model created by Why Not Theatre for theatre artists and companies to create and showcase new work. It was developed as a response to some of the challenges of producing independent theatre in Toronto, such as the high cost of production, the difficulty of building audiences, and the inefficient use of resources and infrastructure.

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5. To him, the ad isn’t just about himself transitioning, but everyone around him transitioning

In his notes on his play, he talks about how every person of every culture on Earth who challenges heteronormative ideals has “engaged in practices of questioning their identity and the act of simply willing themselves to survive.” Though the language of gender identity is relatively new, he emphasizes that “the expansive spectrum of gender is not.” In other words, he strongly believes that the work he does is not just for himself. He puts it articulately and succinctly on his website:

“I am hesitant to call this current iteration of ‘11:11’ my show, for it is not mine alone. It is my ancestors. It is my mother’s. It is my father’s. It is my blood and chosen families’. It is my fiancée and soulmate’s. It is my director/dramaturg and friend d’bi.young anitafrika’s. It is my stage manager and friend Alexandra Sproule’s. It is my producer and friend Brett Haynes’. It is my Watah Theatre families’. It is RISER Project’s. It is The Theatre Centre’s. It is my community of transmen, transwomen, and gender non-conforming siblings’. It is my community of sangomas, inyangas, n’angas, spiritsts, bruxos, bruxas, blitches, lightworkers, portal travelers, and ritual performers’. It is every person who dares to transgress heteronormativity within their own community’s. It is every single person who buys a ticket and sits down in a theatre’s.”

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6. He’s incredibly self-aware and spiritual

So the numbers 11:11 have real, enormous significance to him. When the specific number sequence began showing up in his life while he was both awake and dreaming, he started to pay better attention to it. He started to see it as “an Awakening Code” or “a Growth Code” that signified to him that his “spiritual gifts were growing and getting stronger.” Basically, when he chose to start paying attention to this pattern, he started to come into his own identity. In this way, his play is a journey of “questioning, discovering, and shaping my own identity with the assistance and under the loving guidance of my ancestors through the dreams that they placed within me.”

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His work might currently only be reaching a small audience, but after landing this role in the Gillette commercial, maybe he’ll be able to reach a whole lot more. His mission is noble, beautiful, informative, educational and just as spiritual as he is. He says he’s more than just a transman. He’s “a spirit driven man of trans* experience.” It sounds goofy and clichéd at first, but it’s actually a profound statement about the multitudes each and every individual in this world contains. Personally, I can’t wait to see what else he has in store.

Leah Scher is an ENFP finishing her degree at Brandeis University. She's an alumna of the Kenyon Review Young Writer's Workshop the Iowa Young Writers' Studio. She's passionate about Judaism, poetry, film, satire, astrology, spirituality, and sexual health. She draws inspiration for her writing from writer/director Wes Anderson, and for her lifestyle from her grandmother. Lastly, she's always actively seeking two things: a job having anything at all to do with publishing, and a chance to meet Jesse Eisenberg.