205: Onken & Eleven – Blurring the Lines Between Artist and Muse
“Nick was such a huge part of capturing the beauty of our relationship.”
Hello friends! Welcome back to ONKEN RADIO (previously NION Radio), the podcast where we explore the body, mind, and soul of the creative entrepreneur. It’s my goal to help you take your creativity, business, and life to the next level. I’m so glad you’re joining me on this journey.
Today, I’m excited to bring to you another episode with my dear friend, Eleven. We chatted in Episode 204 about their transition to non-binary. As a follow-up, we both decided to create another podcast that dives deep into how our relationship has progressed since we first met in 2013.
We’ve been able to explore different spaces in our lives as friends, creative collaborators, and Eleven’s even been a muse for me, my photography, and ONKEN hats. Today’s episode is all about blurring the lines between the muse and the artist as we explore beyond friendship. Let me just give you a little preview here:
“We’re dealing with sexual identity and identity alchemy and it makes a lot of different processes. [Throw in] a kindred relationship with best friends [and we are] blurring the lines between the artists and the music in a really potent and powerful way.” – Eleven
Through all of our experiences, we’ve remained friends. As our friendship deepens, we wanted to share that journey with you while challenging ourselves and our friendship in a space of vulnerability. It’s a powerful episode I hope you find value in as well, so let’s go!
Who is Eleven?
Growing up as Lynette Cenee, Eleven was raised in a world blended between religion and stage magic, with parents that were both involved in the church, as well as practicing magicians. This provided a pathway to growing up as a performer and developing a keen understanding of hair and makeup to create all the glitz and glamor needed on stage.
“I found myself living in LA and getting cast to be the hair and makeup [person] for some really incredible projects. I felt very conflicted, because I grew up on stage as the talent, and then found myself behind the scenes thinking, ‘Okay, this is great [but] I really want to be the one that people are preparing to be on screen.’ I just needed to believe I’m worthy of it, and decided to start seeking outside of being the hair and makeup [person], and seeking casting calls to be the talent.” – Eleven
Choosing to focus on being in front of the camera again led to an opportunity to be cast on a new TV show that required hair and makeup professionals on camera as experts. Participants would be given help to launch a new YouTube channel with a whole production company behind them, as well as a team of 13 people to manage all the social media components. That’s what launched the career of Lynette Cenee — the name Eleven was given at birth — for the next 10 years.
The show focused on creating different beauty videos while also telling Eleven’s story transparently online, which included their marriage in 2015. It was a challenging relationship requiring a lot of alchemy to work through. It was after deciding to leave the marriage though that Eleven was invited to visit Peru.
“I had been feeling the call towards doing deeper plant medicine work with ayahuasca. This whole evolution began in 2018, and it’s been this wild journey into this space of psychedelic Renaissance and deeper work and a whole new transition. A new avatar kind of made its way through the process and now I am identifying as Eleven — a non-binary cosmic being, and it feels more myself. I’ve never felt this authentic and true, and it feels great.” – Eleven
Each step along Eleven’s journey to becoming the person they are now has built upon the lessons they’ve learned at each growth stage.
Nick and Eleven’s Backstory
Eleven and I were first introduced on set in 2013 when our mutual friend Scooter hired us for the Teen Vogue photoshoot of Tori Kelly. Eleven said:
“I remember this whole thing about, ‘Oh, Nick Onken is literally one of my favourite photographers,’ and being intimidated to meet you. Then I walked on set and you were so chill. I was [so grateful because] photographers can be quite mean.” – Eleven
I’ve always wanted everyone to have a good time on set. Our jobs are already fun, why not make it more fun? Creating space for everyone to have fun opened the door for us to exchange numbers.
We soon discovered we had a lot in common. We had both attended M.I.T.T. workshops — Mastery In Transformational Training, an educational program designed for generating breakthroughs in the most crucial aspects of your life. Later, we went on a few dates to explore our connection.
Eleven had reservations about dating me because I didn’t live in LA — which, in their mind, was a deal-breaker. For me though, I already worked in LA every other week, so getting to the city simply felt like a six-hour commute.
Back then, Eleven was a practicing Christian. It reminded me about my own wounds from an upbringing in the church — a church I didn’t want to belong to anymore. Growing up with so much oppression and judgment in the church, I felt as though the average Christian promoted “unconditional conditional love.” That kind of ended my desire to explore a dating relationship with Eleven any further.
“I just remember you kissing me, but it was just this little [peck], and then we walked away, and there were no hard feelings. We didn’t talk that much for years.” – Eleven
It’s interesting for us to look back on our beginnings and hear the full story from the other’s perspective. Thankfully, our paths were destined to cross again.
How We Reconnected
After several years following our paths spiritually, personally, and professionally, Eleven responded to a post of mine on Instagram, leading to a catch-up. That was roughly two years ago, and although I was no longer spending much time in LA, we talked for hours on FaceTime, deep-diving into everything from conspiracy theories to creative ideas, and exploring cosmic ideas. Eleven was dating Emmy, and going through their own personal journey of transitioning into non-binary.
“Nick was a huge part of capturing the beauty of our relationship, [shooting] these gorgeous photos of us. He was also there to hold space for me when I was crying when we broke up. [Nick became] one of my closest humans as I processed everything.” – Eleven
On the other side of this, I was on a love adventure meeting someone with this deep crazy chemistry that I’d never felt before and had to move through letting go of her a couple of times. Eleven was there for me, too, during those difficult times. We were able to hold space for each other and talk deeply about processing our emotions and what we were learning from our experiences.
Not only that, but Eleven played an instrumental role in helping me alchemize my role of being an Asian American.
Flipping the Script on Being an Asian American Male
I wrote an article where you can read about this topic in greater depth, but I explored the idea that Asian males in American culture are not seen as sexy and iconic. I’ve done more research into it and found that this was what Bruce Lee was trying to break in Hollywood before he died. He fought against the fact that Asian men were always seen as either the Kung Fu masters or the funny man — there were no iconic Asian males or household names as sexy role models back then. I don’t feel much has changed.
“On a trip to my house in Joshua tree I remember sitting with you at the food place [on the crossroads], and you were moving through the story of an Asian American male not being somebody, or an archetype, that people are super celebratory [of]. … I’m part Chinese, so I think I had a very tender spot when I would see you stuck in that story. My uncles that raised me [experienced] racism growing up in Mexico, so when I saw that story running through your script, I thought, ‘Oh hell no, I’m not going to stand for this one. Nick, you are sexy.” – Eleven
I really appreciated this expression from Eleven. I’d just discovered how vastly different my dating app experience was compared with my white male friends’. I’ve subsequently deleted all of them because statistically, Asian men and black women are the least “swiped right”. When we were in Joshua tree, my research was fresh in my mind, so Eleven’s words helped me think about how to flip the script.
“I think you, being an architect, and then having other friends like Everett, where you guys are co-creating the new narrative, is inspiring and encouraging for me because you guys are samurai and so hot, and it’s going to be so cool to watch this script being flipped.” – Eleven
As Asian males exploring how we can inspire and create more inner alchemy for other Asian males out there, Eleven is acting as a muse for our inner alchemy to flow.
Exploring Deeper Connections
Eleven was chatting with their business partner and sister Kat Ross about me. At some point in the conversation, she asked, “What’s up with you and Nick?” Eleven initially protested “He’s my best friend,” but that started to shift with a different question.
“[Kat] goes, ‘Well, what would happen if it wasn’t just that?’ I honestly hadn’t even picked that up. I was obviously still dealing with the Emmy thing, but I didn’t know how to answer the question. Then I had two IPA beers and called you. … ‘Hey, I just want you to know I’m open to all possibilities at all times.’” – Eleven
My initial reaction was, “What does that mean?” It wasn’t even on my radar, especially because they had expressed being more interested in women than men, which is still true now. I had to process what Eleven said, and explore what I wanted — realizing I was open to it too.
We planned a trip to Sedona with no expectations of where this exploration would lead, and I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is being able to talk openly about everything with each other and everyone involved in our orbits — that’s been interesting and challenging.
I had no expectations, especially considering we’ve talked in-depth about Eleven’s feelings with the masculine and feeling safe. I’ve been very cautious in a dance of discovering what’s comfortable, what’s not, and asking: “How are you feeling?”
It was beautiful, and I enjoyed it, and felt very connected with Eleven. We have all this creative chemistry, and to have this extra little layer on top of it felt really good.
“It did, and I think my hesitation was, and what we’re working through currently is, I had been in a fixed space where I was only dating females. I hadn’t really entertained any sort of experience with the masculine in years. … I’ve had dear guy friends where I knew if I ever opened it up, they would definitely be open to that. But I always kept very strong boundaries around that, so this is the first time ever that I’ve done this.” – Eleven
Eleven wanted to make sure that, not only would they not hurt my heart, they’d also be avoiding past patterns where they’d put others’ hearts ahead of their own.
This is when I could feel that Eleven was pulling back a bit.
The Formula for Creative Alchemy
After exploring, Eleven realized they felt the most authentic when exploring sexually with those that identify as queer. Since Sedona, there has been this unspoken feeling I had from Eleven, but I wasn’t hearing it. It didn’t feel good, because there was still an openness to whatever we were exploring, without the clarity of hearing it from Eleven.
I’m grateful for the experience, and I definitely think this has all helped my own creative process by exploring the lines of deeper communication more transparently. I’m learning to speak more of my truth versus succumbing to what other people want or trying to please them.
“We stayed up late last night to dive into this. And this morning, I asked, ‘So how’s your heart feeling?’” – Eleven
I’m in a place where the messaging is crystal clear, but I’m processing and practicing the art of letting go — something that’s been a bit of a theme this year. It’s very easy in these scenarios to start creating a false story like, “I’m not good enough” or “not queer enough” — something I might feel for a hot second, but what is the story I choose to write and tell myself? I can choose healing, growth, and focus on the future and possibility.
Thank you so much for joining me today, guys. I hope you enjoyed this episode of deep reflection and vulnerability of our journey — if you did, please screenshot it and post it to Instagram and tag me, @nickonken and Eleven, @iamelevenxx. And if you’ve got time, leave me a review on Apple Podcasts. I’d love to hear your feedback.
I’ve been helping entrepreneurs build their personal brands through photography, graphics, and visuals. Through that has come the identity alchemy course that we’re coming out with here in a few weeks. If you want to learn more about identity alchemy and building your personal brand through visuals, you can DM me the words Identity Alchemy on Instagram at Nick Onken, and I’ll put you on the list to keep you updated.
Also, if you haven’t checked out Onken Hats yet, they’re custom hats that I’ve been making for people, which is a new endeavor of mine. It’s been a lot of fun and people are loving them.
I’ll catch you guys next time — now go live the creative lives you were meant for.
You can Subscribe and Listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts. And please leave me a Rating and Review!
“I’m putting Edie Sedgwick and David Bowie in a blender.” – E11even
Some things we learn in this podcast:
- How did Nick and E11even meet [1:10]
- What is the dynamic between the artist and the muse [25:30]
- Why should we seek discomfort [30:00]
- How to navigate consent [47:45]
- How to navigate expectations in relationships [48:00]
- How to let go [49:20]
- Listen to Onken Radio Episode 204: Eleven – Transitioning to Non-Binary
- Read What The Racism of Being Overlooked Feels Like by Nick Onken
- Get your copy of Untamed by Glennon Doyle
- Get your custom Onken Hat