He / Him / His
The concept of community has changed a lot for me over my lifetime. It went from being something I was born into, to something that I chose. So much of my early life was trying to fit in, to do the acrobatics necessary to conform. Not only did that not work, I constantly felt unfulfilled and disconnected. My life became quite performative. Looking back, I think that’s in large part why I chose to work in the theater and then fashion—in those spaces I could be more of who I am, but also create an illusion, on stage and in my clothing choices. Ah the tension!Coming out has been a long process for me, especially because it involves so many layers and identities—queer, pansexual, gender fluid, polyamorous—but in the past four years, as I have become more comfortable in these identities, I have been able to share them more openly with those around me. And in so doing, I have created my own community, my own chosen family that shares my same values. And that has been powerful, life saving.
I felt for a long time that I was “late to the game” that everyone had figured out their identities earlier on; I have since learned that’s not true. (If you're struggling with your gender/sexual identity at any point in your life, it's totally normal and all right!) I also knew that I wasn’t exactly straight or gay, that I was somehow on the spectrum both in my gender and sexuality. I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere—not the gay bar or straight bar—just an amorphous grey space. But when I finally began to share myself more openly with others, I realized there were people out there like me, that we’re all on a continuous journey. Nothing is static! This realization gave me the confidence to open up and embrace the grey space. And you can’t keep it all in to yourself…or only rely on a few people to carry the weight of your burden, it does take a community.
As a professor, I see a lot of younger people all of the time who are unable to be their authentic selves due to immediate circumstances,especially with fashion students. So many of them are coming from places/homes where they couldn’t be their true selves. Fashion school in New York City becomes a chance to open up and explore. Even if it seems like the time will never come to open up, to be your true self…it will! You will find a community of likeminded people, and even more expansive possibilities.Luckily, I think there is more room for personal expression, much more than when I was growing up. In many ways, social media has made a space for every kind of person, no matter where you are, and that can be a lifesaver when you feel all alone in the world.
My roots are in Utah Mormonism, my original community, and this is what I reflect on when I'm asked to give advise to anyone who may be experiencing bullying. It’s important to me highlight the struggle that exists there for queer youth, leading to high teen suicide rates. It breaks my heart. To those in Utah or the Mormon faith, there are people out there who want to help…reach out to them. Conversations are happening in that community, thanks to the hard work of Dan Reynolds and the LoveLoudFest.From a personal perspective, find something that gives you confidence, something that makes you special in some way, that you can rely on when others are tearing you apart. Focus on being the best at those things to carry you through. At a young age, I remember using my intellect and my artistic talents to avoid physical fights, quite literally.
Pro Tip: I like to think that everyone is queer…they just haven’t figured it out yet!