There’s quite the population of queer people in rural areas — the Movement Advancement Project said some 2.9 to 3.8 million LGBTQ+ people live there in fact. I grew up in such an area in fact in South Carolina where brands like John Deere, Harley Davidson, and Nascar were a way of life. And many times these things are presented as seemingly irreconcilable identities: southern and gay. But one performance artist, currently living in small town Georgia is hoping to reconcile the two through his Instagram as well as a merch collection, recently released as a pop-up shop at Phluid Project, the world's first gender-free store.
Here, we talk to John Derriere, as he’s known to his 13,000 followers on Instagram about what went into making this internet persona, his pop-up shop, and incorporating butt plugs into the iconic Harley Davidson logo.
“My real name is Blake but John is an internet persona that I’ve taken on. The whole idea was just trying to reclaim these symbols and motifs that I feel are heavily associated with often heteronormative rural culture and small town life such as where I’m from. I’ve always struggled to negotiate the differences between my queer identity and rural, conservative upbringing. John Deeriere represents a personal fantasy. He is this character who successfully negotiates those polarizing identities in a really fluid way where it doesn’t feel like they are at odds but instead intersect.
The merch is imbued with that same spirit.
It’s kind of complicated for me because on one hand it’s sort of an exaggerated version of who I am but on the other it’s authentic expression. For example, The extent to which John Derriere is like sex and body positive, modeling camo jock straps in the corn field, is an exaggerated performance. Creating erotic rural content is not something I do with ease. I think being queer and rural is a beautiful thing but it’s not without daily risks and navigation. I’m not trying to say that being queer in rural America is perfect, I’m just trying to nuance people’s ideas around it.
For the pop up I knew that I wanted it to be super summery and fun. It’s a nonbinary and gender-nonconforming store so I wanted to emphasize that dimension of my merch. I hand-cropped all my tees and tanks exclusively for Phluid to make them more summer appropriate. The pop up also prompted a few new designs such as unisex one piece swimsuits which are only available in stores. Everything else is also available on my website.
"The whole idea came from the John Deere logo which features a prancing deer. I have a lot of photos of me from behind with my butt in the air and I thought one of them looked like I was going to prance or jump or something. I thought they looked similar [to the logo] so I took one of my photos and converted it to vector art for a shirt."
“I made this with the pop up in mind. It’s based off the Harley Davidson logo. The original says Harley Davidson Motor Company or Harley Davidson Motor Cycles, depending on the era. Motor Cycle or Motor Company is written in orange above Harley Davidson. I was trying to think of other language or a funny play on words but couldn’t come up with anything and just decided to do butt plugs instead.
I’m not a huge fan of butt plugs myself but I know they are just an obvious signifier within queer culture. That was the only meaning they had for me."
"This was actually one of my first ideas. We know that the rainbow isn’t exclusively queer but it nevertheless is a queer symbol. I’ve always thought about that when seeing the Nascar logo, a popular sport in middle America. My family really loves Nascar.
When I posted this design on Instagram I was getting backlash from people saying “you’re a cis gay male, why are you selling nonbinary merch?” And like first of all, don’t assume my gender identity. But also, I’ve posted a lot of Instagram captions that clearly question gender and my own gender. Second of all: is it ok for an one member of the queer spectrum to make merch for and about other members under the same spectrum as an ally?
It’s an interesting question.”
“I feel like my biggest achievement was the high waisted jockstraps I just released.
I will admit, a lot of my ideas come from things I want to put on my body first. I’ve been wanting a high-waisted jockstrap for so long because all the ones you see are low waisted and don’t look good on my body specifically. Therefore I made my own! I thought it would be a cool twist on a classic gay garment.”
First this was imagined as a swim brief but then I realized it can function as underwear too. There’s no drawstring and it’s made of a Lycra spandex fabric. Like jockstraps, I feel like so much of the queer swimwear and undergarments we see are loud patterns, bright colors, and super low waisted. I tried to do something different, something higher waisted. The camo was, again, taking a symbol that hasn’t been affiliated with queer people historically, and putting it in this new context.”