The following interview is part of Out's "Dating PrEP" series, in which four notable experts from various fields offer advice on how to prepare for dating as a modern queer man.
Sometimes, it's the small events that prove life-changing. For Ryan Jamaal Swain, it was a tap-dancing recital.
The Pose star and dancer vividly recalled the costume he wore as a 4-year-old: a "gorgeous," sparkling, red-and-gold number, which allowed him, for the first time, to merge his identity with his creativity.
That sartorial expression "gives you an incubator for your imagination, for you to really honor and deal with the dark parts of yourself, the light parts of yourself, the joyous, sad," he reflected. It also allowed him to embrace being "Black and queer and tapping into my power."
"Style is not about fashion. Style is essential to your identity, and identity is essential to your truth," Swain said. "It's really, really radical for you to just be in the center of your authenticity, and knowing that your truth is your superpower, and your healing, and being able to expand yourself in ways that raise your vibration, [which] brings people to you."
In a new video interview with Out's David Artavia, Swain shows off the clothes that allow him to be authentic: bright colors and patterns that evoke his Southern roots as well as happy memories.
Clothes are also part of an essential question he asks himself, "What is your why?" which influences every aspect of his life, from work to potential dating partners. And he expects these partners to have done this work of self-realization as well.
"I really want to get into a relationship with someone that is real, that is their real selves. We're not playing facades, and that's hard, but it's also fun too," he said. If and when that moment of taking it to the next level comes, Swain stressed that he "always take as many choices and decisions that are going to keep you safe."
Just as clothing is a tool in his outward expression of joy, taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) — the treatment proven to be up to 99 percent effective in HIV prevention if taken daily — is essential to "keeping yourself healthy and mobile and have yourself a damn good time."
Style, dating, protection — it's all part of Swain's journey toward self-actualization.
"I gave myself grace. I never considered myself to be perfect in any type of way," Swain said. "You can be a masterpiece and a work in progress at the exact same time."
Watch more from Out's "Dating Prep" series at Out.com/DatingPrep