Photography by Roger Erickson. Clockwise from top left: Ryan Austin, Parson James, Dolly Parsons, and Presley.
Parson James, Singer-Songwriter
I met Ryan through my best friend. She does makeup, and he does hair, and I kept hearing about this guy “@ryaustinhair.” That’s his Instagram name. He became this figment of a person — someone I kept hearing about but never met. At the time I was homeless — just writing and vagabonding and traveling. It was before anything big was happening with my career. Eventually there was a birthday dinner for a mutual friend, and Ryan was there. He’d recently broken up with his boyfriend. I thought he was so attractive, and he kept staring at me and flirting with me. I didn’t imagine it could amount to anything, but I left that dinner thinking, Am I in love with @ryaustinhair?
A few weeks later, at the [New York] party Westgay, someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was Ryan. My nerves kicked in and I fled, but I got a Facebook message from him the next morning. [While chatting] I said something like,“I smell like tequila and sweat.” And then he said, “I love boys who smell like tequila and sweat.” We set up a time to hang out, and we never stopped hanging out. I spent every day with him. And we weren’t sexual at first. Spending time with him was enough. Our approach to the relationship taught me how to build a strong emotional foundation with someone. You couldn’t separate us.
We were together for about seven months when I got signed, and everything changed. I had all this money, I had this song out [2015’s “Stole the Show”], and the prospect of me traveling a lot at the beginning of a relationship was a little scary. But if I’m experiencing the world, I wanna do that with someone I love. Ryan got his first passport because of me. The first place we traveled to was this small town outside Munich. I had a show. Then I did a lot of press in London. He stayed with me everywhere. He’s my biggest cheerleader, and I’m his. And we communicate — everything crumbles without communication. If you’re saying everything you’re feeling to your partner when it’s happening, you’re never gonna miss a beat.
Ryan Austin, Hairstylist
I remember meeting him at Westgay. I recognized him and went up and introduced myself. Then I sent him a Facebook message about liking boys who smell like whiskey, or something like that. I thought he was really cute. He has beautiful eyes. And I remember him singing in a cab, before any of the career stuff happened, and me thinking, Damn, this guy has a really good voice.
I didn’t want to commit to him in the beginning. I’d just broken up with someone and was going through a lot. But I really enjoyed his company, and I loved him as a friend. So while I was a little resistant, eventually I gave in to it and let it happen. He’s very good at sweeping me off my feet. He likes to do and experience — he’s always looking for something new — and being with him has always felt fresh. And it didn’t really feel any different after he got signed. I took a year off work to travel with him and support him, and I just freelanced, but I don’t look at him as a celebrity — even in the really exciting times, like when me and his mom first heard him on the radio at a gym in Norway.
I think we balance each other out. He does a lot of social things, and I’m more of a homebody. I need to get out more, and he encourages me to do that, while I encourage him to stay home sometimes — he gets me out of my shell, and I help put him back in his. This past Thanksgiving, he came home with me and met my family. He charmed everyone. My cousin was playing the piano, and he was singing, and my whole family was sitting around watching. I’m a bit older than him, I’ve worked around a lot of celebrities, and I’ve been in a couple of relationships. He hasn’t. But he connects with his emotions in a way I’ve never seen before.
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