Photography by Lia Clay for Express.
As a kid, I taught myself to dream smaller. I was so ashamed of all the things about me that I knew alienated my father, isolated me from the other boys at school, and drew hostile ridicule towards me from almost everyone imaginable, whether they were cousins or classmates or even parents of friends. Even as a child, I knew the world was going to be different for me, simply because of things I could never control—my voice, my walk, the invisible way I carry myself that made me, well, a target. I had long dreamt of being a lawyer, exactly like the ones I saw on television. I admired the way they used words as weaponry, how they had to listen to and interview all sorts of people to find out the truth. And, of course, I loved the (strictly for TV, I’d later learn) theatrics of it all—the polished suits and hair, the oratory performances that moved and compelled a jury. Law school—Harvard, in fact—was on my list of dreams.
But then, I came out of the closet.
For whatever reason, I couldn’t imagine a world with gay lawyers—especially one as audaciously gay as myself. Knowing any efforts to hide my flamboyance would be in vain, I resigned myself to the world of Fashion, hoping (desperately) that at least in that industry, there would be people like me. That I wouldn’t stick out or have to explain myself. Or worse, defend myself. So, in the matter of one summer vacation before the 9th grade, I modified the visions for my future I’d spent my childhood creating—removing the parts that no longer fit the person I’d become, folding them, and tucking them way back into an unreachable corner of my mind, the same corner where I hid the worst things I thought about myself. The things they called me and told me about myself that I feared were true—the mean kind of thoughts that unfolded themselves and piled up in the front of my head, waking me up in the middle of the night out of fear. I always remember, no matter what kind of day I had, that I was afraid. I was afraid of myself, and afraid of being alone.
I was always pretending in Fashion, making it up as I went—I ended up helping assistants blow-dry clients’ hair at a local salon, then doing makeup for John Cena’s (first) wedding, then throwing charity fashion shows in honor of breast cancer awareness, then (years later) walking into the doors of 4 Times Square for my first day interning at Condé Nast. None of it ever felt quite like it fit, but it felt like I was moving—I was doing something with my life, even if it wasn’t what I had always planned. Somewhere along the journey from intern to assistant editor, I realized there were a whole lot of people who loved Fashion, who wanted to be a part of it so badly, but didn’t see themselves. These people were young gay boys, like me, but they were also older women tired of seeing 18-year-olds in beauty campaigns, or Black women tired of never seeing their complexion in the pages of magazines, and so forth. I also would read the webmaster e-mail and the comments section, hearing from teenagers who were tired of focusing on the surface things and wanted—deserved—more.
So slowly, I tried to figure out how the wild world I’d gotten myself into—the one with the red carpets and the runway shows and the glossy pages—would be able to extend a hand (or both hands) to the people who felt left behind. I wanted to make sure people didn’t feel the need to accommodate their dreams or their selves, kind of the same way I did. And so, I reviewed those memories I had tucked away and got uncomfortable once again—in reliving those feelings, I was able to reconnect with something that had been missing in my life for a while.
And lo and behold, that brought me here, to Out. Now, I get to help other people tell their own stories, and amplify those experiences in magazine pages and on social media feeds. We get to showcase the incredible queer people who are making moves all over the world, and celebrate their uniqueness, make them feel special, and hopefully, make others feel particularly included. We do this work not just because it feels (or looks) good, but because it’s the work we needed to see when we were younger, when we searched for anything that could show us even a glimpse of possibility or future for ourselves. So much of what we do in magazines is about capturing the present in its truest form—but when you do this work for queer and trans people, in particular, you also have the ability to set possibility models for the future. Because the people we reach aren’t just reading because they stumbled upon us in a store or on Twitter—they’re reading because they want and need to. So hopefully whatever person—young or old—who finds us can discover a whole new reason to continue dreaming about reaching their fullest, wildest, most glorious potential.
To see more from Out's Editor in Chief Phillip Picardi, visit Out.com/LoveUnites. For every Love Unites item you purchase by July 15, Express will donate 25% of the net income to GLAAD to accelerate acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community.
Shop the Love Unites Collection at Express.com/LoveUnites.