In late August, I was told that Out magazine — a publication I once soaked up as a closeted teen, fantasizing about my one-day authentic gay life — not only wanted me to guest edit their fashion issue, but creative direct the cover shoot with me on the cover! Ricky Martin was on last month’s. How did I even get here? Well, for one, I never gave up. No matter how many times the world came for me.
In 2018-2019 I went through breakups with both my business partner and fiancé. Baja East was in severe debt, I was broke, and through it all, I publicly pretended that I was still “thriving.” Fashion is all about image, and image was all I thought I had left — leaving me empty, depressed, and eventually suicidal.
I was told mentioning these things will “make you look unstable,” but I’ve realized that feeling down is nothing to be ashamed of. Being perfect isn’t realistic for anyone and not being honest about my journey would only add fuel to the fear surrounding the topic, encouraging those who need help to stay isolated for fear of being judged. And none of us want that.
My bubbie, who survived the Holocaust, used to say, “It may be bad today, but always believe in the future.” Honoring that mantra helped shift my energy to focus on the positive instead of what was wrong. I took control of my life by taking ownership of my missteps, building myself back up and resurrecting my brand. I may have fallen (hard), but I kept getting up believing tomorrow was my second chance.
Shea Couleé knows about second chances. No matter how many rose petals got in their way, they’ve lip-synced for their legacy and served fierce fashion with boundary pushing humor, all while celebrating Black femininity as an artform. I mean, did you see their break-the-internet version of “Birth of Venus?” Flava Flav anyone?
This reigning RuPaul’s Drag Race All Star was the only person I could collaborate with to reconceptualize Vanity Fair’s iconic 1993 k.d. lang and Cindy Crawford cover story. In “Muse,” we challenge sexuality, gender, and racial stereotypes, playing with the idea of reinvention while ultimately fulfilling my “French vanilla fantasy” of going full fish.
I’m beyond grateful, and still shook, to have had the opportunity to contribute to Out in such a creative and meaningful way. Closeted-teen-me would have never imaged this for himself, though perhaps if he had read this way back when, he’d be encouraged to love himself just as he was and not beat himself up for drooling over Ricky Martin’s black leather clad 1999 Grammy’s performance.
Perhaps 2018-2019 me wouldn’t have waited for it to get so dark before reaching out for help. But I guess my journey is proof that it’s never too late to change the way things are going.
I hope in sharing my experiences, those reading this in need can take comfort in knowing they aren’t alone and will feel encouraged to harness their energy to achieve their wildest dreams.
Now more than ever, we need to quit worrying about what other people may think and take the time to truly listen to ourselves. Honesty is fully in fashion. Let’s speak up for what we believe in, using our voices to stand strong together and let’s vote like our lives depend on it, using this election to manifest the future we all deserve.
Love, Light & Truth,
Guest Editor in Chief September/October 2020
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline now (24/7) at 800-273-8255.
This story appears in Out's 2020 Fashion Issue. Scott Studenberg, creative director of the fashion brand Baja East guest edited. He appears on the cover with RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars winner Shea Couleé.