Nearly a year ago, I graduated from college and moved to New York. I know — Groundbreaking. A cosmic-eyed creative completely unsure of himself in an increasingly vast landscape that is this Juul pod and sewer-rat-strewn jungle we call home.
I was starting an internship at this advertising agency, a decision I wasn’t completely sure of. Sure, it was my major, but I had major issues with it. I always believed in the power of media to transform lives, as it had mine… but advertising? Something about it felt soiled, which is why I faltered setting foot into this field. I thought I wouldn’t be able to do what was right — story, style, and social wise.
Still, there was some element about Virtue, the creative agency born of Vice, that intrigued me. I wasn’t shoehorned into one identity, and I noticed Virtue wasn’t either. Honestly, we’re both figuring ourselves out.
Identity is a tricky subject. It completely defines who you are, yet it’s not easy to grasp. A blend of internal and external awareness, it’s ethereal, ever changing, and for me, constantly out of control. Who I am has plagued me for a long time. I hide in masks of my own making, sometimes in plain sight, or in the privacy of my thoughts. And having come from the small city of Eugene to the social stage that is New York, I thought I was ready for the transition. Shedding one skin and stepping into another. But from the moment I got here, the necessity of reality reached deep into my gut and grabbed hold of me, squeezing me, contracting me. While I knew I was gay, I really had no idea what that meant.
Nearly a year later, who I am has begun to become increasingly clear. And it all happened within 24 hours of my arrival. I started interning at Virtue on a Wednesday in June, diving directly in from a post-graduation redeye. On Thursday, I was a part of DUMBO’s makeshift Pride parade. Friday morning, drag queens hosted our rundown, and that night I attended the inaugural all-queer festival Ladyland. On Sunday came my very first Pride in all its glory.
As I transitioned into a full-time position at Virtue, a brief for a makeup brand arrived. I was the youngest junior placed on it — a guppy among a team of senior creatives. I had no idea what to expect. If they think because I’m gay I know makeup, I thought, they’re dead wrong. I certainly was no James Charles, I rarely ventured into Beau-Tube, and I didn’t wear it (though my acne could have used some cover-up). Nonetheless, I wanted to prove myself.
Simply put, our team won the business. Urban Decay was the first project I worked on from pitch to production to post, and I couldn’t be more elated that Sparkle Out Loud is where I ended up. This was a chance to explore my history, an opportunity to honor a collective identity; and most importantly, an obligation to do right. Pride marketing is classically tasteless, but so is the parade itself at times — just float after float sponsored by big banks (No! The B in LGBT does not stand for “banks”!). We knew the campaign needed to be truly authentic and inclusive, a piece that stood with the community, and did not speak down to it.
Seeing the campaign launch less than one year since my move on the eve of World Pride NYC (the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots) makes me feel whole. I learned more from this project than I did from four years of advertising classes (no shade, UO), and that was because of the team I worked with. If it hadn’t been for them behind the project, guiding me and the glitter in the right direction, the work wouldn’t be anywhere as sparkly as it is now.
I cannot express how magical my days on set were. We created a moment that so many people spend years searching for. As glitter guns blasted confetti, ass-shaking music pumped from the speakers, and death drops were piled upon death drops, a sense of euphoria was reached. And when I touched back down in this slushy city last February, I was still beaming with pride.
I HAVE NEVER BEEN HAPPIER!!!!! this weekend was the most transformative of my life… things are manifesting, i met so many amazing amazing people from talent to crew to anywhere in between and we created something magical (to sell a product lol #capitalism)… but i FUCKING love wearing glitter now i have never felt more confident and GORGEOUS and creation is the motivation from here on out!!
It is DAUNTING to find your voice for any junior who is stepping into a field, especially in a professional setting. And it’s not only about identifying that voice, it’s also about giving volume to it. Luckily, at Virtue, I was able to do just that.
My biggest takeaway in this industry (and life, really) is to always read the room as you stick to your truth — because, look… you’re the target audience. Companies want label-less college-aged Gen Z geniuses. After all, who understands that audience better than the audience themselves. See yourself, brand yourself, try not to pigeonhole yourself, and then shock yourself.
Who knows? One day you might try on some of the glitter eyeliner that you’re advertising and glance in the mirror. The person looking back might be more confident than you were expecting.
This aritcle originally appeared on Medium.com