Andy South: Interview

And since you are openly gay, we should get into whether you came out really early. Like, if you want to start designing clothes at 16, is that part of the package?

I don't think so. With me, the thing is... my mom knew. My mom, my friends and family, they all knew. I just never verbalized it. That's just the toughest thing. I have friends who are like me who haven't come out to their parents, and I'm like, 'Girl, they know...' (laughs)

But you have to do it in your own time, and you have to respect that everyone has their own time to be ready to verbalize it. Because for me, I always knew I was and people around me could come to the same conclusion.

I wasn't the butchest guy in class, and I liked doing all these things that girls like to do, and had lots of friends that were girls, and people can assume that. But to actually verbalize it was the toughest thing in the world. I remember when I first told one of my best friends, when I was like 21... I came out when I was 21, and I was so scared.

Just to say the words 'I'm gay' is such a huge thing. It was terrifying for me, and I was so uncomfortable, and this was coming out to a person who I knew would support me no matter what. And I know that, but I was still terrified.

But once I did, it was so freeing. It is the most freeing feeling in the world. I could talk about what I want to talk about. People knew who I was. And this is how I am, and that's it. And people were OK with it. Knowing that people knew, and that they were OK with it, made me so much more confident in myself.

Even though up until that point I was outgoing and doing all of these things, like I was involved in all these student activities and clubs, but I was also very introverted at the same time. I wasn't the one who wanted to be the center of attention.

But being able to be out and be proud of who I am made all the difference in the world. My conversation with my mom, when I came out, was Thanksgiving when I was 21 years old.

I was washing the pots and pans and I told her, 'Oh, I want to talk to you, if you have some time...' and this was in the evening, it was just me and her in the house, just cleaning and putting leftovers away. She sat down and I was just washing dishes, and she was just 'Oh, what do you want to talk to me about?'

And she could tell that I was trying to avoid the topic now (laughs), but I already said I wanted to talk to her. But mothers have an intuition about whet their children are going through, and she knew I was struggling with telling her.

And I was like, 'Oh, never mind, it's OK...' And she was like, 'Do you need something?' And I said no. And she said, 'Do you need money?' And my mom and I are very close, and sometimes if I needed help financially to start on a project for a client, she would always have my back, so that's why she asked that.

So, she just asked all these random questions that she would normally ask me. Eventually she was like, 'Do you have a boyfriend?' And that made me stop, and I was like 'What?!' And she said, 'Do you have a boyfriend?' and I said, 'No.' But she opened the floor for me to speak to her about it, which took me by surprise, but at the same time made it easier for me.

My mother always knew. I mean, I wore my sister's dresses when I was a kid. She had an idea. And it took years for her to come to the fact that she could be supportive. I mean, she's always going to be supportive and loving, but for Asians it's more about saving face, I think. (laughs)

The idea of pride, and the idea that she could be proud of me, because she knew that I would be able to be successful in whatever I do, no matter what my preference is. She was like 'You're being gay doesn't make you who you are. That's just you and what you choose to do, and who you choose to be,' but as long as I can live my life in a way I can be proud of, and carry myself professionally, she is always going to be supportive. That's the main thing.

'I just want you to be someone that people can still respect.' And that's a fear for every mother, actually. There are so many stereotypical things that come with being gay, and that's what mothers are afraid of. They're afraid of their child being someone they can't be proud of, and that's not the case, and I think my mom finally understood that. That's why it's so easy for her to be proud of me, and supportive no matter what.

And I forget to mention this when we started, but I did want to thank you for writing up your thoughts on Mondo for the site.

That was nothing, it took no time for me to just sit there and respond, so thank you.

Initially, I was only going to interview you from this season, but as soon as he made his revelation I knew that was an important message for our site. I did love Mondo, as well, but Project Runway is a bit overwhelming if you're used to interviewing gay contestant. On that show it's like...

Everyone? (laughs)

Exactly, so I fall back to, it's a youth site, so we'll just interview the young one. But I think HIV is something that is so easy to put in the back of your mind and not deal with, whenever we can find a good way to bring it up, it's worthwhile. Especially since he's had it for 10 years, which means he was infected in his early 20s... you know, fight against that young immortality thing.

Right, that we all believe at one point. (laughs)

Yeah, I don't anymore, because I'm not young.

(laughs)

I got rid of that by getting rid of youth. That was a pretty easy path out.

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You can see some photos of his latest collection at http://www.haroldjulianphotos.com/

Andy will also have his own site at http://www.andysouth.com/ although not much is there yet.