Meet — Wesley Berryman
Where are you from?
Im from Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Close to Nashville.
What's Mt. Juliet like?
Well the road that leads to my house is a gravel road, and my high school was located next a cow pasture.
Not desolate but… rural.
What was the community like, growing up?
Really conservative. Religious. Some kids would come to school wearing their hunting gear. Everyone was nice, because that's just how they are in the South, but also unaccepting, I would say. High school was especially tough. I never got beat up, but I definitely got verbally harassed.
Why were you getting harassed?
I guess I had “feminine" or “gay" qualities, though I hadn’t come to terms with my own sexuality at that point. It was just like “faggot” this and “faggot” that — you know the normal shit. Normal homophobic shit.
How'd you react to being singled out this way?
Not good, at all. It was very hard for me to take. Because people noticed I was a little different, I would try to adjust: constantly trying to act normal or blend in. I didn't want anyone to look at me or talk to me because, you know. I was gay.
Did you successfully “blend in?"
No, definitely not! And finally, at one point, I stopped trying. I was becoming more comfortable and confident in my own skin, and I decided I was going to unapologetically be me: wear what I want, be who I want. I did that pretty suddenly.
What prompted your sudden change in perspective?
Honestly? Lady Gaga. Hahaha, like 2009 when she was starting out. I was so inspired by her message. Everyone knows I’m obsessed with her. Obsessed might not even be strong enough a word. She was so unabashedly like "THIS IS WHO I AM." Gaga really helped me.
So what changed?
I began outwardly expressing myself in a way I never had before. I was dressing more creatively, and feeling confident about it, even though my environment hadn’t changed all that much. People were definitely more like… the abuse just got... more. I wasn’t asking for it, but people were telling me I was. All because I felt newly empowered to express myself. I would always hear people say “What the fuck is he wearing?”
I was just expressing myself. It’s what made me happy at the time; and if I couldn’t, from peer pressure or whatever outside forces, I’d suddenly feel suppressed. I'd suddenly feel sad for not being true to myself — a sadness I didn’t know until after I started doing exactly that: being myself.
Is New York an easier place for you to practice freedom of expression?
Compared to Tennessee? Yeah, there’s just no comparison here. People still stare in New York, but I don’t think they're as threatened by what they’re staring at.
Can we talk about your line? You’ve just shown your second collection — how are you feeling about it?
I was thinking about this recently, and I feel like I'm learning and discovering so much about it. I almost see it as an entity beyond myself. Like people have some sorta connection to it.
A lot of what you put out centers around themes of self-love. Being kinder to oneself.
That’s exactly what its all about. Creating a community of people like that. People that not only have love for themselves, but wanna spread it, and come together and celebrate self-expression.
What are the major inspiration sources for your line?
Its very much about my experiences with being gay. Feeling different from other people. My insecurities. Feeling disenfranchised from my own community, and then breaking through that to celebrate the things that I was discriminated for. These are common experiences for queer people… feeling ostracized and ashamed. So my clothes are first and foremost inspired by strength and self-empowerment.
Was there a specific moment when you realized you wanted to make unisex clothing?
I don’t remember ever choosing “Yes, I'm gonna do unisex.” Its just always been that. My designs weren’t really for boys or girls—they were just statement pieces. But in college, I decided that I didn't want a gender label. My professors told me I couldn't do that. "It's either womenswear or menswear.” But I cant imagine making something thats supposed to be exclusively for a woman or a man.
Why are you so passionately against assigning gender to your clothes?
When I was growing up, I'd find things I wanted to wear — like a lace shirt —but wasn’t allowed to because it wasn’t for me. It was for “girls." I want to make clothes for… people. If the glove fits, you know? Why do pieces of fabric have to be so specific and so stigmatized?
Stylists and magazines put my clothes pretty equally on girls and boys. It's a random mix, and thats totally what I want, so I feel pretty happy about that. From the beginning, it's always just been about clothes on bodies.
Do you look at outside opinion as pure distraction?
I guess it is pretty distracting, yeah. They can consume you if you’re not careful. They can seep into your creation process. And that’s artist suicide!
For me, as an artist, you want to create something pure. Untouched expression of what’s inside. If it doesn’t come directly from my soul and out of my mouth, vomiting all over my metaphorical canvas, then it’s tainted hahaha. If it goes through a funnel, mixed with everyone’s opinions, then its shit! And only I can be sure of that, for myself and my work. So I protect myself from being too affected by what other people think I should or shouldn't do. The things I feel and the clothes I make— they come from somewhere in me that’s genuine. I trust that if that’s untouched, and pure, it may resonate with someone else’s same feelings.
That feeling of being proud enough and believing in myself enough to put something out for public consumption and criticism — it makes me feel really good.
What is your hope for queer America?
I want us to be safe. Safe to express ourselves freely, and purely, as much as non-queer people can. I want us to be able to just live, without all the shit that we go through. Violence. Emotional abuse.
Also, I feel like we should be more accepting of each other. There’s still a lot of discrimination in our community towards femininity, and trans people. Sometimes this discrimination comes from gay people, which blows me away. When you’re gay, you know how hard it is to be different. Why repeat this same pattern to someone else? I guess its because people don't understand it fully, you know? I cant say I do, because I don't experience that, but what I do understand is that they are who they are. And I respect that.
What is the key, you think, towards finding a positive, supportive community?
I personally haven’t found the most ideal situation, because I feel a little different, or alone, still, in my work and in my personal life. But I think it goes back to…. being yourself. Trusting the little voices in your head. If you can be yourself, people can maybe see beauty in your uniqueness. You can maybe see beauty in your own uniqueness.
Follow Wesley Berryman HERE