Willie Norris on Homegrown Confidence and Always Making a Space for Herself

Growing Up, Coming Out is a series of personal reflections from queer American designers, released every day this month.

I grew up in a very, very small town in New Hampshire called Rumney—our kindergarten through eighth grade school had a hundred people—and realized at a really early age that I don’t find any fulfillment or satisfaction from taking a road that already exists, so I never had the big identity struggle. Honestly, I have just made my life work for me—I had no other choice.

I had a girlfriend all four years of high school, and we were in the drama club together. I made costumes and acted—all that sort of stuff. It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I was like, “I guess I’m gay?” And even that didn’t seem like a big deal. In truth, I didn’t resonate with that really, but it was the closest identifier that I could find in these social groups that made any sort of sense to me. My brother is gay, and he had the very traditional coming out experience in the early 2000s where you tell every single person you’ve ever met. With me, it was just like: Yeah, sure, I’m gay. Even in my 30s, when I came out as a trans woman, it was never really a public announcement. I was just like: OK, this is what it is now—here is where I am at.

If I’ve never had any huge personal or professional backlash to anything about my identity or sexuality, it’s just because I have always been deeply, deeply confident in my choices and in who I am. I don’t give anyone the rope to pull on to get to me. And when it came to starting my brand and creating clothing, it wasn’t even a question about working with and supporting the queer community. Not only are they my community, but they are the most interesting, the most dynamic, the most alive, and the most responsive and reactive group. One of my favorite fashion quotes of all time is from Ann Demuelemeester, who said: “If your friends aren’t wearing your clothes, you have a problem.”

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