Hi, I’m Gunner. I’m from Alpharetta, Georgia.
My whole life since I was a kid, any birthday money, any Christmas money, anything that was given to me was put aside in a bank account for college. In high school, I got a job at Applebee’s in suburban Michigan. I don’t remember the exact number, but I got to keep a very small percentage of my tips for myself for spending. And the rest, again, went into that college fund.
So when senior year came around and I was planning on going into computer science and doing a dual major with computer science and design… but by that time I was so burnt out from all of my classes. I realized, okay, maybe this isn’t the correct path for me. I was no longer enjoying programming. But I was developing more… my more artistic side. I was taking photo electives.
I told my parents my fears and my lack of joy that I once had from computer science and decided I wanted to go to an art school instead and pursue just photography. They did not take it well.
I woke up one day. My mother always woke me up every morning for school. First thing I wake up to, she goes, “Hey, just so you know, we’re not going to pay for art school.” So to be jarred awake and told, You’re not doing that, was confusing and crushing. And especially having that… that bank account that was half my money that I had made working at suburban Michigan Applebee’s….
I looked her in the eyes and I told her Fuck off and she stepped… hand off my shoulders, stepped back, looked aghast. I threw off the blankets, stormed into the bathroom, took a shower, got dressed, grabbed a water bottle from the fridge and got in my car and drove off.
Throughout the day, she was calling me, texting me. And throughout the day you, the anxiety was creeping more and more. It turned from anger to pleading, which turned into “Well, we’ll talk tonight. You, me and your father at dinner.”
And I got home. We… we sat down before dinner. My parents told me they were standing firm by their decision. I showed them the schools I had in mind. Parsons was my top choice. Parsons, if you ever give them a call or visit their website, right on the front page they make it known in bold letters that they are career driven.
They didn’t change their mind, but they did give me assurance that they would think about it, that they would research it themselves. My mother apologized for springing it on me while waking me up instead of having a family discussion like we were now, I apologized for telling her to fuck off.
It was a senior year. We had a fall break. I had compiled a list of schools in New York. Looked at Pratt, which my mother hated. Which was helpful when we went to look at Parsons, which was open campus in Union Square in Greenwich Village of New York city. And then we did the tours. We did the gathering in the assembly halls to listen tom you know, the president of the school, the president of the art department. The administration does a great job because they spent most of it assuring the parents that this is a career-driven school. And I was like these fuckers know what they’re doing.
So I succeeded and I convinced my parents to let me go to art school. I graduated in 2017 from Parsons with honors, with a BFA in photography. Tried applying to some jobs, did some interviews with companies for what were basically underpaid glorified secretary positions. So I instead decided to just go out on my own and freelance.
So I was able to take on some different opportunities. I had started dating a guy who worked at Stonewall, who was interested in starting a variety show. That was a blast. I got to meet so many new people. I had been watching RuPaul’s Drag Race since I was in high school when a friend turned me on to it. And now I was meeting and working with the real life people.
But then COVID hit and there were no more freelance jobs to pick up. There were certainly no bar shows. So I had a lot of time on my hands. I was on the computer even more than normal, and I always had an interest in… in beauty and fashion that stemmed from photography. And I had a… almost obsession with makeup tutorials. I thought, Well, I have the time. I have the seclusion. I can, you know, follow these tutorials experiment with this makeup in the privacy of my own home. And if it doesn’t go well, no one has to know. But it did go well because I watched a lot of tutorials.
At that point, I thought, okay, I’m going to start reaching out to my friends. I texted a friend I had worked with a few times. It took her a while to get back each time. And she wasn’t really answering my questions, which eventually led to her stopping me and telling me that drag was difficult, it was a huge investment, and she didn’t think it would amount to anything for me. That really hurt and all over again I felt like I was being told I can’t do something that I’m excited about. And I didn’t tell her to fuck off. I just stopped texting her because eight years later, and I grew.
I reached out to a few other friends. I knew now not to put all my eggs in one basket, not to rely on one person but the community as a whole. I got some advice and a few weeks later, I started my Instagram account for Damsel, my drag persona.
I was getting some digital… some guest spots on some digital shows, ‘cause at this point we are still doing zoom. And then bars started opening up for shows. I got a guest spot at a friend’s show at Icon in Astoria.
I was also working at Stonewall hosting and seating for the drag shows . That drag queen I had originally reached out to was there as a guest. She saw me and greeted me like an old friend, gave me a hug and said, “Gunner, oh my gosh. I had no idea you would be so beautiful. I’m sorry I didn’t answer your questions. I just thought it would be a waste of my time, but you’re gorgeous and I can’t wait to call you a sister.”
And I did an imaginary hair flip. I said, “Enjoy your show.” And then I yelled at her because she was seating people and that was my job. And now we’re back to being good friends. I might have a show coming up with her soon. And it seems like that might be the secret to success… is having someone close to you telling you no and doing it anyway.
I’m grateful for the advice I’ve been given. I’ve a very close relationship with my parents. I have a very close relationship with this queen who is now my sister, now that I’m beautiful. You know, that’s life. That’s how it happens. Sometimes you just have to make it happen for yourself.