THE JOURNEY…SO FAR
Describe your journey to where you are now. What led you toward the sort of
work you do now? What was it about your personal and/or professional
journey that brought you to this type of work?
I think my success came from facing adversity. I was always teased and
taunted in my youth for being effeminate so I took solace in one of my natural
talents which was art. It helped me escape and feel pride in something that I
was good at doing.
Jack describes himself now as “Supergay” but also as “Artistic, Athletic and
Confident”. As a child he recalls being labelled as girly and shy and as a teen,
effeminate, gay, sissy, alternative and artistic by all of his peers and
Now, although these were pretty accurate, “I didn't appreciate the slanderous
adjectives”, Jack confides, since, “they definitely affected my self confidence. I
was SO self conscious of being effeminate and androgynous when I was
young that it prevented me from doing a lot of things. I only really accepted
myself and started loving the way I was in the last 10 years of so. I knew I was
gay from kindergarten but I denied even thinking about the possibility until I
was a senior in high school.
One aspect of my artistic endeavors was making my own clothes. I taught
myself to sew when I was 13 and I didn't really care about what my peers
thought about what I made and how I wore it. In a sense I was taking control of
their mockery by blatantly being proudly different.
That just naturally evolved
into\ going to UC Berkeley for Fine
Arts and the Parsons School of
Design for Fashion Design. All
the pieces just seemed to fall
www.ambiente.us MARCH | MARZO 2010
NEVER BLEND IN | PART THREE
JACK MACKENROTH | A POSITIVE ROLE MODEL
Researched and Written by David Watters
Jack Mackenroth is a Fashion Designer, TV Producer and host who is probably still
best remembered for Project Runway and as an inspirational and motivational
advocate for HIV awareness.
He is currently working on producing a TV show called the Queens of Drag: NYC, is
writing a much anticipated memoir, is still designing commissioned pieces, travels the
United States speaking about HIV and hosts a radio show, POZIAM, every Sunday
night. (A full bio is on jackmackenroth.com)
The following article is based on two separate interviews with Jack Mackenroth on
Tuesday 11 August 2009 and Sunday 4 April 2010 for the book, NEVER BLEND IN: The
Legacy of Harvey Milk by David Watters.
NEVER BLEND IN: THE LEGACY OF HARVEY MILK
This book is crucially important because we need to continually shed light on the
struggles and adversity facing the LGBT community. We can never become
complacent in our fight for equal rights and we need to remember the trailblazers who
ignited the spark for the flame of progress
that burns today. As role models following in the legacy of
others like Harvey Milk, we need to stand as proud confident
people and continue to broaden the path of acceptance for
those that follow us.
April 17, 2010
What are your goals both personally and professionally?
I have so many. Sort of like to be doing a bunch of things at once. I’m working
on producing a TV show called the Queens of Drag: NYC, I’m writing a
memoir, I still design commissioned pieces, I travel all around the country
speaking about HIV and I have my radio show, POZIAM every Sunday night. I
look at every new opportunity as an adventure. I don’t have any specific
ultimate goal professionally. However personally I would like to get married
and get a dog. But I probably have to find a boyfriend first.
AN AUTHENTIC LIFE
THE LEGACY OF HARVEY MILK
Well he was really a trailblazer in the face of such adversity. There are so many
role models now in all arenas of the LGBT community. I could make an
endless list of people who are proudly out and making a difference in almost
every arena of LGBT culture. Christine Quinn, Barney Frank, Rachel Maddow,
Suze Orman, Ellen Degeneres, Candis Cayne, Billy Bean....it goes on and on...
I am very close to living a full authentic life. Since Project Runway I've really
been publicly scrutinized in the press and blogs so it forced me to be very
cognisant of how I behave. It's a lot of pressure but I think it made me a better
person in a weird way. I've always been very open and honest. However I am
always striving to be better. I think my public persona is always very funny and
upbeat and optimistic. I have total crap days too which is totally normal and I
let myself have them without beating myself up about it.
I am not a religious person so I live strictly by the principle that I should treat
other people the way I would want to be treated. I know what the 'right' thing is
to do in most circumstances and I try to do it.
I didn't have a lot of role models back then. Remember it was about 1986 so
there were not many gay role models in the media and certainly not very
positive ones. I do remember hearing about Harvey Milk which was inspiring
but also scary because there was so much hatred surrounding the public's
opinion of him.
Well I went to UC Berkeley for my undergraduate education and it's one of the
most liberal schools in the country so I found my 'people' there who let me be
whoever I wanted to be and celebrated that.
How have your family responded to your sexuality, was coming out a difficult
process, did you ever experience feelings of self-doubt, low self-esteem as a
result of your sexuality?
Well I came out in 1987 so the perception of gay people was a much different.
My family is very liberal and was very accepting. I don't have a relationship with
my father and my parents were divorced when I was 8. I really don't know what
he thinks about it. Coming out was difficult because back then there were not
a lot of role models so I thought I was the only one. I didn't really even
remember knowing the word "gay". However when I went to Berkeley, which is
one of the most liberal universities in the US, I met a lot of other gay people
very quickly and everything just clicked. I did have feelings of low self esteem
initially before I came out because I was consistently teased in high school
and I was in extreme denial about my sexual orientation. Once I came out it
was like a giant weight was lifted. Finding out that I was HIV+ in 1990 was like
I had to come out all over again. That came with a whole new set of
What gives your life meaning?
Art, Beauty, my family, being an advocate for HIV+ people and the LGBT
I hope I am an example of self-confidence, discipline, honesty, giving back to
the community and a strong work ethic.
I think lying to yourself or trying to squelch some sort of truth takes an
incredible amount of energy. They say you are only as sick as your secrets.
People do not have a choice regarding their sexual or gender orientation.
Everyone, no matter what their circumstances, just wants to be accepted for
exactly who they are without judgment. Treat them as equals. Get involved in
advocacy or support groups like PFLAG.
I try to treat others as I would want to be treated. I believe in Karma in my own
way. I think if you put good things out into the universe then good things will
come back to you.
Progress is being made. It's a slow, continuous battle. People naturally fear
things that are unfamiliar to them. We need to keep inundating society with
positive role models of minority groups and eventually our similarities will
outweigh the perceived differences.
Just accept people for who they are. It's that simple. You don't have to agree
with everyone but you have no right to judge. We are all equal.
Just know that there are millions of other people just like you living happy,
well-adjusted lives. You will find your way.
JACK MACKENROTH LINKS