Soon after moving to New York City in his early 20s, Andrew Gelwicks had a monumental revelation: that being gay wasn’t the liability he’d been conditioned to believe it was while growing up in Ohio and as a college student in Indiana. Rather, it was the asset that could help him achieve levels of personal and professional success he’d never even dreamed of.
“That realization just completely rocked my world,” Gelwicks tells BAZAAR.com. “It upended my entire belief system.”
For the past three years, and after a stint working in magazines, the 26-year-old has made a name for himself as a stylist to the stars. Most recently, he dressed Schitt’s Creek’s Catherine O’Hara in a black sequined Maison Valentino gown for her 2020 virtual Emmy win, and he has also worked with everyone from model and actor Barbie Ferreira to activist Ericka Hart. But on the side, he’s also been quietly working on his debut book, inspired by his life-changing realization.
Available now, The Queer Advantage features interviews with more than 50 influential figures from the LGBTQ+ community aimed at answering one question: "Did they, too, find that being queer was a positive and had a positive impact on their lives and careers?" From Billie Jean King, Troye Sivan, and Margaret Cho to Shangela, Adam Rippon, and George Takei, the book is a chorus of diverse voices that together celebrate the extraordinary power of queerness.
Below, BAZAAR speaks with Gelwicks about his heartening new release.
How did you decide who you wanted to interview, and what was it like reaching out to these prominent figures as a young first-time author?
I was super intimidated! But first off, it was really important to me to include a wide breadth of people. One of my favorite things about fashion is that it is very queer friendly, that there are so many queer voices in the industry. At the same time, I am fully aware that not everybody is so lucky to have that kind of a professional environment. I have queer friends who are in tech and politics and sports and all these other arenas where their sexuality is not so accepted, and I wanted to explore that.
In terms of getting people to say yes, I really just presented the idea as transparently as possible: "I want to shift the narrative of how people talk about queerness and focus on the positives." We talk a lot about the struggles and obstacles, and those conversations are important and they need to be heard, but why can't we also talk about the really incredible things that being queer brings to our lives?
Were there any interviews that really stuck out or deeply resonated with you?
The interviews took place over the course of three years. My last in-person interview was at the beginning of March, right before COVID. I flew to Los Angeles to meet with David Furnish, Elton John's husband, at Soho House. We started off by talking about COVID and what we thought about it, and then cut to 48 hours later and the whole world had shut down.
But the thing I love about the book and loved about the process of writing it is that each person is so different. Barney Frank, Troye Sivan, Shangela, Adam Rippon, Megan Smith, Margaret Cho—I mean, these are people that have achieved so much in so many different areas, but I was able to have conversations around the same topic with all of them. That's one of the reasons I was so adamant about including people of different ages. George Takei's experience of growing up is very different from mine. So really, each of the conversations is unique.
What was your biggest takeaway from the process of writing the book?
I went into writing this book with my own ideas of what the queer advantage is. I had felt that being queer and growing up queer made me a lot more ambitious and driven—it was a huge motivator. As I'm talking with everybody, I'm realizing that it's so much broader and more powerful and profound than that.
During each interview, I found myself surprised. I hope that as people read the book, they, too, experience that sense of surprise, whether they're queer or not. If you're a queer person, you might go, "Oh, I never even realized that it impacted me this way." Or if you're an ally or the parent of a queer person, you might think, "I never even realized that that was going on."
What other advantages has being queer presented for you personally?
A lot of my work revolves around celebrity styling and personal dressing, and I think a huge component of doing it well is being able to connect with my clients and really having this deep-rooted emotional connection and empathy with them. Part of where I have been able to develop that is through growing up queer and needing, simply out of survival, to connect with people and make them feel comfortable, and be able to relate to them. That's been very helpful and powerful in my work in styling.
Regarding my work ethic, growing up, I felt so less than and so unwanted by peers that I forced myself to show people that I am of value, I do have something to offer. I am capable, and I'm going to show you that I can be somebody and deliver something powerful. That has impacted me so much in my adult life. I want to show not just other people, but myself as well, that queer people can be just as, if not more, successful and smart and hardworking.
Did anyone you interviewed share in those feelings or relate?
I've referenced a few times how much I appreciated what Troye Sivan said in his interview. He said that—and I think a lot of creative people may be able to relate to this—he wasn't able to find points of connection with his peers growing up because of feeling different. So he turned to his art and writing, and going into more of an introspective mode, and I feel that I very much relate to that. I'm so glad that I looked inward and had these deep thoughts and conversations with myself, and explored creativity and art as a way of releasing my emotions. I think that's the foundation of what I have built my entire career and life upon. I think a lot of that is owed to the experience of growing up queer.
Dominique Jackson also talks about that in her interviews. She talks about how queer people have such a greater, more powerful understanding of themselves. How could that not be a gift? I'm getting chills just talking about it. I want people who are teenagers or even adults to read the book and have that light bulb moment where they're like, "I had never thought of it that way. Wow, what a gift."
How does The Queer Advantage address race, class, and other facets of identity that intersect with queerness?
What I love is that the book talks about the power of identity regardless of how you identify. Whether you're like me, a white cisgender gay male, or a Black transgender female, how can we embrace our identity?
Some of the people in the book talk about the multiple facets of their identity, whether they be biracial or Black or trans, and how those compound together into something really beautiful and powerful. The momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement and the progress we're seeing right now is overdue and needed, and I love seeing people embracing and talking about their identity and just fully loving themselves. There's nothing more powerful than that.
You collaborated with Social Goods and Prinkshop on a sweatshirt that will benefit The Trevor Project—why did you choose that organization?
I'm obsessed with [the sweatshirt], I'm over-wearing it! I have such a personal connection to The Trevor Project. I remember, as a suicidal gay teenager, looking to The Trevor Project and learning about their work, so when this opportunity came up, I just thought, How cool and how exciting to benefit them and to create something that is bright and happy and positive.
I teamed up with @shopsocialgoods and @prinkshop to create these sweaters benefiting @trevorproject work providing crisis intervention & suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth #thequeeradvantage #goodsthatgive
A post shared by Andrew Gelwicks (@andrewgelwicks) on Oct 22, 2020 at 9:58am PDT
What do you ultimately hope people take away from the book?
You know when you're a kid and you're imagining what your dream life would be? I'm living mine right now, and I fully never thought I would. It's by the luck and fortune of having supportive parents that had the resources to help me that I'm even here right now. I fully intend to enjoy this moment and talk about it to as many people as possible in hopes that it will help others to feel this really wonderful sense of freedom that I've just recently been able to adopt.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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