Written By Myles E. Johnson
Garments do not sprout from the dirt like flowers do, although they can be just as beautiful or dangerous. They are sprouted in the imagination and crafted by hands. We call these individuals designers. Fashion has always played a huge role in me forming myself. Fashion is where my first taste of independence was found. The choice to wear and not wear whatever I saw fit. And I have icons inside of fashion, people who visually transgressed and created themselves through silhouettes, colors, and fabrics. Oh, how I love Isabella Blow and Andre Leon Talley and Grace Jones and Iris Apfel. Because of this love of fashion, my superstars have always been designers. The ones that create these worlds that you can pick and choose from and reimagine yourself from. Mychael Knight was a designer.
I first became familiar with Knight, like most of the world, through season 3 of of Bravo's television show Project Runway. His coolness and designs radiated off of the television, and he quickly became a fan favorite from the television franchise. In my hometown Atlanta, where he lived, he became a type of creative legend. The city of Atlanta is not synonymous with fashion, but knowing the energetic creative scene that had yet to gain mainstream attention, Knight's more mainstream presence helped pump an electricity into Atlanta as a creative city outside of Hip-Hop music. He was helping my hometown get the respect it deserved.
Seeing Knight affirmed me in a deeper way, as well. Black gay men's presence in front of the camera has always been limited, and more often than not, highly contrived. Although always poised and cool, Mychael Knight's mere presence on my television screen created a hope inside of me that I desperately needed to see as a black gay man interested in stardom. Seeing him follow his dreams, take up space, and move in the fullness of himself affirmed that I could do the same. And Knight belongs in an almost sacred group of black gay men for me that dared to be seen, not only by their community, but the entire world.
In the popular imagination, I can not say how Mychael Knight will be remembered. Although we can be creative forces in this culture, we are not the designers or the historians. Black gay men are usually just the anecdotes or the assistants that help the culture along, rarely receiving permission to embody just how significant we are. In my imagination, Mychael Knight is a part of the liberation work black gay men have done through media. I remember witnessing Andre Leon Talley and thinking there could be a world interested in a black gay man's taste. I remember witnessing Kehinde Wiley and thinking there may be a world interested in a black gay man's vision. I remember witnessing Marlon Riggs and thinking there may be a world interested in a black gay man's thoughts. The possibilities that Knight birthed just by being willing to be seen is unable to be articulated or measured because you can't measure the importance of the moment when an artist witnesses something that affirms the possibility of their dream being reality. You can't articulate what it means to be of this transgressive space that is black gay men refusing to be hidden. You can only acknowledge it.
Mychael Knight's death shook the culture, but almost barely shifted the black gay community. We have been here before. We have lost both icons and cultural promises, and it has almost numbed our relationship with death. In a way, we have become designers of grief. We know what to do in moments like this: we must ensure that Mychael Knight's offerings to the culture are always preserved, remembered, and exalted for not just what they have accomplished, but what it has gave people gazing at him permission to dream. If Mychael Knight's life and designs are to not be in vain, then we can not just acknowledge the seeds he had sewn while on this Earth, but acknowledge the seeds planted that have yet to bloom.
Myles E. Johnson is a black, queer writer and editor existing at the nexus of race, sexual identity, gender, feminism, and justice through content creation and cultural critique.