roy fire

Justin Clynes and Max Emerson - Not alone in the model apartment

roy fire
 Justin Clynes and Max Emerson - Not alone in the model apartment

Not alone in the model apartment: a look at the evolution of being out in the world of male

modeling over the last decade.

As a new face ten years ago, I worshipped top models like Justin Clynes. I learned too-late

about the model apartment circle-jerks, as there existed only a small handful of boys out of the

closet. Most were coy, not divulging their queerness until after the gig in private.

We’d see through each other’s gender-nonspecific spouse stories, thinking we were cleverly

passing as ‘woke straight bros’ to the client. We were blithely unaware that singing Disney

duets with our on set girlfriends sent up flags. A model from Ford once gave me the 101, as if

he held a Phd in Passing. “You can’t have it both ways. You can either get the cover of Vogue

or you can go dance at Splash.”

The more ‘out’ guys were often full-on, club-kid-adjacent socialites. One or two would take me

under their wing during my first summer in NYC. Armed with these new friends and my fake ID,

I partied with the rich and famous, had connections on the best places to live and learned how

to collab with even the most infamously handsy photographers without compromising too

much self worth. We weren’t on the cover of Vogue, but made enough to get by and enjoyed

getting into as much trouble as possible.


The inevitable encounter with Justin Clynes (the Zoolander to my Hansel) occurred pretty far

down the road. He existed in a higher class of model than I, already established in fashion land

well before I got on the scene. Justin was an untouchable, too busy with his own life, earning

grown-up size day rates by shooting designer suits. In contrast, I afforded college by working

those discount store back-to-school sales that litter your local paper. When Justin and I finally

connected in Fire Island (of course) a year ago, we were surprised by how much experience we

had in common. Likewise, we were thrilled to mark the different ways our industry has become

more inclusive and accountable through time. Justin was starting to work quite a bit behind the

camera and invited me to collaborate on a self portrait series.


Most NYC test shoots take place in a dingy apartment 5-10 stops deep into an inconvenient

borough. Keeping in character, Justin had rented an industrial space in Williamsburg, rigged

half a dozen lights and set up a massive glam-spread at the makeup station. He’s model,

photographer, art director, stylist, makeup, hair, gaff and grip all rolled into one. The only thing

missing was a snack table, but the content of our shoot indicated that to be an intentional

oversight. Upon arrival, Justin was already shirtless, doused in a shiny liquid and smelling like

Hawaii. We discussed photo direction using the the reference boards tacked aside the monitor

featuring a variety of hyper saturated Versace campaigns from the 90’s. Without any crew,

Justin used a handheld remote to fire off the shots. It was occasionally possible to distract him

with some prepared questions:


ME: When did you come out professionally?

JC: I guess I was always out, but perhaps didn’t announce it. Also, when I started there wasn't

social media for people to see your personal life so it was all a little more ambiguous. I

remember feeling like I never quite fit in, at least until recently.

The coconut oil shimmered on Justin’s back as climbed out from under me to readjust a

footlight that wasn’t sufficiently catching his chest.


ME: Has there been any discrimination based on your sexuality?

JC: My fellow male models at the agency distanced themselves from me as to not be outed.

One actually apologized years later. He was very sweet about it.


ME: Was this one of those awkwardly sentimental conversations that happens randomly on

Grindr at 3AM?

JC: I wouldn’t tell you if it was.

Justin worked quickly and within an hour we’d moved into the more difficult shots We took a

break while Justin’s face cooled off from the hand stands.


ME: When was the first time you hooked up with a “straight" model? Mine was during what

started as a platonic wrestling match when we had the model apartment to ourselves.

JC: Fascinating. The model apartment was never for me. Too loud, drunk and dirty. I wish I cold

recall something thrilling, but I don’t think I had a “straight” model hook ups.

ME: There’s still time for you, big guy.

We were reviewing our favorite shots on the monitor and toweling off when I asked every

model’s most uncomfortable question.

ME: How has being gay affected the #MeToo moments in your life?

JC: I was just as harassed as any model, but did my best to navigate around it. You just had to

be diplomatic to keep the job. It’s definitely harder when you’re gay because many people felt it

gave certain liberties…

ME: Yeah, I learned pretty quickly not to give out my phone number at go-sees. What’s great is

that it really does seem like that sort of behavior is in decline.

JC: Exactly. I like these two frames where it looks like you’re spanking me. Nice choice.

ME: Strong choices are usually either the best or the worst.

JC: It might be both.