Amber Fusaro - (she/her/hers)
Amber grew up in the classically liberal Portland, OR with, what she described as, a turbulent childhood. An astute observer of media from a young age she recalls forming her early queer identity through the iconic 90’s television show Friends. She says, “I knew I was different probably in middle school. I was obsessed with Ross and Rachel’s relationship on Friends. And at one point in one of the episodes, I remember thinking to myself like, wait, I don't want to be Rachel. I want to be Ross!” Yet, despite this early recognition it would be another five years before she came out to her parents.
Throughout her childhood Amber was surrounded by queer people, primarily in the form of gay men who worked at the jewelry store that her parents owned, vacationed with her family. And proved to be some of Amber’s parents closest friends. Still, she says that even with that much queer visibility it was still hard for her to come to terms with her own identity. She says, “it's like how Hannah Gadsby talks about society, you have that internalized homophobia, thinking you're wrong just because society has told you that, even if your parents haven't necessarily.” So despite a family that clearly accepted queer people, Amber had her own struggles in coming out, and a lack of control as to how it was done.
As any kid with a crush in the 90’s was well aware--passing notes was an art form in secret communication. Unfortunately for Amber, her father stumbled upon a box of such communications between Amber and another lesbian girl at her school. Questions were asked and Amber remembers calling her mother in tears and asking if her mom hated having a gay daughter. Her mother, of course, felt no such thing. Amber says, “my parents have been lovely and I have no complaints. I've been very, very, very fortunate. They've always been welcoming of everyone I've dated, and treated me no different than my straight brothers with their partners.”
With the approval of her parents, but perhaps not quite their knowledge, Amber launched herself into the queer scene in Portland at just 17. Underage dance parties and clubs. Pride along the Portland waterfront. Side by side with her best friend Robby, a fellow out kid, Amber began to enmesh herself in the queer community. She says, “You have your people who are bringing you in, even raising you in a way, that you're spending all your time with, that you can depend on in a blood kind of way to be there for you and have your back. You develop that sort of self-made family. It's something I'm really proud to be part of in the queer community.” She says the closeness of the queer community comes in part from the fact that “you've all been through something similar and even if it's not the same, you know what that feels like. And to just bond over protecting each other from this world.”
That involvement in queer spaces as well as her critical eye towards media have deeply influenced how Amber sees the world. She understands the key role that representation can have in a person’s life. When talking about the importance of Pride events she says, “it's the one time during the year where there's more of us than there are of them. Having that one day where a bunch of queers descend upon the city, there's something so powerful in that, strength in numbers.” That knowledge that seeing yourself represented in media, on the street, and in the wider world is crucial to personal acceptance has become Amber’s personal rallying cry. Representation in media stands at the core of her work at TomboyX. TomboyX, like Pride, is a place where Amber feels she can truly be herself. Allowing her to voice her opinions in a place where they will be heard and acted upon. To Amber, representation in media and in brands is of utmost importance, and she is eager to infuse representation of all bodies, genders, and sexualities into the work she does at TomboyX. She says, “it's really empowering to see your people walking among you. And it's similar with size inclusive and gender neutral underwear for people. People are like, ‘holy shit, that's me!’. And I think that's why we've had the success that we've had. Because you want to feel like you're not alone in this world. It matters so much, especially for younger people, so much, just to see another example of yourself in a way that's beautiful and amazing, cool, or very publicized.”
Being out for as long as Amber has means that she has a unique view of the development of the queer community and their presence in media. While at ClexaCon for TomboyX earlier this year Amber saw just how far representation has come in her lifetime. She says, “There’s always room for improvement in film and TV, of course there is. But compared to when I was growing up, younger kids have an embarrassment of riches. And it's just so important to have these touchstones for them to turn to. To just make them feel less wrong and less alone. When someone sees themselves reflected in a show or a brand that they love, it helps make them feel empowered to stand up and come out. Sometimes you need a little nudge and you need to dip your toe in and test the waters and see, oh my parents love Cosima on TV, so maybe they'll still love me if I come out to them.”
Amber is proud to be doing work at TomboyX that improves representation for her community. She says, “having work that you can feel good about and reading comments from people and seeing the difference it makes in people's lives. Comments about seeing older models that we're using or plus size models that we're using or queer models; it's not being lost on people. I'm pounding the table all the time about queer representation in media. It’s a passion project of mine. And so to be seeing the difference, just working for a company that values representation so much, it makes the work you're doing so much more meaningful.”