By Jennifer Yin
Diego Gomez, City College’s fashion illustration instructor exits his apartment complex located in the depths of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District where he has been living for almost 15 years. ‘
Gomez’s commute consisted of daily travels to the college’s Chinatown, Mission, and downtown campuses where he taught students the art of fashion illustration, fashion digital illustration, fashion careers, and how to create their final portfolios.
Gomez, who is also referred to as DesignNurd, started his journey at City College a little over 10 years ago when he applied to Paul Edward Gallo’s fashion illustration course.
A decade later Gallo would later return to Gomez to offer him a temporary teaching position for the same class they had met in. “Paul asked me if I wanted to start teaching the week of because the person that was already teaching was told that she could not continue with the semester. Basically someone fell ill and that’s why they needed an emergency teacher,” said Gomez.
Overtime Gomez’s teaching position as an emergency hire continued throughout the semesters after the previous head of the Fashion Department was diagnosed with cancer.
However, Gomez’s position as an emergency hired faculty was never broadened even after two years of him teaching. “They never hired me on past an emergency hire and every semester they were saying we need to get a hiring committee together, then the head of the Fashion Department actually died,” said Gomez.
Gomez and the rest of the Fashion Department fought vigorously for a hiring committee but their actions were put on hold after the college shut its doors due to the novel coronavirus. Gomez and his fashion illustration students were forced to find alternative means of communication regarding the grading of their final portfolios.
“My portfolio class couldn’t meet face to face and it is the second to last week. So basically the day they were supposed to grade their portfolios was the day that I could no longer meet in person. So how are we not going to see what we have been doing all this past semester, because that class was only meeting for half of the semester,” said Gomez.
Additionally Gomez had to bid farewell to his summer courses after they were axed by the college. Without his summer courses Gomez’s income will be dramatically reduced and due to him being an emergency hired faculty he is given zero benefits from City College.
Unemployment throughout the nation has risen ever since the government shutdown. According to The New York Times, “With the coronavirus outbreak shutting businesses in every state, fresh evidence of the economic devastation was delivered Thursday as a government report showed that 6.6 million more workers had lost their jobs. The Labor Department announcement, reflecting last week’s filings for unemployment benefits, meant that more than 16 million people had been put out of work in just three weeks.”
In addition to losing his summer classes Gomez also has to bid farewell to his dynamic stage presence as a drag queen. Gomez’s career as a drag queen started over 10 years ago when he met his doppelgänger (an apparition or double of a living person) of himself on MySpace. The similarities of the duo were uncanny apart from their representation within the LGBTQ+ community.
“He made comics, I made comics, we were both Mexican, and our pictures were taken by our white boyfriends in Disneyland. So he sent me to my first drag show which was this show called ‘Cocktailgate’ at a bar named Truck,” said Gomez.
In his first performance, “Sippin 40z,” Gomez and his costar performed to Gravy Train’s song titled ‘Sippin 40z,’ and is described by Gomez as, “this one sexy song about being an alcoholic and sipping on 40 ounces of beer through a straw.”
The duo danced to the three minute fast upbeat tunes of Gravy Train with their ‘40s’ in their hands. Both managed to finish their beverage by the end of their performance.
The success of his first performance was described by Gomez as, “It was fun and it was a very messy alcoholic time back then. We really didn’t know how to do makeup, we didn’t have money to buy costumes, and we didn’t have heels. I was just basically wearing random clothes that weren’t necessarily manly and our faces were painted like crazy clowns.”
The evolution of Gomez and his alternate personality as a drag queen has progressed with the times. Gomez still holds true his eccentric makeup and attitude from his first performance but now with a more modern twist. His makeup could be described as “over the top” to many but to Gomez it is his identity. “I like rather see a ridiculous amount of makeup. I also have a beard so lately I have been painting on top of my beard kind of like skin tone. So if I am really far away and if you’re blurry eyed from being drunk it kind of looks like I don’t have a beard,” said Gomez.
However, due to the shelter in place Diego and other drag queens are forced to host online shows to supplement their income. One show Diego performed in was titled, “Shelter in Place with Grace,” hosted by Facebook’s Live-Streaming which allowed audience members to tune in from their phone, tablet, and even smartwatch. To supplement their income performers accept tips or donations from viewers through money exchanging programs such as Venmo or PayPal.
Gomez is steadily finding additional income through freelance job opportunities due to his vast knowledge and experience in the field of illustration and fashion. Currently, Gomez has two online design positions for “Shelter in Place with Grace” and “Drunk Drag Broadway.” He is also working on a poster for a show titled “Out of Sight.”
Gomez also refers to himself as “The Human Garage Sale” which exemplifies his well-rounded artistic abilities which includes being a comic book and fashion book illustrator for his series “Hell Babes”, “The Hard-Femme Ex-Men,” and “1963 is Not an End, But a Beginning.” All three series of books were drawn and written with their own unique style.
“I have a lot of different styles and mediums that I work in. Hell Babes is kind of like RuPaul Drag Race but you are trying to get out of Hell at the same time. I am supposed to be the Queen of Hell in it and there are celebrity impersonator drag queens that are trying to win their way out of Hell. I made another book called The Hard-Femme Ex-Men where I illustrated all the X-Men characters in different fashion looks that are not necessarily their costumes but kind of S&M sexy,” said Gomez.
For his “1968 is Not an End, But a Beginning” comic book series he focused on the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s, where a struggle for Black social justice took place in the United States. The beginning of “1968 is Not an End, But a Beginning” was drawn on recycled brown paper with the first half of the comic book being drawn specifically in black and white paint and the second half being drawn in an evolution of styles representing the evolution of the Civil Rights Movement. Gomez described his work with “1968 is Not an End, But a Beginning” as having every two pages within the comic book equaling to one month within the Civil Rights Era.
Our nation’s growing uncertainties have not diminished Gomez’s will to survive and he remains true to his eccentricities. The will to survive for Gomez has been a growing period due to his high school experience at Jefferson High School in Daly City, CA.
“I didn’t like it (high school) all that much so I am queer and it was not the funnest place to be queer. I was in the closet for hella years and maybe that is why I am even more needing to be expressive all the time. It was for so long I was trying to hide and not show anything because what bit was showing made people really aggressive about it,” said Gomez.
However, Gomez has accepted every part of him, every soul of his being, and without the need of approval from his peers. Gomez holds the saying of Roy DeCarava true to his heart which states, “You should be able to look at me and see my work. You should be able to look at my work and see me.”
To support Diego Gomez, follow @DesignNurd on Instagram, or stay in touch with his latest artwork at etsy.com/shop/DesignNurd.com.