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  WINDY CITY TIMES

SOCIAL MEDIA Sam Cushing talks COVID-19, creating meaningful content
by Tony Peregrin
2020-09-15

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Sam Cushing is a multihyphenate talent—musician, fitness consultant, digital content creator and mental-health advocate—with a focus on building his social media presence to pursue his interests and generate a positive impact on society.

Cushing, 28, is also a popular Instagram figure who's lived in eight different cities across three continents, inspiring wanderlust in all his thousands of followers—and a different kind of lust when it comes to his notable good looks.

From his shelter-in-place residence in Chicago, Cushing revealed his COVID-19 coping strategies, why his coming-out YouTube video was a turning point for his approach to social media, and how a mild genetic condition led to his focus on physical fitness.

Windy City Times: How are you coping with the anxiety most of us are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Sam Cushing: My friends—100 percent—which sounds strange, right? I mean, you would think that being socially distanced means that you are actually the least connected with those sorts of relationships. I've found myself becoming a lot closer to the people who actually matter. I think that previously it was just a lot of trying to keep up with all these acquaintances, and now, I feel like I've really doubled down on a core group that has gotten me through a lot of tough times.

WCT: Are you staying connected via digital hangouts, in-person meet-ups or a hybrid of both?

SC: Yeah, I mean, phone calls, Skype, FaceTime—mostly digitally.

WCT: This summer, images flared up on social media of what appeared to be LGBTQ individuals on Chicago beaches ignoring the rules of social distancing. You participated in Mayor Lightfoot's "Stay Home, Save Lives" campaign: What advice do you have for these individuals?

SC: So, obviously my message is to mostly distance where you can. Granted, everyone has their own journey with COVID, and we all have our own level of comfort. It's just a matter of understanding that we're a collective society. And as much as we are trained to think like individuals in the U.S., it is the right thing to do to look out for each other.

If we can lead by example instead of shaming other people into wearing a mask or shaming other people to social distance, it will be more productive. Personally, I have to be really cautious because I am spending a lot of time with my family these days. Now, have I made a few mistakes? Sure, but I haven't gone to the beach or anything drastic like that. Again, I think we're all on our own journey with this.

WCT: You've always been a champion for equal treatment of members of the LGBTQ community. This summer, a robust and public outcry calling for equity for Black performers and staff led to many Lakeview bars and restaurants promising to level-up their approach to inclusivity. As a member of the LGBTQ community in Chicago, what was your reaction to these events?

SC: I guess what I've been seeing a lot in society recently is just a general lack of empathy. I think that there 100 percent needs to be more accountability. Equality is everything. I mean, as a gay man, if I don't have a safe space to go to and if I don't feel like it's an equal space for everybody—that's a problem.

WCT: Where do you hang out when you're out and about in the LGBTQ business district in Lake View?

SC: I mean, of course Sidetrack is a staple. If I go further north, it's Marty's Martini Bar—that's a really great little spot!

WCT: In November last year, you released a video on YouTube titled "Coming Out Gay to Mom and Best Friend." What prompted you to share your coming-out story?

SC: I was very fortunate with my coming-out experience. I came out when I was 15 years old and I was pretty blessed that my family and my friends were, for the most part, welcoming and embraced me with open arms. I just have to acknowledge that because my experience is going to be different than others. It was something that I had never really told publicly before. I was kind of nervous to do it, but [I thought] if I can do it and if it helps even just one other person, then it is worth it. But I would say that it was sort of this cathartic moment for me because [releasing that video] was the point at which I began to realize that this platform could be used for something much bigger and, hopefully, to touch people's lives in a positive way.

WCT: What advice do you have for people coming out to loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic? Traditionally, coming out via email or a phone call might be followed up with an intimate, in-person connection with family and friends, but that's not always possible right now.

SC: Everyone's situation is different, so it's hard for me to provide some blanket statement. Perhaps what we might think of as harder—coming out digitally—might actually be easier for some. I have a few friends who came out and then they just kind of ghosted. They sent a letter and then they needed to give their family some time to process that information. And, in a strange way, perhaps coming out in a digital format allows for that to happen.

WCT: You mentioned your coming-out video as a turning point in terms of how you focus your personal digital content. Was your recent revelation on Instagram about having a mild genetic condition called pectus excavatum part of that renewed focus?

SC: It's basically just the condition where my rib cage is concave. So, it goes [inward], creating this appearance of a gaping, unattractive hole in the middle of my chest. It's something I've had since I was a kid for as long as I can remember. And it was always something I was really self-conscious about.

Growing up, I remember, I would go along with the joke. I remember one girl ate cereal out of there because the hole was so big, just silly things like that, which is fine and it's funny. But of course, in the back of your head, you're, like, "Oh my gosh—I am abnormal, I'm weird. I'm different." And I just thought with that post, it was a nice way to send a positive message that, "Yeah, I have insecurities; that's one of them." And, in fact, I worked out because I had that condition.

Really, ever since I started working out, I focused a lot on my belly and my chest to negate the appearance of that hole. And recently I've seen a lot of really kind compliments out there like, "Oh my gosh, your chest is this, your chest is that." And I just thought it was nice to remind people that I didn't always feel that way … and that I have insecurities, too.

WCT: You've been back in Chicago for almost a year now. What drew you back to the Windy City?

SC: I am absolutely obsessed with Chicago. It's a problem. Any time I'm with friends, they always joke with me because I'm the guy that has all the fun facts about the city. I know everything about the architecture, the food and the history. I'm biased because I grew up here, but I do think having lived in several North American, South American and European cities—Chicago is the most beautiful city.

Cushing is on Instagram @sam.cushing and on YouTube as Sam Cushing.


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