Mike Ruiz seems to be everywhere these days: Playing judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and Tyra Banks’ “America’s Next Top Model,” shooting celebrity photographs, or starring in a reality-TV show on Logo.
Ruiz comes across as a cuddly muscle bear, with scruffy good looks, a smoldering smile that would win over any critics, and a heart of gold. He gives back to the LGBT community that adores him, and his philanthropic work is extensive.
Then there is the Mike Ruiz that few people know. The man that Mike Ruiz is comes shining through in an informative Q&A exclusive conducted by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. Find out about Ruiz’s hot new app, the love of his life, and what makes him cry.
Meet Mike Ruiz:
SDGLN: Will you be returning as a judge of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” this season, how did you land that gig, and what’s it like to work with the San Diego native?
Mike Ruiz: I’ll be returning as the photographer and guest judge for the Season 5 premiere. I've known RuPaul for 15 years, and I directed him in his music video for "Looking Good, Feeling Gorgeous" as well as the feature film, "Starrbooty." We’ve always had a great working relationship, so it was only natural for me to participate in “Drag Race.”
SDGLN: You have lately made a big splash with your new app, “Pretty Masculine,” available on iTunes. How did that idea come about and who is the target audience?
Mike Ruiz: The “Pretty Masculine” app is a new iteration of my coffee-table book, published in 2011. The app highlights the juxtaposition of femininity with masculinity. From a philosophical perspective, the project deconstructs societal norms and expectations as to what is masculine, and with that, it seeks to express my sense of the fantastical. There is a constant struggle to bring a natural balance to the work. In so doing, the art form itself begs to speak to a broader audience. That audience is everybody and anybody who appreciates the arts.
SDGLN: How often do you refresh the app’s contents, and why?
Mike Ruiz: I‘ll be adding new content every few weeks and will continue to do so indefinitely. Technology has afforded me a platform to be completely creative — to be without boundaries. Since I draw so much gratification for that process, I don't expect to ever want it to end!
SDGLN: We hear that you have expanded the app to include the transgender community. Who is featured?
Mike Ruiz: The app is in constant evolution. It has grown to include women of all walks of life. Among them are Isis King and Carmen Carrera, both by whom I am very inspired.
SDGLN: Could the “Pretty Masculine” app be used for other purposes, and have you been approached by companies that might want to use the technology?
Mike Ruiz: Absolutely! The PM app’s platform is translatable into a multitude of interests and industries. It could potentially serve as a template for showcasing art or anything for that matter.
SDGLN: Will you work as a celebrity photographer or judge on “America’s Next Top Model” in the future? Describe what it’s like to work with Tyra Banks?
Mike Ruiz: I don't have any definite plans to shoot for ANTM this upcoming season. I think Tyra has a brilliant business mind and I admire her so much for everything that she’s accomplished. I just love working with her because she’s a lot like me (on a shoot), in the sense that she leaves nothing to chance and runs a very tight ship — all while staying flexible for unexpected challenges.
SDGLN: You appeared on the first two seasons of Logo’s reality-TV series, “The A-List: New York.” At times, you appeared to be the only sane member of the cast. What was it like to appear on reality TV as a cast member, and how did it affect your personal life?
Mike Ruiz: Looking back on it, it was a really gratifying experience. I got to learn a lot about production and realized that I can control what I put out there. I decided early on that I wanted to be a positive influence and hopefully be a good role model. It definitely didn’t affect my personal life negatively, as I opened only certain parts of my life in varying degrees to the public. I'm grateful for the platform that it gave me in the GLBTQ community to act on behalf of organizations that do a tremendous amount of good.
SDGLN: You are known for your philanthropic work, of giving back to the community. What are your favorite charities, and why?
Mike Ruiz: I’ve been very lucky to be successful at doing what I love. So, the idea of paying it forward is a “no-brainer”. I tend to say that I was two bad decisions away from disaster — being homeless, whatever. I look to support local institutions that are well established, such as The Ali Forney Center or GMHC, which is a mainstay of our community. I'm especially passionate about "Bullies and Buddies," which is an animal rescue group. They do so much amazing work on behalf of bully breeds. It’s thanks to them that our pit bull, Oliver, the love of our lives, found us.
SDGLN: Most people probably don’t know that you are from Canada, much less have a background that includes French Canadian and Filipino-Spanish ancestry. How has being multi-ethnic affected you, and what are your thoughts about the U.S. immigration policy that is often tearing about LGBT couples?
Mike Ruiz: I guess you can say that I’m a mutt (smiles). I grew up in a blue-collar suburb of Montreal, where I was the only ethnic kid around. Even my brothers were blond and blue-eyed! It was tough but it helped me develop a thick skin. I’m not political but I do find it sad to hear that loving couples and sometimes their children are forcibly deported oftentimes because of technicalities. Hopefully, that will all change soon. Listening to President Obama give his inauguration speech, as he touched upon human rights in general, makes me feel optimistic for the future.
SDGLN: What is something that your fans don’t know about you?
Mike Ruiz: I’m very sentimental and a hopeless romantic. I cry at credit card commercials!
SDGLN: How would you describe your partner, Martin Berusch, and how does he complete you as a person? Do you have marriage plans? You can get legally married in both Canada and New York, hint, hint. LOL!
Mike Ruiz: Martin is the most solid example of a man that I have ever known. He is gentle, kind, consistently nurturing and so loving. I feel so grateful that our paths crossed and that I get to spend the rest of my life with him. We are engaged and do have marriage plans but we haven’t set a date yet. It may end up being the five-year engagement!
SDGLN: If you and Martin could have a dinner party and invite four other guests (living or deceased), who would they be and why?
Mike Ruiz: I would invite Gandhi and Lincoln because of their innate humanity and their ability to maneuver through a world that is often unforgiving. I would invite Marilyn Monroe so that I could tell her that "It Gets Better" and I would invite Liza Minnelli because I just think she would be an absolute HOOT!
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at email@example.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.