Finding Pride: A Q&A with James Thor of CRTKL LA

Clare Sausen June 23, 2021

James Thor is an Administrative Assitant in CallisonRTKL’s Los Angeles office. He is an experienced Project Assistant with a demonstrated history of working in the architecture & planning industry. Skilled in Color Printing, Adobe Acrobat, Office Administration, Adobe Creative Suite, and Microsoft Office. Strong administrative professional with a Bachelor of Science (BS) focused in Marketing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Tell me about your experience growing up in a small town.

I grew up in a small, rural town in the South on a farm where there wasn’t much to do, so we always had to find simple ways to entertain ourselves. The town was very conservative, so I really struggled to find my place and be myself. I didn’t know then that I was gay, but looking back it makes sense [laughs].  I felt pressure to not challenge masculinity or be flamboyant. It was pretty essential for survival to stick to the status quo.

What brought you to Seattle?

In college, I used to dance – I loved hip hop and I loved America’s Next Top Model, I basically wanted to be (reality TV personality, model and photographer) Nigel Barker. I knew I wanted to get away from the South and see what else was out there for me. I visited a friend from college there one summer who was an actor, and then the next year I got two bags and was just like: “let’s go!” I started doing some fashion photography and working with local modeling agencies.

I wasn’t able to explore myself the same way in my hometown. I guess I thought it would’ve exposed me as being gay. As someone who was gay but not out, I really wanted to avoid being just “the gay kid.” In Seattle, that’s really not a thing – it’s very liberal and green; I could just do the things I wanted to do without worrying about any backlash.

The cultural difference was shocking, too – there’s a pretty high Asian population in Seattle, so I was finally able to see people who looked like me on a daily basis. I’m first-generation, so I’m used to the elders in my family struggling with English so it was so strange to me to talk to an older Asian person in perfect English. I loved Seattle for that – it opened my mind to so many possibilities of the world. Eventually, though, the constant grayness got to me. When I found myself buying a SAD lamp, I knew that was it. I then ended up moving to one of the sunniest cities I could imagine: Los Angeles.

When did you become interested in operations and assistance work?

I honestly just kind of fell into it, initially. I first moved to Los Angeles to pursue fashion photography further. When I did come and started working in the industry, I realized I wasn’t as invested in it as I initially thought. I decided to switch gears and I started working with ABC Imaging in CRTKL’s LA office [editor’s note: CRTKL utilizes ABC Imaging’s printing services in many of our domestic offices] to see what the industry was all about. I’m a naturally organized person and I’ve always enjoyed putting on events, so eventually, someone from CRTKL approached me and asked if I’d be interested in joining the team as an administrative assistant. I like being behind the scenes and ensuring everything goes smoothly.

How was your experience moving to LA? How did the culture differ?

There were so many people from different places all over the world. You see it the most in food – there are some really interesting combinations, like Filipino and Mexican or Chinese and Guatemalan.  Some places have Filipino and Mexican food – Chinese and Guatemalan. It’s also really interesting to see the mix of old and new LA – from influencer transplants to longtime locals. I’m an observer, so I just like to sit back and watch. You can find a really wide variety of people with so many different interests here.

Where do you find your connection to the LGBTQ+ community? (Queer spaces, cultural events, friend groups, etc.)

Growing up, I was hiding a part of myself for the majority of my life. It takes a lot to get over that hidden mindset. Even now, I don’t really have a group of exclusively gay friends. I think a lot of people made some of those connections when they were younger and have leaned on each other in the community.  I think since I was younger and not trying to be seen, I was afraid to establish that and give myself away. Especially at work, I’ve been exposed to more people in the community and allies and talking to them about their experiences. The global nature of the company makes it easy to meet such a wide variety of people. We have some really cool events to connect here as well. Even recently, I started watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and I’ve gotten asked to go to “drag nights” at a local bar. I love that my connection to the community can be found and affirmed in all of these little everyday things.

Author Spotlight

Clare Sausen
Clare Sausen is a Content Writer for CallisonRTKL. Based in Washington, D.C., she leverages her personal and professional experience in journalism, radio, and nonprofit communication to serve as a valuable member of the global firmwide team. Since attaining her Bachelor of Arts degree from George Washington University in Communication and American Studies, she has honed her craft of architectural storytelling across multiple platforms.