LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Paul Berry is one of the most outside-the-box tech nerds you will ever meet.
Berry, 41, was born in Mexico City, and grew up in Palo Alto. He made a name for himself as the chief technical officer with Huffington Post. But after HuffPo sold to AOL in 2011, Berry left and founded RebelMouse -- a digital platform designed to give clients an expanded ability to reach their target communities via social media. So far, Berry has raised over $23 million from investors.
On January 19, Berry will launch and become the CEO of another website called Fluidity.Love, “a company created to distribute narratives missing in the media today,” Berry told NBC News exclusively.
The site is Berry’s personal project, designed to embrace diversity. He’s hoping it will be a place for people like himself, people who are gender fluid, to go and be a part of a community that accepts and embraces them.
“Fluidity.Love [currently live, but in a soft launch] is meant to make the world a safer place for everyone who’s gender non-conforming. The most important thing is for people to understand that it’s okay to be who you are, and hear and read stories of successful happy people. It’s a positive place to express yourself,” Berry said.
Berry said he can’t remember a time before he had what he calls a feminine identity, yet he has spent most of his life hiding it.
“I have four sisters. I was in 7th grade. It was Halloween, and I dressed as a princess. I remember being so excited and really innocent because I had no idea how society would react. But by the way both my parents and everyone reacted, I realized everyone saw what I did as wrong,” Berry said by phone from his home office in New York.
He has been married for 11 years, and he and his wife recently gave birth to their fourth child. Telling his wife about his need to express his feminine side was terrifying, he said. He feared when he told her that he wanted to dress in women’s clothing, she would be disgusted, and he would lose everything.
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“I’d dress up at night in the bathroom with the door locked. I’d go on business trips and go to H&M and buy cute things… and that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from this, is about being ashamed versus it being something you’re proud of,” Berry says.
This summer, Berry broke the news to his wife.
“I finally got to the point that I was able to talk to my wife about it. We are a very serious, very faithful and monogamous couple, and she was pregnant with the fourth kid. We’re very honest with each other, so, I this felt was so wrong for me to hide. I couldn’t do it any longer...She’s an amazing person," said Berry.
"I’m very lucky because she sees people for who they are and not who she wants them to be, which is a gift for me. Happily it turned out to be the opposite of what I feared. Instead of it being a turnoff and gross, it was really sexy and hot,” he said.
For the first few months after Berry spoke with his wife, the two kept their secret behind closed doors and away from their children. But it didn’t take the couple long to sit down with their kids, and explain everything.
“My fear about the kids was confusing them in a way that could make them feel less safe,” Berry said. “I was worried about the kids rejecting me,” he adds. As it turned out, nothing could have been further from the truth.
Berry, who says being called “Andrea” makes him very happy, but being called Paul is also alright, regularly shops for clothes with his 11-year-old daughter. He says if they both try on something and it looks good on both of them, they buy it. The kids are constantly vying for him to take them to their schools, so they can show off dad.
But clothes aside, Berry says the primary reason he’s launching the new site is to fill a void for those people who don’t easily fit into the gender squares.
“The only narrative out there is that you’re gay, and you’ve been having affairs and your marriage is over. For me, and what I’ve found is true for many men, is that I’ve never fallen in love with or been attracted to men. I’ve always thought they were gross at that level and I’ve always liked girls," he said. "I don’t consider myself transgender… I like my body as is. I just have always felt a feminine expression of it."
Berry doesn’t wear dresses or skirts, but opts for tiny short-shorts, cropped tops, lots of pink and glitter, and maybe polka dots. At Soul Cycle, the first place he felt comfortable enough to wear whatever he wanted, he says he’ll wear women’s workout clothing.
“For a lot of [trans] people being a boy is so uncomfortable and unnatural to who they feel they are, so the goal to be passable becomes very important, because it’s letting them be the only thing they feel comfortable as. For me, it wasn’t that I was uncomfortable doing the boy role. In grade school I did well in sports, I raised $23 million dollars in the VC [venture capital] bro-world. I can do that. But it’s so limiting to who I am and it’s such a small piece of who I am. To be confined as that is wrong for me,” Berry said.
Fluidity.Love will partner with the New York-based fitness company, Soul Cycle for their launch at their Tribeca studio. Berry says everyone who comes will get a gift bag, where boys will get girl’s things and visa versa, and the ride host is well-known New York City trainer, Janet Fitzgerald.
“We’ll have a party with a wedding-like atmosphere, and all generations are welcome. We have a gender-fluid DJ, we’ll do toasts, and we’ll have a video room where you can go and tell your story,” Berry said.
Berry is hoping to replicate his concept globally in Soul Cycles in other cities and would like to eventually work with brands like H&M and Forever 21.
“The timing is right. It’s culturally relative. It’s not a niche thing, it affects a lot of things, and we’re dealing with toxic masculinity. It’s a scary world where it looks like every straight male is a part of; it’s the end of silence," said Berry. "We’ve been silent witnesses and silent victims and me, silently covering who I am. And that silence is what we’re all done with now."
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