Henri and Maxime, Retired, Brussels, Belgium

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong, Maxime (left) and Henri (righ)
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong, Henri (right) and Maxime (left)
photo by Kevin Truong, Maxime (right) and Henri (left)
Henri, in his own words:“To me, being gay doesn’t mean anything per se, except considering my sexual orientation : I have always seen myself as an ordinary person, a human being like millions of past, present and future others, with the same potential, the same basic personality. Yet I am aware of belonging to a minority, a fact that has its positive and its negative sides. The positive side is that I got more sensitive to racial prejudice and to any form of discrimination, and that I am strongly against labeling : nobody should be reduced to a formula. The negative side is the awareness of being obliged to justify our being gay, to defend ourselves against fear and hostility.

The first challenge was to live in a happy couple, since I didn’t imagine myself remaining single. But living with someone proved not to be simple. I was not always prone to compromise, to change ideas or to accept my wrongs. Yet there we are, Maxime and I, happily together for nearly 45 years, glad to share everything that is essential to both of us, and to plan our future life.

Another challenge was to be successful in my professional life, and I was, thanks to personal endeavours but also to chance to a certain extent.

The third challenge, or was it just a wish, was to be surrounded by a web of close friends and sincere relationships. With the help of Maxime, it has been a success.

I never said bluntly “I am gay” to my parents, but they knew Maxime and understood how close to each other we were, so when I told them that we were going to live together, things were clear. At first, my father said he was concerned about the honourability of our family, but I knew that both he and my mother would never reject their son. Later, when after some years our couple turned out to be stable and happy, they showed their affection to both of us and my father supported our marriage quite willingly (my mother had unfortunately died in the 80′s). My sister and my brother-in-law were at first reluctant to accept homosexuality, but they soon overcame their reserve and have always been in very good terms with both of us. Their son has known Maxime since he was born and never questioned our relationship or our sexual orientation. Recently, during a family lunch, when he was about 10 y.o., one of his sons asked if Maxime and I were a couple, and when I answered yes, he said “then you are in love with each other ?”, and I said yes again, but he added “but isn’t that bizarre, two men together ?”. I told him that it wasn’t, the best proof being that nobody cared. He seemed satisfied, and never changed his attitude toward us.

In my professional life, I decided, without being necessarily explicit with everybody, not to conceal my private life. I think it gave me more strength to remain true to myself and proved to be the best attitude.

To my friends I decided to be completely open, and if I lost some (but none I cared most for) because I did, I decided not to have any regret.

We don’t know if Brussels is the liveliest place in Europe, but there are enough opportunities to meet people, enough cultural and sports activities for gays with all tastes, as well as bars, sauna’s or more. Some friends from abroad find people here less sophisticated than in big cities like Paris, but we can’t really judge. Belgian citizens are fairly open and being gay is widely accepted. Yet it might be a problem being gay in a very few neighbourhoods with a majority of migrants, especially Muslims. But there are certainly conservative Christian or Jewish circles where being gay is a real problem too.

(Advice to my younger self) Study hard, exploit your capacities, don’t be afraid nor naïve, act towards people like you would like them to act towards you, never fail to pay homage to liberty, equality and fraternity, be tolerant, open and respectful to anyone but be firm in your convictions, hold on to your critical sense and never let anybody nor any book tell you how you should think and what you should believe.”

Maxime, in his own words: “Being gay means being what I am and being honest about it. If some people don’t approve, sorry it’s their problem, not mine.

Of course we are lucky to live in a society where that is possible. I always think it’s so sad when we meet young people who can’t live freely, have a relationship or simply have sex because of the stupidity of the world around them.

Being gay was a tremendous opening on the world. You realize that being different can be OK and you yourself will think twice before judging other people. Practically, it gave me and my lover/now husband a life so much richer with friends from all colours and cultures. At 69, soon 70, I don’t regret a minute of my gay life. I must say I shared that life with someone I have loved for 45 years and whom I still love more every day. Some people say that love becomes affection when you get older. Maybe, but the love part hasn’t disappeared as far as I’m concerned.

I’d say the main challenge has been to build a happy relationship with Henri day after day, which is probably not always easy, although I sometimes think we were meant and programmed to go through life together. Even our differences and our errors have taught us so much. Where would be the fun if we were completely alike with no flaws ?

Another challenge in my life was of course my profession but that’s not the subject. I did a job I liked and I was well paid for it. I even had the luxury to work with people from all over Europe which was another source of enrichment.

What was important too was not to live centred on ourselves and to try to add our little stone to the temple of humanity ; we don’t belong to a particular religion, but we strongly believe that it is important to have values and to fight for them at every possible level. The French motto « Liberty, Equality, Fraternity » is an ideal that should at least be striven for even if we know it will never be attained. And of course we ourselves have always shown concern about that ideal applied to gays all over the world.

I must have felt I was gay around 14 or 15, that means at the end of the fifties and at the beginning of the sixties. Things were not so easy at that time. Homosexuality was still condemned by law in most European countries. Moreover my parents were no intellectuals and were not prepared to have a gay son. Although I myself accepted the fact quite easily -maybe I had no morals- I didn’t come out at school or at the university. At least I never pretended to have girlfriends. With the exception of two minor episodes when I was still in college, my sexual life started at the university but with boys I met in bars not in the class rooms. My stays abroad, especially in Holland and in Germany (I recommend Munich), to improve my language knowledge were also an excellent opportunity to let off steam.

As soon as I started working with people who on the whole were quite liberal, I became more and more open and came out to my parents very quickly after I met Henri. That was in 1970. I brought him for lunch to my father and mother (separately since they were divorced) without making great speeches. It probably didn’t take them long to understand. Luckily neither Henri nor me come from very religious families. And after let’s say three or four years we were more and more considered as a part of the family. Since then, nobody whether it be family or colleagues would ever have thought to invite one of us without the other. The whole world around us knew we were a couple and treated us as such. Maybe some people didn’t approve but we live in a world of political correctness be it in Belgium or at our workplace and nobody would have dared to express a direct disapproval.

(Advice to my younger self) Advice? Don’t follow any advice! Think things over honestly! Live your life! And let’s hope it turns out as well again. If I were cruised by Henri in another life, I think I’d fall for him again and would be ready to start all over.”

Dion, Lecturer, Melbourne, Australia

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Dion, in his own words: “I don’t have a manifesto about being gay, although I have devoted a lot of my adult life to thinking about the meanings of sexuality. I’m a gender and sexuality studies academic, or, at least, I’m trying to become established as one. I wrote a dissertation about HIV/AIDS and gay men, and I guess in many ways that whole project, which is getting published as a book soon, is essentially about what it means to be gay, and about denaturalizing some of those meanings. I write a queer column for an Australian literary journal called The Lifted Brow, and increasingly I get asked to write and speak about queer topics. So considering so much of my career has been given over to reading and writing about the meanings of sexuality, I suppose being queer to me means a lot of questioning and thinking about (and maybe sometimes over thinking!) the meanings of sex and sexuality. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

I prefer ‘queer’ more than ‘gay.’ On the surface I look like a lot of the things that are associated with the label ‘gay’: I’m able-bodied and cis-gendered; I live in a city, in a rich, privileged country in the developed world; I’m overeducated and I spend my spare money on cocktails and haircuts; I have sex and relationships with men. That’s stereotypically white gay men stuff I suppose. But ‘queer’ is a better fit with my politics and with how I feel about sexuality. It’s a better description of the people in my life and the affinities I have with them. It’s also a more honest description of what I did sexually during my teen years and early twenties, and it doesn’t write that stuff off as ‘before I was gay.’ I think ‘queer’ provides a better and more progressive account of the politics of sexuality and intimacy than ‘gay’ does, although I don’t really mind if other people use that term to describe me. Part of being queer for me means trying not to take my own or anyone else’s sexuality for granted; trying not to fall back on assumptions about what is normal.

Like being anything, being queer can be a source of frustration because everyone has assumptions about what that means. You have to situate your own desires and sex practices and life choices – your own story – in relation to those assumptions, even if the complexity and messiness of your inner and intimate life diverges from them. These days, for example, many Australians assume that all gay people want gay marriage recognized and that they themselves probably want to get married, and that gay marriage is an issue they want to talk to about. I don’t care about gay marriage or want it for myself, and the effort it takes to account for that to people is tiring sometimes. On the other hand, I’m pretty aware of how privileged that complaint is when people in my own community and around the world are persecuted daily for their sexual difference.

One way or another, queer people are always asked to explain themselves. Straight people don’t get asked that question: ‘What does being straight mean to you?’

My academic career is a constant stream of success and unsuccess. Something gets published, something gets knocked back; some promising contract work opportunity arises, but the certainty of a permanent job remains elusive. It’s always been like that: big achievements occasionally and lots of everyday failure in between. Maybe all careers are like that? A volatile, checkered story.

I went to uni on a scholarship after scoring one of the top high school grades in my state. I’d been a bookish teenager but also a somewhat undisciplined one, so that was a success nobody was quite expecting, least of all me. I loved being a student, studying literature and talking about politics, but in the background I think that big early achievement set a kind of unbeatable standard. When I started a PhD on another scholarship in my early twenties I became very depressed and couldn’t get out of bed. Eventually I worked out how to do it, and seven years later I finished it and now I am turning it into a book. That feels like success. But, on the other hand, I haven’t been able to turn that into a job… yet.

My coming out story is an ‘out and in and out’ one, although I’ve always maintained it was more of a sexually fluid narrative, rather than a coming out and going back in.

I was in high school secretly dating an older guy who was in his final year at another school. I lived at home with my parents in a southern part of Melbourne and would sneak off on the tram to visit him in the north. I was closeted and he was very emphatically out. I think it probably frustrated him that I was keeping the relationship a secret, but he persisted patiently with me.

Eventually my parents cottoned on to my dissapearings. I was doing a fair bit of lying to them about where I was at that time, and probably a whole lot of other things. One night I was at my boyfriend’s house and my parents called me there. To this day I still don’t know how they got his number or how they figured out where I was. He took me home, where my parents were fighting bitterly. They were themselves on the threshold of their own relationship breakdown, so it was an unsettled time for everyone. That night, I couldn’t get to sleep. I felt like a coward for not coming out, and I was worried I would lose my boyfriend if I continued to keep him a secret, so I woke my parents up at 4am to tell them I was gay.

It was a pretty angsty, melodramatic coming out scene! Strangely though I stopped seeing the guy after that, and later that year, after the trauma of coming out died down, I fell head over heels for a new girl at my high school, and we started dating and sleeping with each other. When we finished high school, she went overseas for a year, during which time I missed her and pined for her – and also for my first boyfriend. There’s a label people use for that: ‘confused.’ But I also remember thinking about how I wanted them both, but that somehow a choice had to be made.

At the end of the year I met my high school sweetheart in Europe and we went travelling together and spent a month disagreeing and fighting and having angry sex. After that I came home and thought: I am totally into boys now. Eventually, when I found a new boyfriend and decided I wanted to take him home to my mother I felt as if I had to come out to her again, since my last relationship had been with a woman. It was pretty un-cataclysmic this one. I told my mum ‘I’m seeing someone, his name is…’ and she asked, ‘Is he Jewish?’

Melbourne’s queer community is cosmopolitan and urban and gentrified. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect many queer Melbournians increasingly aspire to a house and kids and to a comfortable life in the suburbs. I guess it’s much like any other metropolis in the developed world: New York, Manchester, Amsterdam. Gay men are more visible than lesbians; poorer queers are invisible. I don’t know. People lead quite comfortable lives here. There isn’t so much of a gay or queer ‘scene’ as there are multiple scenes. I gather that’s the trend now in a lot of cities. I’ve made it sound pretty bleak, haven’t I? It’s a very cool city to be queer in. It’s just hard to describe why without using clichés like ‘vibrant’ and ‘diverse.’ It can be a very sexy city sometimes.

My advice to my younger self would be to stick with your art classes, go back to drama school and go on a date with the guy from the pie shop.”

Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, Rajpipla, India

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

Prince Manvendra, in his own words: “Being gay to me means happy. And I’m very happy being gay, and I am very proud to be gay, and I would tell this to other people who are gay around the world.

(Gay India) has to get independence. Though India got its freedom in 1947, I think gay India is not yet free. We need our freedom—freedom from stigma and discrimination in our country. And we need to get rid of the colonial law that was imposed by the Britishers when they were ruling India. We have gotten rid of the Britishers, so then I think we should get rid of the law also.

There is a huge gay community (in India), in India if you talk about population in itself we are in billions so even if you take a conservative percentage of say five percent, still I think the gay population would be millions. My coming out story happened in 2006 and basically I was not happy with the hypocrisy prevalent in our society where in the society was not willing to accept the reality of what is the truth. And I could not live the life of a lie, and that is the reason I openly came out as gay and happened to be the world’s first openly member of a royal family to come out as gay. And thereafter I knew that it would definitely have a big impact on the society because it has not been spoken about, it has always been a taboo in our country. We don’t discuss it with the educational situations. So I wanted that more people should talk about this, there should be more arguments on it, or discussions on it, and that’s where we can bring about any type of acceptance in society.

I think my hope for India is to gain the confidence of the world, and India has to survive in this world if it’s to be a part of it. Then I’m sure one of these days India will have to reconcile and come to terms with the reality and have a mindset which will try and accept us for the way we are. I think the biggest strength of India–if I talk about religion–Hinduism is the majority in our country and Hinduism has been quite liberal with regards to homosexuality. We have gay gods and lesbian goddesses. And we have a transgender community in India which is very strong which worships a goddess which also has a lesbian origin. So if you see our history, our culture, everything is kind of favoring homosexuality because I think in India homosexuality has been existing since much before the Muslims or the Christians invaded our country. So I think that this is one of the biggest strengths we have. When the hypocrites say we imported homosexuality, I would say (the opposite), we exported homosexuality to the other countries.

I think my biggest success was to come on the Oprah show. Because Oprah gave me a global platform. All around the world I got invitations coming to visit different countries, different events, and that’s how I could travel all over the world and meet different people, not just from the community but political leaders, people from the courts, the judges, the government officers, media, religious leaders, all people across the world and try and mainstream (being gay). My whole issue is how we can mainstream homosexuality in our society, and I think the biggest challenge which I’m facing right now is hypocrisy. And I’m a warrior, I was meant to fight, my ancestors used to fight the wars, I’m fighting hypocrites.

My advice to the young children is to get the right education, get the right awareness, on any subject whether it is dealing with homosexuality or anything. Education and awareness according to me are the key issues which will bring about acceptance on any issue.”

Sanchus, Corporate Training Specialist, Manila, Philippines

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Sanchus, in his own words: “Through the years, being gay for me has evolved into different ways of how I view the world. When I was younger, I thought of it as a vile secret that I have to keep if I didn’t want to live with shame. It ran the gamut of definitions from mundane to philosophical. I feel that being gay now doesn’t equate to being totally different from other people, it doesn’t separate us from the rest of the population. It’s like any other fact of life – everyone has to keep jobs, fight for what they think is right, and struggle. I personally think it’s a healthy way of looking at things.

After my studies, I always had a nagging question about where I should work so I can be myself and be comfortable. That was one of my last adolescent struggles, I believe. Real life, of course, presents more questions than that. When I joined the firm I currently work for, the first thing I wanted to know was if there was an LGBT support system in place. As luck would have it, I came in at a time when the Manila office was just about to form one. Being upfront and talking too much, funnily, led to me being assigned to lead that group for three years, and I still serve in a leadership capacity until now. It’s fulfilling to give back to the LGBT community at work, especially when there’s such a huge support coming from the bosses. We started with 8 individuals who were looking for the same thing, in less than a year we’ve had membership grow to nearly 1,500 (the biggest global chapter in the firm). We’ve joined Pride parades, sponsored HIV symposia, networking activities for LGBT members who want to further their careers and many other things. Collectively, one of our biggest successes before I stepped down from being the head of the group is, finally, getting the approval for domestic partnership benefits for LGBT employees. Considering where we are, I’d say what we were able to do was a good thing.

My coming out story isn’t filled with stuff made for movies. In college, I spent most of my days with 6 lesbian couples. I had an idea about where my preferences lie, but I’ve never acted on it, so I never identified with being gay until I was 16 or 17. These set of friends were the first ones to know, they were very respectful to inquire about what they should say if anyone asked if I were gay. I found that very sweet. I told them that I was ok with other people knowing. Apparently, not a lot of people cared if I was gay or not. I guess, coming out to my family had the same tone. I told my younger sister that the guy always sleeping over at the house was my boyfriend at that time, her only question was “Who’s top?” My parents just acknowledged things in an offhand manner – in the middle of a crying fit after breaking up with a partner of 8 years, I was just asked “The guy you’re sharing your home with has left and broken your heart, eh? You’ll survive; don’t bawl your eyes out! Want us to pay for next month’s rent?”

The gay community in, predominantly Catholic, Manila has always been small. Because of this, the degrees of separation between social groups in the community would be very minimal. Present in the city are the usual suspects found in the gay spectrum – we have our millennials (all fashion and tech-savvy), the aesthetically-focused boys, the individualists, the meek, the rebels, those who are socially aware, the career-oriented corporate titans, the fashionistas, the models, the artists, etc. The influence of social media and Western TV has brought about open-mindedness to the gay community in Manila. Where you used to find an elite group of intellectuals who never hung out with the rowdy club kids back in the 70s to the 90s, now you’ll slowly find groups of friends who have healthy mixtures of individuals. In my opinion, the Manila community still has a long way to go. We still have to develop an appreciation for bears, we still have to improve our views regarding our transgender sisters, we still have to acknowledge that people can be bisexual or queer; we still need to respect the decision of other guys not to be out. Manila’s gay community is a work in progress, who knows what it will be like in a few years?

If I were to give any sane advice to my younger self, it would be: “Most of the drama at your age is all just hormones. Don’t panic now; things will all mellow as you get older.” I guess, I’ll say that to save my younger self from all the worries and fears I had while growing up. Oh, also, I’ll tell my younger self to accept my father’s offer to go to a boarding school somewhere in Europe, had I known I’d develop a penchant for blonds I would have taken it without batting an eyelash!”

Emiliano and Andres, Buenos Aires, Argentina

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Emiliano, in his own words: “(Being gay) Tuvo distintos significados a lo largo de mi vida. En mi infancia más pequeña, no tenía significado. Pero recuerdo sentimientos y fantasías donde ya se despertaba mi homosexualidad, que en aquel momento vivía sin represión. Cuando entré en la pubertad, significó miedo. Le tenía mucho miedo, rezaba, literalmente, porque no me “tocara” a mí ser gay, y luchaba, inconscientemente, para alejarla. Durante mi adolescencia, fue sinónimo de calvario y falta de entendimiento. La viví a través del bullying de mis compañeros de escuela. No entendía por qué veían eso en mí, cuando para mí no me representaba. Luché entonces contra la homosexualidad, y llegué a convencerme de que era heterosexual. Durante mi juventud significó represión. La mantuve oculta, sin permitir que se manifestara, durante muchos años, aún marcado por la experiencia de bullying y rechazo de mi secundaria. En mi juventud más tardía, significó, al fin, experimentación y liberación. Aceptarla me sacó un peso de encima, me permitió empezar a vivir mejor, a relacionarme con felicidad no sólo con hombres, en un plan amoroso o sexual, sino con la gente en general, de una manera más honesta. Hoy, representa una forma de vida que me hace feliz, que me permitió conocer a la persona que elijo para el resto de mi vida.

Lamentablemente, la primera vez que se me presentaron desafíos con respecto a mi sexualidad, no tuve éxito. El maltrato y el bullying que viví durante la secundaria me imposibilitaron aceptar mi sexualidad. Durante mi adolescencia hice terapia, luego de que una noche, llorando desconsolado, le confesé a mi mamá que me era imposible soportar el maltrato de mis compañeros. Mis padres, deseosos de ayudarme, me llevaron a terapia con la mala suerte que el terapeuta que me trató fue muy dañino. Con el tiempo pude darme cuenta que el terapeuta tenía sus propios fantasmas y problemas con la homosexualidad, y se dedicó, durante los años que duró el tratamiento, a convencerme de que la homosexualidad no era mi camino, y que se trataba más de una consecuencia de mi manera de relacionarme con mis compañeros. Simplificando la idea que me transmitía, creía que mi soberbia y altanería al relacionarme con mis compañeros, era lo que provocaba que ellos respondieran, a mi supuesto maltrato, con bullying. Me costó años darme cuenta que mi manera de tratar a mis compañeros, con esta supuesta altanería y soberbia, era más un mecanismo de defensa que había desarrollado para defenderme de sus abusos. El segundo gran desafío fue superar mis propios prejuicios. Tantos años de negar mi sexualidad, me había provocado ese prejuicio. Viví durante muchos años auto engañado, y llegué a pasar años sin tener sexo ante la imposibilidad de aceptarme. Tan difícil era, que me convertí en una persona asexuada. Y aún cuando me movía dentro de un ambiente de amigos, o inclusive un ambiente laboral, donde la homosexualidad era aceptada, yo no podía aceptar la propia.

En Buenos Aires hay grandes posibilidades de tener una vida gay activa. Hay lugares para para que los gays puedan hacer cualquier cosa que desean, y mucha apertura a ser quienes somos en casi todos los lugares púbicos. Inclusive crecí en una familia donde mis padres o mi hermana tenían amigos que eran homosexuales. Y en mi trabajo, dentro del mundo de la televisión y los comerciales, los homosexuales no tienen, en general, problemas de discriminación.

Mi historia fue de mucha represión. Durante toda la secundaria viví discriminación y bullying, aún cuando todavía nunca me había sentido atraído por otro hombre. No entendía por qué los demás me molestaban con ser gay, porque no era algo que todavía había podido descubrir de mí mismo. Esto me llevaba a la represión, que sumado a la experiencia psicoanalítica equivocada que viví en la adolescencia, me llevaron a perdurar mi auto negación. Luché contra todos aquellos que afirmaban que era gay y me alejaba de los círculos donde esto aparecía. Me volví una persona más oscura, apartada de la vida nocturna, de la vida de juventud. Nunca me animé a experimentar, ni siquiera a fantasear con el tema. Finalmente, a los 26, llegó un momento en que la infelicidad era muy grande. Y luego de llegar a pesar 20 kilos más de lo que peso ahora, sentí que había tocado fondo. Creo que inconscientemente estaba esperando que llegara alguien, un príncipe azul, que me rescatara y ayudara a vivir mi verdadera sexualidad. Pero obviamente ese príncipe nunca llegó, y tuve que hacer solito el camino de salir de ese pozo. Empecé, por fin, una terapia que me ayudó en ese camino, que no me reprimió. (Aprovecho a decir, gracias Oscar Peña, mi terapeuta de ese momento). Mi primera relación sexual me llegó una vez que pude aceptarme. Lo único bueno de toda esta situación, es que cuando decidí vivirla finalmente, ya no lo hice con culpa. El sexo lo pude asociar siempre al placer y la felicidad, y no a la represión que vivía antes. En seguida me puse de novio. Una vez en pareja, me animé y hablé con toda mi familia y amigos, en el lapso de una semana. Luego de hacer unas 7 u 8 veces la charla de “te tengo que contar algo”, decidí que no lo iba a hacer nunca más. Entendí que esa charla era lo mismo que estar pidiendo permiso o aprobación para vivir mi sexualidad, y que en todo caso, era un problema de otro si no la aceptaba. De ahí más, nunca oculté mi orientación sexual, me negué a tratarlo como algo diferente o especial, e hice siempre de la igualdad una bandera. Hoy estoy casado, con un hombre que amo. Y me hace muy feliz recordar mi casamiento, que compartí con toda mi familia, desde mis abuelos, de más de 90 años, hasta mis sobrinos más chicos, junto muchos amigos y gente querida, que se alegró y festejó conmigo.

Me diría a mí mismo que sea valiente, que se permita seguir sus sentimientos y que no se deje ganar por el miedo. Que la valentía siempre, por lo menos en mi experiencia, trae el éxito.”

In English: (Being gay) Has had different meanings throughout my life. In my early childhood, it had no meaning. But I remember feelings and fantasies where I woke up and my homosexuality, which at that time lived without repression. When I entered puberty, this meant fear. I was very afraid, read literally, because I did not “play” with me being gay, and struggled unconsciously to zoom it out. During my teenage years, it was synonymous with Calvary and lack of understanding. I lived through the bullying of my classmates. I did not understand why they saw that in me, when for me it did not represent me. Then I fought against homosexuality, and became convinced that I was heterosexual. During my youth this meant repression. I kept it hidden, without allowing it to manifest, for many years, still scarred by the experience of bullying and rejection of my high school. In my later youth, it meant, finally, testing and release. It took me to accept it to feel a load off, allowing me to start living better, to relate to happiness not only with men, in a loving or sexual plan, but with people in general, more honestly. Today, it represents a way of life that makes me happy, it has allowed me to know the person that I choose for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, the first time I was presented with challenges regarding my sexuality, I was not successful. Child abuse and bullying that happened during high school precluded me from accepting my sexuality. During my teens I had therapy, after a night of inconsolable crying, I confessed to my mother that I could not stand the abuse of my peers. My parents, eager to help, unfortunately took me to therapy with a therapist who treated me very harmfully. Eventually I realized that the therapist had his own ghosts and problems with homosexuality, and devoted himself during the years of treatment, to convince me that homosexuality was not my way, and it was more of a consequence of the way I interacted with my peers. Simplifying the idea that he conveyed to me, I thought that my pride and arrogance to interact with my peers, was what caused them to respond, my alleged mistreatment with bullying. It took me years to realize that the way I treated my colleagues with this alleged arrogance and pride, was a defense mechanism that was developed to defend their abuse. The second major challenge was to overcome my own prejudices. So many years of denying my sexuality had caused me such prejudice. I lived for many years self-deceived, and I went through years without having sex, it was impossible to accept. So hard it was, I became an asexual person. And even when I moved into an environment of friends, or even a work environment where homosexuality was accepted, I could not accept it myself.

In Buenos Aires there are many chances of having an active gay life. There are places for gay people to do anything they want, and very open to be who we are in almost all pubic places. Even I grew up in a family where my parents or my sister had friends who were gay. And in my work, in the world of television and commercial, homosexuals do not, in general, face problems of discrimination.

My (coming out) story was a lot of repression. Throughout high school I experienced discrimination and bullying, even though I still had never been attracted to another man. I did not understand why others were bothering me with being gay, because it was not something that I had discovered myself. This led me to repression, which added to the wrong psychoanalytic experience I had in adolescence, lead me to endure my self-denial. I fought against those who claimed that I was gay and I walked away from the circles where it appeared. I turned into a darker person, apart from the night life, the lives of youth. I never dared to experiment, or even fantasize about it. Finally, at 26, came a time when my unhappiness was very large. I then weighed more than 20 kilos more than I do now, and I felt I had hit bottom. I think I was subconsciously expecting someone to come, a prince, to rescue and help me live my true sexuality. But obviously that prince never came, and I had to go alone the way out of that pit. I started finally a therapy that helped me in that way, it did not repress me. (I take to mean, thank Oscar Peña, my therapist at that time). Once I could accept it I had my first sexual experience. The only good thing about this whole situation was that when I finally decided to live it, I did not blame myself. I could always associate sex with pleasure and happiness, and not the repression that I lived before. Then I stood with my boyfriend. Once a couple, I decided and talked to all my family and friends, in the span of a week. After making about 7 or 8 times the talk of “I have to tell you something”, I decided that I would never make it. I understood that this talk was the same as to ask permission or approval to live my sexuality, and that in any case it was another person’s problem if they did not accept it. Hence, I never hid my sexual orientation, I refused to treat it as something different or special, and I always hung an equality flag. Today I am married with a man I love. And it makes me happy to remember my wedding, I shared it with my whole family, from my grandparents of over 90 years until my nephews, smaller, with many friends and loved ones, who rejoiced and celebrated with me.

(Advice I’d tell my younger self) I’d tell myself to be brave, to be allowed to follow my feelings and not let fear win. That courage always, at least in my experience, brings success.”

Andres, in his own words: En la Argentina y en gran parte de los países occidentales hemos pasado de la penalización de la homosexualidad a la penalización o al menos al rechazo de la homo-fobia. Cuando me empecé a descubrir como gay, la homosexualidad estaba asociada a soledad y sufrimiento. No entendía porque me tocaba a mi, me daba vergüenza y vivía como una condena mi realidad sexual. Como gay debía esconderme o llevar una doble vida, me era difícil contarle a mis amigos que me gustaba un chico en vez de una chica, me resultaba muy difícil decirle a mis padres y a mi familia que estaba enamorado, no podía ni imaginar la posibilidad de caminar por la calle con un novio de la mano, y me era imposible imaginarme la posibilidad de formar una familia. De a poco, con mucho trabajo y esfuerzo, me fui aceptando, fui saliendo del armario, primero con amigos, luego con algún familiar o un compañero de trabajo…fui entendiendo que no necesariamente mi sexualidad significaba rechazo. Fui de-construyendo la concepción de la homosexualidad que la sociedad, la educación y los valores familiares habían implantado en mi cabeza y empecé a descubrir que no estaba sólo, que lo que me pasaba, le pasaba a mucha gente y que se podía ser feliz sin sentirme atraído por alguien del sexo opuesto. Descubrí el amor con otro hombre, la noche y el ambiente, el sexo, la promiscuidad y los códigos de la amistad entre gays. Descubrí que no había nada porque avergonzarse. Mi re-conceptualización de la sexualidad creció mientras crecía mi compromiso por la militancia social y política…y transformé la vergüenza en orgullo. Llegaron las marchas de la diversidad sexual, los debates políticos y la invisibilidad fue reemplazada por visibilidad, el sufrimiento por alegría de vivir, la soledad por sentirse siempre acompañado. Esos amigos, más que amigos se convirtieron en una familia extendida. Y mientras crecía y maduraba como persona, la lucha individual se convirtió en lucha colectiva, la sociedad empezó a cuestionarse sus propias concepciones, y llegaron las leyes: unión civil, matrimonio igualitario y ley de identidad de género. Y con esas leyes, me di cuenta, que todo a lo que había renunciado al aceptar mi realidad sexual cuando era apenas un adolescente, ahora estaba al alcance de mi mano. Pero sobre todo me di cuenta que soy un privilegiado, porque si bien ahora tengo los mismos derechos que un heterosexual, parece como si tuviese muchos más, porque hasta ayer, entre otras cosas, no me podía casar, no podía pensar en adoptar y debía cuidarme en el trabajo por miedo a ser despedido o discriminado. Ser gay para mí significa sentir orgullo, por todo lo que luché contra la vergüenza, la internalizada y la externa. Ser gay significa una re-conceptualización constante, porque debo descubrir y re-descubrir lo que puedo o no puedo por vivir en una sociedad, que aunque avanza, es aún un lugar hostil, producto de años de hetero-normatividad. En definitiva, creo que ser gay en esta época es un descubrimiento constante. Es un eterno construir y de-construir de conceptos.

Como gay el primer desafío y a la vez éxito que se me planteó en la vida fue el de aceptar mi realidad sexual. Utilizo adrede la palabra realidad, y no inclinación, orientación o elección, porque creo que claramente no me representan como sujeto que ejerce su sexualidad. Inclinación u orientación me suenan a eufemismos para nombrar lo nefando y la palabra elección pone a la sexualidad en un lugar de voluntarismo. No creo que la sexualidad se elija, si creo que la voluntad pone al ser humano en el dilema de optar por ejercer su sexualidad o reprimirse. Entonces, volviendo a la esfera personal, creo que mi primer éxito como persona fue plantarme y decir, vivo esto, hago esto y no aquello, me acuesto con un hombre en vez de una mujer.

En Buenos Aires existe la posibilidad de tener una gran vida como gay. Hace mucho que existen lugares gays muy populares, que se llenan de gente. Ir a bailar, salir a tomar algo, y divertirse en grupo, nunca ha sido un problema para mí en mi ciudad. Recuerdo que cuando era más chico, no siempre era fácil moverse como gay en algunas circunstancias. Como en los primeros años no compartía mi realidad sexualidad con mis padres, no les podía decir por ejemplo, que estaba de novio, ni mucho menos tener relaciones sexuales con el en la casa de mis padres, entonces muchas veces terminaba en hoteles alojamiento, y a veces los recepcionistas de estos, te prohibían la entrada. Las muestras de afecto en público representaban cierto peligro y el miedo a la discriminación y al qué dirán eran un limitante de la libertad. Por suerte, la sociedad argentina, especialmente en las grandes urbes, ha evolucionado, y hoy es posible sentirse libre para ser quién uno es.

Mi salida del armario a nivel personal entiendo que se desarrolló con un nivel de inconciencia alto. Tuve a los 18 años algunos encuentros sexuales que viví con cierta culpa e incomprensión por lo que me estaba sucediendo y luego me puse rápidamente de novio y tuve una historia de amor muy larga y profunda. Creo que íntimamente, durante esos años de noviazgo, pensé que lo que me estaba sucediendo, el amar a otro hombre y el sentirme atraído por otros hombres y no por mujeres, era algo pasajero. Pude compartir mi sexualidad con amigos, que en términos generales fueron comprensivos y cariñosos. Sin duda, el obstáculo más grande fue mi familia. La primera vez que hable sobre mi sexualidad con mis padres tenía aproximadamente 24 años. Ya había pasado mucha agua bajo el puente, un noviazgo largo, muchos encuentros sexuales y ya me encontraba transitando mi segundo noviazgo. Claramente, después de mucha terapia psico-análica, ya sabía que lo que me había tocado no era algo pasajero. La bi-sexualidad y claramente la hetero-sexualidad no estaban en el menú de mis opciones. Cuando enfrenté a mis padres por primera vez, utilizó esa palabra a propósito, porque así lo sentía en ese momento, y les conté que era gay, ellos me brindaron todo su apoyo y me dijeron que no me preocupará, que ellos siempre me iban a querer y apoyar. Sin embargo, al poco tiempo, mostraron su preocupación y desaprobación y me ofrecieron ayuda de un psiquiatra, que ellos habían seleccionado, cosa que por supuesto rechacé. Ese fue un momento de mucha crisis en la relación con mis padres. 1 año más tarde, ya no estaba en pareja, y la necesidad de sentirme libre para ejercer plenamente mi sexualidad, me impulsó a vivir con una amiga lesbiana y de alguna manera acelerar la huida de mi hogar familiar.

Me diría a mi mismo, que no tenga miedo, que sea valiente, que sepa que las crisis pasan, y que ser gay no es un castigo ni un lastre que dificulta mis posibilidades de ser feliz. Sin dudas, hubiese compartido mi vida y mi realidad sexual antes de lo que lo hice, con mucha gente. Le diría a esa persona inexperta, que no hay que tenerle miedo al rechazo, que no es necesario que todos comprendan. Le diría que unas de las cosas más importantes en la vida es tener cierto grado de certeza, y que no se puede vivir en la ambivalencia por demasiado tiempo.”

In English: “In Argentina and in most Western countries we have moved from the criminalization of homosexuality to the penalty or at least the rejection of the homo-phobia. When I began to discover I was gay, homosexuality was associated with loneliness and suffering. I did not understand why it touched me, I was ashamed and lived as a condemnation of my sexual reality. A gay should hide or lead a double life, it was hard to tell my friends that I liked a boy instead of a girl, it was very difficult to tell my parents and my family I was in love, I could not imagine the possibility of walking down the street with a boyfriend in hand, and I could not imagine the possibility of forming a family. Gradually, through hard work and effort, I accepted myself, I went out of the closet, first with friends, then with a family member or a coworker … I was not necessarily understanding that my sexuality meant rejection. I was deconstructing the concept of a homosexuality society, education and family values ​​were implanted in my head and I began to discover that not only was that what happened to me, it happened to many people and you could be happy. I found love with another man, the night and the atmosphere, sex, promiscuity and codes of friendship between gays. I discovered that there was nothing to be ashamed of. My re-conceptualization of sexuality grew while growing my commitment to social and political activism, and transformed my shame into pride. Marches reaching sexual diversity, political debates and invisibility were replaced by visibility, suffering joy of life, loneliness always accompanied by feeling. Those friends, more than friends became an extended family. And while growing and maturing as a person, the individual struggle became a collective struggle, society began to question their own conceptions, and soon arrived laws: civil union, gay marriage and gender identity law. And with these laws, I realized that everything I had renounced when accepting my sexual reality when I was a teenager, was now within reach of my hand. But mostly I realized I am privileged because although now I have the same rights as a heterosexual, it seems like I have a lot more, because until yesterday, among other things, I could not get married, I could not think of adopting and should take care at work for fear of being fired or discriminated against. Being gay means to feel pride in myself, for all that I fought the shame, internalized and external. Being gay means a constant re-conceptualization, because I must discover and re-discover what I can or can not live in a society that although advances, is still a hostile place, a product of years of hetero-normativity. In short, I believe that being gay at this time is a constant discovery. It is an eternal construct and deconstruct concepts.

Being gay, the first challenge in life was to accept my sexual reality. I deliberately use the word reality, not inclination, orientation or choice, because I clearly do not represent myself as a person exercising his sexuality. Inclination or orientation sounds like euphemisms to me to name the nefarious and word choice putting sexuality in a place of voluntarism. I do not think sexuality is a choice. Then, returning to the personal sphere, I think my first success as a person was planting myself and saying, I live it, I do this and not that, I sleep with a man instead of a woman.

In Buenos Aires it is possible to have a great life being gay. Long ago there were very popular gay places that were full of people. Going dancing, going for a drink, and having fun in a group, there has never been a problem for me in my city. I remember when I was younger, it was not always easy to move as gay in some circumstances. As in the early years I did not share my true sexuality with my parents, I could not tell them for example that I was dating, let alone to have sex with him in the house of my parents, so then I often ended up in accommodation hotels. Sometimes the receptionists of these would prohibit entry. Displays of affection in public represented a danger and fear of discrimination and of what people would say were limiting freedoms. Fortunately, Argentina society, especially in large cities, has evolved, and today you can feel free to be who you are.

My coming out personally was developed with a high level of unconsciousness. I had come out at 18. I experienced some sexual encounters with some guilt and misunderstanding on what was happening to me and then I quickly found a boyfriend and I had a very long and deep love story. I think intimately, during those years of dating, I thought that what was happening to me, to love another man and be attracted to other men and not to women, was temporary. I could share my sexuality with friends, who were generally supportive and loving. Undoubtedly, the biggest obstacle was my family. The first time I talkd about my sexuality with my parents I was about 24 years. It had been a lot of water under the bridge, a long engagement, many sexual encounters and since I was traveling my second courtship. Clearly, after much análica psycho-therapy, I knew what had hit me was not a fad. The bi-sexuality and hetero-sexuality clearly were not on the menu of my choices. When I confronted my parents for the first time, I used that word on purpose because I felt it at the time, and told them I was gay, they gave me their full support and they told me not worry me, they would always love and support me. However, soon after, they showed their concern and disapproval and offered help from a psychiatrist, they had selected, which of course I refused. That was a moment of great crisis in the relationship with my parents. One year later, I was no longer a couple, and the need to feel free to fully exercise my sexuality, prompted me to live with a lesbian and somehow accelerate the flight of my family home.

I say to my (younger) self, do not be afraid, be courageous, you know that crises happen, and that being gay is not a punishment or a burden that hinders my ability to be happy. Undoubtedly, I should have shared my life and my sexual reality sooner than I did, with many people. I would tell the inexperienced person, we must not be afraid of rejection, it is not necessary that everyone understands. I would say that one of the most important things in life is having some certainty, and not living in ambivalence too long.”

Peter, Director of Ishtar, Nairobi, Kenya

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Peter, in his own words: “(the situation for LGBTI individuals in Kenya) has really improved for now. I can say that is is unlike five years ago, where you would not find an exclusively openly gay clinic. It used to be hard before, but it is still not easy because when you have a stand alone clinic people fear that you might also out them–if they’re found attending the clinic, people will know they are gay. What I can say generally is, I think in this country (with regards to the) LGBTI community we are much better than most of the African countries. But still, the stigma, the discrimination, the law is still against us. (With) the penal code you can be arrested if you are assumed gay. And (one) might be discriminated on health, or going to school–we have seen people kicked out of their houses by landowners or neighbors thinking that (you are gay). They don’t even have evidence, they just assume that you might be gay. It’s still a struggle.

Generally, (the biggest challenge) is the culture. (People think) You have traveled out of the country, that is why you have brought (being gay) into this country. Or normally our funds come from outside the country, so mostly they say ‘You’ve been paid, you’ve been funded so you can continue the Western agenda.’ So basically I think (the biggest challenge) is the culture and religion.

Basically, the general thing about being an African man, if you’re a man you have to behave like a man. At a certain age you have to start courtship with girls, and after that is marriage, and after marriage is having children. That’s generally on the African continent how they perceive you. A family is between a man, woman, and children.

(With regards to progress) Africa on a whole is really hard. As we all know, in South Africa at least (being gay) is legal there, but we thought once South Africa legalized other countries would start replicating that. But it’s the other way around. We found out they wanted even stronger laws that will criminalize homosexual acts, so it’s really difficult. So I think in Africa we still have a long ways to go. But what I can say as a Kenyan, as far as we are, what we have really tried (working for) is not human rights issues or even marriage, it’s specifically on health. So when we start talking about health issues, people know that if it affects gay people it might also affect the heterosexual community. (Then) they are willing to start listening to you. They are willing to accommodate, they are willing to tolerate.

The biggest health issue for gay men is if you are sick as related to how you have sex to another man, there is a lot of stigma with the health care providers. And if they are willing to help you and to listen to you, they don’t know how to handle your case. So there is a lot of ignorance. And the other thing, especially in the rampant case of HIV and AIDS, the only health promotion that you can see in all the media, all the publications, anything that kids are growing up knowing, is that HIV can only be contracted between a man and a woman. So we have cases of people saying, ‘I didn’t know. I thought when having sex with a man, I’m safe. Because what I’ve been shown has only been man and woman. If I’m a man and have sex with a woman, that’s when I’ll contract HIV/AIDS. So if I’m with another man, I’m safe.’ So with those kind of things, we find that people don’t know if they are at risk or are at a higher risk to contract HIV/AIDS because they don’t have that information and they can’t find that information. So we are trying to bridge the gap and trying to help in that scenario and trying to come up with health promotion that says (gay men) are even more vulnerable, because we don’t see that today.

(The gay community in Nairobi) is thriving and it’s diverse because we find that a culture of Nairobi is that people don’t care what you do. Whatever you do in your house, as long as it doesn’t affect me. So you find that people have an ‘I don’t care attitude, unless it affects me.’ Unlike a city like Mombasa, which is mostly (about) majority. But you find in Nairobi people are busy, doing good to others, people want to make their living, so they won’t mind about my business. And that has made gay people live better in Nairobi, people can live freely in Nairobi. In fact, sometimes I call Nairobi the New York of East Africa. Because if you look at East Africa, Nairobi is more safe than the rest of the cities. You can get health care services, you can go to a doctor and talk about issues and the doctor doesn’t care.

I think for me, and for my hope, I have been fulfilled because I’ve been working for the LGBTI (community) for the last eight or nine years. And I’ve seen a lot of growth, and a lot of impact that we have made for the community. Because what has been happening before for the last five years was we had straight people working in a clinic which is for gay men. And they would not really understand our issues. So for now, what is happening currently, gay people are running their own clinic. So that has always been my dream, and I hope it continues. That we ourselves know the the issues had, we know what is our problem, and we are the people that are going to solve our problem. So that has been my dream and I see now that it is coming up.

So for the country, I hope one day that I will walk freely, I’ll have my partner, I can walk freely with my partner, I can go to a club and dance freely with my partner. I can do whatever other heterosexual people are able to do. Because we find most of these things we do, we hide. We go to clubs and we are kicked out, we bring money to people and they accept us for one month and then they realize we are gay people and the next month they are kicking us out. So I wish one day that we might be protected by the state, that nobody has the right to come and beat me, nobody has the right to come and kick me out of their house, nobody has the right to deny me the occupation because of my sexuality, deny health access because of my sexuality, stigmatize me in whatever situation, I hope one day we can be protected.”

http://www.ishtarmsm.org

Jared, Writer, New York City

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin  Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Jared, in his own words: ” I never knew my biological parents (mother was Dutch & German, father was black) and I was adopted and raised on a rural farm in southern Michigan by an American Indian and Irish family. I had a happy childhood, happier than most. I survived my mother’s two divorces, and being the eldest I was the head of household while mom worked as a single parent. I never begrudged my mother for making me grow up to be a man at the age of 15 as I helped my siblings with homework, learned to cook and took care of the household tasks. I never regretted it either, despite missing out on a social life outside of school. It instilled responsibility and maturity in me, and it taught me that sometimes we have to sacrifice.

Throughout childhood and well into my teenage years Superman was my idol, even after I was too old to be reading comics – I still saved my allowance and bought Action Comics, Justice League and others – they were my escape and fueled my imagination. I wanted to be Superman, and could never understand the fascination with a fictional character until many years later. This was also around the time I started writing; I started my first novella and found a new way to escape the churning feelings and emotions that were starting to come to the surface as I started to notice my male peers.

I had told my mother I might be gay when I was 13. She told me if that was the case, we would unpack my birth certificate, she would burn it, I would pack my clothes and leave, and that she would never want to see me again. The next day at school I asked a girl to go steady with me, but the furthest I went with a girl was a kiss on the cheek of my prom date after dropping her off. Five years later I came out again, and that was the day I became a man. I refused to live a lie, to be someone who I wasn’t, and if my family could not accept me for who I was, then it was their loss. I was living with my grandmother, and though she and my aunt came around, my coming out only caused the relationship between my mother and I to deteriorate. She spoke to me once more, coming back to town for an afternoon when I was 19 to sit me down and have a “talk”. The minute she opened her mouth I knew she was going to tell me I was adopted, and she did, and that was the only thing she told me, leaving me to figure out the rest. She later passed away in 2005, and I wish she had accepted my ignored peace offerings instead of wasting all those years over hate and ignorance.

After high school in small town Michigan I had the good fortune to be “adopted” by “the committee” – a small group of gay men in their late 20s to late 30s for dinner parties, game nights – my first time falling in love, first boyfriend, first gay bar. Again in life, I was lucky to have never been bullied for who I was, and was comfortable with my ethnicity and sexual preference in the village (literally) where I was lived as the token black gay man.

I moved to Florida shortly thereafter to Tampa (which to me at the time was a metropolis compared to Quincy MI). It was there that I grew and evolved – fell in love with the beach, discovered leather and BDSM, developed a love of photography, returned to my writing as well as my love of comic books and had a string of relationships that never lasted more than a few years, but still managed to salvage a friendship with each of them, even to this day. It was at this time I created Jared’s World, a Yahoo group (also on Facebook) that over the years has grown to over 5,000 members. It has served as my online family, a group of primarily gay men from all around the world that offered a place to escape after a hard day’s work or a bad day, a place to vent, to share and to be supported through rough times. One person CAN make a difference and this group proves it.

Darker days would follow as I explored the drug, club and sex culture in Tampa – got my ass in trouble a few times but got up, took responsibility, dusted myself off and moved on, head held up. Went to countless hours of therapy to learn who I was and what made me tick, why my relationships failed, and it all helped, it truly did, to gain a better understanding of myself. I was never ashamed for being gay, was never proud to be gay – I just preferred the company of men. Through a quirk of fate I located my biological siblings (my bio parents had passed away in 2001), which was the last piece of the puzzle – my first question was “What am I?” I found out my father was black (hence my skin tone and not the “American Indian” lie my mother had told me growing up), and that my mother was Dutch and German (so THAT was where my fascination with boots and leather came from). At long last, at the age of 34 I had an identity. A somewhat convoluted one, but I was my own melting pot through my families, and that was when I chose the moniker amanofcolours as my online ID, swiping it from an Icehouse record album called Man of Colours – it was the perfect fit.

2008 was the most spectacular year of my entire life. I took a voluntary buyout from my job, bought a one way ticket and boarded an airplane with two suitcases and a dream to New York City. Finally, after all these years of dreaming of living in the Big Apple, my dream had come true. There have been ups and downs, but it was the best decision I have ever made and have never looked back. I have a small close knit group of friends, and I pretty much do my own thing – exploring NYC and its history like a kid in a candy store, snapping thousands of pictures as I hone and improve my work, returning to my writing, growing my eBay boot business beyond my wildest dreams, going to the theater and experiencing so many things I have never done before, and will never be able to do again. My first NYC Pride parade – the energy, the love, the pride – that was a defining experience that made me realize I was indeed proud to be gay. The gay community in NYC is very diverse, yet it has its splinter groups. I still haven’t found my niche, and don’t think that I will, and that is okay. I am just me, and I am just fine with who I am and the man I have become.

A few years back I was sitting in my Jersey City apartment reading a Superman comic book that had recently been released and it hit me. After all these years of looking up to the man who personified “Truth, Justice and the American Way”, I realized why I loved Superman so much. He never knew his real parents, but they sent him away for a chance at a better life, as my biological parents had done for me. Clark Kent and I both grew up in rural areas, had our struggles fitting in, and later we would move to our respective metropolises to work in the newspaper industry. Granted I can’t fly (one day I WILL skydive though), have x ray vision or leap tall buildings in a single bound, but I do have super strength to have made it this far, I have my vulnerabilities, a love and compassion for my fellow man, I have hope for humanity and I can see the good that is in people. It is not my place to judge anyone, because I myself have been judged many a time. If only folks could just accept people for who they are (like I have been accepted throughout my life), the world could be so much better.

Looking back on my life, I have made some mistakes, but I have no regrets, would never want to go back to change anything, because I would not be who I am or where I am today. As Kylie would say, “I wouldn’t change a thing…” Up, up and away……”

Matthew, Teacher, Brisbane, Australia

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Matthew, in his own words: “I think all gay men grow up under a shadow. There’s always that fear of not fitting in; not living up to expectations; of being different. It doesn’t matter where we grow up, the fears are the same and they come to define us. This is our shared heritage and I think it alters our lens for viewing the world. We understand discrimination, because we live it. We can put ourselves in other people’s shoes, because we’ve had to wear them to go unnoticed. To me, being gay means having a broad-spectrum understanding of the human experience.

I think my greatest success has been coming to know my place in the world. I spent much of my childhood feeling different, but not being able to explain why. But as I grew up, I found my tribe. I think gay friendships can feel more like family than family because that desire for belonging often underscores our youth.

The challenge for us, as a community, is ensuring that we don’t become too complacent. There are still political battles that need to be fought in Australia for LGBTI people. I take heart when I hear my students’ unanimous support for marriage equality. For them, marriage equality is about love. For me, it’s about that kid in the class who needs to know she’s not alone.

I never really got the chance to come out, my parents just sat me down after valedictory speech night and asked me outright. Mum was prepared. She had spoken to some PFLAG volunteers and they had sent her a bulging manila envelope full of brochures. It lay in the centre of the table throughout the whole conversation, while I texted updates to my not-so-secret boyfriend on my Nokia 3210. Mothers truly do always know.

Brisbane used to have a reputation as a bit of a conservative backwater. If you grew up gay in Brisbane, you escaped to Sydney the moment you could. But I think the push factors have dried up these days and we’ve come into our own as a city. People don’t feel compelled to leave the way they did. But after losing generations of gay men to other Australian capitals, the scene in Brisbane is young and still defining its own identity.

I think the best advice I could give my younger self is to be patient and to stop worrying about fitting in. After all, no-one who succeeds at fitting in has ever really stood out.”

Imam, Videographer/Editor, Jakarta, Indonesia

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Imam, in his own words: “Bagi saya, menjadi seorang gay adalah bagian dari sebuah proses hidup untuk menjadi seorang manusia seutuhnya. Tidak ada bedanya dengan seorang heteroseksual ataupun orientasi seksual lainnya. Belum lagi bila dihadapkan pada keberagaman gender. Pada dasarnya terlahir menjadi apa dan siapa, tak lantas menjadikan kita berbeda. Dulu saya menganggap diri saya berbeda. Tapi sekarang, sampai detik ini, sebagai seorang gay saya merasa tidak ada bedanya dengan manusia lainnya.

Di dunia ini, hidup adalah tantangan. Hidup adalah perjuangan. Terlahir sebagai gay, ataupun sebagai hetero, tidak lantas menjadikan kita seorang pecundang yang bersembunyi dari balik perasaan karena kita merasa berbeda. Bukan itu. Tapi bagaimana cara kita untuk melanjutkan hidup, tanpa memperdulikan apa identitas seksual kita, apa identitas gender kita, tapi lebih kepada kita sudah berbuat apa untuk menjadikan hidup ini lebih baik. Dan disitulah tantangannya.

Saya adalah termasuk gay yang memilih coming out kepada teman terlebih dahulu. Dulu sempat ada kekhawatiran untuk coming out kepada keluarga. Ada banyak gambaran ketakutan-ketakutan berlebihan terkait pilihan saya untuk memutuskan coming out terhadap keluarga. Namun yang menjadi alasan kuat saya hanya satu. Yaitu mencoba. Karena bagaimanapun, saya tidak akan pernah tahu kebenaran macam apa yang bakal saya terima apabila saya memilih coming out terhadap keluarga. Tentunya sebelum coming out, saya sudah mempersiapkan banyak hal. Yang terpenting pertama, tentu saja, saya sudah berdamai dengan diri saya sendiri. Siapa saya. Karena percuma saja bila kita memilih coming out kepada keluarga, namun urusan penerimaan diri belum selesai. Dan yang kedua selain penerimaan diri, tentu saja kemapanan. Kemungkinan terburuk adalah diusir dari rumah. Dan solusi adalah bagaimana kita bisa bertahan hidup. Dan saya pribadi yakin, apa yang menjadi pilihan saya bukan pilihan yang salah. Dan ketika membuat pengakuan ke orang tua, reaksinya justru berbalik dari apa yang telah saya bayangkan. Ibu saya hanya bisa diam. Berusaha untuk belajar memahami siapa saya. Dan dia berusaha keras untuk bisa menerima kondisi saya. Dan disitulah tugas saya untuk membantunya memahami kepribadian saya. Dan pelan tapi pasti, sedikit demi sedikit, komunikasi dan sharing informasi terkait apa itu homoseksualitas terus berjalan. Walhasil, tidak ada pengusiran. Keluarga pelan-pelan ternyata bisa menerima. Dan life is beautiful.

Komunitas gay di Jakarta ini sangat beragam. Banyak jenis. Dari yang tertutup hingga yang terbuka. Dari yang kelompoknya orang menengah biasa hingga yang mengkhususkan diri hanya yang punya koleksi prada, whatever lah. Sehingga disitu kadang saya merasa sedih…. Memangnya kenapa kalauhal tersebut benar-benar ada? Karena pada kenyataannya itu adalah pilihan. Toh, di lingkungan kaum heteroseksual pun juga ada yang tak kalah heboh terkait komunitas hetero-nya. Justru dari situ bisa saya tarik garis kesimpulan, kita menjadi (dianggap) berbeda, ya karena kita tidak dianggap sama. Kita (gay dan hetero) akan setara justru bila kita bisa memandang bahwa tidak ada yang berbeda diantara kita semua. Bukan berarti juga orang lain dipaksa untuk bisa memahami kita, namun dari gay nya sendiri malah ingin dieksklusifkan, sama juga bohong. Mau bergabung di komunitas mana, semua ada konsekuensinya.

Kalau kita ingin dianggap sama atau setara, jangan pernah kita merasa berbeda. Tapi merasa lah bahwa kita terlahir istimewa dan diciptakan untuk melengkapi perbedaan yang pada dasarnya satu sama. SAMA-SAMA MANUSIA!”

In English:

“For me, being gay is part of a life process to becoming a human being. There are no differences between a heterosexual or any other sexual orientation. Let alone when we are faced with gender differentiation. At the end, being born as who I am, it won’t make any any difference. I used to think that I was different. But now, until this second, as a gay I feel the same as with other human beings.

In this world, life is a challenge. Life is a fight. Born as gay or straight, doesn’t make us a loser who has to hide behind our feelings because we’re different. It’s not that. It’s how we continue with our life, without care about our sexual identity, our gender identity, but what matters is more on what have we done to make this life better. This is the challenge.

I am a gay who chose to come out to my friend first. I used to worry about coming out to my family. There were so many unreasonable fears when I wanted to come out to my family. But the only thing that became strong was my need to try. Because no matter how, I would never find out what would happen to me from coming out to my family if I didn’t give it a try. Of course I prepared many things because I actually did it. The most important for sure was to make peace with myself. Who am I. Because it would be a waste if I came out to my family without accepting myself first. The second thing after self-acceptance was my ability to support myself. The worst possibility for me was being kicked out of the house. And the solution was how would I survive if that happened. Personally I am sure that my choice was not a wrong choice. And when I did it, the reaction was totally different than what I had imagined before. My mom was just silent. Trying to understand me. She was trying really hard to understand my condition. That’s where I feel it should be my task to help her understand my personality. Slowly but surely, bit by bit, communication and information sharing about homosexuality keeps flowing. At the end, no eviction. My family slowly accepted it. And Life is beautiful.

The gay community in Jakarta is so varied. There are so many of them. From the closeted ones to the open ones. From the middle class to those who only own Prada. Whatever. That’s why sometime I feel sad. So what if those things really exist. Because in reality, it’s just is a choice. In the straight community we can find the same thing as well. That’s why I can make an assumption that we want to be treated differently. We (gay and straight) will only be equal when we are able to see that we are no different compared to one other. Not by forcing other people to understand us. But if we as gays want to be treated exclusively, it wont work at all. No matter which community that you want to join, there will always be consequences.

If we want to be treated equally, don’t think that we are different. Think that we are born in a special way and created with differences which are basically same. Same human being.”

Steve, Masters Student/Activist, Melbourne, Australia

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

Steve, in his own words: “Being gay means I was lucky enough to be born homosexual, to be born into this community that has existed in every cave, village and city for as long as we have existed as humans. Being gay gives me a connection to people I’ve never met, gives me a connection to a rich history, but most importantly it gives me a community that I care and fight for.

Being gay gives me the freedom to choose my own destiny, to be free from so many of the shackles that society dictates to the majority, I thrive in my difference and I believe this makes our entire society richer.

I think I’m too young to call anything I’ve done a success, I’d run the risk of looking a little smug. Living overseas, graduating with first class honors from a top university are all successes, but I have so many other people that I owe for these successes, I wouldn’t be where I am now without the support of other people, so I don’t want to take all the credit for this.

Personally however I think my greatest success is my acceptance of who I am and the pride I now take in who I am. It’s a great challenge to overcome your insecurities, I’ve had many of them, and I continue to have them, but I’ve come to a point where I own my insecurities, and I’ve never been happier.

I like to say we’re always coming out, to a certain degree. We have to come out whether overtly or subconsciously to every person we interact with, our sexuality is such a huge influence on who we are as a person and what our place within society is. I’m sad to say there are certain times I have chosen not to come out in certain environments and keep cosy in a very glittery wardrobe. 
My ‘classic’ coming out was in two episodes, Mum first when I was 13 then Dad when I was 17. Mum’s first reaction was “never tell your father, I don’t know how he will react,” her reaction was one of fear, not of me and my sexuality but fear for how society will treat me. It’s so sad that parents of fags are genuinely afraid for their child because of how heterosexuals will treat them.

Dad’s first reaction was “I’m so proud of you, you’re an incredible young man and you will achieve great things” (I may be embellishing a bit, but it went something like that). My immediate response was to look at my Mum and say “ALL THIS TIME!!!” But I don’t hold a grudge, she knew no better, and unfortunately parents these days don’t know how to deal with their child coming out. The language around coming out is the same language as that of mourning, or the loss of a limb; “It’s okay, you’ll be the same person in my eyes,” “…well despite this, I still love you.” It’s like, really? Despite what? Despite the fact that your child has now joined the ranks of an incredible community, immediately making them more progressive, empathetic and happy, you’ll still love them? How condescending! There are schools of thought out there that homosexuality is the next step in human evolution, and with technological advancement the idea of heterosexuality for procreation will become null. So to the parents thinking it’s such a sad thing that your child has just evolved into an amazing little homo, shame on you, go bake them a rainbow cake immediately. Less of this “I suppose you’ll have to do” and more confetti at coming outs, please!

I’m an eternal optimist and have found my place in Melbourne’s LGBTIQ community during a period of relevant calm, though this will all change very soon with the inevitable introduction of marriage equality and the changing landscape in the response to the HIV epidemic. So my experience of the community lacks the nostalgia of ‘Club X’ and ‘Bar Y,’ which is so often the frame people view this question with. I have been so lucky to have discovered the community behind the bars (though ironically, it takes going to a bar to find these communities, I know, it’s like Inception). I had to find these opportunities myself, the volunteer work, learning from the old queens I respect so much, surrounding myself by likeminded people and running by my golden rule, “be infinitely kind,” and you will get infinite kindness in return.

I live in a Collingwood bubble, here in Melbourne that means I’m a “Northside gay” and I must have a beard. I’m very lucky that my local bar is one of the world’s longest-continuously running gay bars (The Laird, I highly recommend it) that is rich in history and in community to this day means that I have been well placed to develop a positive identity for myself and an experience of my community that is so positive. Every part of the LGBTIQ community has its stereotypes, for example The Laird is the quintessential hairy-chested, hypermasculine sometimes-leather bar. But nowhere else do I feel more comfortable vogueing it up on the dance floor and nowhere else do I feel so accepted for however I want to express myself. It sounds a bit silly, but in general about various scenes, it’s not about the beard, the six pack, the tan, the politics, it’s what you have inside that really counts, and people will see that and appreciate that. If they don’t, then you’re hanging around with the wrong people.

We have a diverse and rich queer scene here too, think boys, beards and heels, with a reputation for groundbreaking art and performance from Berlin to New York. This is Melbourne, we’re dirty, we lack pretense and glamour, we do ‘different’ and we’re all the more happy for it. Melbourne rocks.

(Advice to my younger self) Listen and learn. Everyone is smarter than you, everyone has something to contribute to you and you have the duty to take it on board and pass it on. I’ve learnt this now, but I wish I knew this when I was a pretentious teenager trying so hard to fit in. I’d say to myself, look at who you really are, stop pretending, stop trying, you’ll become yourself eventually so just stop wasting time trying to be someone else – once you do, you will never be happier.”