Josef, in his own words:“From early childhood I knew I liked boys more then girls. For me personally it was absolutely normal. The only trouble was to deal with people around me. I grew up in 80’s and 90’s in eastern Slovakia and I had so little information about what it meant to be gay. But I never wanted to change it, I felt special.
I think my whole life is a challenge. I was always very interested in art. When I was 26 I started to study photography at the University. I finished my Master degree with a very personal queer music project Mušnula. You can check it on youtube. I think is very important to express the queer side of my personality. The funny thing is that I am also a yoga instructor. And I am very conservative about yoga. That’s good balance.
I came to my mother the night before I left my parents flat. I was 20 and decided to move to another city to live with my boyfriend. I think my mother was sad not because I told her I was gay, but because I left home. We always had a very strong relationship.
My partner was director of a queer film festival in Prague for 4 years. So we are a part of queer community here. But I am not a party person, I do not drink alcohol and I don’t visit gay clubs or bars. So I really don’t know. I think I know more about yoga community.
I try not to look back. But I am 35 now and sometimes I feel I would like to have more friends. During my life I had just a few really strong friendships. Many of them do not last until today. And I think it is my fault. I don’t know if I can change it. Maybe it’s too late.”
Denny, in his own words:“When I was a little kid, I was attracted to men, and felt scared about my feelings. It took 20 years to admit that I am gay, so relieved! So being gay means being free, free from fear of myself.
My biggest challenge is to tell my family about myself, because until now only a few of my family want to accept who I am.
(My coming out story) is kind of funny, I used to keep my gay DVD among other movie DVD, and my aunt borrow my movie DVD and accidentally played my gay DVD! So she just smile to me and told me that her son is gay too. And I think she told my other family about this, but they all keep silent.
The gay community in Jakarta mostly stays in the closet, just a few come out.
(Advice to my younger self) Being gay is not a disease, nor a choice, it is destiny, just accept who you are, and be safe!”
Rocco, in his own words:“*Cosa significa per te essere Gay?
-Poter avere la possibilità di essere ciò che sono, di credere in quel che credo. Mi da la possibilità di avere il libero arbitrio nella gestione delle mie emozioni.
*Quali sfide e successi hai dovuto affrontare nella vita?
-Di fronte a questa domanda sorrido, e realizzo di non essermela mai posta. Credo che la sfida più grande per me sia stata quella di affrontare mio padre e acquisire la mia indipendenza da lui e dalla mia famiglia, lui è un uomo del Sud Italia nato nel 54• con una mentalità molto ristretta. Primogenito di tre figli, sono stato da subito amato, se non altro a modo loro ci hanno provato. Nel corso del tempo i “segni” della mia “diversità” (mi vien da sorridere nell’adoperare questa parola) a cui non si voleva badare d’apprima, diventavano più evidenti. Lui ha iniziato a staccarsi da me col tempo, fino al giorno in cui ho dichiarato la mia sessualità. Nel tempo siamo arrivati ad odiarci, l’ho denunciato per percosse e sequestro di persona e ho dovuto affrontare un processo. Sono passati dieci lunghissimi e bellissimi anni. Il successo arriva poco per volta, forse per chi sa aspettare o per chi sa affrontare! Oggi vivo a Milano e posso dirmi una persona felice a tratti: non credo nella felicità assoluta. Lui (mio padre) ogni tanto mi chiama, nelle nostre telefonate si parla di molte cose, ma più d’ogni altra cosa inavvertitamente mi racconta che i ruoli della vita si sono capovolti. Oggi lui è quel bambino desideroso d’amore, ed io quell’uomo severo che teneramente comprende la totalità dell’amore.
*Qual’è la tua storia, come hai fatto coming out?!
-La mia vita è un continuo intrecciarsi di storie, ogni giorno. Il mio coming out l’ho trovato abbastanza buffo, avevo 16 anni e vivevo a Milano (con mia zia e la sua famiglia) in un pomeriggio di Gennaio a tavola i miei familiari e mia madre si facevano delle domande sulla mia sessualità mettendo me in difficoltà, in quel momento capii che il problema non era il mio, ma il loro. Decisi di raccontare quello che era il mio sentire, il mio essere! Ad ogni modo la mia storia personale è quella di un ragazzo che è sempre stato alla ricerca di una famiglia, e che nel tempo ha imparato a trovarla nelle persone che ama.
*Com’è la comunità LGBT a Milano?!
-Io personalmente non tendo a ghettizzarmi, preferisco avere a che fare con comunità eterogenee. Se mi devo basare sulla comunità LGBT Milanese con cui ho avuto a che fare inevitabilmente nel corso degli anni, posso dire di aver avuto a che fare con tanti generi contrapposti… Ho incontrato persone senza scrupoli che pur di ottenere quello a cui aspiravano avrebbero fatto carte false, a volte ho conosciuto persone con scarsa personalità che spesso e volentieri si adeguano alla massa perché insicure, altre volte mi sono imbattuto in personalità frivole il cui unico scopo dell’essere è vivere costantemente in una festa senza fine, ed ho anche conosciuto persone meravigliose che mi accompagnano nel corso del mio tempo ancora adesso. Non amo dire la mia su quel che riguarda la comunità LGBT, il problema non sono le comunità o le “razze” il problema sono gli individui singoli. Di bestie ne ho conosciute di tutte le razze e di tutte le categorie, nessuna esclusa!
*Quale consiglio daresti tu ad un giovane?!
-La vita è un viaggio meraviglioso, anche quando non ne cogliamo il senso. Qualsiasi essa sia, vale la pena di essere vissuta! Non fatevi scoraggiare da nulla, amate la vostra pelle, amate i vostri panni, è la vostra storia. Siate voi stessi, sempre… Nella vostra diversità. Non abbiate timore.”
Rocco, in his own words: “Being gay means having the opportunity to be I am, to believe in what I believe. It gives me the opportunity to have free will in the management of my emotions.
What are the challenges and successes you’ve had to face in life?
Addressing this question makes me smile, because I realize it’s a question I have never asked. I think the biggest challenge for me has been to deal with my father and gain my independence from him and my family, he is a man born in Southern Italy, 54 with a very narrow-mind. Being the eldest of three children, I was immediately loved, if only in their own way. Over time the “signs” of my “diversity” (it makes me smile in saying this word) became more evident. He started to break away from me over time, until the day I declared my sexuality. It’s been ten long and beautiful years. Success comes gradually, perhaps to those who wait, or for those who can cope! Today I live in Milan and I can tell a happy person at times I do not believe in absolute happiness. He (my father) sometimes calls me, in our phone calls we talk about many things, but more than anything else inadvertently tells me that the life roles have reversed. Today he is eager to love his child, and I tenderly am stern that that includes the totality of love.
My Life is a continuous interweaving of stories every day. My coming out I found quite funny, I was 16 and I was living in Milan (with my aunt and her family) in a January afternoon at the table, my family and my mother were asking about my sexuality, putting me in a difficult situation, that’s when I realized that the problem was not mine, but theirs. I decided to tell them what I was feeling, my being! However my personal story is that of a boy who was always looking for a family, and that in time he learned to find the people he loves.
I personally do not tend to ghettizzarmi, I prefer to deal with heterogeneous communities. If I have to rely on the LGBT community in Milan with whom I had to deal inevitably over the years, I can say I had to deal with so many genres … I met people opposing unscrupulously to get what they aspired–those who would make false papers, sometimes I met people with little personality that often adapt to the mass because of insecurity, sometimes I came across frivolous personalities whose sole purpose of being is to live constantly in an endless party, and I also I met wonderful people who accompany me during my time even now. I do say this only concerns the LGBT community, the problem is not the communities or the “races” the problem is the individuals. Of beasts I have known of all races and of all categories, without exception!
(Advice to my younger self) Life is a wonderful journey, even when you do not grasp the meaning. Whatever it is, it is worth living! Do not be put off by anything, love your skin, love your shoes, it’s your story. Be yourself, always … In your diversity. Do not be afraid.”
Michael, in his own words:“It’s easy to forget where you came from. What I mean is, it’s entirely possible to forget formative events, or the face of your favorite teacher, or the name of your child (I’m looking at YOU, mom). But one thing you never, ever forget, is your “coming out” story, if you have one. This usually reflects the time and circumstances you grew up in, and my story is no exception.
It’s the fall of 1991, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Yes, jerk, there is electricity and running water, and yes, New Mexico is a state. Despite Nirvana’s Nevermind just having been released, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 is still in heavy rotation on my Walkman. I own all the cassingles from it. I’m still mourning for the last Star Trek movie to feature the original cast, The Undiscovered Country, and my future boyfriend is probably being born (long story).
My boyfriend at this ancient time in 1991, however, is sweet, kind Max, who also happens to be my first boyfriend. He’s pretty great: awesome musical taste, handsome, really funny. We meet in freshman acting class and instantly connect through our mutual interests of Drakkar Noir and making out. He tolerates my Star Trek obsession the best he can. I mean, like, you know how some nerds are sexy? Yeah, I wasn’t one of those. Max was also with me when I get drunk for the first time from half of a Bartles & James wine cooler. Good times.
So the Big Event happened at the dinner table one night. I had moved out to go to school at UNM, which stands for the University of New Mexico (but is secretly the University Near Mom), but it was a couple miles from our house. Both my parents were enthusiastic smokers, something I didn’t think about until I moved out and then came back to visit. What. The. Hell. is that smell, guys? Why is there a chest-level cloud in the house? And why is grandma wheezing so much?
I don’t remember what we were eating, but I do remember it probably wasn’t Mexican. Despite my latin roots (on my mom’s side), I never developed a love of Mexican food. I had been hanging out with Max more and more, and had brought him over to meet my parents a couple weeks before. I also don’t remember what my parents and I were discussing, but I do remember as the meal ended my mom finally broached the subject: “Michael, is Max bi?”
The needle could not have skipped harder on the record as I set down my fork and looked at them. I imagine that I was cool and collected, but in reality I probably looked like a deer in headlights as I stammered “Uh, no. Of course not.” There was a long, long pause as they just stared back at me. I decided it was now or never.
“Yes. Yes he is. And so am I.” I didn’t bother correcting them at the time that he and I were gay, not bi. Maybe asking the question this way was their way to soften the blow for themselves, that maybe for them me being bi was like being “only half gay”. In any case, they both went down the “We still love you, you’re still our son, nothing has changed” road. And honestly, on some level they must have already known. I learned their real reactions later: my mom, being a director of an HIV-advocacy organization at the time, and friends with several gay artists, took the news all in stride. My dad, being the son of a Lutheran minister, privately struggled with it, but put on a supportive face. Why? Because he loved me, and he realized that love was evolving.
I’m lucky. Now, 20-some years later, I’ve turned 40. Both of my folks are amazing and supportive. My dad asks me how my boyfriends are whenever I’m dating someone, reads my posts about the shitshow that is my dating life (pro-tip: if a guy is ignoring you, it secretly means he is ignoring you). My mom tries to fix me up with literally every gay man she meets. But in the end, I’m fortunate. There are a lot of queer women and men out there whose tale is a lot different, whose coming out story is more fraught with pain and outright rejection than mine. There are people who don’t even have a coming out story yet, because of circumstances in their lives.
I look forward to the day that we don’t even need coming out stories, that it’s just universally accepted that we love who we love. But for now, we have these stories, and slowly but surely, the stories will get better and better. Let’s share them.”
Ron, in his own words:“I’m approaching this chronologically, starting with beginnings and coming out, moving on to challenges/successes, and then the questions about being gay and the gay community in NYC as I have experienced it.
Important background facts: I was born and educated to Ph.D. level in Australia, in a loving but religiously conservative family—Seventh-day Adventists. Since I was born in 1940, my coming to sexual awareness occurred far in advance of the gay movement, at a time when the subject was almost never mentioned. So when puberty struck around age 12-13, and my male friends started focusing their interests on girls, I quickly realized I was different, and feared I had something the matter with me and was the only such in the world. So when, at nearly 14, I was seduced by a counsellor 3 years older than me at a church camp, it was a good experience especially in the sense that he was able to give me much-needed information. I heard the word homosexuality for the first time, and learned what homosexuals did together.
Apart from a couple of brief exploratory experiences with a friend nothing much happened during my high school years, though I did take the opportunity to travel with my Dad to Brisbane, the big city, a few times, where I spent time at the state library while he was at church committee meetings, and read all I could about homosexuality. I found that the information then available was pretty depressing—it seemed to be limited to what psychiatrists like Havelock Ellis had written about patients who had come for help to overcome their sexual perversity. I found the details titillating, but the impact negative. I also took every opportunity to check out stories written on the walls of men’s washrooms—they had more information.
When I moved to Brisbane for University I had more freedom, and exploring, found where gays met for sex. Most of the participants seemed to be married men en route home to their unhappy marriages. I was fascinated but shy—I went there to watch, but being young and attractive, someone always seemed to unzip me. But I found that climax resulted in great guilt, so great that I was too embarrassed to recognize anyone I had been with if I saw him again. The result was that I had no gay friends or mentors, took girls out, but went cruising after leaving them. I found I had no interest in kissing a girl, and tried to avoid that; since I was active at church, the girls understood that I had no wish to go “further” with them. I prayed incessantly to be changed, but without any result, and became so desperate that I went to the counselling office at the university to tell them I wanted to be “normal”, and was given aversion therapy, which I found an excruciating experience that propelled me into a cruising situation after each session, and then further guilt. Realizing there was no solution there, I dropped out after six sessions. I sensed that if I took my “problem” to my parents I would only cause them sadness, for they would have no answer, and also, correctly, that this was not an issue I should talk to a pastor about.
Meanwhile I had become a well-known musician. I became organist at my home church at 13 and founded a successful church choir there at age 15. Between ages 13 and 16 I four times won 1st, 2nd, or 3rd prize for my age-group in competitions for young composers sponsored by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Each time a reporter and photographer from the local paper would come to interview me, though my mother always managed to get into the story that I was going to be an Adventist “singing evangelist.” (13 of my “Australian Songs” songs, sung by me, are available on YouTube.) I was delighted when I won scholarships to both the Conservatorium and the University, and greatly frustrated that I had to choose between them. So frustrated, in fact, that while I took the university scholarship, I also studied piano, organ, voice, and clarinet at the Conservatorium during my university years. When I arrived in Brisbane I was immediately asked to form a choir in the 500-member Central Adventist Church (that was a real success—I had good voices available and love working with choirs). I also sang in choirs at the university, including the Madrigal Society, and the director of the university choir invited me to become a paid member of the Anglican Cathedral choir, teaching me that I could earn much-needed money that way. I also became organist at weekday chapel services at the Presbyterian Seminary—more funds. I did Honors in History as an undergraduate, and then set out on a Ph.D. in both sociology and history. I thus became a historical sociologist. When that was done I won a Fullbright grant for post-doctoral study at Columbia University, New York, but chose to spend a year getting here, traveling overland as much as possible from Australia through Southeast Asia, around India, and then hitching a ride from Delhi through Pakistan, Iran, and the length of Turkey to Istanbul, before continuing up through what was then Communist Eastern Europe after a side-trip to Israel. I ran out of time in Scandinavia, and then flew to New York to begin the semester at Columbia U.
I arrived in NYC in September 1971, only two years into the gay movement there. I was still closeted, and in fact dated women after I arrived. I was incredibly lonely, except for the Adventist congregation on the Columbia campus made up mostly of grad students, which I embraced—but they did not initially know the real me, so my sense of loneliness continued.
I was supposed to stay in NYC for only two years, but when a paper I gave in a class caused a stir, a professor offered to pay my salary for two months if I would write a grant proposal to study tenant-landlord conflict through his institute. The result was a grant of $200,000—I would stay in New York, it seemed. The grant made me sought after academically, and I was hired on a tenure-bearing line to teach sociology at Hunter College, the City U of NY.
By this time I had been asking God to change my sexual desires for 15 years, with absolutely no change. It suddenly struck me that the prayer may not have been answered because God was perfectly happy with the way he had made me! That is, I had been praying for something that was not God’s will. This came as a transforming revelation—suddenly I was open to getting to know gay people, to love someone perhaps. Tremendous relief. Soon after I fell in love for the first time—both of us were inexperienced, and had no idea how to run a gay relationship, for that had not been part of the curriculum of growing up for either of us. To make matters worse, this was a long-distance relationship, for he was in medical school in Rochester. However, just to experience love was amazing, and somehow from it I understood more about love in general, including the love of God. When I was asked to speak at a service at my church group at Columbia U, I came out to them as part of the sermon. This did not phase that very liberated congregation—they elected me president of the congregation about a year later, a position I have held ever since. (It had the advantage of being an independent congregation. That could not have happened in a regular Adventist congregation.)
The next year I attended the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association for the first time. When I looked over the program, I discovered a session on homosexuality in the very first time-slot. What happened there appalled me: the organizer and chair of the session had set it up as an opportunity for him to attack the credibility of the new, gay-friendly research that had emerged in the wake of the Stone Wall Rebellion that had launched the gay movement. For example, he asked Laud Humphreys, an Episcopal priest, whose dissertation had just been published as The Tearoom Trade, which he had dedicated to his wife, whether he was not in fact gay. I realized immediately that this was unethical, and afterwards found another gay person there; together we put up notices around the hotel announcing that the “Sociologists Gay Caucus” was meeting in my room the next night. When my room overflowed so that we had to find a meeting room, I was elected president, a position I held for four years, during which time I fought to have a session on homosexuality made a regular event each year and worked on a task force examining discrimination against gays and lesbians in the profession. I had unexpectedly become an activist, and was proud of this.
During the Summer of 1976 the man who had hired me resigned as chair of my department at Hunter College, so that we had to elect his replacement in the Fall. I worked for the election of a Black radical to the post. However, after this I discovered that my gay activism was to cost me my job. I wrongly assumed that the new chair would also be supportive of other groups facing discrimination, and so, over a Sunday brunch with him celebrating his election, I told him about my activism. To my surprise, he did not say a word. However, he then made sure that I, still untenured, was not reappointed for the next year. I was later to discover that he was a closeted gay who apparently felt threatened by the presence of a colleague who was open about his sexuality. The issue was not clearly resolved against me until May, by which time it would normally have been very difficult to secure a new academic post for the new year beginning in September. But just at that time a position was advertised at Queens College, another college of the City University, which fitted my skills perfectly, and I was appointed with a promotion to Associate Professor. By 1983 I was a tenured Full Professor there. Remembering my need for a gay mentor while at university, I made a point of saying something when introducing myself to new classes that would allow gay students to realize that I too was gay and easy to approach.
Meanwhile, I had become a gay activist within the Adventist Church. I sorely wanted to meet gay Adventists, and so ran an ad in The Advocate. Dozens from all over the country, but none close to NYC, responded. This was one several ingredients that came together in the late 1970s and resulted in the formation of SDA Kinship International. I played an important role in shaping the organization, and was its Church Liaison for 18 years.
When involved in my Ph.D. program at the University of Queensland I had wanted to do my dissertation on Adventists, for the sociology of religion had been a revelation to me helping me to understand the dynamics of my church. My advisor had responded “do you want to get a job when you finish?”, which dissuaded me, but I vowed I would return to the topic. Once I was a tenured Full Professor there was nothing to stop me, and since the final promotion came just as I was publishing The Tenant Movement in New York, the timing was perfect. So I launched a study of global Adventism. The research took me to 59 countries over several years. As part of the research I took a close look at an Adventist-sponsored “ex-gay ministry” in the US, where the testimonies of changed orientation I had heard had seemed unbelievable. I interviewed 13 long-term participants in the program as well as the director, a former pastor who had been fired when caught in a “gay act” but who now claimed to be “cured” and was married with two young children. I discovered that 12 of the 13 participants had been sexually molested by the program director, and that no one was cured—the testimonies had all been given “in faith” that this was happening! (The lone counselee who had not been abused was much older than the others.) The interviews with the participants were some of the most traumatic I have ever experienced—lots of tears and anger. Though it obviously put my research in danger, I felt obliged to blow the whistle on the director, writing a letter to the church president and, to make sure that he did not stick it in his bottom drawer, sending copies to 29 other prominent Adventists. The director confessed and resigned, and the program was closed.
This did not seem to interfere with my research. Indeed, I was often told by interviewees that they were telling me things that were not told to church leaders because I could not come back and destroy their careers. However, in November 2013 I was, for the first time, invited to take part in a conference of people researching Adventism in various ways that was held at church headquarters so that leaders could choose to attend. I prepared a paper that I thought would be really helpful for them. The conference was due to begin on a Monday morning, but on the preceding Friday morning I received an email from the conference organizer disinviting me. It turned out that the president of the church had looked over the program the day before, and seeing my name, had demanded that I be removed from it. His reason was that as purportedly Adventism’s “best-known gay activist” I stood against the position of the church and so could not be allowed to speak at church headquarters without “creating the impression that the church was going soft on homosexuality.” The one act that had made me prominent as a gay activist was blowing the whistle on that abuser of young gays.
After a couple of less significant relationships, I met Scott, the love of my life, in 1988. I was 48, he 24. He was a fine musician—like me a pianist and organist, and a talented composer. He worked as an organist in churches, which gave him time to practice and write music. We had over 24 years together, and I loved him enormously. He came to church with me, where he played the organ. However, he developed psychological problems, which increased over time—he was bi-polar. His depression led him to take overdoses several times, but each time he changed his mind, told me, and we rushed to a hospital emergency room. However, in July 2012 he took a huge overdose at 3.00 a.m. and did not wake me, so that we found him dead next morning. This was the most shocking, saddest day of my life. I have since found Tyler, who has been an enormous comfort and source of joy. He is making me feel rejuvenated, young again. It is a shock to find myself with a man who was born when I was 50—the cultural differences between us are inevitably enormous, but we also share important things, and love one another. We are still in the early phases of our relationship. It seems that I am not one to be alone.
My parents had found themselves with both their children in North America, and eventually, in retirement, moved to Toronto to be near their grandchildren and also to me. When I took Scott there for the first time at the beginning of 1989, he made a strong positive impression on them. One morning after breakfast, Dad shepherded us all into the living room, and then made a little speech telling Scott how much they liked him, and welcoming him as a member of the family. He had obviously planned this with my Mother. That was one of the most heart-warming, emotional moments of my life. Coming from a pair of devout Seventh-day Adventists, this was truly remarkable. Love triumphed over dogma.
Having been very driven in traveling to do interviews for my book and articles, the writing became a larger task (too much data) and I had left less time for it. I have published a ton of papers, but the book needs writing. So in 2009 I retired in order to write, and that is what I am doing. I was appointed Professor Emeritus. I loved teaching, and miss it, but it is very satisfying to help a broader group of people to understand the world better through writing to a larger audience.
What does it mean to me to be gay? It means that I look at guys, not women, when I walk down the street; that my dreams and fantasies are about guys, and that I have looked among guys for my special companion. Many of my closest friends are women—indeed, because they know I am gay, this removes a barrier—we can be more relaxed with one another. Many gay men share an artistic spirit, which fits my deep love for classical music, my wish to perform. But there is also enormous diversity among gay males. Just as heterosexuals are very diverse, the same is true among us. Indeed, we enjoy expressing our individuality. Not every gay man loves classical music, or seeks a monogamous relationship, or is religious (though statistics show that gay men are on the average more religious than straight men in spite of the oppression that many of us have received at the hands of our churches and religious bodies. Somehow the spiritual side remains, the link to God, and that to me seems related to the fact that we are often artistic, or musicians, or actors.)
Because gays are so diverse, it is inevitable that the gay community in a huge city like NYC is also diverse. I do not feel the need to live in a gay ghetto like Chelsea, and I never go to bars or clubs. I have a friendship network, and have always chosen to spend most of my time with my partner. I am strongly committed to pursuing full civil rights and equality for all LGBTQ people. I have a strong sense of identity as a gay person, and a wish to help gay people. I have a 5-bedroom house in Queens, with a grand piano and an organ in the living room, and over the years Scott and I gathered other needy gay musicians to be part of our “family” here, where the rent charged fits their ability to pay. This is one important way in which I express my gay identity and help to create community.
What advice would I give to my younger self? To think of churches as human organizations, products of their social environments in some past time, slow to change and most certainly not right about everything. Also that society, Congress, the Supreme Court, lag similarly. When I was young churches really ignored the gay topic—my sense of my sexual orientation being a problem was created by a silent society and church—a silence that led me to put 2 + 2 together in a particular way. I needed to be told that it was natural and good to be gay, to be encouraged to bring gay friends to church, to be openly gay in my choirs and classes, to see examples of how to be a gay couple, to be much more accepting of the way God made me from the beginning.”
Ken, in his own words: “Right off the bat I would like to apologize. I am a terrible human being, but I’ve made my peace with that and I’m learning to love myself as-is. If you suppress needs long enough they sublimate and break free, and once that dam has cracked it doesn’t hold for very long. I was homeschooled for 19 years and I was the son of a part-time fundamentalist preacher. Both of my parents are frighteningly bright and I always thought of myself as some kind of wunderkind (not that uncommon in the homeschooled community). Thanks to this set of initial circumstances, I have always had ludicrously high standards for my own behavior, expecting perfection in more or less everything that I do. This need for perfection has interacted with my spectacular laziness and paradoxically been the cause of some of my most deviant behavior. I fall short of perfection, so I give up. I have often hated myself — and I would like to point out to certain naysayers that it is entirely possible to hate yourself. My former pastor claimed that self-hatred was impossible. People don’t hate themselves, they’re just disappointed. If they really hated themselves they would be glad to see themselves being miserable. Well, I have been glad at times to see myself miserable, and to be the cause of that misery. This is not a cry for attention, it’s just me being realistic about portions of my character that I don’t care to hide anymore. I am learning, slowly but surely, how to love myself right down to my scars. In order to start that transformation though, I had to accept the fact that I really, truly did hate myself, and wasn’t just an all-in-one dom/sub.
Over the years my answer to the question “what does being gay mean” has changed a lot. At first I would have said “not much more than being gay would mean to a gay giraffe,” but lately I’ve realized that it does make my life somewhat different from the lives of others. I find that I sometimes feel like an outsider looking in at the rest of society. It’s a little bit alarming to know that no matter what I write I will always be the gay writer, not the white one or the tall one or the blonde one. It’s one of the first things people mention about me. I’m the gay best friend, the gay coworker, the gay gateway into the gay world. There is a real subculture, although it’s not as separated from the rest of the world as it once was, and I have sometimes acted as a doorway between the two cultures.
It comes with its own bag of problems, too. I’ve met a fair number of other people in the community and the shockingly common trends of depression, suicidal ideations, cutting, rocky romances, and daddy issues (poor parental relationships) have made me ask the chicken and egg question a few times. Does being gay come from being fucked up, or does it contribute to it? In my own life the answer has more often been the second than the first, but there have been moments when I’ve wondered. I think a part of the problem for me has been the lack of dreams. A little straight boy can look ahead and dream (unhealthily, perhaps) of his princess and his 2.5 children and steady job. It’s not much of a dream, but it’s more than a gay person has. It’s only in the last two decades that we have had even the chance of gay marriage, and our community is still figuring out what that kind of marriage can mean and look like.
What little of the gay community I have actually seen in Portland seems to be much like the gay community everywhere else that I’ve lived. It’s small, politically active, and more than a little bit dramatic. It’s also much more intersectional and culturally/racially/ethnically diverse than any other gay community I’ve been a part of. To be fair, thanks to my sexual appetites I don’t usually spend a lot of time dealing with the whiter side of the gay community here, so I can’t speak to it.
I have also noticed that the idea of an in-the-closet gay doesn’t seem to exist as much here. Most of the gay men I have encountered have been openly gay even in their work environment. In the past there were coworkers of mine that I never came out to for fear of the potential reactions. Here in Portland that hasn’t been an issue for me.
I don’t know if this is something that other gay men will relate to or not, but there are, to my mind, two prototypical members of the gay community. The first has or contributes to what Republicans would call the “gay agenda” — they are political, proactive, and intentionally pushing for legal or social change. These are the ones that attend meetings and do the non-sexy things like voting and being on committees. The second type, (and I swing between the two without any real consistency, I’ll be the first to admit that) is the type that joins committees to get laid. They often have a lone wolf aspect, some sexy emotional scars or sexy self-destructive tendencies/habits, and they often seem to have more beauty than they know what to do with. They will fixate on a particular physical type that they want to have sex with, whether that’s a race or a body ideal, and pursue people based primarily on this physical attraction. They hold marriage as some kind of potential down the line but they don’t really see themselves staying with anyone long enough to make that work. It is the latter prototype, incidentally, which I find has the highest rate of emotional damage and self-loathing. Perhaps I’m projecting something of myself and my perceptions aren’t something that others will share, but I’m just trying to describe what I see. I think that a little piece of this might come from the fact that at the end of the day we are still “men” (I’m speaking strictly of the gay male cisgender community here, I can’t speak to the experience of anything else). Men don’t have emotions, right? Men don’t have feelings. Men don’t get fucked up. Men can’t open up or have real connections. That would be too… gay.
I’ll keep (my coming out story) as short and clear as I can.
On the night that I chose to come out to my parents, I had a female friend over (Monica Hay, if you’re reading this, thank you for that night. I’m glad I didn’t end up needing you but the emotional support was much appreciated.) and I had a bag packed. I had already anticipated everything that my parents might say, (so I thought) and what possessions of mine they had a right to take in an attempt to keep me from leaving. I assumed off the bat that they would take the car keys and my cell phone. My plan was to walk to the nearest public institution with a phone — a hotel over a mile and a half away, I lived in a rural area — and call my grandparents. I had a slip of paper in my wallet with all the phone numbers I was most likely to need: my grandparents, my younger brother, my current lover, a few close friends. It’s been almost four years and I still have that slip of paper in my wallet. My parents didn’t kick me out (which was a hell of a shock, frankly).
Saying the words “I’m gay” to my mother remains one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The willpower required to just open my mouth and move my lips and vibrate my vocal cords and make the noises was almost more than I knew how to muster. But I did it, and she immediately said the most unhelpful thing she could have at the time: “No you’re not.” So I had to prove that I was, which wasn’t difficult. I had denied even to myself the way that I was for years at that point. It wasn’t until I fell in love for the first time and it blew all the petty infatuations of my youth completely out of the water that I realized yes, I really was gay. I could not fall in love with a woman, but I could with a man.
Incidentally that falling in love was what first made me question my religious convictions. It wasn’t the sex, because there’s a lot to sex that can sometimes feel wrong, but falling in love never feels wrong.
After I had her sufficiently convinced, my father came out onto the balcony to join us, and I had to repeat the words. My relationship with my father has always been almost stereotypically not-great, but his respect was always something I craved. He didn’t even respond, he just sat there. I explained to the both of them that I had fallen in love, and that it was the love and not the sex that had made me realize that I really was wired that way. Then, like a coward, I told them that I had not yet decided what I was going to do with this personal revelation. My mother suggested permanent celibacy as an option. We talked about other things. I said, “I haven’t made a choice yet.” My dad said “It’s not a choice.”
At the time, I didn’t understand what he meant. It wasn’t until much later that I realized my father has actually worked closely with a gay man for years at this point, and that this man is one of his closest work friends. My father and I didn’t have a real conversation for almost a year after that, but I’m still not sure whose fault that was. I learned to disappear and be as absent from family life as possible, and as a consequence I wasn’t there as my siblings were developing into interesting people. When I finally came out to my grandparents, just last year, they told me they had known since I was a child, and that they loved me all the same. Both my sisters guessed, the one by being perceptive and the other by reading my diary and finding an entry about someone I was madly in love with at the time. When I told my brother, he came out of his own closet to me and revealed that he was an agnostic. When I came out to my other two brothers… well, let’s just say I wasn’t as tactful about it as I had meant to be. That’s a more personal story than I would like to get into, but it was pretty funny at the time.
(What advice would you give your younger self?)
Oh boy. The big one. Jesus, I don’t know. Maybe something along the lines of “don’t take life so goddamn seriously. It’s ok to fuck up. It’s ok to not be perfect, and it’s hurtful and wrong to try. Try to think of other human beings as actual human beings just like you. Nobody wakes up in the morning intending to be irrational, and everyone’s actions make sense to them. Sometimes the largest part of empathy is being able to understand why someone’s actions or beliefs seem rational to them. You’re never going to be able to change another person with words or fists or music or love or anything else, a person has to change themselves. Don’t waste time loving people who can’t or won’t love themselves — they can’t love you back. Cheating and being cheated on are among the most emotionally damaging experiences, but everything that we are is a phoenix birth out of ashes. We are made of exploded stars. Look it up, it’s true. Even the deepest emotional and physical traumas can be recovered from, learned from, healed from. No, you can’t be the same person again, that person is dead and so is the future they dreamed for themselves. But now you’re alive, because that person died. Religion is a crock of shit. Dig for evidence and logic and you’ll see. That’s not to say that the universe isn’t full of wonder or mystery or awe, because it is. It is full of all of those things. But the truth should always trump a pretty lie, no matter how much we might want to believe that lie, no matter how much sense that lie might make or how many questions it might answer. Don’t settle for less, either in love or in truth.
Lamar, in his own words:“Being gay doesn’t mean much of anything to me, other than the fact that I date men. I think the most important thing about being gay is to be aware of what people may think of you. When I introduce myself to people for the first time, I give them everything without announcing my sexuality, because I believe it’s irrelevant at that point. This is why I’m often assumed straight – because I don’t lay out that one label setting up a list of presumptions about me. I am no different from the straight guy next to me, and I find it incredibly rewarding when I realize I’ve shut down someone’s assumptions about gay people based off stereotypes. Nobody is one-dimensional, and that’s another reason why this project is so awesome. It’s showing the world that gay men come in infinite forms.
I face a challenge dealing with my sexuality quite often, whether it’s at work or socially. The biggest challenges I’ve had all come from the pressure of my family’s harshly negative beliefs about homosexuality. I think my family’s beliefs created 10 times more pressure on me than society’s pressure overall. Homosexuality in the black community is strongly unacceptable, it seems to me like they view it more as a cultural deviance than religious. I was told that homosexuality is “wrong”, “a sickness’, and a “mental disorder”. My family made it very clear – through jokes and serious talk – that anyone who identified as or “behaved” gay was to be unaccepted, disowned. With that knowledge, and having never met a gay person, my biggest fear was to indeed be gay. I honestly thought it was the worst thing anyone could be. Overcoming this challenge took going away to college, breaking away from my family for a while, and learning the truth about human sexuality.
Granted, I haven’t been a New Yorker for very long, but I have a pretty good understanding of the gay community here. One thing is for sure, the gay community here today is not what it was in the 80s or 90s. New York City is known to be a gay capital, so being gay in a city like this is, without a doubt, easier than being gay elsewhere. As the growing acceptance of New York City as a gay territory continues, more gay communities are forming to create not only one gay community, but many. New York City in particular houses gay sub-cultures drawn on commonalities of things other than sexuality like “gaymers”, “people of color”, “hipsters”, “Chelsea gays”, etc. This, in one way, makes being gay in New York seem way easier as there are more forms of expression existent. On the other hand, the sense of “community” here has been broken to very small alliances – and with smartphone apps and social media – there isn’t much need to go out and build queer communities, as more inclusive communities have been set.
I actually don’t have a coming-out story. I had kept my sexuality to myself for a long time until finally publicly dating guys. I’m lucky enough to have friends who required no explanation at all and continued to accept me after learning about my sexuality. They probably always knew, or had an idea, because I tried to hide it. Oftentimes, the things that people try to hide are the most obvious to see.
If I could give myself advice before coming out, I would say, simply “everything will be okay” and that “being hated for who you truly are is far better than being loved for who you’re pretending to be”.
I’ve been hearing a lot about refugees lately. Having been born in a refugee camp for Vietnamese boat people myself, I wanted to share this essay I wrote six years ago, in application for a college scholarship.
originally written in August 2009
“One night in 1981 my mom got in a fishing boat. It was rickety I’m sure. I imagine the wood was rotting, the paint was flaking, patterns were left as the coating began to peel, and chip, and crack. The swelter of the South East Asian heat. By any standards, not a safe vessel. It had a motor, but definitely not anything any rational minded person would feel safe using for a voyage across the South China Sea. But, funny thing, when you’ve spent the day hiding in tall grasses, waiting for the night, the dark, about to flee a country–a life, the only life you’ve ever known–rationality tends to be trumped by fear, fear by desperation, and desperation by the only way to make it through it all–hope. So my mom, with two young daughters and pregnant with me, got in that fishing boat with a couple dozen other refugees and headed out into the water. Headed out towards that hope.
That’s the story of my mother. The night she fled Vietnam. Not too long after my own story would begin—born in a refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a small four walled wooden structure my first home. I would live in that refugee camp for eight months, before spending a childhood growing up amongst the mud puddles and fir trees of Oregon, and then a young adulthood exploring zip codes outside 97236.
Having been fortunate enough to have been raised in this country, for almost my entire life, it’s easy for me to mistake my circumstance as something that just is–something that just happened, not meriting much recognition because it has just been a given that I really do believe I can accomplish anything I want in life.
But nothing just is. My life–the opportunities I have been given–every door that has been opened for me and every window cracked, are things that have been fought for. It’s all a testament to my mother, a woman who went through so much just to get me to this country, to give me opportunities, to save me from the desperation and fear she felt in a life she once had.
And because of that my goal is simple. I want to make her proud. Yes, I have specific goals. I want to move to New York, I want to go to a fine art school. I want to be a writer. I want to be a photographer. I want to find and share stories like that of my mother. I want to fight for my right to marry. But ultimately what motivates me, is the conscious acknowledgement of every opportunity that has been given to me, not just by my mother, but by everyone in my life who has ever contributed in some way to the person I’ve become. I’ve made a commitment to make good on all the fortunes I’ve been given and do my best to not just to take, but to give as well. Because I know that to do otherwise would in many ways be a spit in the face of everyone who’s ever took the effort to love, care, and support me in the hopes of what can be.
And there have been many who have taken the effort to love, care, and support me in the hopes of what I can be.”
Lionel, in his own words:“Je suis né dans une région rurale du centre de la France. Mon premier contact avec l’homosexualité s’est fait par le biais de mes camarades de classe du primaire qui me traitaient de fille manquée, de femmelette ou de tapette à la récré. Mon comportement devait trahir une identité dont je n’avais pas du tout conscience. C’est vers mes 9 ans, lorsque je suis tombé amoureux du garçon qui flirtait avec ma meilleure copine de classe que j’ai commencé à trouver cela étrange et anormal.
A la vérité de cette évidence, j’ai commencé à être conscient de ma propre homosexualité et de l’homophobie latente et omniprésente de mon environnement familial et géographique. J’ai alors très mal vécu le fait d’être homosexuel, imaginant ma vie comme une destinée de malheur et de solitude assurée.
Les années collège ont été très violentes car la construction de ma propre identité était totalement centrée sur cette différence qui me pesait énormément et qui me mettait en décalage total avec mes camarades. J’étais très triste et je me sentais particulièrement seul. La musique et le cinéma sont alors devenus des refuges particulièrement apaisants. Des artistes comme Mylène Farmer, les Pet Shop Boys, Kylie Minogue ou Madonna exprimaient la force d’être différent. Les films « Philadelphia » et « Beautiful Thing » furent les déclencheurs d’une certaine forme d’acceptation de moi-même et de mon homosexualité.
Après le bac, j’ai pu expérimenter l’émancipation du foyer familial pendant quelques mois à Poitiers. Ils ont été révélateurs de mon envie d’exil et de la certitude qu’être diplômé serait la clé de mon indépendance. C’est pendant ces années étudiantes que j’ai fait mon premier coming-out auprès d’un de mes amis. C’était en 1997. Ce fut une libération incroyable, mon ami m’acceptant totalement tel que j’étais. Il était donc possible de vivre réellement homosexuel et en harmonie avec les autres.
L’année suivante, en 1998, c’est auprès de ma sœur que je fis mon coming-out. Nous sommes très proches et nous nous étions rendus à Paris pour assister au concert de Whitney Houston dont ma sœur était particulièrement admiratrice. Ce jour-là, dans la file d’attente, nous avions attendu et discuté tout l’après-midi avec un couple d’homosexuels. Dès le lendemain, de retour à la maison, je lui avais tendu le magazine « Têtu » que j’avais pris l’habitude de lire depuis un an pour m’informer sur la culture homosexuelle. Elle fut soulagée de cette annonce envisagée et notre rapport s’en trouva renforcé.
Lors de ma formation en masso-kinésithérapie, je fis mon coming-out assez rapidement auprès de certains de mes camarades de classe. Tous l’acceptèrent sans problèmes même si certains n’avaient jamais été confrontés à l’homosexualité. Assumer son homosexualité est un geste et un choix militant très important car il permet à l’autre de se confronter à ses propres peurs ou ignorance et d’en discuter si besoin.
L’étape suivante fut celle de le dire à mes parents. C’est la plus dure et la plus stressante. La peur du rejet est très réelle. Cette étape, que j’aimerais que chaque homosexuel puisse faire, est une différence profonde avec les hétérosexuels qui n’ont pas à s’inventer une vie, masquer ou fuir une réalité de façon aussi permanente. C’est terriblement éprouvant d’être dans le contrôle de soi et de son identité face aux autres alors que le conflit intérieur est si grand. Mes parents l’ont très bien acceptée. Ils m’ont toujours soutenu et défendu. Ils ont perdu la plupart de leurs amis à cause de cela. Les plus fidèles, intelligents et humains sont restés. Je trouve cela très dur pour notre entourage qui n’a pas choisi cette différence de se retrouver confronté à la bêtise humaine. D’un autre côté, cela permet de faire tomber les masques et de révéler la vraie nature des liens qui unissent les gens.
Dès 1997, j’ai pu rendre régulièrement visite à une amie originaire de la même ville natale que moi et qui s’était installée à Paris. J’y ai découvert le Marais, la communauté homosexuelle. D’un seul coup, j’ai pris réellement conscience que je n’étais pas seul. Accepter son homosexualité est une chose, envisager de la vivre de façon heureuse en est une autre. J’ai alors côtoyé des garçons et des filles tous ouvertement gays et lesbiens, c’était une bouffée d’oxygène incroyable pour moi et une source de joie très positive aussi.
En 2001, mon diplôme de kiné en poche, je me suis donc installé à Paris. Quelques jours après mon arrivée, j’ai rencontré un garçon avec qui j’ai vécu ma première histoire d’amour qui aura duré 6 ans. Nous nous étions pacsés et avions célébré cette union comme un mariage avec famille et amis dans la salle des mariages du IIIème arrondissement : quelle chose incroyable pour moi ! Ça reste un souvenir très fort.
Aujourd’hui, je ne suis plus en couple avec lui. Après une seconde relation, passionnelle et destructrice, j’ai retrouvé mon équilibre amoureux avec Jean. Nous nous sommes rencontrés en novembre 2013. Il m’apporte beaucoup d’amour et de sérénité alors que je ne pensais plus pouvoir y goûter. Notre relation est profonde, sincère et partagée.
Je suis profondément heureux de mon parcours. Etre homosexuel n’est pas une fatalité aujourd’hui en France. Et ce, malgré le regain d’homophobie assumée, lié au projet de loi de mariage homosexuel qui a fini par être voté en 2013 après des mois de manifestations haineuses et homophobes. Je mesure ma chance d’être dans un pays comme celui-ci. J’aurai pu naître ailleurs et être pendu pour ce que je suis. C’est une phrase terrible à écrire mais une réalité dans certains pays. Etre homosexuel m’a sûrement amené à grandir plus vite, à prendre conscience de la brutalité du monde. Avec le recul et l’expérience, je crois qu’être homosexuel a été une véritable chance pour moi. Cela a fortement construit ma personnalité. Si j’avais le choix, je ne souhaiterais pas changer mon orientation sexuelle. Elle m’a poussé à être un être humain beaucoup plus ouvert et conscient des autres.
Participer à ce projet est un vrai bonheur car Kevin cherche à montrer une réalité qui fait sens pour moi : l’homosexualité ne se conjugue pas d’une seule façon. C’est une différence comme il en existe tant d’autres. Alors même si elle ancre en nous tous des expériences communes, chaque homosexuel est d’abord un être humain à part entière, riche de ses multiples différences et expériences.”
“I was born in a rural area of central France. My first contact with homosexuality was made through my primary school classmates who called me missed daughter of sissy fagot or at recess. My behavior was to betray an identity that I had no conscience of at all. It was around 9 years old when I fell in love with the boy who was flirting with my best classmate that I began to find it strange and abnormal.
The truth of this evidence, I began to be aware of my own latent homosexuality and homophobia and ubiquitous my family and geographical environment. I then felt very badly being homosexual, imagining my life as a destiny of misfortune and ensured solitude.
The college years were very violent because the construction of my own identity was totally focused on this difference that weighed on me enormously and that put me out of step with my classmates. I was very sad and I felt particularly alone. Music and cinema then became particularly soothing shelters. Artists like Mylène Farmer, the Pet Shop Boys, Kylie Minogue and Madonna expressing the strength to be different. Movies “Philadelphia” and a “Beautiful Thing” triggered some form of acceptance of myself and of my homosexuality.
After high school, I was able to experience the emancipation from the family home for a few months in Poitiers. This was indicative of my desire of exile and the certainty that being a graduate would be the key to my independence. It was during these student years that I made my first coming out with one of my friends. That was in 1997. It was an incredible release, my friend totally accepting me as I was. It was therefore possible to actually live as a homosexual and in harmony with others.
The following year, in 1998, with my sister I made my coming-out. We are very close and we had gone to Paris to attend the concert of Whitney Houston, who my sister was a particular admirer. That day, in the queue, we waited and discussed all afternoon with a gay couple. The next day, back at home, I handed her the “stubborn” magazine that I had taken the habit of reading for a year to inform me about the homosexual culture. She was relieved of the proposed announcement and our rapport was given a boost.
During my training in physiotherapy, I had my coming-out rather quickly with some of my classmates. All accepted it without problems even though some had never been confronted with homosexuality. Assuming one’s homosexuality is a gesture and an important militant choice because it allows others to confront his own fears and ignorance and discuss if necessary.
The next step was the one to tell my parents. This is the hardest and most stressful. Fear of rejection is very real. This stage, as is the case for every homosexual, is a profound difference to heterosexuals who do not have to invent a life, hide or escape from a reality as permanently. It’s terribly stressful to be in self-control and identity against the other while the inner conflict is so great. My parents were very well accepting. They have always supported me and defended me. They lost most of their friends because of it. Loyal, intelligent and humane stayed. I find it very hard for those around us who have not chosen this difference to be faced with human stupidity. On the other hand, it allows one to take off the masks and reveal the true nature of the links between people.
In 1997 I was able to regularly visit a friend from the same hometown as me and who had settled in Paris. I discovered the Marais, the gay community. Suddenly, I actually realized that I was not alone. Accepting one’s homosexuality is one thing, consider a life happily lived is another. I then rubbed with the boys and girls whom were all openly gay and lesbians, it was an incredible breath of fresh air for me and a source of joy as very positive.
In 2001, I earned my physio degree, so I’ve moved to Paris. A few days after my arrival, I met a guy I had my first love story with that lasted 6 years. We had PACS and had celebrated this union as a marriage with family and friends in the third arrondissement marriages room: what an incredible thing for me! It’s still a very strong memory.
Today I am no longer in a relationship with him. After a second relationship, passionate and destructive, I found my balance in love with Jean. We met in November 2013. He brings me a lot of love and serenity while I thought being able to taste it. Our relationship is deep, sincere and shared.
I am very happy with my career. Being gay is not a fatality in France today. Despite the resurgence of homophobia assumed, linked to the gay marriage bill that was finally passed in 2013 after months of hateful and homophobic manifestations. I measure my chance to be in a country like this. Had I been born elsewhere I could be hanged for who I am. This is a terrible sentence to write but a reality in some countries. Being gay surely forced me to grow faster and become aware of the brutality of the world. With hindsight and experience, I believe that being gay was a real opportunity for me. This strongly built my personality. If I had the choice, I would not change my sexual orientation. It pushed me to be a much more open and aware human being of others.
Participating in this project is a joy because Kevin tries to show a reality that makes sense to me: homosexuality is not experienced in one way. There is a difference as there are many. Even if we anchor all common experiences every homosexual is first a human being full, rich in multiple differences and experiences.”
Jean, in his own words:“Being gay actually means nothing to me. I never realized I was gay. I realized I was not straight. Being attracted to guys has never been an issue for me. Since I was a child, I always imagined myself falling for the hero, not the heroin. The word “gay” itself only has a meaning today, for our generation, because people are still defined by their sexual orientation. The most commonly accepted orientation being heterosexuality, being gay is still an issue, a pride, a taboo, a reason to love, hate, kill or fight for. If, as I hope, this criteria fades in the future in the way we define ourselves, the words “gay” and “straight” will be outdated.
My coming out was not made to come out as a gay person. It was made to come out in the sense of extract myself. My social surrounding was conservative, religious, wealthy and traditional. Realizing I did not fit the expectations linked to my gender (date girls, be a competitor, practice sports, etc) did not scare me. I was scared by the fact that what was expected from me was the opposite of what I wanted for myself. When I am scared I attack (nothing scares me more than the idea of running away, hearing a predator just after me…)
So my coming out was made as an attack, sudden and sharp. Everybody I knew even from sight including my parents of course were aware of it in a flash. I was sixteen and the word spread extremely quickly. One day I was the shy and lonely boy, the next I was the gay guy who assumed it. It actually made me very popular with many people (mostly girls actually), which was totally unexpected. Those who had a problem with it never expressed it. They were so hard trying to fit in any way possible, than this way of dealing with that subject broke all their codes. They were harmless and I was free.
The gay community in Paris is very sinister and dull. The Marais is probably the shallowest place I’ve ever been to. There are no political or intellectual issues. It is all about appearance, money and cruising. All the interesting and alternative places are shut down to be replaced by tacky and luxurious bars and shops. I am really sad to say that the stupidest things I heard live in my whole life were heard in the Marais. This place is like a bubble protected from any trouble common people face anywhere else. If you are poor, old, ugly, sad, lost (several choices possible) then you are out. If you are able to hide your problems, or if one of these problems is balanced by a quality (poor and lost but cute/ugly and dull but wealthy) you can manage your way through the maze. This description is very sharp and of course it is possible to meet beautiful persons in the Marais, but there is undeniably a thick sadness stuck to this place. Anyway being a Parisian since I was born, I am glad the Marais exists, as a place I can feel totally light with my boyfriend, but I never stay long.
The thing I would teach myself as a younger self would be not to mix erection with affection. It’s taken me a long while to understand this, and I went through a lot of pain.
Going through the Gay men project is a very rich experience. All those very different points of view, all these intimate confidences are very enlightening over others and oneself. Some persons go through very hard times accepting their homosexuality, and their first fight is against themselves. I don’t know how I would have dealt with this issue, but I have deep respect for those who made this journey. After a while reading those stories and watching these very sensitive and intimate pictures, I feel very ignorant and humble. This project helps me opening my eyes, mind and heart. Answering those questions is a very hard task (this is why it took me so long to send the answers).
Kevin, when you came to our place to take the pictures, I had no precise idea of what this project really meant. I had just had a quick look over it, mostly over pictures. We had a very pleasant time with you, talking and posing. You left quite suddenly and I watched you going away from the fifth floor window. When I saw you walking fast in the street, I’ve had the feeling you were lost in yourself. I could not explain why. Maybe the way you moved, in a very intense and restrained way. If felt as if you were both running away and rushing at something you knew nothing of. This made me have a real look at the project. It took me a very long time to read all those stories. And then I discovered the “A personal diary” section. I realized this very strong feeling I’d had about you, watching you from the window was right. What you do is amazing Kevin, and this journey will lead you to yourself, no doubt about it. Your expectations are probably way smaller than what you will actually get from this experience. You do not travel alone, but you take us all with you, the persons who participate to the project, but also those who read it online. This is huge from a man seeking the sense of life. Thank you for that Kevin.”
Jérémie, in his own words:Qu’est-ce qu’être gay signifie pour toi?
Cela ne signifie rien en particulier. Eric et moi nous nous considérons d’abord comme des êtres humains, des citoyens, des personnes engagées dans la société avant de nous considérer comme gay. En Europe, et en particulier dans des pays comme la Belgique, il n’y a pas ou peu de stigmatisation vis à vis de l’orientation sexuelle, du coup, on est libre d’être ce que l’on est. Nous ne ressentons plus le fait d’être français en Belgique que d’être gay parmi les hétéros ! En revanche, nous avons bien conscience que cela n’a pas été toujours le cas. Du coup, si être gay devait signifier quelque chose, ce serait à travers les combats qu’il a fallu mener pour dépénaliser l’homosexualité et acquérir l’égalité ! Ce combat n’est pas gagné, on l’a bien vu avec les manifestations contre le mariage gay en France. On le voit dans certains pays où les gays sont pourchassés et parfois mis à mort. Nous avons conscience du chemin qu’il a fallu parcourir et nous avons également conscience de l’effort quotidien qu’il faut pour maintenir nos droits.
À quels challenges as-tu dû faire face en tant que gay ?
Les challenges sont surtout présents et paraissent difficiles à surmonter quand on est jeune et quand on découvre son homosexualité. Il y a toujours le sentiment d’être différent d’où nait un sentiment de honte et d’incompréhension. Il faut savoir s’accepter comme l’on est pour aller de l’avant. Mais, avec l’expérience et l’âge, qu’on soit gay, gros, moche, trop grand, trop petit, roux, frisés ou que sais-je, on doit s’accepter comme on est. C’est un chemin difficile et parfois long… parfois plus long quand on est gay ; tout dépend du milieu dans lequel on grandit.
Personnellement, j’ai mis longtemps à “vivre” mon homosexualité car le me sentais coupable vis à vis de mes parents et de mes proches. J’ai parfois entendu des remarques homophobes à la maison… ça ne m’incitait pas faire mon coming-out. Puis, avec le temps, on relativise et on prend de l’assurance. Plus récemment, le plus gros challenge en tant que gay a été d’être papa… C’est un parcours difficile et long. Non pas sur le plan matériel, mais sur le plan de la vie et de la relation avec son partenaire. Nous avons beaucoup discuté avec Eric sur nos envies, nos désirs, notre futur, notre conception commune de la famille, etc… Puis finalement, avec le recul, ces challenges là, ce n’est que la Vie !
Quelle est l’histoire de ton coming-out ?
Mon coming-out a eu lieux en plusieurs étapes…. Tout d’abord, quand j’ai commencé à vivre sur Paris, je me suis rapidement fait des amis gays et j’ai commencé à aller dans des bars et fréquenter les quartiers gays. Socialement, j’étais de plus en plus ouvert et cela me convenait parfaitement. Puis, tout naturellement, je ne me suis plus caché vis à vis des collègues de bureaux, mes amis d’enfances, etc… Le problème c’était ma famille ! J’ai commencé à le dire à mon frère lors d’une discussion anodine. Ce n’était pas planifié, mais c’est sortie tout seul. S’en est suivie de longues années où j’ai beaucoup voyagé, déménagé, vécu des histoires de couples. J’étais parfaitement bien dans mes basquets partout et avec tout le monde, sauf avec mes parents. La situation était ridicule et surtout intenable. À un moment, c’était tellement absurde que j’ai pris mon courage à deux mains, je n’avais plus rien à perdre, et j’ai tout dis à mes parents. Finalement, tout c’est très bien passé. Nous en avons discuté plusieurs fois ensemble et maintenant, ça me parait idiot d’avoir attendu tout ce temps.
À quoi ressemble la communauté gay à Brussels à tes yeux ?
Nous ne fréquentons plus trop les lieux gays. De temps à autre on sort… mais beaucoup moins qu’avant. Du coup, nous sommes assez mal placés pour décrire parfaitement la communauté ! D’une manière générale, la communauté est paisible et surtout très diverse et bien intégrée. Il y a d’un côté les bruxellois qui sont nés ou installés sur Bruxelles depuis des années, il y a les étudiants ou les jeunes professionnels, toute la communauté des expatriés, des diplomates et fonctionnaires européens, etc. C’est une sorte de melting-pot. Parfois cela se mélange et parfois moins. Bruxelles est une ville très cosmopolite. Nous pensons que la communauté est à son image. Cependant, les gens sont en général ouverts, sympathiques et faciles d’accès. Les associations présentes ici semblent actives et font un excellent travail dans tous les domaines.
Quel conseil donneriez-vous à votre double plus jeune?
N’est pas peur et profite de ta jeunesse !
Comment le fait d’être devenu père a changé ta vie?
Personnellement, ça change beaucoup, beaucoup de choses. La paternité amène tellement de bonheur mais bouleverse totalement le rythme de vie. J’ai pris beaucoup de recul au niveau du travail (pour le bébé, mais pas que ça) et j’ai décidé de prendre plus de temps libre pour m’occuper du petit. Ensuite il faut gérer le rythme de vie, le sommeil et toutes les tâches domestiques. Enfin, l’arrivée d’un bébé bouleverse la vie de couple. Même si nous en avions beaucoup parlé avec Eric, vivre l’arrivée d’un bébé est tout autre chose ! Mais finalement, en discutant avec d’autres parents… c’est exactement pareil partout ! Côté social, nos amis sont tous très heureux pour nous, même si c’est un peu plus difficile d’organiser un apéro en fin de soirée…”
“(Being gay) does not mean anything in particular. Eric and I consider ourselves first as human beings, citizens, people involved in society, before we consider ourselves as gay. In Europe, and particularly in countries like Belgium, there is little or no stigma against sexual orientation, it is free to be what it is. We feel more being French in Belgium than being gay in a straight world! However, we are aware of the fact that this was not always the case. Consequently, whether being gay meant something, this would be through the battles that were needed in order to decriminalise homosexuality and acquire equality! This fight is not over, we just have to look at what happened with the protests against gay marriage in France. We see in certain countries where gay men and lesbians are murdered and tortured. We are aware of what had to be done and we are also aware of the daily effort to keep our rights.
The challenges are particularly present and seem difficult to overcome when you are young and you discover your own homosexuality. There is always a sense of being different from which accrues feelings of shame and incomprehension. Whether it should be accepted as it is to go ahead. But, with experience and age, being gay, large, ugly, too small or too large, red haired, curly haired or whatever, is we must accept things as there are. It is a long and sometimes difficult road… sometimes longer when being gay; Everything depends on the environment in which you come from.
It took me a while to happily “live” my homosexuality as I felt guilty towards myself, my parents and my relatives. I have sometimes heard homophobic remarks at home… that did not help me with my coming-out. Then, with time, we become more self-confident and see the world in a different angle. More recently, the biggest challenge was to become a dad… This is such a long and complex process. Not in practical terms but in terms of living style, having a stable relationship with the right partner. We have discussed a lot with Eric on our common wishes, desires, our future, our common understanding of the family, etc. And finally, with hindsight, these challenges are only those that everyone faces in real life!
My coming-out took place in several stages…. Firstly, when I started to live in Paris, I quickly made gay friends and I started to go out in bars and be part of the community. Socially, I was increasingly open and I was perfectly fine with that. Then, naturally, I became less and less hidden vis-à-vis my colleagues at work, old friends, etc. The problem was my family! I started to speak to my brother during a usual lunch we used to have every Saturday. This was not planned, but it went on the table naturally. Then came many years where I have travelled a lot, moved, lived love-and-failed stories… I was perfectly balanced in my daily gay life, everywhere and with everyone, except with my parents. The situation was ridiculous and particularly untenable. At a time it was so absurd that I took my courage in both hands, I had nothing left to lose, I told my parents. Finally, it went very smoothly. We discussed it several times and now it seems stupid to me for having waited for all of that time.
We no longer go into the gay community, bars and districts. From time to time we are going out, mostly with friends… but much less than before. Consequently, we are fairly badly placed to describe fully the local community! In general, the community, here in Brussels, is peaceful and, above all, very diverse and well integrated. You can see, on one hand, people who were born or raised in Brussels, being there for years, then you have students or young professionals, the whole expat community, diplomats and officials from the European Institutions, etc. It is a kind of melting-pot. Sometimes, it is mixed and sometimes not. Brussels is a very cosmopolitan city. We think that the community is as its image. However, people are in general open, friendly and easily accessible. The associations represented here seem active and are doing an excellent job in all domains.
(Advice to my younger self) Don’t be afraid, live and enjoy your youth!
Personally speaking, (being a father) changes dramatically your life. Paternity brings so much happiness but completely disrupt the rhythm of life. I took a step down at working level because of the baby, in order to be more present and take more care of him and of myself. Then you need to manage the pace of your daily life, have some sleep and do all your domestic work. Finally, the arrival of a baby also overturns the couple’s living balance. Even though I lengthily talked about that with Eric, the arrival of a baby is anything else you previously have imagined! However, discussing with other parents… it is exactly as such everywhere! Our friends are all very glad for us, even if it is slightly more difficult to organise a dinner party or to go out for drinks in late evening…
Eric, in his own words:“À quels challenges as-tu dû faire face en tant que gay ?
Je dois avouer que je me considère comme un privilégié quant à mon homosexualité et ce qu’elle a pu impliquer dans ma vie jusqu’à présent. Je n’ai jamais ou quasi jamais été confronté à l’homophobie jusqu’à ces dernières années, ma famille et mes parents plus particulièrement sont des gens ouverts sur le monde et qui ont accepté mon homosexualité avant même que je fasse mon coming-out, je vis dans des pays où, comme le disait très justement Jérémie, les choses sont plutôt simples à ce niveau… Donc je n’ai pas eu de gros challenges. Évidemment, j’ai eu une période vers les 20 ans où j’ai dû admettre, après quelques échecs avec les filles, que j’étais homo, et ce cheminement m’a pris environ 2 ans. Le seul gros challenge a été, vers l’arrivée de ma trentaine, de me dire « tu es pédé, donc tu ne seras pas papa parce que les pédés ça fait pas des enfants ». Ça a été très long et douloureux pour moi d’admettre ça… pour finalement me rendre compte, suite à ma rencontre avec Jérémie, que je n’avais pas abandonné et que les choses sont parfaitement possibles. Et aujourd’hui, nous sommes papas et c’est génial.
Quelle est l’histoire de ton coming-out ?
Il a été long même si ma famille ne me posait pas de questions et que je me doutais bien que ma mère avait compris. Mais comme dit avant, admettre au grand jour mon homosexualité, c’était aussi envoyer à mes parents le message « vous ne serez pas grands-parents ». Alors pendant plusieurs années j’ai vécu cette double vie. Pendant 2 ans même j’ai vécu avec un mec et quand mes parents venaient me rendre visite, il devait sortir, cacher ses affaires. Lorsque nous avons rompu, je me suis dit que je ne pouvais plus continuer ainsi car c’était cruel autant pour moi que pour les autres. J’ai donc décidé de le dire à ma mère que j’ai invité à déjeuner. Je n’ai pas eu besoin de finir ma phrase qu’elle me disait déjà qu’elle savait depuis que j’étais petit et que, si au début c’était dur, aujourd’hui elle était parfaitement en harmonie avec cela et qu’elle était soulagée que je le lui dise enfin! Elle m’a poussé ensuite à le dire à mon père et un dimanche, au repas de famille, elle m’a balancé tout tranquillement « au fait, je l’ai dit à ton père puisque tu n’arrivais pas à te lancer ». J’ai failli tomber de ma chaise. Je suis donc allé voir mon père et avant que je dise quelque chose, il m’a pris dans ses bras. Et voilà, mon coming-out était fait.
Quel conseil donneriez-vous à votre double plus jeune?
Tu es ce que tu es, alors sois fier et avance!
Comment le fait d’être devenu père a changé ta vie?
Disons que c’est comme une explosion nucléaire dans ta vie. Tu as beau être préparé à ça, c’est incroyable le bouleversement que ça produit aussi bien dans ton quotidien, ton rythme de vie, que dans ce que tu peux ressentir intérieurement. J’ai le sentiment que toutes mes émotions sont décuplées, les joies comme les stresses ou les difficultés. Être père est le plus grand bonheur de ma vie, un bonheur qui se renouvelle dans chaque sourire de notre fils. Ça donne aussi un sens nouveau à la vie, une nouvelle façon de voir l’avenir mais aussi de relire le passé. J’ai l’impression que tout prend son sens finalement, que le passé prend un sens. Et si ça rend le futur plus flou parfois je trouve, ça le rend aussi plus optimiste, plein de vie, d’espoir, d’envies et de motivation. Devenir père m’a rendu encore plus humain au sens de « je fais partie de la communauté humaine avant de faire partie de la communauté gay ». Je suis fier d’être gay, mais je suis encore plus fier d’être papa et (futur) mari de Jérémie.”
“I must confess that I consider myself privileged with regard to my homosexuality and what it could have meant in my life so far. I have never or almost never been confronted with homophobia until recent years, my family and my parents in particular are open to the world and have accepted my homosexuality even before I made my coming-out. I lived in countries where, as Jeremie said previously, it’s fairly straightforward at this level… so I did not have major challenges. Of course, I had a period around my 20’s where I had to admit, after a few failures with girls, that I was gay, and this process took me about 2 years. The only major challenge has been the arrival of my 30’s, when I said to myself “you’re a fag, therefore you will never become dad because gays don’t have children!”. It was very long and painful for me to accept that… ultimately I realized, thanks to my relationship with Jeremie, that I had not abandoned this idea of being a father and that things are perfectly possible nowadays. And today we dads and that’s just great.
(Coming out) had been long, even though my family did not raise this issues and despite the fact I was thinking that my mother had understood. However, as said before by Jeremie, accepting yourself as gay was just to send a negative message to my parents: “you will never be grandparents!”. Then, I lived for several years this double life. For 2 years I lived with a guy and when my parents came to visit me, he had to leave, and get rid of his stuff and hide it. When we broke-up, I said to myself that I could no longer continue to live in such a way because it was as cruel for me than for my friends. I had therefore decided to speak to my mother and I had invited her for lunch. I did not need to finish my sentence, she told me that she was aware since I was little and, of course it was hard for her at the beginning, but now she was perfectly in harmony with it and she was relieved that I have finally come out! This encouraged me to speak to my father and on a Sunday family lunch, my mother just said ‘Oh, by the way, I told your father since you were not able to do so!” I was just close to fall out of my chair. Later on, I discussed with my father and before I was able to say something, he took me into his arms. And here was my coming-out.
(Advice to my younger self) You are what you are, then be proud and go ahead!
Let’s say that (being a father) is as a nuclear explosion in your life. You may be prepared for this, it is an incredible change in both your lives and what you can feel deeply. I feel that my emotions are increased tenfold, it is the same with my joys, my stresses or with my own difficulties. Being a father is the greatest happiness of my life, happiness to be boosted in each smile of our son. It also gives a new meaning to life, a new way to see the future but also to refer back to the past. I have the feeling that all happened to me, finally, makes a new sense. And when it makes the future more blurred sometimes I find it makes it also more optimistic, full of life, hope, desires and motivation. Becoming a father has made me even more human at the meaning of ‘I am part of the human community before being part of the gay community’. I am proud to be gay, but I am even more proud to be daddy and (future) husband of Jérémie.”