Derek, in his own words:“Being gay is only a part of yourself, you are made up of many beautiful things and are endlessly worth more than you think.
One major challenge I’ve had is reconciling my beliefs with my sexuality. I think everyone has contradicting aspects that make up who they are, it doesn’t mean that you’re messed up it just means that you’re an individual. You can find success in identifying with not just one part of yourself but by taking each piece and making it your own.
I’d like to feel like I was apart of (the gay community in Los Angeles) but I’ve heard it can become very cliquey and incestuous.
You can’t be friendly to someone at a bar without them thinking you want to get in their pants. Actually, you probably shouldn’t try to make friends at bars, everyone’s horny (unless…). You really just have to be confident, find your place and the people you want to surround yourself with, that’s when it becomes easy.
I knew I was gay ever since I was a little navy cardigan wearing Catholic schoolboy. I didn’t come out until my Junior year of high school, even though my parents had found a gay porn zine I had hidden when I was a Sophomore. My parents and family have become very accepting but at times their different views get the best of them, but that’s family.
(Advice I’d give my younger self). Age 13: Don’t hide your porn in your jacket pockets, you have siblings who like to borrow your clothes. Oops.
Age 16: Don’t worry about what other people think.
Age 18: Don’t be afraid to date and make mistakes, you’ll be fine.”
Bobby, in his own words:“Being gay means to me being myself. Being gay is just part of me as being straight is what’s part of straight people.
My biggest challenge and also success was my 6 month trip to South Africa. It was my first trip all by myself. It was both exciting and scary. I had the most amazing time there and met some amazing people, but I also learned a lot about myself.
My coming out story is a bit different than others’. I was dating this guy and I told some friends. In a week the entire school knew I was dating a 6 year older guy. So I didn’t really come out by choice.
To my parents on the other hand: I came out during a fight. I had a date with that guy, but didn’t tell my parents anything, so they were waiting for me for dinner. Once I finally came home they just started and (of course) they were angry at me. So we were arguing about stuff and I just blurted out that I was on a date with a guy.
The gay community (in Amsterdam) is quite small actually. I’m not talking about numbers, but it’s almost like everyone knows each other. A colleague once told me about this guy I dated a year before. He didn’t know the guy and I only told a few friends about that guy and somehow he knew about us. I’m always surprised if I don’t have mutual friends with guys. Sometimes I think it isn’t even possible anymore.
I think we can learn a lot from Cape Town if it comes to acceptance. Amsterdam is placed as a place where everything is accepted and yes of course we can’t complain. However, if I’d walk through Amsterdam holding hands with a guy, people will call names or look back (in my experience). In my first two months in Cape Town I’ve seen more guys holding hands on the streets than in one or maybe two years in Amsterdam. Plus nobody seemed to care. In Cape Town there’s (just as in Amsterdam) a lot of diversity. Different religions, origins and so on and people seem to have respect for one another in the form of minding their own business.”
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……”