Johnathan, in his own words: “Being gay means everything and nothing to me. My sexuality is important to me but doesn’t define me. I am a man who just so happens to like other men and it’s not that big of a deal.
My biggest challenge and success has been moving across the country by myself. Leaving my parents was hard, mostly for my father, but I had to for my own well being and growth. The City and State I was raised in became a hole of depression but the last three years spent in Oregon have been the best thing that’s happened. Every day I am creating a beautiful life.
(The gay community in Portland) has it’s pros and cons, and I appreciate it all the more because I was raised in a much smaller gay community. I’m happy to have the opportunity to freely connect with other gay men but it can be lonely.
It took me until college to come to labeling myself as homosexual. On the day before Father’s Day, at the age of eighteen, I came out to my parents. My father cried and my mother laughed. They both grew to understand and support my homosexuality like they had in all other aspects of my life.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without everything happening the way that it did. Any advice I could give (to my younger self) probably wouldn’t have been appreciated. I wish I would have started therapy sooner though.”
Flavio, in his own words:“Wow… tough one this first question…I guess that being gay means being normal, just like being straight. Of course that being gay in today’s world means that you are very likely to face a few challenges that, in theory, straight people wouldn’t face. But I truly don’t feel different just because I’m a man who likes men. I guess I used to feel different when I was younger, but, to be honest, looking back now, I actually believe that this feeling doesn’t necessarily have to do with being gay – I’m just a bit like a fish out of water in the way I behave, think, etc. Yes, being gay might have played a part in this as it meant feeling awkward when I was a kid/teenager but, truth be told, if it wasn’t for the bullying, the awkwardness probably would not have any sort of link with my sexual orientation.
On one hand, yes, being gay means that you are a part of a smaller group in today’s society and therefore it’d be naive to believe that people would treat you like they treat everyone else. Humans tend to respond to everything that is “different” in a very peculiar way (aggressive and negative at most times, unfortunately). But, on the other hand, I couldn’t think of a better time to “be gay” (if that makes sense). We’re not coming out as a group, we are out already. And we have a lot of respect from a lot of people, exactly because they recognize what a battle we had to go through to stand where we are. If we still have a lot to “conquer” in terms of respect, understanding and civil rights? Hell yeah. I speak as a Brazilian gay who comes from a very open minded family. But I know it’s a completely different story in other places, even in my country. But then I’m just being as positive as I can: I’m looking to the glass and I’m thinking it is half full, and not half empty. It will take ages for society to make it a full glass and for everyone to truly accept that not every man desires a woman, but I remember when my generation (at least in Brasil) came out when we were teenagers and what a nightmare that was generally. I have friends that really went through a living hell in their parents’ houses. And I’m not saying that nowadays is an easy thing to do, but we progressed so, so much. 10-15 years ago it was a completely different story.
In terms of challenges, I’m happy to say that the only big “problem” I had for being gay was the fact that I was quite bullied at school. And what an irony: I didn’t even know that I was gay. Kids can be horrible… But a lot of children go through bullying and of course it’s not always because they’re gay. So maybe I would have suffered from this situation anyway, even If I wasn’t a homossexual. I like to believe that I did quite well for someone who really had a disgusting experience at school for such a long period of time (I remember being called nasty things even after high school). I tend to be a bit aggressive, which is a negative aspect of my personality, but it’s how I managed to “survive” and it must be said that this fierceness has helped me so much in so many fields of my life. So no, I wouldn’t change any of the things I went through as a little boy. The cliche is true: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? I know people that are still dealing with these demons from their childhoods, but I think I already overcame this in a healthy way: I don’t hate people, children, men, society, etc etc. I am very aware of the cruelty that exists in the world, but this perception has only made me more sensitive to the ones that are outcasts in society. I’d say that’s my real success in terms of being gay: the awareness and sensibility towards the others
The gay community in São Paulo is quite diverse at the moment. I think there’s a little treat for everyone… Of course there’s the typical “gay scene” that kinda looks like “Queer as Folk”, but then there’s the hipster scenario, the fancy gays, etc etc. We do have the biggest Gay Parade in the world, but I don’t think most of us are what you would expect from a militant, you know? The parade is just one big crazy day for everyone really… Our community is very Grindr/Tinder-driven at the moment, but very hypocritical when it comes to being open about promiscuous sex. Maybe it is a brazilian thing… we have naked people in tv adverts, soap operas, etc, but we’re still a very conservative country somehow. I lived in London for 3 years and I remember being surprised with the way gay man would live their sexual lives. Even in the clubbing scene: it is ok for a man to go to a kinky club in Europe. Here in Brasil it’s something you probably wouldn’t do or wouldn’t share, even with some of your closest friends. It’s seems silly to me…
Coming out wasn’t a big thing for me. I mean: it did take me ages to do so. I was 19 when I first told a dear friend of mine, who was out already. But once I did it, I just felt free (I guess that’s what most gay man experience, right?) and ended up telling everyone one, including my family and they were quite supportive I’d say. I had never kissed anyone before that (not even a girl), so I guess the biggest problem I had wasn’t being gay, but being a complete weirdo in that sense. Obviously coming out opened doors and possibilities and it didn’t take a lot of time for me to eventually snog someone. Yes, it was a man I think that if I had not gone through bullying at school, coming out could have happened earlier… but who knows??? Maybe the fact that kids used to call me “gay” helped me realise that they were right after all… those bitches… lol…
If I could give an advice to myself before I came out I’d say: you know you are an amazing person behind this big fear of yours, so be brave and show the world and yourself how strong you can be, otherwise you’ll never truly be “complete”. It doesn’t have to do with being gay and hooking up with other man, though that’s a big part of it and quite pleasurable… It has to do with being yourself entirely and letting go of the worst fear of them all: the fear of being happy ps. let us not forget that that’s what the word “gay” means.”
Erik, in his own words:“What does being gay mean to me? I feel if I do not give some philosophical answer I will not win Mr. Gay America! With all joking aside, it is more about an acceptance of one’s self rather than the acceptance most gay men look for from family, friends, or society. When I wakeup each morning I feel happy to be me and am ready to live this charmed life I have been blessed with. Most people, gay or straight, are not able to do that, because they have not accepted the fact that each of us has a charge and higher calling in life.
Life itself is the greatest challenge of all and it is the one challenge we all must face, but each of us yield an infinite amount of paths to the finish. My greatest challenge is myself! I would say I am a very independent, honest, and caring person. When it comes to the subject of dating and relationships I seem to dismiss these qualities in potential partners.”
Simon, in his own French words:“Être homosexuel, bon ou mauvais ou les deux ? Le plus difficile est de l’accepter pour soi-même. Après l’acception il reste à l’intégrer, une fois intégré on y trouve du bon, on grandit et on se dit qu’il y a pire que ça dans la vie !
Ça débute par faire le deuil de notre idéal de vie que l’on c’était imaginé dès le jeune âge, d’un modèle de famille qu’on croyait facilement réalisable. La frustration et la colère s’emparent de nous et nous fait regarder en l’air pour envoyer chier le bon dieu de nous imposer un tel défi. On voudrait négocier avec lui un cancer, voir même une amputation en remplacement de ce mal étrange et intense qui nous habite. On cherche à qui s’identifier dans ce nouvel univers d’hyper sexualisation auquel on n’a pas envie d’adhérer malgré la pression qui nous y pousse. On est confronté à nos propres préjugés, on se déconstruit pour retrouver une nouvelle identité, on tente de se trouver de nouveaux repères, non sans peur, angoisse ni vertige.
Puis on se dévoile au grand jour, on cesse de se mentir et de mentir aux autres, sauf à sa grand-mère trop vieille pour comprendre, on fait face aux préjugés, les nôtres et ceux des autres, on a peur d’aimer, de s’ouvrir, on se le reproche et on renvoie chier le bon dieu, on s’achète un pantalon trop serré et on le rapporte au magasin. L’ambiguïté s’installe entre ce qui est normal et malsain, on avance et on revient sur nos pas.
Et puis un jour on aperçoit la lumière au bout du tunnel, on respire une bonne bouffée d’air. On se regarde dans le miroir et enfin on aime assez ce qu’on y voit. On regarde derrière sans avoir envie d’y retourner. Finalement on se reconstruit dans une authenticité qui nous réjouit et on se rend compte qu’on ne le déteste pas tant que ça ce Christ. On prend conscience que ce détour obligatoire nous a fait voyager à travers nous-même, nous a permis de s’ouvrir aux autres, de s’ouvrir à la différence, on se sent entier et enfin libre. Alors on desserre les poings et on trouve que tout ça en valait la peine.”
Ron, in his own words:“Being able to be who I am with complete honesty is freedom. Being able to love someone because I simply love that person is the greatest joy I have ever experienced. The journey mostly has been a good one. Since I have been quite attracted to both men and women, I’ve lived an interesting life and been in love with both men and women.
However, nothing ever quite was like meeting Ben. Before Ben I had fallen deeply in love with a woman, and I was married to her for almost 17 years, most of those years were happy. The greatest joy was having two beautiful, talented and creative sons, Nick and Nate who both have good and satisfying lives living and working in New York City. Thus I also have two beautiful grandchildren! Sadly, the marriage ended when my wife’s mental illness could not be accepted by her.
I dated some other wonderful and beautiful women for a few years. Then while working in Washington, DC I happened upon this younger man who wanted to go to dinner. His kindness, caring got to me and we dated for six months. Sadly it ended but we both ended up happy later. He said when he departed, “Ron, you will meet someone soon, he will be good to you and you to him.” Not long after, I was at Northeastern University in Boston in the dining room. There I noticed a beautiful and quite stunning Asian man glancing toward me. After we both glanced, we had lunch together, then he asked for a date. I returned to Boston where he and many members of his family were there. We went together! They all liked me. That was in July of 1997.
Sixteen years later, from Portland, Maine to Orlando FL, to our beautiful heaven in Vancouver, British Columbia , Ben and I have loved each other and respected one another every day. Every time I look at his face, the joy inside my heart almost makes me weep. Never to fade!
Too, My sons, grandchildren, friends all embrace Ben. They love him. Likewise I am so lucky that his family loves me very much and we are so close. They are my family, too. Our home is one of peace and love. We are a team!
Initially because I held many public and high profile jobs (Police Chief, School Administrator and now therapist/counsellor) many folks had much to say to me and sadly some behind my back when I fell in love with another man 16 years earlier. The state of gays in the world has changed a great deal from those days; now gay folks are accepted and few make a big deal about gay people in 2013. I was glad to be in the early days. I tell people, I would have fallen in love with Ben whether he had been a man or a woman. His qualities of giving of himself, his humility, core values, kindness and respect for all that lives are huge points of attraction. Being good looking is nice, but that fades for everyone. We all grow old. I am happy that Ben’s enduring qualities will never fade.
Moving to Vancouver was the best decision we could have made, suggested by his sister, Sungya, who had visited here. Every day has been a joy! Our gay friends we met when we first moved here are still are close friends. Vancouver’s gay population is well accepted. There are still those who hate, but overall, being gay here has not
been a big deal for many years. Gay men and women have straight friends, they live in houses and condos throughout the Metro area. There is a gay village, called Davie. It’s funky.
Where we live, New Westminster, has been turning into a sought after community (known as highly supportive to gays) for gay singles and couples. The community reminds me of communities I lived in as a kid in Maine. To sum, Ben said it best when we arrived here in July, 2005. “I finally feel so secure and happy.” Since then Ben and I both became dual citizens of our own birth country and Canada.
I am happy with who I am. During the Winter of my life, it really feels like Spring. It feels right.
This project and the stories that are told are good , supportive tools to help any gay man who is thinking about coming out. We live very short lives. The hope for all of us is to start living that life in a creative, meaningful way that is filled with comfortable love. Being honest, loving yourself and coming to terms with who you are signals the right time to sing to the world about who you are. Sing in quiet melody, shout a song to the mountains – your choice. But sing. When your soul says you are ready.”
Ben, in his own words:“I think I have always liked men from when I was little. I thought that I was the only one in this world having these kind of feelings. It’s liked having a big secret and I didn’t dare to share it to anyone. First feelings came when I was young and at summer camp in Singapore. I did not know
though what those feelings were.
I later had a boyfriend in Bangkok when I attended the university there. We did everything there, even opening a clothing store at an upscale mall. Sadly, we grew apart. I was sad and decided to move to the United States.
Soon I was off to graduate school in Boston. There I met many interesting men but none like Ron. I adored him from when I met him. So did my family.When I graduated with a Masters degree, I moved to Portland, Maine to be with Ron and his family. We lived in an ocean-side townhouse near a college. It was beautiful. I was so happy. Ron always had a committed plan and he was always kind to me. I worked as a math teacher at the high school where Ron was an administrator.
Soon we moved to Orlando with dreams of moving to beautiful Vancouver. Vancouver never disappointed. It is the most beautiful place with many friendly people. The moment we arrived, we had so many friends! Many of those friends are our friends today.
Ron and I were never much for clubbing or going out. We always enjoy each other company. He is my everything…my partner…my best friend and my soul. I think we complete each other!
Advice? Be true to who you are – only you can decide the road to your own happiness and joy. You control your destiny. You have that gift, that freedom.”
Ariel, in his own words:“I have never felt guilty or shameful about being gay; however, one of the greatest experiences I faced as a result of my sexuality was letting go of the expectations that society and my family planned for me. Society tries to teach us what is right and wrong, and coming out of the closet is a rebellion against those expectations and rules. You have to learn to live not just to be accepted, but to be yourself. The world out there is a big place and there is a space for everyone.
I came out when I was very young at the age of 14. Being still an adolescent, I had to educate the people around me, especially those whom I loved the most, like my father. This was a big challenge because they had little-to-no understanding of what it meant to be gay: for them, the raunchy, dirty sex acts where the first things to come to mind. Moreover, these were always filtered through a religious/moral lens. They were not immediately able to think of the love and companionship that might be involved in my relationships. Coming out at this age was especially difficult because one depends on his/her parents for everything.
Now I’m glad I came out when I was so young because my family has had many years to process, learn, and get over their fears and prejudices. Today, I live very openly with my family and they are very accepting of my life. For example, when my boyfriend comes to visit from the United States, he stays with me in my bedroom at my father’s house. During holidays, he comes to all of the family parties, and my grandmother even buys him a present. Today, when others see this, they often tell me how lucky I am; however, what they don’t realize is that this level of acceptance took more than ten years.
Panama is a very small country with a very small gay community. Gay people want things to change, but they are too scared to do anything about it. Because of pervasive homophobia in society, many feel that there is more value in staying in the closet than taking the risk of coming out. Moreover, there is a lot of discrimination (gender, race, class, etc.) within the gay community itself. Change is happening, but it is slow and incremental.
To come out of the closet, I wrote a letter to my mother (as I was used to doing at the time to say important things), but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. She talked to my father that the same night and then the nightmare started. They thought I was confused and sent me to a psychologist the very next day. Thankfully, he was a good man and didn’t try to change me.
My mother was upset and did not talk to me for several days; however, I did not pay that much attention to either of my parents because I never thought I was doing anything wrong. After a few days, my mother got over it and soon became my best friend—I could even talk to her about boys. However, in a country where machismo runs strong, there was not much that she could do immediately to change my father. Within the space that she had, she did what she could to protect me. I was lucky to have her by my side.
For my father, it was much more difficult: he was so sure this was a choice and that this was something that I could change if I wanted to change. I could have made things easier for myself just by telling him that I was going to try to change even though I had no intention of doing so. But I refused. I told him that if it was so easy to change, that he himself should try to change his heterosexuality to be attracted to men. We stopped talking and we grew apart. Every once in a while, he would repeat his question, but I always had the same answer.
While most of my friends were out having fun at this age, I was at home grounded because I refused to change. Now, I think about it as a joke, but I was basically grounded for six years with very limited freedom or time to go to parties to socialize with friends. The upside is that I had plenty of time to read, think, and understand my sexuality and what it meant to be gay. This only made me more confident in my ability to combat their homophobia with well-articulated arguments.
Coming out is a continuous process: as we go to our jobs, hang out with friends, shop for groceries, spend time at parties, go to large dinners, we are constantly meeting new people and one never stops coming out. If you are not entirely honest or coy, people will often gossip about what you are doing, so I just prefer to be honest to remove all of their fun.”
Johnny, in his own words:“Looking back I find that I had more difficulty coming to terms with my humanity then my sexuality. My sexuality was relatively meaningless in the larger picture. For me, figuring out my place in the world, in the universe and existence as a whole took precedence over my attraction to another person. Naturally there was attraction, but it was not something I understood completely or tried to understand at an early age. my feelings were my feelings and they hadnt been influenced by anything other then my innermost self and though I was perhaps too young to comprehend that, I did on some spiritual level, as I suspect all living things do. It was intuitive and I didnt give it much thought. I knew I was different then my peers though, different than other boys, mainly from what I was perceiving from the world, from others. In fact it was more external pressure to address my orientation then an internal need or desire.
I’ve always been somewhat of a private person by nature, blame it on my Cancerian roots. I never felt the need to broadcast my sexual feelings, after all are my sexual encounters/fantasies anyone elses concern other then my own? I wasnt hiding, but I never heard ‘straight’ folk letting everyone know their sexual preferences or ever having the need to, but it seemed that being gay was something that others had to know about, was something period, like some kind of warning. I never thought I was a danger to anything. I approached my budding sexuality with caution because there was something powerful and even divine about it. It was like some powerful magic that had to be handled with care and so it was only once I was ready to.
There are times when life has seemed scary and too much to bear, but unto myself, I realized that my experience in the world was rarified . And I’ve always been attracted to the rare and exotic things in life. If nothing else, ‘liking guys’ has made for a richer experience of my life, I can appreciate, openly, a greater number of beautiful things for instance, and that’s just one, of an infinite number of attributes that make me unique. But thats the case with every other living thing in the universe. And in that I realized that we, as in all of us, as in everything… are one in the same.”
“Choosing whether to come out and when to do so is a very personal decision. So many factors come into play. For those past school age, how your employer might take it can weigh heavily on you. In my case, it was the voters in my legislative district.
At 20 years old, I decided to run for election for the Maine House of Representatives. I was still in college and openly gay. Well, open to my friends and my immediate family. It was never something I really had to think about. I never had an actual ‘coming out’. Most people who meet me just assume that I’m gay.
When it came to the campaign, I knew this would be a bit different. I knew I may be forced to clarify this aspect of my identity, and that there would be people who vote against me just because of this personal detail. I also knew that I couldn’t hide it.
And why would I want to? I didn’t need to parade through the streets with a bullhorn, but being honest is important in any profession, particularly in politics. Moreover, for my sanity I wanted to get on top of the story rather than have it become one later. I wanted to make it a non-issue, so that it wouldn’t become an issue.
So I ran openly and honestly. If someone asked, I would answer. But what I discovered is that most people couldn’t care less. People were generally more concerned about the issues. Substance was more important to people. Generally speaking, voters treated me no differently than any other candidate who came to their door.
Running as an openly gay candidate wasn’t without its challenges. Throughout the campaign a handful of people stole my campaign signs and graffitied them with derogatory language. This occurred right up to election day. At one point I had to involve the police because the theft and vandalism had become so rampant.
Here I had to make a choice: do I bring this to light to shame the homophobes who did this or do I stay silent? While many of those closest to me suggested that I go to the media with what was happening, I decided not to. Why give these people the power by giving them exactly what they wanted—attention and a reaction from me? I put on a good front that it didn’t bother me. But when you are constantly having to take down signs smeared with hate speech, it does take an emotional toll. But I chose to take the high road. I persevered.
I won my election with 60% of the vote becoming the youngest openly gay legislator in the entire country. That proved that our community was better than the hate that some were spreading. I was able to do it without giving them any attention. During my election Maine also became one of the first states to pass marriage equality at the ballot box.
Homophobia still creeps up to the surface every now and again, but society is moving against this discriminatory line of thinking. The more states and countries that support marriage equality, and the more individuals who stand up and present their true selves, the easier it will be for others to follow in their footsteps—in the board room and classroom, and on the field and the campaign trail.”
Randy, in his own words:“Being gay means Im really no different than any other human other than what i may or may not do in the bedroom. I make my bed, wash my clothes, take out the trash, pay my bills, go to the movies… just like any one else would.
My challenges in life have usually revolved around being patient; being patient w people, events, and circumstances. Ive had numerous successes throughout my life, my career and in my personal and professional relationships.
There is no gay community per say here in Portland. The GLBTQ citizens is interspersed throughout the many communities, the burbs and farmlands here. We are woven as threads into the colorful fabric of each and every community.
(With regards to coming out ) When I was 11 y/o I had made fast friends with a student from Japan. He taught me how to masturbate, and one day I had written a letter to my j/o buddy. I had intended to mail it to him, but my father found it first. He was not having any part of my being involved with a man. I was told it was just a phase I was going through and to forget about it, and never to see him again. For the next 3 years I would do just that. In my 20s, I didn’t feel a need to “come out”, I just assumed everyone knew that I was gay because I never had girlfriends; never brought a girl to family gatherings. When I did tell certain straight male friends I was gay, they dropped my like a lead anvil. Its sad to think that I was “ok” with them, when hanging out and getting stoned, but my sexuality would make them extremely uncomfortable, even without discussing sex, or trying to “convert them”. LOL
I would tell my younger self to remember… God made you in His image and likeness, and that he does not make junk! You are your father’s son, and a gift unto this world, your family, friends and the community in which you will live. But most importantly, you DO make a difference in people’s lives. Be kind to yourself when you feel less than, and embrace the Allness of your whole self. Not everyone will like you, but thats not important, what is important is that YOU like you, and to love yourself wholly and unconditionally.”
Michael, in his own words:“To me, being gay is an orientation, an the innate truth that guides attraction beyond your control. I think being out is more important than being gay; being out is the choice to own that truth, and that takes courage. Everyone has something to come out about.
My biggest challenge is fighting internal homophobia, the constant split-second judgments I make about how out to be, how to answer questions in the office or for a new job or meeting someone on the bus. My greatest success has been my marriage, which, though similar to many other successful marriages, in many ways had no real template to follow.
I came out in high school and was treated very well by everyone. I sometimes wonder how much of that was the kindness of my peers and teachers, and how much was the way I worked so hard to make others comfortable.
(With regards to the gay community in DC) DC is very, very gay.
(Advice I’d give my younger self) I would tell a younger me to be more courageous and more curious.”
John, in his own words:“Being gay means you’re attracted to members of the same sex. Sex is a very important (and fun!) part of that, of course, but it goes even beyond that. I’m not just a man who likes to get off with guys — I also seek affection, companionship, and love with and from other men, and to give that to them as well. That — and sexuality, of course — is why I identify as gay.
It took me a very, very long time to get over my internalized self-hatred. I was raised Catholic, and very religious at that, so that meant that as I awakened to my identity as a gay man, that realization was accompanied by intense feelings of shame, anxiety, isolation, and guilt. I did everything I could think of — up to and including attempting suicide — to try and not be gay, and it was only once I reached that point that I realized that if I’d been so spectacularly unsuccessful at getting rid of it, then it was probably meant to be there in the first place. I’ve come a long way since then — from a scared, self-loathing gay Midwestern Catholic to an out and proud gay LGBT equality advocate — so I’d say that journey has been one of my greatest successes. But as Michael said, my greatest success would definitely have to be my marriage. Like any couple, we’re both flawed people, and like any marriage, ours has its ups and downs, but at the end of the day, the one thing we can count on is our enduring love for each other. Even if I had nothing else in my life, my marriage to Michael would be enough.
I realized I was different when I was very young — maybe 5, 6, 7 years old — long before I knew that that difference had a name. I came out for the first time during my freshman year of high school, to a friend of mine who I was in plays and musicals with. He was already fully out, so it was his example that inspired me to take that first step. I came out very gradually to select friends after that, even as I was still struggling to make peace with my being gay. It wasn’t until the summer after my senior year of high school that I came out publicly, to my parents, family, and community. Some reacted negatively, but the people who mattered most — including my parents, brothers, and grandparents — embraced me and my truth.
(With regards to the gay scene in D.C.) It’s funny — as someone who’s coupled, my experience of the D.C. gay scene is very different than that of my single friends. They tell me that the D.C. gay scene is cliquish, catty, and can be brutally cutthroat/backstabbing… but that hasn’t been my experience at all. Michael and I have made many wonderful gay friends here. We have many friends in D.C.’s thriving Russian gay expat community, and we also are close with some incredibly amazing lesbian couples. So yeah, gay D.C. is pretty fabulous!
I don’t know that I’d have any advice to give to my younger self, because I really don’t believe in living with regrets; all of my experiences have helped shape me into the person I am today. If I could give advice to kids like my younger self, though — kids who feel alone, who have a hard time accepting and loving themselves because they’re gay, and who struggle under the weight of internalized homophobia and religion-based bigotry, I’d tell them to hold on. I’d tell them not to listen to anyone, whether it’s family, peers, religious leaders, or the voice inside their head, who tells them that they are broken, sinful, evil, or bad. I’d tell them that they are beautiful and that they’re loved just the way they are, and that there’s a whole community of people ready to welcome them with open arms.”