When I had my first intimate experience with another man, I cried. I left the hotel room of the random stranger I had just randomly hooked up with, he walked me the ten blocks to my car, I got in, he closed the door, and then he waved goodbye. I drove the forty-seven minutes it takes to drive from downtown Portland to Southeast Portland, to my home, to my life, I took a bath for an hour and fifteen minutes that night, and then I curled in a ball on the bathroom floor, gently banged my forehead into the cold grey-blue tile, and cried.
I couldn’t handle it. At that particular moment, at that particular time, I couldn’t handle the disgust, I couldn’t handle the shame, I couldn’t handle the guilt. I felt guilty not only for what I had done, but for who I was.
I was a fag.
It’s a common theme for many gay men, women, and teenagers. A shame and guilt not only for actions, but for feelings, attractions, thoughts. It’s a shame that’s ingrained to the core, and I felt guilty for simply being me. And it was a burden that couldn’t be contained or hid away in some metaphorical all encompassing closet.
After I finished crying that night, I prayed to God to forgive me for my sin, and then I went to bed.
That happened at the end of May, 2002, when I was nineteen. Almost exactly ten years ago to this day.
But of course, I’ll always remember it.
Because really, it is at the core of why I’m doing the Gay Men Project.
Today while I was photographing the Gay Pride parade in New York City, I felt an overwhelming sense of emotion. Doing what I love (photographing) being true to who I am (Gay Pride) in the most amazing city in the world (New York City) I felt such a freedom, I was reminded of all the hard work I’ve had to do to get to the place where I am today.
I don’t feel that shame anymore. I don’t feel that guilt. I can say in all honestly that it’s taken me nearly a decade to get here–a place where I no longer feel a shame and guilt for being gay. A place where whom I love does not need to be hidden in a closet, a place where I can build a camaraderie, a support system, where my love is celebrated by those who truly love me, and a place where I’ve fully reconciled my relationship with God.
This project is personal to me. It is my simple way of celebrating the shared experiences of what it means to me to be a gay man. And I think there’s a pride in that.
Today I felt an overwhelming sense of happiness. I felt an overwhelming sense of clarity. And more importantly, I felt an overwhelming sense of purpose. I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.
So I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for joining me along the ride—for participating, for following, for reading. Thank you for your support. I truly value your company, and I hope to take us far.