Shannon, in his own words: “Being gay means that I get to define my role in society, create the relationships I wish to have, and redefine family and community. Being gay has given me the opportunity to do things differently. I didn’t need to follow the norms I witnessed as a child because they would obviously not work for me. If I were straight, due to the stratification of my family history, I would have had kids way too young and I would have settled close to home. Instead, I’ve travelled to many parts of the world and have been able to decide what is right for me based on my interests and desires. I’ve not had a formula to follow – which has been scary and trying at times, but has ultimately been freeing and empowering. I have the relationships I have because I’ve put effort into them and chose them for me.
(With regards to challenges) I’ve often felt like “the other.” Growing up in Cambridge I heard things like, “That’s Shannon, he’s gay – gross!” Or “That’s Shannon he is gay but, he’s okay.” (As if my lifestyle was not okay, but somehow I was acceptable – just acceptable.) I am more than acceptable, and it took me years of evaluating my own self-esteem to come to that conclusion.
(With regards to the Gay Community in New York) Well, there is a lot of it that’s for sure. The community/scene in NYC seems somewhat fractured like other places I’ve been. There is a focus on body image, buffness, and cliques. I don’t really fit into the muscle scene, I don’t fit the pretty boy scene, and I’m not that into pop culture so it’s been interesting. The greatest advantage of being in New York is that there are endless opportunities to be a part of anything I want. There is a robust art scene and limitless activities and events in this city. If something I go to doesn’t feel right, there are 100 other events that night to get involved in.
There is also a strong sober scene and lots of community centers and places to make connections. In the new year, I plan to get more involved in groups like Front Runners and other athletic organizations, which is something I did while living in Seattle.
I came out with a bang! It was 1992, I was 16 years old and on national TV. Back when Maury Povich was still a real journalist, and not this crazy shock television host, he did a segment on violence in public schools towards LGBT students. I was a guest on that show during an hour long special. I discussed the violence I experienced and witnessed at public school and I gave my opinions on what had to change. Most of my family and friends found out I was gay by watching that show. It changed my life, made parts of it worse and a lot of things better. One positive outcome was being able to move from the horrible high school I was attending to Cambridge Rindge and Latin, a school that was more open and had a strong arts component.”
Ryan, in his own words: “What does being gay mean to you?
“We have self-esteem today.” –Gayby.
The short answer: second-class citizenship, micro-traumas, courage, forgiveness, education, and freedom fighters.
The long answer: Being gay means second-class citizenship. Every social setting each day involves a political act: holding my husbands hand as we walk to the car that needs to be re-parked, kissing him on the subway as one of makes a transfer from the F, and when I was teaching, coming out to students and injecting queer history into the standard curriculum. I make quotidian choices that I label as courageous because I need them to be.
Second-class citizenship means a daily dose of micro-traumas the reinforce heteronormativity, the gender binary, and other socially constructed norms that bruise and outright stab our identity and therefore our self-worth and dignity.
Whether I want it to or not, my attitude and therefore my actions and therefore my world-view are informed by this daily barrage of our culture’s habit of inequity and unequal cultural portrait: I have to translate at least 90% of current events, cultural productions, and social dynamics. I ask “Where are my people?” “What do these lovely people know about queer identity?” “Are they haters?” It gets exhausting; to the point where most of the time, I just assume everybody is queer unless they tell me otherwise. Let others “come out” for a change.
I, as a gay man, as a queer person, need to have my daily vitamin of courage AND forgiveness: forgiveness to myself and in other folks, especially in my queer community. It’s not easy to make the right choices all the time under a second-class citizenship status. We experience shaming, loneliness, and depression and I need to recognize how that can manifest in others and myself. I need to be radical in my respect to all of my LGBT family. I think some of the divisions within our QUILT BAG family are a result of these micro-traumas, where we would do anything to be thought of as normal (to not be ashamed, alone and sad) and that includes isolating from other queer folks and where sexism, classism, and racism can become heightened.
Enter forgiveness with education.
Being gay with second-class citizenship means we need to be informed and inform. It is thankfully better for young folks (at least in our country) today, but when I was a tween, I was starved of images and writings about being queer and I ran to independent book, music and video stores to see myself reflected back to me. That’s where I met Harvey Milk, Audrey Lorde, Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Gregg Araki, and The Gossip. This translated into majoring in history and becoming an educator. This is the piece that I hold up to change habits and to complete that diverse human portrait.
I see racism in the same way. Kevin, during the shoot we talked about growing up in the Northwest and how it seemed like we didn’t really experience any blatant acts of racism against us. I argue that what is most damaging and insidious about racism is that it is systemic/institutional and socialized. Schoolmates and the police never bullied me, but I lived in segregated neighborhoods of Seattle with gentrification, redlining, wrongful incarceration, and unequal education. We may not experience homophobia or racism daily on Capitol Hill, Chelsea, or Park Slope but we are all made sick because we experience micro-traumas from a culture and institutions that reinforce inequity–and because we know at any point (because we have accounts of violence from others) that, one day, it may be us. That is what it means to be gay.
Enter courage again with laughter, art, joy, community, family, friends and a dose of freedom fighting.”