Vince, English Teacher, New York City

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

Vince, in his own words: “February 6, 2014 was a special day. I met Kevin Truong at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 42 Street in New York City to be photographed. Participating in the Gay Men Project and being photographed in the theatre district of the Big Apple are important to me. I live in Philadelphia, but my life as a gay man began in Times Square thirty-four years ago.

I am sixty-eight now, and on my thirty-fourth birthday I stood in line on 47th Street for two-for-one tickets for a Broadway play. A girl friend met me there. She brought a birthday cake, and people in line sang “Happy Birthday” as she lit the candle. After the show we went to “Uncle Charlie’s,” a gay bar in the Village. She asked if I was gay. Well, six months later in Philadelphia I had my first sexual experience with a man. His name was Jimmy, a great guy and still a friend. When he embraced to kiss me, I remember thinking, “This is what it’s like.”

All of the years before that first sexual experience I was afraid to admit that I was attracted to men. The fear drove me crazy. But admitting that fact to myself was a first step to being a better man. No need to describe the years which followed in any great detail. My life is much like thousands of others who lived through the eighties and beyond. Close friendships were established, boyfriends came and went, and many, many died. But the man who mattered most in my life, my partner and best friend for twenty-three years, made me a “mensch.” In Yiddish, the word simple means to be a real human being. Our life seemed perfect for the first eight years. Of course, that was on the surface. We had the house in Philly, friends, jobs, supportive parents, and each other. But like any other couple, we had hard times, bad moments, frustrations, disappointments; and over our heads hung the fear of AIDS. In 1990 we decided to be tested. I tested negative, and Jon, my partner, was positive. His results came back on the eve of my forty-fifth birthday. He had planned a special birthday for me: a weekend in New York, two Broadway plays, a nice dinner, a romantic evening together. That never happened, but the next sixteen years did. How Jon became positive never mattered. How to live did. The years were tough, but he was the Energizer Bunny. He kept going and going. Jon was my life partner no matter what happened, and many things did. He died in 2006, and like the moment he received the phone call to tell him he was HIV positive, I was there to hold him and love him when he died.

Today, almost eights years later, it’s hard to believe that we could be legally married if he were alive. Unfortunately not in Philadelphia, but that too will happen. Life is good; people are wonderful; and the advice I have for a younger gay man: confront your fears, go after your dream, and be a “mensch.”

6 comments

  1. jempeirson

    Wow. I’m an English teacher too, 66 years old, in a very different part of the world to you. In my world it is still not possible to live an openly gay life and I too (for much longer than you) was afraid to admit to my attraction for men. It is amazing that you have such a positive attitude to life. That is so encouraging after what you have been through – your story left me in tears! Thank you for sharing it. And thank you, Kevin, once again for making this sharing possible.

  2. David Chura

    Many thanks for such a beautiful, honest, and well written (from another English teacher and writer!) account of love and happiness and caring and, yes, grief. Your words remind me of the zen saying, “Ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows.” It is all life.

  3. banu gutomo

    So touching story…iam accounting teacher n iam 33 years old from indonesia…your story makes me not lonely anymore…thank u for sharing…God Bless U

  4. Manel

    The writing is so elegant and well written, it is a pleasure to read.
    Though I enjoyed reading it, I’m so sorry for the loss.

  5. kreemer

    Powerful and sad, and yet so full of life. I love the way you locate the people you photographs in their surroundings.

    This story made me think about life in a larger context. What do we do here? What happens when we finish with each other? What happens as we approach our own end?

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