Ben, in his own words: “Some may think that being gay/queer only refers to same-sex attraction, and see just one singular “gay community,” when in fact there are MANY flavors, shapes, and expressions of what it means to be gay/queer. For me, it’s the intersection of attraction, culture, community, and connection. I was lucky enough to be born gay and I couldn’t be happier about it. It has helped shape and make me who I am today, well beyond just who I’m attracted to.
I’m enjoying adulthood far more than I did my adolescent years. High school in particular was an awkward and painful time of my life, and in fact I’ve completely forgotten much of it. Even though I came out at 18, it took me a long time to get over the shame of being gay. For years I overachieved to “make up for” being gay. I really wasn’t comfortable in my own skin until my late 20’s when I became more confident and capable of making a difference for others. One thing I’m extremely proud of is transforming the culture of a company I worked for, Oliver Wyman, to being fully LGBT inclusive, which it wasn’t when I got there. A few colleagues and I formed an LGBT employee group, voted me Chief Gay, and we hauled ass to make significant strides that continue to this day, eight years later.
After telling many of my friends, it was time to tell my family I was gay. On Christmas day of 2000, my sister and I were walking our dogs on a snowy golf course. I was so anxious, but promised myself that by the time we got to the sand trap on the 4th hole I’d tell her. She was great and three days later I sat mom and dad down. I read a 400 page book written by a psychologist on how to come out and I had planned it like a military operation. They both immediately told me they loved me, but it went opposite of what I expected. My mom, out of concern for my safety and happiness, was very sad for many months. My more macho and stoic father offered me a beer (after mom retreated to her room to cry) and toasted me saying “here’s to being yourself, the only thing I could ever ask for from my son.” It still makes me tear up. Within a short time mom got over hear fears for me and is now fiercely supportive. Heck, she’s even been to Fire Island with me!
People ask where the gay neighborhoods are in NYC and I quip back “Manhattan and Brooklyn.” Seriously. There must be more gay people here than anywhere else on earth. Moving from Denver to NYC I feared I wouldn’t measure up or be “cool enough.” I soon realized nobody is “cool enough” for NYC and I’ve never felt more at home, accepted, and like I belonged than I have since moving here eight and a half years ago. There is literally something for everyone here. When you hear someone complaining about the “gay life” in NYC, just know they are lazy and don’t get of out their bubble much.
I’d tell my younger self this … “Sleep more. Drink less. Workout more. Start meditating. Work your ass off. Save more. Explore the world.” Above all, “Don’t be so hard on yourself!” I feel very good about the man I’ve become and the choices I’ve made, but the thing I regret most is being so hard on myself.”