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.”
Austin, in his own words:“Throughout my life, being gay has been just one of those things that I knew I could not change. When I was younger I saw it as a burden. It was something that I was brought up thinking was wrong. I came from a Christian family and I have always had a very close relationship with GOD. I remember asking GOD to fix me and make me who He wanted me to be. Nothing ever changed after many prayers were sent up. I came to realize that there was nothing wrong with the way I am and there was nothing to be fixed. I then accepted who I am and began embracing it. Being gay does not define who I am. My positive spirit defines me. I strive to be the very best person I can be. I also strive to love. To love everyone and accept them as they are. That is what God wants from us. I no longer see being gay as a burden. I now see it as a happy fate that I have accepted. Being gay has been very difficult. However, all of the struggles I’ve stumbled upon have made me a stronger and wiser person. I guess to me being gay means growth.
My entire life thus far has been made up of challenges that have turned into successes. I have always been a very positive person with a wise head on my shoulders. I’ve had dreams and I am making them come true one day at a time. In my younger years, I was often the outcast of all of the kids. I never understood why. Being from a small delta town, if you are just the least bit different you stand out like a sore thumb. I stood out for sure. However, I had to learn that if people did not love me for my differences then they did not deserve to love me at all. Once I accepted that mind set real people came into my life. People who loved me for me. Friends that I will have for the rest of my life. I am so thankful for these people without them I could not have made it.
I have know that I was gay from a very young age. However I did not accept this lifestyle until High School. I remember October 1st, 2011 very well- the day I told my family that I am Gay. I was in Art Appreciation and we had a free day. A day to paint whatever we wanted. When I paint, I zone out and just go for it. There is no rhyme or reason in the finished product it is just there. However, once I finished this painting I saw something very special. I saw myself and what I was becoming. The painting represented a new era in my life. My “cover up” had started to fade, and my true colors were starting to show. These colors were beautiful. After taking a few moments to realize what this painting meant I felt confident that then was the time. I texted my mom that afternoon and told her I needed to tell her something very important. I met her later that afternoon. I was so nervous and tried to come up with a speech in my mind. Once I made it home I went blank. I remember mom asking me what was going on and I told her “Mom, I am gay” she instantly burst into tears and ran into her bedroom to tell my dad. At this point and time, dad and I were not very close so I was terrified of what was to come next. After that day, I knew that It was time for me to live on my own. Coming out was one of the hardest things I have had to ever do. There were many tears shed on both ends, that is for sure. I may have caused a lot of heart ache but I knew that it had to be done. After coming out, to my entire family and friends I felt so free. I no longer had to live a lie.
My parents still to this day do not accept my lifestyle. However, they love me unconditionally. They want me to be happy and that is it. Over the past few years we both have made mistakes and have done things we wish we could take back. However, we all grew from it. Now I am happier than I have ever been and I have my family again. They tell me all the time how proud they are of me and the person that I have become. My family means the world to me. I could not imagine my life without them. It’s been hard but we had to realize that we all needed one another. I’m so proud of my family and how far they have come over the past few years. We are now closer and stronger than ever!
The gay community in Cleveland is very small. However, I have met a few amazing gay people and they have become good friends. We are all very different but we bring out the best in one another. Cleveland, MS, is not where I want to live for the rest of my life. I plan to move just a few hours away to Memphis and see where my life goes from there. No matter how far away I go from Cleveland, it will always be home.
There are many things I would tell my younger self. The main thing I would say is that everything will be okay. You can not let your fears stop you from being your true self. You are beautiful just the way you and there is nothing that should change. Always be the best person you can be and stay close to GOD. With GOD all of your wildest dreams can and will come true. Always keep a smile on your face, and show everyone the love in your heart. Always enjoy life and enjoy your days while you are here on earth. “The days may seem long but the years, they just fly by”. This is a quote from my great grandmother. Life is short, enjoy each and every day and live it to the fullest.”
Thatboy Rod, in his own words: “What does being gay mean to me?
To me, gay is a way of life. It’s not the best life but it’s the best for me. I don’t see the difference only the correlation between heterosexual and homosexual male or females. I’m happy with who I am and all that I am going to be. Being gay pushed me to do great things, it maks me want to be better than the next person.
What challenges/successes have you had in your life?
A success for me was finishing school. I graduated from the University of West Florida with my BS in Business Administration. Not many people have to motivation to complete school. There are a lot of gays who haven’t even given college a thought. I am proud of myself. A challenge that I face is my music career. I have always loved music. I am very talented, and I write my own music as well. The thing I’m afraid of the most is being a failure.
What’s the gay community like in Cleveland?
I shouldn’t really answer this as I’m not from here and haven’t been here that long. Being gay in Cleveland is like being a minority is a different society. If you’re African American and gay, you might as well consider yourself JUDGED. The Caucasian gays and African American gays doesn’t seem to get along, either one wants sex and the other wants friendship, vice versa.
What’s your coming out story?
I haven’t really came out, I didn’t tell people, they just sorta found out. I don’t hide who I am, nor do I put on a fake persona to conceal ME. I’m glad that people did just find out cause if it were up to me to tell them, it would’ve been bad.
What advice would I give my younger self?
I haven’t really done anything that I regret, yes I’ve made mistakes but those mistakes make me who I am today. If I were to change anything about that then who knows how I would’ve turned out.”