Mark and Andrew, in their own words:“Being gay means freedom from many social conventions and expectations, especially around sexuality and family life.
We are both very lucky to have faced very few challenges as a result of being gay. We have supportive families, communities and employers. We have both found a great deal of happiness in the life we have built together, which would not exist if we weren’t gay!
(The gay community in Montreal) is very big and very diverse. There is the Village with the ‘scene’: clubs, bars, saunas, etc. But in every part of Montreal there are gay people living every kind of lifestyle. It is wonderful to live in a place where being gay is, in a way, perfectly normal.
Andrew came out very young (13). He came out at school first and then to his family, and generally was very well received. Mark came out gradually. He shared it with a few friends in high school and then came out to all of his friends and family in university. He also had no negative reactions.
(If we could give advice to ourselves before coming out) Andrew would tell himself that, despite being gay, he was going to be a lot more like his parents than he imagined. Mark would tell himself to have fun and not worry about what people think.”
Harold, in his own words:“My whole life, people have looked at me and assumed that I’m something that I’m not. This has made me ask: what assumptions am I making? I used to spend my years wishing I would fade into the background of normalcy, but being gay has taught me that is an illusion. To me, being gay is a reminder to ask questions about life and reject norms and groupthink.
My greatest triumph in my life was figuring out how to make a life with Kazuki. He was Japanese and I was American, and there was no way for us to live together. We tried and tried to find loopholes in the immigration laws, and there was lots of yelling and sadness and tears, but no answers. Then one day, I eventually found a job in Canada that would immigrate each of us from our home country to Vancouver. I felt like a great husband in that moment, that I had actually turned us from two men into a family. Today we are both happily Canadian. As long as I live, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to match that.
I’m not much of a joiner and don’t really know what a “gay scene” really is. I don’t hang out with a crowd just because they like the same gender I do, I hang out with people who share my interests and my values. I haven’t been in Montreal very long, but I can tell you a little bit about the arts scene, the gaming scene, the bar scene, and various other subcultures, and they all have gay people in them.
I was outed at my high school by the school’s pastor. High school sucked after that, and when I got into college, my father, in his misguided caring, told me, “Do yourself a favour: never tell anybody.” And so I put myself back in the closet and tried dating women. It wasn’t until several years later, once I was in grad school, I was at the Keith Haring retrospective at the Whitney. They had a notebook he kept during high school and wrote notes in code. On the page it was opened to, Keith had written in code, “Rule #1: Never tell anybody.” That exhibition, with its explosive exuberance and celebration of being gay, had a powerful effect on me. On my good days, I had felt that being gay was not a bad thing, but this show made me realize how lucky I was to be gay. I immediately told all my friends as if I had this great news that I had to share, and never looked back.”
Kazuki, in his own words:“Being gay for me just means being attracted to people of the same gender. Being gay doesn’t define me, it is a part of me. Although, having said that, as an out and proud gay person, I feel some responsibility to be a positive example. There are many fellow Japanese gay men (and straight people) who think that being gay can only be like the stereotypes depicted on TV, and I think it’s good for them to know somebody who isn’t like that, and that we can be happy out of the closet and still be ourselves.
I don’t feel that I have had any challenged to overcome just because I am gay. However, I strongly feel that one of the biggest challenges we go though as gay men is to accept ourselves, and to be comfortable with ourselves.
I’ve only been (in Montreal) for a short while, so I don’t know much about the community yet. I’ll let you know when I find out.
When I left Japan for university in the US, my mom told me, “You better not go dating anyone. You’re going to university to study, not for anything else. When I came back home in the Summer of 1999, she asked me, “So, do you have a girlfriend now?” This made me wonder, what happened? Later, I found out that many of her friends were having grandchildren, which probably influenced her to think that it’s a good time for me to settle down and start a family. I was 25.
I felt like this was a perfect time: now or never. I had been thinking of coming out to my mom for such a long time and I though she would be okay with it. So, later that Summer, I came out to my mom and her boyfriend over lunch. I was wrong, and we did not speak again until I flew back to the US.
She didn’t really want to discuss anything about my personal life after that. She simply didn’t want to hear it. But I pushed the issue and told her anyway. It was only fair, since she had told me so much about her personal life, and it was my turn to share.
I think it was a more difficult time for my mom than it was for me. It took her a long time to come around. By the Summer of 2009 I had met and Harold, but when we went back to Okinawa, my mom refused to meet my husband. So I chose not to see her at all. When we were planning a second visit, she was very unhappy about it and pushed back. In the mean time, I was also talking to my younger brother about our trip, and when he found out that my mom didn’t want to see me, he did something I didn’t expect. He called my mom and scolder her, saying, “You are pushing your son away! You are destroying our family!”
I guess that made her realize what she had been doing all these years, and by the time we arrived in Okinawa she had completely changed her mind. As she describes it, when she saw both of us together, she said it felt so natural. She totally accepted me and my husband, and even arranged a small gather with my family and some of her close friends, without even telling us. It was like a wedding reception, and she told all the guests how happy and proud she was for both of us. It’s been a great ride since then.”
Marc, in his own words:“Being gay. That is a strange thing. I think it’s so linked to who you are, you’re identity, that I don’t really remember it all the time. I can’t really say anymore how it shapes how I’m different from any other heterosexual guy. I guess I really feel it when I hit the margins of my life, my world. When you need to leave your better half across the world since you cannot qualify for a family reunion visa. Because there isn’t a box you can check to qualify your family or your relationship. When you need to lie about the wife you left behind to explain the wedding band mark on your finger when you’re travelling.
When I came out to my parents, my mother cried. Not for the forsaken soul of her little boy, not for the grand-children she was never to have. She was crying because she knew I would insist on respect and recognition. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I would be hurt. And she was right. I was emotionally and physically hurt – i still don’t know which is worse. I’ve lost friends, I got hit by cars, rocks and fists, I was taken some of my basic human rights away. I was threaten, followed. Maybe the things that hurt more came from people I was closer to, and introduced their statements with “You know I’m not a homophobe, but…”.
But if same sex love isn’t a choice, open-mindedness isn’t either. It comes with education and the development of empathic capacities. That’s why I think that projects like this one are important and help create understanding and relatedness between LGBTs’ and heterosexuals’ life. I have the chance to live in an accepting and open world, the art world. Being gay, being different, played a big part in the acceptance of my identity as an artist. I’ve linked my artistic aspirations to my homosexuality, as if it was a symptom of it. It took me a long time to see that being gay/straight doesn’t come with an identity bundle of traits and tastes and that I needed to continue to learn who I was. Fifteen years later, I’m still curious about who I am and the quest to make my identity flower is constant. And I think that when more people will discover that, we’ll have one foot in the door of acceptance and more men and women embracing the complexities of their selves.”