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.”
Eric, in his own words: “Maybe it’s because of the open-mindedness of Montreal and the way this city embraces the LGBT community, but I feel like being a gay man doesn’t have as much to do with homosexuality as much as it does self-admittance.
I am blessed to have grown up in a city like Montreal, in a mega-super liberal family and with friends who did everything they possibly could to make my coming out so enjoyable. My life isn’t “just as good” as it was prior to my coming out; it’s much much better. I think I’d be very unhappy if I were still closeted. I think that the suppression would prevent me from enjoying many of the things I love in my life that are completely unrelated to my sexuality.
Like I said, being gay is more about a general self-acceptance or self-admittance process. Yes, your sexuality is crucial, but I like to think that it goes way beyond that. I believe coming out is the first step, the first exercise of profound introspection. The thought process that comes with that is what I really treasure; being able to take the time to listen to yourself and take action upon your honest conclusions despite what others might say. I think being gay is about transparency and authenticity, not just you vs. society but also you vs. you (that’s usually the trickiest one). That’s what being gay actually helps you prioritize: your own personal welfare over your concern of other people’s opinions. And it’s always going to be work in progress. I like looking back at the past 4 years of my life and measuring where I was against what I’ve become. To add to that, I’m really excited about what’s coming next.
So when I look at any gay man, proudly wearing either hair or glitter on his chest (or both), I see a courageous person who was able to face his true self and change the things that didn’t make him happy.”
Renaud, in his own French words:“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
– Harvey Milk
Être gay, c’est pouvoir creuser jusqu’au plus profond de soi-même et être capable de s’accepter, peu importe ce qu’on y trouve et découvre. Y faire face, l’assumer, et essayer d’en tirer tout ce qu’il y a de mieux. Le plus difficile pour moi fût de reconnaître et d’apprendre à vivre avec cette identité sexuelle qui m’est propre, que l’on qualifie de “différente”, mais qui m’est plutôt individuelle. Difficile de faire le deuil d’une vie normale, le deuil de fonder une famille; difficile de faire face à l’inconnu et de voir l’avenir comme une vertigineuse falaise. Toutefois, peu à peu, on apprend à grimper cette paroie qui nous apporte finalement sérénité, puis on contemple tout le chemin accompli en se disant que la route fût ardue, avec son lot d’embûches, mais que le sommet en vaut largement la chandelle.
Nous sommes tous humains, nous devons tous aimer et être aimés. Nous avons tous nos propres batailles et être gay, c’est d’avoir vaincu. C’est avoir vaincu sa crainte du rejet, sa crainte de la solitude, sa crainte des préjugés. Être gay, c’est ne pas avoir peur du regard des autres, c’est ne pas avoir peur du jugement, c’est de se tenir debout pour ses convictions. C’est d’enlever son masque et se montrer à nu. C’est de se battre pour ses droits. C’est de se rallier et s’unir pour montrer l’absurdité d’un fossé qui n’aurait jamais dû exister.
Philip, in his own words:“Being gay for me is the simple fact that I am a man and I enjoy the company of men. It’s the way I connect with my body sexually, and nothing more really. I’ve gone through phases where I’ve tried to connect more with with it as an identity, but the more I live and experience, the more I realize it’s just one of my many facets.
When I was younger and growing up in the Christian community, being gay conflicted with the interpretations I was given of the Bible and the Christian doctrine. Now later, a little wiser, a little more experienced, I understand that we all just want and need to connect to something, and I just choose to connect with love.
The Montreal gay scene is eclectic. It’s tacky, it’s fun, it has some history, some of it is a little out dated, some of it is sexy and there are different sub-cultures to connect to within the community. it’s a good time when you want it to be, it’s lame when you want it to be, it’s fun to watch, I don’t necessarily connect with all of it, but we definitely got one in Montreal.
(With regards to my coming out story) A film that will be coming to you soon!”
Marc-Antoine, in his own French words:« Ce qu’on doit chercher à savoir, c’est de quelle façon on doit vivre sa vie pour qu’elle soit la meilleure possible. »
«…et cela s’applique à tous, dans toutes les cultures et tous les pays. Je suis très choyé d’habiter dans une ville où les gens sont ouverts d’esprit et conscients des droits et liberté de chacun. À Montréal, être gai est assez bien accepté, très bien accepté même. Il n’y a que très peu de discrimination et la communauté homosexuelle est très présente. J’irais même jusqu’à dire qu’ici, les homophobes sont jugés bien plus sévèrement que les homosexuels!
Pourtant, même ici, faire son « coming out » n’est pas toujours simple. J’ai fais le mien à 20 ans. Aujourd’hui, avec du recul, je me demande pourquoi avoir attendu si longtemps?
Évidemment, j’étais très anxieux de la réaction de mes proches. Originaire de Lévis, j’ai décidé qu’en déménageant à Montréal, il était temps de me débarrasser du fardeau de ce secret. J’ai décidé que le meilleur pour moi était d’être fidèle à moi-même. J’étais gai.
Peu importe combien j’aimais les gens autour de moi, je me suis dis que mes vrais proches m’accepteraient comme je suis. Et ils l’ont tous fait, ils m’ont tous aimé autant et parfois même encore plus, sans exception.
Je souhaite le meilleur du monde à tous et aujourd’hui particulièrement à tous les homosexuels, qu’ils soient « out » ou non. Trouvez le meilleur pour vous, la vie est belle et la liberté existe.»
“What we need to know is how to live a life to make it the best possible.”
… And this applies to everyone, in every culture and every country. I am very fortunate to live in a city where people are open-minded and aware of the rights and freedoms of everyone. In Montreal, being gay is pretty well accepted, even very well accepted. There is very little discrimination and the gay community is very present. I would even say that here, homophobic are judged more harshly than homosexuals!
Yet even here, to “come out” is not always simple. I came out at the age of 20. Today, in retrospect, I wonder why I waited so long.
Obviously, I was very anxious for the reaction of my family and friends. Originally from Levis, I decided when I moved to Montreal that it was time to rid myself of the burden of this secret. I decided that the best thing for me was to be true to myself. I was gay.
I was scared of losing friends or family, but I knew that those who really love me would love me as I am. And they all did, they all loved me as much and maybe even more, without exception.
I wish the best to the entire world today and particularly to all homosexuals, whether they are “out” or not. Find the best for you, life is beautiful and there is freedom.”
Simon, in his own French words:“Être homosexuel, bon ou mauvais ou les deux ? Le plus difficile est de l’accepter pour soi-même. Après l’acception il reste à l’intégrer, une fois intégré on y trouve du bon, on grandit et on se dit qu’il y a pire que ça dans la vie !
Ça débute par faire le deuil de notre idéal de vie que l’on c’était imaginé dès le jeune âge, d’un modèle de famille qu’on croyait facilement réalisable. La frustration et la colère s’emparent de nous et nous fait regarder en l’air pour envoyer chier le bon dieu de nous imposer un tel défi. On voudrait négocier avec lui un cancer, voir même une amputation en remplacement de ce mal étrange et intense qui nous habite. On cherche à qui s’identifier dans ce nouvel univers d’hyper sexualisation auquel on n’a pas envie d’adhérer malgré la pression qui nous y pousse. On est confronté à nos propres préjugés, on se déconstruit pour retrouver une nouvelle identité, on tente de se trouver de nouveaux repères, non sans peur, angoisse ni vertige.
Puis on se dévoile au grand jour, on cesse de se mentir et de mentir aux autres, sauf à sa grand-mère trop vieille pour comprendre, on fait face aux préjugés, les nôtres et ceux des autres, on a peur d’aimer, de s’ouvrir, on se le reproche et on renvoie chier le bon dieu, on s’achète un pantalon trop serré et on le rapporte au magasin. L’ambiguïté s’installe entre ce qui est normal et malsain, on avance et on revient sur nos pas.
Et puis un jour on aperçoit la lumière au bout du tunnel, on respire une bonne bouffée d’air. On se regarde dans le miroir et enfin on aime assez ce qu’on y voit. On regarde derrière sans avoir envie d’y retourner. Finalement on se reconstruit dans une authenticité qui nous réjouit et on se rend compte qu’on ne le déteste pas tant que ça ce Christ. On prend conscience que ce détour obligatoire nous a fait voyager à travers nous-même, nous a permis de s’ouvrir aux autres, de s’ouvrir à la différence, on se sent entier et enfin libre. Alors on desserre les poings et on trouve que tout ça en valait la peine.”
Anthony, in his own words:“If coming out meant anything more than being honest with myself about who I was attracted to physically and emotionally, it also was the freedom that came with it.
You find yourself suddenly free from the weight and fatigue of secretes. If you want to, gay men get to play with ever aspect of masculinity. There are no predefined cultural gender roles for us. We can be sensitive, emotional, or sympathetic with out the worry of loosing our male friends or jobs. We can have all sorts of relationships. What’s the worst people can think of us? That we are gay? Well, we are! With no secret, there is no power.
Once I had the time and confidence to question being straight, the flood gates opened up. If such a basic thing was in question, something I had taken completely for granted, then what else in this world was not as it seemed? I had always assumed growing up meant I would meet a girl, have kids, work a job I hated, and die. But that got thrown out the window! From that point on in my life, my already healthy curious nature took control, and I questioned everything, constantly. My opinions, my rules, and my evolving values. Life wasn’t at all predicable, and became some sort of Alice in Wonderland adventure with no clear finish.
Here in Montreal, the gay community is a little bit more my style. Smaller than NYC or London where I lived previously. Gays here seem to get up early, and leave work at 6.
On coming out; I was terrified. I relied on my parents for so much. If they disowned me for some reason, who knows what I would have done. That’s a small lie actually. I had every contingency worked out. Money, places to stay, long and short term. An entire network on support on the ready.
I could have waited till I was settled and on my own before coming out. But, it felt like life couldn’t start till this was out of the way. Who could concentrate on work, or art, or music with the huge pink elephant in the room? Family dinner was intolerable. I could not listen to anyone over the voice of my own thoughts.
In the end, they surprised me. My mother was a little disappointed at first, but came around. It seemed natural and I could not begrudge her those feelings. My father who I lived with was the big surprise. He’s a stage hand, and works with some pretty rough and tumble guys. Men’s-men if you know what I mean. They are like the jocks of the entertainment industry. For his part, he didn’t bat an eye. After being so scared to come out to him, his biggest response was shame. He was ashamed that me, his very own son, felt he could not trust his father sooner. We became a lot closer after that.”
Eric, in his own words:“Being gay is one thing, accepting it is the other. Once this is done life is such much easier. One can wonder if there is a gay culture, but really there is so much diversity within our own LGBT community. In the end, being gay for me means to be truly who I am, like it or not.
At first the biggest challenge was to find gay people I could identify with. Over the years my sense of humor has surely help me stay away from trouble and get accepted where ever I am. In 2008, I ran for office and one of my objectives was to show others that you could be openly gay, have a career and be involved in politics. A bit like this project, a chance to put a face, and say that we exist and want to be around the table when important decisions are made in Parliament.
We are very lucky in Montreal to have a vibrant and diverse gay community. The village is a beacon and a starting point for many. However, gay people in this city are not ghettoized, we are everywhere and that is the beauty of it. I put anyone to the challenge of not liking Montreal, where Europe and North America meets.
(With regards to coming out) I was 22, and went to study abroad for a year. Mette my Danish friend helped me out with my coming out. When I came back home at Christmas I wanted to tell my parents. On my last night in town, we all went for dinner before my flight. I had promised my sister I was going to tell them then. The bill was on the table and I had yet to face reality, my sister kicked me under the table looking at me with her eyes wide open… I asked my parents if they had New Year’s resolutions, after they finished I told them about mine. I wanted to be successful with my studies, have a great career in Europe afterwards and be myself. My dad said: “these are not resolutions!” To which I replied: Well in order to be myself I need to tell you something… I am Gay”. Dead silence, but, it felt like a huge weight was off my shoulders. I was quick in letting everyone know that it was not their fault. The only choice I had to make was to accept or not, whom I truly was. It took me time to come to this conclusion and it was only fair to give them time to reflect on this. Overtime, they made me feel accepted and told me that really nothing much had changed.”