Category: City: New York City

Francisco, Writer, 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
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

Francisco, in his own words: “I don’t think being gay means you need to be political, but I do think it means you need to be brave. I believe that confidence—the way you daily conquer things—is an example and point of reference to friends, co-workers, lovers, friends, and kids that don’t otherwise have a resource to see that.

Junot Diaz has this great quote from a talk he gave in Jersey. “You guys know about vampires?” He asks. “You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, ‘Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?’ And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might seem themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”

Growing up in white bread Chicago suburbia, I felt like a vampire. I never saw gay parents, or dudes wearing short shorts, or action TV series with queer protagonists. The greatest challenge was, and still is, finding everyday gay heroes to learn from or aspire to. And so I guess I’ve made it my mantra as a writer and as a person to seek out those heroes and to create the reflections I never saw when I was 10, sitting in my room peeling through Greek Mythology books, praying that I’d find a gay romance, a dude rescuing a dude in distress, any fleck of something that proved to me that one day I could save the day or conquer something. I wanted the gay guy to pick up the sword, I guess.

The day I came out to my parents (I was 18?) I had packed a bag. I’d brought my escape kit to the Art Institute where I would spend the day and thereafter, run away forever and live in my boyfriend’s ex-boyfriend’s guest bedroom for as long as possible until I figured out where to go from there. And I mean, yeah, wow, I was a manic and dumb kid in high school. But I think part of what I was feeling was unprepared and ill-equipped. I had no weapon.

The year I moved to New York was the best year of my life, and so much of that has to do with the gay companionship I’ve found here and will continue to find here. I’ve built some pretty terrible relationships in my day and escaping those ghosts had everything to do with knowing new gay men who scarcely accept less than they deserve. I work for a gay magazine called Hello Mr. that creates this kinda ineffable bond between gay men. It’s been a commonplace for key friendships, and I guess put up those mirrors I’d been aching for as a kid—the reflections of everyday heroes I could one day know or love or become.

Kinda wish I could send a tweet from the future into the past saying “@fransquishco! You’re going to be okay! You have gay friends! Parts of your heart are growing back!” But I guess since I can’t do that, the next best thing is writing for kids like me, little reassurances and mirrors. Or at least that’s the goal.

And I’m still looking for gay friends! Be friends with me! I’m big on picnics and any place where they serve you coffee in a ceramic mug.”

Follow Francisco on Twitter, @fransquishco, and Instagram, fransquishco.

Ryan, Musician/Writer, 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

Ryan, in his own words: “I came out a little shy of a year ago. I’m 26 now. It took me a long time to come to terms with my sexuality. I knew that I was gay since I was a child but could never accept it. My upbringing in a traditional Samoan and Christian household instilled a lot of shame and self-hatred in me because I knew that ‘being gay’ was not acceptable. If anyone knew that I was gay, I would not be accepted.

I believed that if I hoped and worked hard enough and denied my sexuality that I could force myself to be straight–to be normal. I dated women and even got into serious relationships as a means of forcing myself straight. I fooled myself into believing I wanted a traditional life. I believed that if I could pretend long enough that this one little thing didn’t exist I’d be okay. I’d have a wedding, get a wife, and kids and I’d be happy. But inside I knew it wasn’t right. I knew that I was lying to everyone and most importantly myself.

As I grew older I realized more and more that there was nothing that could change who I was. No amount of prayer or work or denial could change the fact that I was supposed to be this way. I was born gay, there is a reason for it and I have to accept it as a part of my story. A year ago I decided to be brave and take the leap and I found my joy. I found the acceptance from friends and family that I thought I would be denied.

If I could communicate anything to my younger self I’d tell him that he is loved. He is fine just the way he is. There’s nothing to be afraid of. We are exactly who we are meant to be, we are perfect. Denying who we are is only denying us the happiness that we deserve.”

Sam, Filmmaker, 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
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Sam, in his own words: “I try and meet as many different people as I can. It’s the only way to see the world from an objective place. Situations are more interesting when they don’t apply to a movie I’ve seen before. Amy made me unexplainable excited because she was unlike anyone I had ever met. My thesis film was throwing myself into her world this fall and then, as i edit the film, digging my way out. I’ve been so happy this past year working like this; and in the process coming to understand that there is a grey zone on the continuum of gender identity through my one on one interaction with a stranger.”

Check out Sam’s Kickstarter

Jared, Writer/Photographer, 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
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Jared, in his own words: ” I never knew my biological parents (mother was Dutch & German, father was black) and I was adopted and raised on a rural farm in southern Michigan by an American Indian and Irish family. I had a happy childhood, happier than most. I survived my mother’s two divorces, and being the eldest I was the head of household while mom worked as a single parent. I never begrudged my mother for making me grow up to be a man at the age of 15 as I helped my siblings with homework, learned to cook and took care of the household tasks. I never regretted it either, despite missing out on a social life outside of school. It instilled responsibility and maturity in me, and it taught me that sometimes we have to sacrifice.

Throughout childhood and well into my teenage years Superman was my idol, even after I was too old to be reading comics – I still saved my allowance and bought Action Comics, Justice League and others – they were my escape and fueled my imagination. I wanted to be Superman, and could never understand the fascination with a fictional character until many years later. This was also around the time I started writing; I started my first novella and found a new way to escape the churning feelings and emotions that were starting to come to the surface as I started to notice my male peers.

I had told my mother I might be gay when I was 13. She told me if that was the case, we would unpack my birth certificate, she would burn it, I would pack my clothes and leave, and that she would never want to see me again. The next day at school I asked a girl to go steady with me, but the furthest I went with a girl was a kiss on the cheek of my prom date after dropping her off. Five years later I came out again, and that was the day I became a man. I refused to live a lie, to be someone who I wasn’t, and if my family could not accept me for who I was, then it was their loss. I was living with my grandmother, and though she and my aunt came around, my coming out only caused the relationship between my mother and I to deteriorate. She spoke to me once more, coming back to town for an afternoon when I was 19 to sit me down and have a “talk”. The minute she opened her mouth I knew she was going to tell me I was adopted, and she did, and that was the only thing she told me, leaving me to figure out the rest. She later passed away in 2005, and I wish she had accepted my ignored peace offerings instead of wasting all those years over hate and ignorance.

After high school in small town Michigan I had the good fortune to be “adopted” by “the committee” – a small group of gay men in their late 20s to late 30s for dinner parties, game nights – my first time falling in love, first boyfriend, first gay bar. Again in life, I was lucky to have never been bullied for who I was, and was comfortable with my ethnicity and sexual preference in the village (literally) where I was lived as the token black gay man.

I moved to Florida shortly thereafter to Tampa (which to me at the time was a metropolis compared to Quincy MI). It was there that I grew and evolved – fell in love with the beach, discovered leather and BDSM, developed a love of photography, returned to my writing as well as my love of comic books and had a string of relationships that never lasted more than a few years, but still managed to salvage a friendship with each of them, even to this day. It was at this time I created Jared’s World, a Yahoo group (also on Facebook) that over the years has grown to over 5,000 members. It has served as my online family, a group of primarily gay men from all around the world that offered a place to escape after a hard day’s work or a bad day, a place to vent, to share and to be supported through rough times. One person CAN make a difference and this group proves it.

Darker days would follow as I explored the drug, club and sex culture in Tampa – got my ass in trouble a few times but got up, took responsibility, dusted myself off and moved on, head held up. Went to countless hours of therapy to learn who I was and what made me tick, why my relationships failed, and it all helped, it truly did, to gain a better understanding of myself. I was never ashamed for being gay, was never proud to be gay – I just preferred the company of men. Through a quirk of fate I located my biological siblings (my bio parents had passed away in 2001), which was the last piece of the puzzle – my first question was “What am I?” I found out my father was black (hence my skin tone and not the “American Indian” lie my mother had told me growing up), and that my mother was Dutch and German (so THAT was where my fascination with boots and leather came from). At long last, at the age of 34 I had an identity. A somewhat convoluted one, but I was my own melting pot through my families, and that was when I chose the moniker amanofcolours as my online ID, swiping it from an Icehouse record album called Man of Colours – it was the perfect fit.

2008 was the most spectacular year of my entire life. I took a voluntary buyout from my job, bought a one way ticket and boarded an airplane with two suitcases and a dream to New York City. Finally, after all these years of dreaming of living in the Big Apple, my dream had come true. There have been ups and downs, but it was the best decision I have ever made and have never looked back. I have a small close knit group of friends, and I pretty much do my own thing – exploring NYC and its history like a kid in a candy store, snapping thousands of pictures as I hone and improve my work, returning to my writing, growing my eBay boot business beyond my wildest dreams, going to the theater and experiencing so many things I have never done before, and will never be able to do again. My first NYC Pride parade – the energy, the love, the pride – that was a defining experience that made me realize I was indeed proud to be gay. The gay community in NYC is very diverse, yet it has its splinter groups. I still haven’t found my niche, and don’t think that I will, and that is okay. I am just me, and I am just fine with who I am and the man I have become.

A few years back I was sitting in my Jersey City apartment reading a Superman comic book that had recently been released and it hit me. After all these years of looking up to the man who personified “Truth, Justice and the American Way”, I realized why I loved Superman so much. He never knew his real parents, but they sent him away for a chance at a better life, as my biological parents had done for me. Clark Kent and I both grew up in rural areas, had our struggles fitting in, and later we would move to our respective metropolises to work in the newspaper industry. Granted I can’t fly (one day I WILL skydive though), have x ray vision or leap tall buildings in a single bound, but I do have super strength to have made it this far, I have my vulnerabilities, a love and compassion for my fellow man, I have hope for humanity and I can see the good that is in people. It is not my place to judge anyone, because I myself have been judged many a time. If only folks could just accept people for who they are (like I have been accepted throughout my life), the world could be so much better.

Looking back on my life, I have made some mistakes, but I have no regrets, would never want to go back to change anything, because I would not be who I am or where I am today. As Kylie would say, “I wouldn’t change a thing…” Up, up and away……”

Alessio, Student, 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
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

Alessio, in his own words: “For me being gay just means being romantically attracted to men.

I think I felt very different growing up, but my family saw that and were very supportive in everything I did. It was hard leaving home and moving to New York City and being confronted with a vibrant and immense gay community, and then to decide how much I wanted that to be a part of my life. I think I’m still figuring that out, but it becomes easier the longer I’ve been here. I’m dating my best friend, whom I love very much, so I’d consider that a success as far as being gay goes.

(The gay community in New York City is) Vibrant and immense, like I said, and almost overwhelming. Almost. I’ll never forget my first Pride and the feeling that the entire city was celebrating, not just gay men and women. New York in general is pretty gay too, so the I’ve never been able to easily separate the “gay” community from my community at large.

(With regards to a coming out story) Eh, I don’t really have one. I suppose I told my father first, but both of my parents knew at that point (I was a very imaginative and often effeminate child, but a really early fascination with Leonardo DiCaprio probably tipped them off first). I was going to see my boyfriend at the time and needed a ride to the train station, and I explained it as such and there was no problem. It didn’t come up in conversation with my mom until that relationship had ended. I’d always hoped that my experience would become more common in the future. For many I think it’s still important to be able to claim “gay” as an identity, to allow it, in some part, to define who you are, but it can’t be the only thing, and I certainly didn’t want my friends and family to think I needed them to see me as “gay” before anything else. I just needed them to understand that so-and-so was my boyfriend and that was how I liked it.

(With regards to advice to my younger self) I wouldn’t interfere. My parents knew what they were doing, and it was almost to a fault that I was encouraged to be different. I was very comfortable not always being liked, very comfortable making closed-minded people uncomfortable, and very, very comfortable pursuing what I wanted. If I could talk to a more recent younger self I think I’d encourage him not to lose that, but we’re working back up to it I believe.”

Kechi, Designer, 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

Kechi, in his own words: “Being gay is the ultimate quest of finding self-worth with or without the validation of outside sources. Be it family, piers, society etc. Just as well it means knowing who you are, what you’re about and what you are capable of despite what the world and your current situation tells you.

(With regards to challenges) Too many to count. But finishing college and coming out to my parents have by far been the hardest. Another challenge has been and continues to be knowing what exactly a gay, black/Nigerian, Christian man with aspirations of becoming a fashion designer looks like. The fact that I’m still seeking it despite the odds in a way is its own success.

The gay community in New York City is a lot of things good and bad; large, superficial, diverse, political, colorful, progressive, Eurocentric, intellectual, ageist, fabulous, transgressive, homophobic, spiritual, hedonistic and the list goes on. But ultimately it is what you make it. If you want to party and do drugs there are plenty of people who are more than willing to do that with you. And if you want to further your growth as an individual and are open to having new experiences there are plenty of folks to go down that path with as well.

(With regards to coming out) In a nutshell when I was 16 my mom caught me looking at certain materials on the internets. Ten years later not too much has changed. It’s more like the big pink elephant in the middle of the room that no one talks about. I’ve told them on more than one occasion that I am gay and I didn’t ‘choose’ to be so but they refuse to believe that. Both of my parents come from very conservative backgrounds so the likelihood of them ever truly accepting me as their gay son is slim. But what’s hope for anyway?

I would tell my younger self a couple things:

-Grow thick skin, because it will definitely come in handy.

-Finding a meaningful relationship at the club; very unlikely.

-Sex is great but it can get really old, really fast.

-The sooner you are able to disregard what others say and think about you the better off you’ll be.

-Do not fall victim of finding self worth in materialistic and superficial possessions as so many people have and continue to do.

-You’ll never be completely ‘out’ of the closet; it’s a life long process.

-Some weekends are better spent staying in whether alone or with the company of friends.”

David, Actor/Fight-Director/Musician, 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

David, in his own words “Being gay is a great blessing. I feel that gay men are forced to confront their shadows at an early age and in ways that straight men, by and large don’t have to. We have to scrutinize our very identity as men and learn what that means to be ourselves. It’s a very personal journey of self-realization, self-acceptance and self-actualization. It can be daunting, heart-breaking, frightening, exciting, astonishing and deeply spiritual.

My journey was not easy. I didn’t come out to myself till I was in my mid-twenties and then to my parents in my late 20s. I had suppressed my gay nature all through adolescence and college; keeping my eye on the prize of making myself into an actor and theater artist. It was that very choice of vocation that forced me to be honest with myself and come out. I knew that I’d never be any good as an actor if I couldn’t be first honest with myself. An actor must be relentless in their quest for truth about the human condition and how to accurately tell it’s story.

Ironically, I never have been cast in a gay role for film or tv. I’m told I don’t “read” gay with my stocky build, and baritone voice. Luckily the stage has been more generous and allowed me to play some great gay characters.

Since then, I’ve worked hard to build bridges with many of NYC’s gay theater artists and have helped found a new Queer theater company: {Your Name Here} A Queer Theater Company. I also worked frequently as a fight-choreographer for off-broadway and indie-film. As far as I know, I’m the only “out” gay fight-director and like to think that I’m helping break stereotypes about gay men.

Other aspects of my nature worked against my easy integration into the gay community of NYC at first. I like martial arts and was a regular on the amateur tournament circuit. I enjoy rock /punk/psycho-billy music and the out-doors. I have found some acceptance in the leather and gay-pagan communities and have cultivated a wonderful circle of queer friends. “

Roger, Foreign Service Officer, 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
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

Roger, in his own words:“Growing up I think I’ve always known that I was attracted to men; the physiological and psychological tendencies in and of themselves did not really prove challenging as I’ve not known anything else. As an Asian immigrant I was also constantly aware of being in the minority, and during the early years the desire to fit in could have been as much about ethnicity and growing up in a foreign environment as being different from the majority and not fitting the norm with respect to sexuality and desires. To be labelled and categorized was something I had grown up with, as people around you attempt to deal with something different and unfamiliar that may or may not be threatening to them by calling you names or by making cruel jokes or commentary around you whether directed at you or not.

Being gay to me has felt like a struggle to find some sense of identity for yourself amidst the natural tendency of people around you, whether your family and loved ones, acquaintances and friends, or people who have no connection to you but feel the inclination to pass judgement, to define or associate you with a set of assumptions and expectations. During my parents’ generation, I presume the labeling of someone as gay probably meant a gross generalization to explain away out of fear of the unknown homosexuality as an affliction, something that unfortunately befell upon someone in their formative years (such as bad influences from the wrong friends) that could perhaps be fixed through remedial efforts somehow to rid the individual of this tendency. I have struggled over the years with not coming out to my parents because at the time they would not have understood what it meant to be gay, would have blamed themselves for my being gay, and would have faced such devastating shame and guilt from relatives and friends that I could not bear the thought of the damage I would have caused, and hence bottled it up inside. I should have realized that my family’s love is unconditional, and that they would have accepted me for who I am, not who I thought they wanted me to be. However, not being able to be true to my self by virtue of my own (false) assumptions, dancing nervously around conversations which may lead to inevitable questions about my private world, and harboring perennial guilt for the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations of course led to a difficult dynamic with my family, until the unspoken was just accepted as tacit acknowledgement.

Today, even with the incredible strides which have been made in recent years in bringing gay life to the mainstream through entertainment and media, celebrities coming out to seemingly little negative impact on their careers, landmark decisions in the courts and sea changes in how establishment like the military has come to terms with homosexuality, I find that progress has not necessarily rid us of stereotypes and generalizations. Aren’t gay guys generally assumed to be good at decorating, have impeccable fashion sense, be the life of the party, have a sharp bitchy sense of humor, and of course must idolize Britney/Beyoncé/Madonna/Kylie/Gaga? You certainly see enough of these traits in gay characters on TV and in the movies, but maybe it’s easier for people who don’t have much direct interaction with gay guys to defer to these caricatures, or perhaps even for gay people who have not yet become comfortable in their own skin to take on aspects of this persona. To come to terms with what being gay means for oneself, to fully realize that self-image of who you are does take time, and these distractions imposed by society and those around you as to how they assume you would behave or be like in disposition are easy trappings to fall into, because to me being gay is not really about definition, but about acceptance.

I must say that in NYC, more than anywhere else in all my years living and working abroad, I have never been made more aware of preconception and prejudice, worst of all within your own community where left and right I face the stereotype of gay asians being marginalized as being bad in bed, clingy and small in size on all fronts, to the point where guys feel the need to specifically single out asians to discriminate against behind the anonymity afforded them from hookup apps and sites. Perhaps with the new generations of people growing up with fewer hangups and a more liberal view of what it means to be gay, there would be less evidence of this kind of challenge to those struggling to come to terms with this lifestyle and society’s reactions to it. It is ironic, however, that I find bigotry alive and well not amongst certain parts of the country or demographic where you might expect it, but here in New York, within our own ranks, spewed forth by headless torsos who likely wear white collars during the day. I wonder if they would have the courage to write “no asians” on their profiles if their pics were not locked. All of a sudden, here in 2014 in NYC, I’m strangely reminded of my first years as an immigrant when bullies would use racial slurs to make themselves feel better, as if I was such a threat to their sense of self they needed to call attention to the fact that’ I’m different from them, lest I try to wink or say hi, or worst of all, add them to my friends list.

Ultimately I think being gay is about acceptance, of yourself, of others, of those who are different, and to show tolerance and empathy for those who struggle to become proud of who they are, because they should not be defined by the labels and assumptions that you and society would like to place on them, but by their resilience in facing adversity to come to terms with their identity and to find happiness, just like everyone else.”

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.”

Klay, Author and Lifestyle Consultant, 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
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Klay, in his own words: “(Being gay means) God. Juxtaposition. Freedom. Being. Spirit. Difference. Strength. Fluidity. Infinite. Privilege. Essence. Joy. Power. Responsibility. Royal. Love. Gratitude. Treats. Sun. Resurrection. Simply. Enough.

A general challenge is probably being a double minority—black and gay. When experiencing forms of discrimination, it’s very interesting having to figure out if my blackness or gayness is too much for some.

[Laughs]

A success? Let’s see. There is probably not too much that I could not handle as a result of the above challenge. And, with that, in the form of various disparities, it makes you feel extra special, beautiful and free, when you are simply comfortable in all that might be separating in the US, in general.

The thing that makes me, or others different is the unifying glue that educates, strengthens and calls us to live out the fullest expression of who we are.

So, everyday is a celebration of sorts.

I’m not sure I can speak for the varying communities of community within the life of gays in NYC. It’s such a vast canvas that it cannot be described in one sentence or platform, if that makes sense.

Nonetheless, in my experience, I would say that the community in New York City is selective and separate in a lot of ways, in terms of race, class, and socioeconomic status. Then, on the other hand, you have communities where everyone is completely different from each other—race, class and the like is not of importance.

Either way, there’s no judgment. I think we instinctively gravitate towards who we are comfortable with.

I do not really have a (coming out) story—more so, thoughts:
(An excerpt from my book, There Is Only Plan A—A Journey Towards Self-Discovery and Renewed Purpose, Chapter 9)

Dear God,

I have a secret.

Shhh…conceal it inside.
Shhh…inhalation from within….
Shhh…don’t release the wind…the wind of destruction, separation, and pain…the dressing that covers the bruise of disclosure…the asylum that protects it…your secret.

You’ve moved violently through your limited days, resisting the beast that dwells in your soul…the monstrous fiend of biblical times that hounds the streets of Corinth.

Rock hard feeling…sentiment and sensation pursues the visual physique of the mortal that provides nourishment to your palate of fascination.

Heartbreaking discretion and dutiful murmurs of rejection irk the creature that usher screams inside your body of containment.

Never-ending bliss, lifelong nurturing, sexual aggression, and soundless pain bequeath your heart of embarrassment.

Whispers. Stares. Judgment. Confusion and hate remain in the swagger of your damaged stride. But you gently whisper….

Shhh…conceal it inside.
Shhh…inhalation from within….
Shhh…don’t release the wind…the wind of destruction, separation, and pain…the dressing that covers the bruise of disclosure…the asylum that protects it…your secret.

Mind warp. Twilight Zone. Panic. Protection is found only in the respite of solitude and spiritual regulation from the universe of hallucination. Tender prayers and heartfelt tears of freedom hide the beauty of your shadowed silhouette.

The end. Help. Smother. Your restless nights add maturity to your adolescent body of past perfection and crumpled linen to your hills of collapsed smiles.

Beg. Kaput. Future. The walls of Jericho have finally tumbled down. Armageddon has inaudibly pierced the small crevice between your lips.

Furtive. Hush-hush. Covert. It’s finally out. Ancient times are no more. Contemporary art hangs from the gray wall. Picturesque visions of Black and White surface. Immortal quietness no longer dwells within your clandestine spirit.

Numbness. Fear. Hope.

Shhh…conceal it inside.
Shhh…inhalation from within….
Shhh…don’t release the wind…the wind of destruction, separation, and pain…the dressing that covers the bruise of disclosure…the asylum that protects it…your secret.

(Advice I’d give to my younger self) You are—and have always been—and will forever be, enough.”