Category: City: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Peter and Michael, School Counselor and Retired Payroll Director, Philadelphia

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

Peter, in his own words: “As a youth I knew I was different from the other boys my age. I wasn’t exactly sure what the disparity was, but it seemed significant.

It wasn’t merely my lack of interest in sports or my quiet, calm personality compared to the aggressive drive I sensed in other boys. They knew I was different, too. Being taller than all my peers, I escaped the physical bullying many others endured.

In high school I thought that I must be homosexual. The friendships I enjoyed were mostly with girls and with some boys like me. At that time I became aware of my sexual attraction to other boys, and men in the media.

Surprisingly, I didn’t feel a sense of shame about who I must be. I accepted myself, yet I didn’t risk the disclosure of my difference. I wasn’t going to give that piece of me to just anyone. There were almost no gays or lesbians in the movies or on TV – no Ellen, or Elton or an Oprah to make it all seem ok. It seems keeping my true self hidden was how I interacted with the world. I gave little of myself and became the friend that always listened and supported others. It was not until the end of college that I was open with others about my sexuality.

Now at 55, I can look back at almost 30 years with Michael. He is a man with huge heart and a big, warm loving personality. His example taught me that to be truly intimate with others requires honesty. Through our relationship I have continued to evolve and grow as a person. I’ve come to have experiences I never expected to have – together we have traveled the world and enjoyed many warm, rich friendships. We enjoy a nephew and many godchildren. I have learned that even though being gay has afforded me a great perspective and wonderful experiences, it doesn’t shield us from life’s difficult times. We have buried our mothers and too many friends.

I realize that I have had the life that I was meant to lead, that being gay has not prevented me from having a rich, rewarding life. It is my hope that the increased normalizing of gay life in the public sphere will allow young people to be themselves at an earlier age than I was.”

Michael, in his own words: “I have conflicting ideas about what being gay means to me. When I look at it intellectually I understand the position of many people that being gay is just one aspect of our selves, and that we shouldn’t be judged solely on being gay. However, my immediate response is that being gay has and does influence most of what I think and feel in all aspects of life.

I came out over 40 years ago, at a time when there were no, or very few, openly gay people. I had never met any one who was gay. Every message I received about homosexuals and homosexuality was negative. I was bullied and taunted all through my school years, and was always fearful. This greatly influenced my behavior. I was very quiet and would not even answer questions in a class. And this was long before I even understood sexual attraction. I had few friends and was guarded about what I would say to people. These behaviors continued into college. By then I realized my sexual attraction to other males, yet still had crushes on girls.

Of course, I wasn’t ready to tell anyone my “secret” nor had I acted on my attraction to men. Yet, my life did change greatly. In my junior year of college, I lived away from home. I met in my dormitory/dining hall a group of students who seemed to accept me and want to befriend me just the way I was. It was a brand new feeling and gradually allowed me to gain some self-confidence. Those people are close friends to this day. The experience with these friends allowed me to become more comfortable in social situations and feel free to be who I am.

It wasn’t until graduate school that I had my first sexual experience and met other gay students with whom I became friendly. Making friends with other gay men and being accepted allowed me to come into my own. While it was always a little scary to come out to someone, my experiences were overwhelmingly positive. Meeting my partner (of 30 years) has allowed me to blossom even further and face challenges I would never have earlier in life when I feared anyone knowing I was gay.

To my younger self I would say that it’s important to trust in other people, to not assume that they will judge you negatively for being gay. And, to understand and accept that coming out and growing is a life-long process. Be open and be yourself. You will find other people who will accept and love you exactly the way you are!”

Will, Photographer, Philadelphia

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
Will, in his own words: “When you finally embrace the gift of your sexual orientation it IS the end; the end of shame, fear and oppression. You leave the darkness of the closet and begin a life of honesty, authenticity and freedom.”

– ANTHONY VENN-BROWN

Joey, Educator, Philadelphia

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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
photo by Kevin Truong

Joey, in his own words: “Here and Now Notes from Above Ground.

Being gay is how I am. It is my identity in the world. It is a type of soulful construction with personal, social, spiritual and sexual meanings—- noun and verb for mindfulness’ sake and a lived presence of experience and depth. As a native Philadelphian, I have watched the community evolve and have played an active role in that emergence. From the early days of gay consciousness raising and pot-lucks to being an organizer of THE ELDER INITIATIVE, a GLBTQ horizon which is shedding light on gay senior needs and visibility.

Professionally, I am an educator with degrees and recognitions, ulcers and a strong sense of testicular fortitude, along with a love of creativity and humor. Painting, zentangles, and photography are on going projects which are instrumental in my being a gay man, along with my loving boyfriend of the past nine years.

N.B.to my younger self— Be present as the watcher of your mind-of your thoughts and emotions as well as your reactions in life’s adventures.”

Rich, Flow Cytometry Research Specialist, Philadelphia

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

Richard, in his own words: “I knew I was gay when I was very young, I couldn’t have been more than half way through grade school. There was no period of coming to acceptance or of shame. It was just part of me. Sounds easy, right? No, at that time I was sure I was going to die an old man with my secret well kept, still a virgin. Keep in mind that this was the sixties and seventies. Growing up in the suburbs at that time it was as if gay men did not exist. Any reference you may have heard to gay people was not of a loving relationship but sexual acts of such depravity that it could only be an act of the devil. I was also terminally shy and a bit of a social misfit, so it was easy to keep it under wraps. I didn’t lie about it. No made up girl friends. I just refused to acknowledge it to others.

It wasn’t till my mid twenties that I started to change. But it was more of adapting to changing circumstances than any big change on my part. I had started working at a hospital in the city. Gay men were actually visible and reasonably well accepted. I could see that there was truth in the philosophy that coming out made things better. While trying to work up the courage to come out a coworker of mine beat me to it, he started telling people at work that he was gay. I followed in his wake, coming out was made easier.

Being out of the closet at work was a total nonevent from my employer and coworker’s point of view. But it wasn’t for me. I was happier. However, being gay did influence me to move from the lab I had started in and become the lead technologist of the clinical Flow Cytometry lab. Flow Cytometry was a brand new expensive technology that was floundering because there was nothing at the time that could not be done more cheaply by other means. Then it became the gold standard for doing CD4 counts for people with HIV. In part moving into this lab was my way of giving back to the community. Over the years Cytometry has expanded wildly, so now CD4 counts are only a small part of what we do. Since then I’ve moved onto a basic research Cytometry lab.

A few years after coming out I met what I thought was the total opposite of my “dream man”. We were different in nearly every way possible. We became inseparable in almost no time. We complemented each other; together we were more of a complete person. We were together for more than twenty years. He always wanted to marry me, I would have gone along with it but I thought it was just a silly piece of paper. Besides, at the time it was impossible. I was wrong; when he became ill and slowly passed away I would have killed for that piece of paper. I had no rights, which really complicated things just at the time when I just wanted to take care of him.”

Vince, English Teacher, Philadelphia

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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: “I am sixty-eight now, and on my thirty-fourth birthday I stood in line on 47th Street (in NYC) 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.”

Justin, Computer Science Student, Philadelphia

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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

Justin, in his own words: “Being gay, at least in my way of thinking, is just another label, one of many that I have. Everyone has different labels that make them up. But actually being gay means that I have different qualities than the norm. It makes me abnormal and unique, and I couldn’t see myself without that label unless I wanted to pretend to be someone I’m not. But who would want to do that? Everyone has amazing qualities that make up the individual, and for me, being gay is just one of them.

One of my biggest challenges in being gay is trying to fit in to what the society (mostly my parents) want me to be. Over the years, my parents have grown to understand who I am in regards to my sexual identity, so I am very proud of them. Trying to fit in to a hetero-normative society is not a simple feat for anyone that is not heterosexual. Myself being a gay black male, I have had many troubles trying to be accepted. Now that I am completely out, I have a very supporting family and group of friends.

Speaking of coming out, that would be one of my greatest accomplishments in regards to being gay. I remember the person I ever “came out” to, and I didn’t officially come out to him. My pre-calculus teacher during my sophomore year of high school helped me figure out what it means to be gay and different and how to turn my struggles into compliments. He himself is gay as well, and to this day, we are great friends. He has helped me tremendously with my sexual identity. Whenever I have a question about anything that has to do with the gay world, the first person I contact is always him. I later decided to come out to my brother and parents, and in January 2014, I took a big leap of faith and came out on Facebook. Once I did that, I felt like I was free. It was completely liberating to do that, and the positive feedback from my friends and family made it all worthwhile.

I would conclude that my coming out story is one of the happier ones. I have heard some horrific ones in my years, and yes, it is very heartbreaking to hear some of them. It is unfortunate that not everyone can have a good coming out story, but the struggles that we go through help shape us into better individuals, so in concept, having a not-so-good coming out story teaches you more valuable lessons in a sense.

The gay community is Philadelphia is, for the most part, very welcoming and friendly. The place for the average gay Joe to hang out with fellow LGTB people would be the “gayborhood”. It is located in center city, and personally I call it one of my many homes. I have had so many fond memories there, and the bars and clubs there are great as well. I definitely recommend living in Philadelphia if you are looking for a safe place to live. However, just make sure the area your living in is gay-friendly because there are some places in Philadelphia that are not as friendly as center city.

If I could give my younger self any advice, it would be to always be yourself no matter how you think people around you will accept you. We tend to create a mindset that we have these certain “standards” to keep in order to truly be accepted and for people around us to like and love us, and if we don’t like up to these standards and steer away from them even slightly, we will lose everything. But know this — there will always be people out there that will accept you for who you truly are. I thought for sure that my parents would never accept me; I personally thought they were going to disown me. It took time, but they eventually realized that even though I am gay, I am still their son and care about them just as much as I did before I came out to them. Also, just because you are different doesn’t mean that you are “bad” and unfit for the world. I had this mindset up until 2013 when I arrived at college and met my best friend who also happens to be the first gay male I met that was my age. We are still great friends, and he and I plan to stay platonic friends even after college. Lastly, I would tell my younger self to take risks and just go for it. How will you know if the guy across the bar isn’t into you if you don’t go up to him and introduce yourself? And even if he isn’t, all that means is that there is a better guy out there for you; this took me a long time to realize. But now that I am not as scared to go up to people as I used to be, I have gained so much self-confidence in myself. It has been a wild ride, but I would not change any of it for the world.”

Howard, Artist/Teacher/Dreamer, Philadelphia

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photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

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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
photo by Kevin Truong

Howard, in his own words: “Being gay is about being different. It leads to a gradual process of accepting who you are, accepting that you are different, accepting that some people will hate you and even abandon you, and finally, for me, realizing that the process of self-acceptance gives me strength, opens my creativity and helps form the strength of my character. My coming-out story took 67 years.

Years of self-loathing and feeling less significant than others have only recently given way to feelings of pride and self-accomplishment. I do not want younger people to have to undergo this journey — today many younger people do not have to struggle as much — but there are still many who have to bear the weight of the burden culture and religion place on us.

Being gay has made me self-aware, and self-reliant, able to tap into my creative juices and only recently to feel okay about whom I am. Even 40 years ago, Philadelphia had wonderful resources for gay men and women. When I was first dealing with my sexual awareness I found a gay synagogue, gay support groups, the Advocate experience (a form of Zen popular in the 60’s,) gay counseling center, and simply being around other gay men to be of help, but the inner burden was always there, always heavy, despite several forms of self-help and therapy.

I didn’t want to be gay, didn’t want to be different and tried to hide it from myself and from others. I got married for the wrong reasons, had children whom I love but feel I let-down as a symbol of strength. I tried to follow the “normal” path until at 30 years of age decided to seek out who I really was. I found friends and dated many men while trying to find people who would make me feel whole, realizing on some level that the emptiness was inside me, but not knowing how to fill it. The life experiences that should have made me feel positive seemed to in vain — always wanting to “fit in” and yet feeling very much estranged by at people at work, neighbors and acquaintances who I coveted as friends.

My creativity felt like a burden, my interests seemed frivolous and uninteresting by my standards of what “real men” should be. Even as I met other gay men who shared some of these interests my self-esteem lacked true conviction. I looked, always, for self-acceptance through others. I searched for “love” that would make me complete, but I have never truly loved — myself, or someone else. Now, the need to find intimacy is no longer seen as a magic cure-all; I can find that strength inside.

Part of my recent level of comfort is the result of seeing the development my gay son’s now ten-year relationship and the adaptations they have made to accommodate each other. I am proud of his accomplishment. Yes, you can learn from your children. Those without children can learn from a younger generation that is more accepting.

I have semi-retired, live in the city, have developed a circle of supportive friends, and can say for the first time that I feel complete. I love my varied interests, love my time alone, and seek more friends, more experiences, and an even wider variety of interests. This is truly the first time in my life that I feel proud of myself, the first time in my life that I feel my differences are my strengths, the first time in my life I can say I truly feel inner-joy.

If I had it to do over again, and as advice for younger people – do not do as I did, find your inner voice. Live and work among other gay people, or in a community that is accepting. Fill your life with experiences, visit places you want to visit, do things you enjoy, indulge yourself without guilt, and do whatever it takes to love yourself first. Caution: this is easier said than done.”