Category: City: Portland, Oregon

Jared, Instructor/Researcher/Youth Worker, Portland, Oregon

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
Jared, in his own words: “What does being gay/queer mean to you?

This is a complicated question. I came out at such a young age and being gay was already at the forefront of my own identity development that I feel it might be more fully integrated than if I had come out later in life. In other words, I mostly take that identity for granted.

I think being gay/queer (two very distinct identities and both with which I readily identify) has allowed me a distinct vantage point to observe and consider how identities might impact experience.
My mother is Jewish and I grew up in a predominately Mormon suburb. Early on, I was used to living on the periphery. By senior year, my sexuality was not a secret. But many of my peers seemed less concerned with my sexuality and more preoccupied with the fact that I was not Mormon. I don’t think my sexuality was something they could even conceptualize, but not being Mormon? That was almost unheard of.

Critical thinking is a buzzword (buzzphrase?) in academia. How do we teach it? How do we learn it? What facilitates critical thinking? I think in addition to being Jewish, being gay and queer has afforded me the opportunity to identify counter-narratives. I spent my entire life knowing I was not the norm and having to question why the norm was the norm.

This was another experience I took for granted. I know I have internalized a lot of heteronormative, homonormative, misogynist, racist, et cetera, dominant discourse, but I don’t excuse misogyny and racism the way a lot of people in queer communities seem to just by virtue of not being part of a heterosexual hegemony. It seems a little hypocritical and contradictory. Like, you know the consequences of a non-normative identity. Why would you enforce that kind of normativity with people who hold other non-normative identities? I’m not saying I’m perfect by any means – just an observation.

Simply, being gay probably refers to some primary sexual attraction while being queer is a more political (and ideally inclusive) identity. I imagine that’s a common answer. It might be redundant to say sexuality is more complicated than that. If you account for history and behavior, attraction, and personal identification, being gay and/or queer can’t begin to capture all of it. So I anchor all of that in identity – separate from history, behavior, attraction, et cetera.

(With regards to challenges and successes) right now I’m preoccupied with money. I’ve chosen an expensive path with a modest payoff. And I never learned the best money management skills. Spend it faster than you make it. Buy now, pay later. While self-imposed, this has been a huge challenge lately.
But I’ve had far more successes.

I’m the fifth of six children and the first to earn a four-year degree. I’m the only one with a master’s degree and might remain the only one. And I’ll certainly be the only with a PhD. I did that myself, with very little guidance and minimal financial support. And now I teach undergraduate students! That feels significant.

The year I finished undergrad, I published two poems in a small independent journal. That was a dream come true for me. The journal never gained much traction and has been inactive for sometime, but I am tremendously proud of that work.

I’ve been a singer since I was 15. I stopped singing for many years, but started again two years ago. Finding my confidence and discovering my voice all over again is a success for me. I got to rewrite my story around singing and reclaim that space.

My survival feels like a success. There’s no reason I should be where I am now – I wasn’t set up for it. And I remember thinking I’d never make it past 18. Each year after that, I felt like I was blindly fumbling for some semblance of this “adulthood” about which I had heard so much. And even if I’m faking it, I think I’ve made it look pretty good by now.

I came out a couple of weeks after I turned 15. I went to the Warped Tour with my best friend David (and some other people). David and I have known each other since the summer we turned 8 (we’re a month apart in age) and he’s still my best friend. David’s parents were out of town and he was planning a party – my older sister’s friends were going to supply the alcohol.

That day, David kept saying he had something he wanted to tell me, but he needed to wait until he was drunk. I don’t remember what I thought, but I’m sure I was paranoid he was angry, had a girlfriend, had tried some drug, or maybe he had a new best friend – all the thoughts of an anxious 15-year-old.

That night, when we were both good and liquored, we went into his dining room, away from the party, closed the door, and sat down on the floor, cross-legged, facing each other. After some awkward plying, David finally said, “I’m gay.” I was surprised. I was so wrapped up in my own struggle to come out, I didn’t even consider David’s sexuality. David and I just talked about this the other night. He said my response was, “I think I might be gay too.” He was the very first person I told.

After that party, my sister and I got into a fight and she told my parents about the booze. Even though she supplied it, I got in trouble. The whole situation was depressing – I was grounded. And gay?

I remember I was painting my bedroom at the time and sleeping in a spare room with my mattress on the floor. My mom came down one afternoon, days or maybe even weeks after the party, sat down on my mattress next to me, and asked what was wrong. She asked if I was having “girl troubles” and I scoffed and said, “No!” Then she asked if I was having “boy troubles” – I didn’t have a lot of male peers and in my younger years was often targeted for being effeminate and nonathletic. My mother maintains that’s what she meant, but I responded, “Are you asking if I’m gay?” My mother said, “No.” and I shot back, “’Cause I am.” My mother then said, “No, I don’t believe that.” and I clarified, “No, mom. I’m telling you I’m gay.”

Next she asked if David, my best friend, was also gay. I told her he was then she continued with a barrage of invasive questions about whether or not we were in love or had had sex. For years, my parents blamed my sexuality on his and his liberal parents’ influence and wouldn’t trust us to have sleepovers. In their minds, two gay teenage boys equaled uninhibited and constant gay sex. Over the next few weeks, I slowly came out to a couple of my siblings and a handful of close friends.

I begged my mother to keep my disclosure between us, terrified of what my father’s reaction would be. A few weeks after the first party, I was at another party. I was standing in the kitchen with a few friends, having recently come out to all of them. At one point, I called my parents and left a message on their answering machine letting them know I was with David (the enforcement of their arbitrary rules was inconsistent and their attempts at controlling me were futile – they knew that I’d do what I wanted or needed to do). After I left the message, I hung up the phone and proceeded to talk for several minutes about being gay. Turns out, the phone was broken, did not hang up, and recorded my entire speech on my parents answering machine.

David and I sound somewhat similar – our tone, our inflection. My father had heard the message and I thought I fooled him into believing it was David speaking. But as it turns out, my mother had already outed me. She said she could not keep secrets from her husband.

What followed was a dark few years during which I ran away, was kicked out, and spent at least half (probably most) of high school living with friends’ parents, and a stint or two in a youth shelter. At 17, my parents kicked me out one last time, signing over guardianship to a friends’ parents. My mother took it upon herself to tell my entire immediate and extended family I was gay and that was why I couldn’t live with them anymore. Unfortunately for them, nobody seemed to care. Nobody was surprised.

My parents have come a long way. I moved back in at the end of my senior year and lived with them through the beginning of my freshman year in college. My mother wants to set me up with her hairstylist and, in addition to contentious political debates, my father and I have had long conversations about love and heartbreak.

I grew up in the suburbs of Salt Lake City, amongst a sea of blondes. Very all-American. I’m not read as white in Utah. It’s arguably more homogeneous than Portland. Being gay in Salt Lake, even being part of a sort of subculture, I was still on the periphery. I remember one of my last nights out, at a gay club, a guy walked up to me and said, “You’re cute. You’d be a lot cuter if you went to the gym.” I shot back, “Why? So I can look like every other faggot in this room?”

When I moved to Portland ten years ago, I thought, “Finally! Gay people like me.” Everyone seemed so dynamic and ruled by passions that had little to do with notions of prescribed identities linked primarily to sexuality. Maybe they had just been less repressed than all the gays I grew up with, perhaps unencumbered by ex-Mormon baggage.

A few years ago, an acquaintance who had lived in New York City, L.A., and San Francisco said Portland was the gayest city he had ever lived in. Whenever tourists would stop my friends and me on the street asking where the gay bars were, we would respond, “Portland is a gay bar.”

Like so many “scenes,” Portland’s is white-washed and caters mostly to gay men. But that’s not really the gay scene – that’s just a handful of gay bars that dominate the scene. The actual scene feels more integrated. When I travel to other cities, I realize I get to take my safety for granted in Portland. Maybe that’s naïve or I live in a bubble within a bubble, but there doesn’t have to be a scene here, if that makes sense. It’s not quite post-gay – I think that’s too dismissive of the history and the struggle and the work left to do. But it does feel like a privilege to be gay in Portland, with or without a scene. Or perhaps I’m finally comfortable where I live.

I am grateful for my life and as much as I try to overcome it, I do have regrets. I’ve worked hard, but in some ways, I have coasted. I would tell my younger self to put in more effort instead of being debilitated by potential failure. I spend so much time thinking – I would tell my younger self to be more action-oriented, that I will survive a bad decision, but it’s hard to either recover or thrive when I make no decision.

Maybe it’s that little voice from my childhood telling me I’m not enough, but I wish I would have really applied myself, gone to a better school, finished college earlier, started my career earlier, enjoyed more success.

I would also be very kind to my younger self to combat all the insecurities that held me back – I would tell my younger self how smart and handsome he is and encourage my younger self to put himself out there, in all areas of his life. Mostly, whatever it is, I would remind my younger self, “This won’t kill you. You will not die because of this.

I would encourage my younger self to trust people more easily and point out all my younger self’s walls. I would ask my younger self if all that time partying actually got him any closer to his long-term goals and point out other ways to live than in a bar.

But if I actually got to say all that to my younger self, I’d be a different person now. And I’m quite fond of who I am. Yeah, I partied, but I had fun doing it! Sure, college took a long time, but I covered a lot of ground and learned more than I might have had I blown through it in four years. And all those insecurities, unmade decisions, and regrets force me to be present as well as conscious and intentional about how I live my life now.

Morgan, Painter, Portland, Oregon

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
Morgan, in his own words: “I’m not quite sure what it means to be gay. Its such an abstract concept, one that is constantly being manipulated by each individual that uses it. I do know what it means to feel an indescribable joy after a great first date, to be hurt by someone, to be deeply affected by someone. I do know what it means to be in love.

(With regards to challenges) People are mean. Kids are meaner. The kids that I went to school with never let a day go by without getting their chance to say things like “You know you’re a fag, right?”, or laugh at me as I walked down the hall. This was my normal. It changed me in such a way that I physically and mentally retreated. I lived in such fear of being a target that all my energy went into keeping my effeminate qualities in check at all times. After years of this sort of upkeep, the mental exhaustion of always hiding forced me to realize that I was torturing myself as much as my former classmates. I learned to let go of all those fears and anxieties. I learned to look at myself and say “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

I’m not extremely involved in the gay community in Portland, but the impression that I have is that it is positive and supportive, yet small. Portland seems like a city where anyone can feel comfortable being whoever they want to be.

My coming out story is relatively simple. In high school, I tried dating girls. By college, I had realized that dating girls was not fulfilling. So I tried dating guys. Essentially, that was the most fulfilling decision I have ever made. Despite having previously dated women, I never really came out to my friends and family. I’ve always been open about my personal life with loved ones and when I started dating guys, it was no different. It was a smooth transition and no one seemed to question my decision. I say that with a definite sense of gratitude.

I would advise my younger self to always walk with a head held high and to learn the phrase “Fuck off!” by the 5th grade. A little confidence and an unapologetic attitude go a long way.”

Ken, Student/Writer, Portland, Oregon

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
photo by Kevin Truong
photo  by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Ken, in his own words: “Right off the bat I would like to apologize. I am a terrible human being, but I’ve made my peace with that and I’m learning to love myself as-is. If you suppress needs long enough they sublimate and break free, and once that dam has cracked it doesn’t hold for very long. I was homeschooled for 19 years and I was the son of a part-time fundamentalist preacher. Both of my parents are frighteningly bright and I always thought of myself as some kind of wunderkind (not that uncommon in the homeschooled community). Thanks to this set of initial circumstances, I have always had ludicrously high standards for my own behavior, expecting perfection in more or less everything that I do. This need for perfection has interacted with my spectacular laziness and paradoxically been the cause of some of my most deviant behavior. I fall short of perfection, so I give up. I have often hated myself — and I would like to point out to certain naysayers that it is entirely possible to hate yourself. My former pastor claimed that self-hatred was impossible. People don’t hate themselves, they’re just disappointed. If they really hated themselves they would be glad to see themselves being miserable. Well, I have been glad at times to see myself miserable, and to be the cause of that misery. This is not a cry for attention, it’s just me being realistic about portions of my character that I don’t care to hide anymore. I am learning, slowly but surely, how to love myself right down to my scars. In order to start that transformation though, I had to accept the fact that I really, truly did hate myself, and wasn’t just an all-in-one dom/sub.

Over the years my answer to the question “what does being gay mean” has changed a lot. At first I would have said “not much more than being gay would mean to a gay giraffe,” but lately I’ve realized that it does make my life somewhat different from the lives of others. I find that I sometimes feel like an outsider looking in at the rest of society. It’s a little bit alarming to know that no matter what I write I will always be the gay writer, not the white one or the tall one or the blonde one. It’s one of the first things people mention about me. I’m the gay best friend, the gay coworker, the gay gateway into the gay world. There is a real subculture, although it’s not as separated from the rest of the world as it once was, and I have sometimes acted as a doorway between the two cultures.

It comes with its own bag of problems, too. I’ve met a fair number of other people in the community and the shockingly common trends of depression, suicidal ideations, cutting, rocky romances, and daddy issues (poor parental relationships) have made me ask the chicken and egg question a few times. Does being gay come from being fucked up, or does it contribute to it? In my own life the answer has more often been the second than the first, but there have been moments when I’ve wondered. I think a part of the problem for me has been the lack of dreams. A little straight boy can look ahead and dream (unhealthily, perhaps) of his princess and his 2.5 children and steady job. It’s not much of a dream, but it’s more than a gay person has. It’s only in the last two decades that we have had even the chance of gay marriage, and our community is still figuring out what that kind of marriage can mean and look like.

What little of the gay community I have actually seen in Portland seems to be much like the gay community everywhere else that I’ve lived. It’s small, politically active, and more than a little bit dramatic. It’s also much more intersectional and culturally/racially/ethnically diverse than any other gay community I’ve been a part of. To be fair, thanks to my sexual appetites I don’t usually spend a lot of time dealing with the whiter side of the gay community here, so I can’t speak to it.

I have also noticed that the idea of an in-the-closet gay doesn’t seem to exist as much here. Most of the gay men I have encountered have been openly gay even in their work environment. In the past there were coworkers of mine that I never came out to for fear of the potential reactions. Here in Portland that hasn’t been an issue for me.

I don’t know if this is something that other gay men will relate to or not, but there are, to my mind, two prototypical members of the gay community. The first has or contributes to what Republicans would call the “gay agenda” — they are political, proactive, and intentionally pushing for legal or social change. These are the ones that attend meetings and do the non-sexy things like voting and being on committees. The second type, (and I swing between the two without any real consistency, I’ll be the first to admit that) is the type that joins committees to get laid. They often have a lone wolf aspect, some sexy emotional scars or sexy self-destructive tendencies/habits, and they often seem to have more beauty than they know what to do with. They will fixate on a particular physical type that they want to have sex with, whether that’s a race or a body ideal, and pursue people based primarily on this physical attraction. They hold marriage as some kind of potential down the line but they don’t really see themselves staying with anyone long enough to make that work. It is the latter prototype, incidentally, which I find has the highest rate of emotional damage and self-loathing. Perhaps I’m projecting something of myself and my perceptions aren’t something that others will share, but I’m just trying to describe what I see. I think that a little piece of this might come from the fact that at the end of the day we are still “men” (I’m speaking strictly of the gay male cisgender community here, I can’t speak to the experience of anything else). Men don’t have emotions, right? Men don’t have feelings. Men don’t get fucked up. Men can’t open up or have real connections. That would be too… gay.

I’ll keep (my coming out story) as short and clear as I can.

On the night that I chose to come out to my parents, I had a female friend over (Monica Hay, if you’re reading this, thank you for that night. I’m glad I didn’t end up needing you but the emotional support was much appreciated.) and I had a bag packed. I had already anticipated everything that my parents might say, (so I thought) and what possessions of mine they had a right to take in an attempt to keep me from leaving. I assumed off the bat that they would take the car keys and my cell phone. My plan was to walk to the nearest public institution with a phone — a hotel over a mile and a half away, I lived in a rural area — and call my grandparents. I had a slip of paper in my wallet with all the phone numbers I was most likely to need: my grandparents, my younger brother, my current lover, a few close friends. It’s been almost four years and I still have that slip of paper in my wallet. My parents didn’t kick me out (which was a hell of a shock, frankly).

Saying the words “I’m gay” to my mother remains one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The willpower required to just open my mouth and move my lips and vibrate my vocal cords and make the noises was almost more than I knew how to muster. But I did it, and she immediately said the most unhelpful thing she could have at the time: “No you’re not.” So I had to prove that I was, which wasn’t difficult. I had denied even to myself the way that I was for years at that point. It wasn’t until I fell in love for the first time and it blew all the petty infatuations of my youth completely out of the water that I realized yes, I really was gay. I could not fall in love with a woman, but I could with a man.

Incidentally that falling in love was what first made me question my religious convictions. It wasn’t the sex, because there’s a lot to sex that can sometimes feel wrong, but falling in love never feels wrong.

After I had her sufficiently convinced, my father came out onto the balcony to join us, and I had to repeat the words. My relationship with my father has always been almost stereotypically not-great, but his respect was always something I craved. He didn’t even respond, he just sat there. I explained to the both of them that I had fallen in love, and that it was the love and not the sex that had made me realize that I really was wired that way. Then, like a coward, I told them that I had not yet decided what I was going to do with this personal revelation. My mother suggested permanent celibacy as an option. We talked about other things. I said, “I haven’t made a choice yet.” My dad said “It’s not a choice.”

At the time, I didn’t understand what he meant. It wasn’t until much later that I realized my father has actually worked closely with a gay man for years at this point, and that this man is one of his closest work friends. My father and I didn’t have a real conversation for almost a year after that, but I’m still not sure whose fault that was. I learned to disappear and be as absent from family life as possible, and as a consequence I wasn’t there as my siblings were developing into interesting people. When I finally came out to my grandparents, just last year, they told me they had known since I was a child, and that they loved me all the same. Both my sisters guessed, the one by being perceptive and the other by reading my diary and finding an entry about someone I was madly in love with at the time. When I told my brother, he came out of his own closet to me and revealed that he was an agnostic. When I came out to my other two brothers… well, let’s just say I wasn’t as tactful about it as I had meant to be. That’s a more personal story than I would like to get into, but it was pretty funny at the time.

(What advice would you give your younger self?)

Oh boy. The big one. Jesus, I don’t know. Maybe something along the lines of “don’t take life so goddamn seriously. It’s ok to fuck up. It’s ok to not be perfect, and it’s hurtful and wrong to try. Try to think of other human beings as actual human beings just like you. Nobody wakes up in the morning intending to be irrational, and everyone’s actions make sense to them. Sometimes the largest part of empathy is being able to understand why someone’s actions or beliefs seem rational to them. You’re never going to be able to change another person with words or fists or music or love or anything else, a person has to change themselves. Don’t waste time loving people who can’t or won’t love themselves — they can’t love you back. Cheating and being cheated on are among the most emotionally damaging experiences, but everything that we are is a phoenix birth out of ashes. We are made of exploded stars. Look it up, it’s true. Even the deepest emotional and physical traumas can be recovered from, learned from, healed from. No, you can’t be the same person again, that person is dead and so is the future they dreamed for themselves. But now you’re alive, because that person died. Religion is a crock of shit. Dig for evidence and logic and you’ll see. That’s not to say that the universe isn’t full of wonder or mystery or awe, because it is. It is full of all of those things. But the truth should always trump a pretty lie, no matter how much we might want to believe that lie, no matter how much sense that lie might make or how many questions it might answer. Don’t settle for less, either in love or in truth.

Huh. I guess I did know.”