Justin, in his own words: “I’ve recently come to feel empowered about being gay and being myself. Even living in a city where it is pretty much expected that people accept or at least deal with homosexuality, my experience as a gay man has been filled with ups and downs. It was a struggle for me to embrace my sexuality because I don’t associate with society’s stereotypes of “being gay”. A lot of gay men don’t reflect characters seen on television (though having Darren Criss as my boyfriend would be pretty awesome). The best realization I had was when I was able to understand that people in general (gays too) come in many different sizes, shapes and types and I didn’t have to fit into any of them; I can be my awesome self.”
Josh, in his own words: “When I was a little kid I had gymnast Barbie. She was awesome. So awesome that I wanted to bring her to show and tell. My mom sat me down and said, “Josh, if you take her to school, the kids WILL make fun of you” to which I responded, “I don’t care, I love her.”
She was right of course. But as I rode home on the bus in a seat by myself–while everyone else squeezed in three to a seat–I was smiling because I got to sit next to the coolest Barbie of 1997.
Being gay, for me, is telling that story at a party and having an entire room of people nod their heads and laugh in understanding.”
Spencer, in his own words: “I grew up as a gay, Japanese-American, devout Mormon in Boise, Idaho. Convinced that I would overcome my sexuality by throwing myself into a diligent Mormon life, I locked myself in the proverbial closet and promptly ingested the key. This meant not just complete immersion into the Mormon Church, but to stand out from among even the most devout practioners. Wasn’t I told that salvation would be mine if I did everything right? And for all intents and purposes, my upbringing in the Mormon community was idyllic: soccer and baseball with my Mormon brothers; shoveling snow for the elderly on winter morning with my Mormon leaders; I was an Eagle Scout (whose favorite Merit Badge was kayaking), a proud and decorated member of Troop 83.
It is October 1997, and I am standing at the Salt Lake City International airport waving goodbye to my family. My crisply folded itinerary tells me that I will be landing at Hiroshima Airport in fifteen hours. My two-year Mormon mission has begun. Elder Jared is Caucasian, and at twenty, only one year older than myself. He is the first of seven mission partners that I will encounter over the next twenty-four months. These two years spent in Japan speed by, faster than I used to slurp down long strands of ramen at the noodle shops, elbow-to-elbow with well-dress Japanese business men.
My attendance at Brigham Young University yielded the same results: teeming with fresh-faced Mormons, the community came built-in. My junior year is when my communities began to overlap. After much consideration and prayer, I felt strongly that for me to be happy in life, I had to allow myself to love freely, and that meant disavowing from Mormon beliefs and beginning the slow process of accepting myself as gay.
San Francisco has been my home for the last nine years. This is my community. I’m an avid sportsman; completed my first triathlon in 2010, the Escape From Alcatraz. Participated in an Urbanathlon in 2011, finished 47th out of 1,161.”
Tom, in his own words: “(Being gay has) been a gift for me! My worldview and creative output are so shaped by my being queer and i’m pretty proud of both. The people i’ve met, the places i’ve gone, the things i’ve accomplished, so many of those things wouldn’t have happened if I weren’t queer and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
(With regards to challenges) Aside from occasionally having ‘faggot’ shouted at me on the street and a few tumultuous teenage years (I haven’t had) too many to speak of. I’m sure that there have been more subtle challenges but my life as a gay men has been largely without incident and I’m very thankful and lucky to be able to say that.
(The gay scene in San Francisco is) pretty spectacular. When I first moved here I felt like looking at the queer scene was like standing on the edge of the ocean — It was so vast and had far too much depth to ever understand. Having been here for eight years now it certainly doesn’t appear as vast as it once does but its still very impressive. It’s amazing living in a city where there’s such a diversity of experiences and interests that there isn’t a ‘gay scene’ to speak of but rather communities within that that congregate around other interests and just happen to be queer.
(With regards to coming out) I’ve been out for 11 years now, and it’s been mostly uphill since that moment. I met my first other gay boy my age when I was a sophomore in High School, fell in love with him, had my heart ripped out, told everyone it was happening because I didn’t want to be alone in love/despair and that was pretty much that. My friends were all mostly supportive and my parents ultimately were too. Now they come to my queer parties, ask about how my boyfriends are doing and all that.”
Joseph, in his own words: “Being gay is my sexual identity. It’s one part of my life. I proudly identify with it but it’s not the only part of my identity. I like to think that in the 21st century that gay men are much more than their sexual identity. We are an integral part of our society. We are a part of the fabric which elevates all our experiences.
My challenges as a gay man has been with our politics. We do not yet have equal rights and this is disconcerting since we live in a “democracy”.
The gay community in San Francisco has been a beacon for acceptance. I moved to San Francisco 3 days after Harvey Milk was killed. Since then there has been an enormous change in the city politics which has made it feel as though we are equal on all levels. I’m proud of how the city has embraced the gay population and the diversity of it.
I came out soon after moving to California. When I returned to my home in Michigan they did not understand what that meant, because of the times, but they let me know that I would always be part of the family. This was a revelation of their true love for me. I love them so much for this because they did not have the social support to make this leap. It was unconditional love.”
Son, in his own words “Son T. Vo, a gay refugee from Nha Trang, Vietnam. An artist featured in Allure magazine for transforming faces.”