Today The Gay Men Project turns one-year-old.
So I wanted to take the opportunity to express my extreme gratitude to each of the 217 men who trusted me enough to be a part of the project and to share a piece of their life. I remember every conversation–whether during a car ride to Casco Viejo in Panama, or a vicarage in East Dulwich outside London, the conversation spoken in broken French and broken English while driving in your imported American car in Paris, I remember your suburban home in Baltimore, and your in-process-remodeled apartment in Boston, seeing you ride up on your bike in San Francisco, rescheduling my flight to photograph you in Portland, every NYC stairwell, every NYC brownstone, every dog, every cat, and of course, I remember very fondly our early morning walk to the Capital Building in our nation’s capital. I look forward to our growing friendship and am honored to call you more than a friend, but also a brother.
I hope you’re as proud of all our hard work as I am. Together in the past year we’ve laid the groundwork for something truly special, and I’m excited as together in the next year we build The Gay Men Project into something truly phenomenal.
With sincere affection, thank you for not only being a part of The Gay Men Project, thank you for being a part of my life.
And my dream.
Back in Oregon, I had this foolish dream of moving to New York City and pursuing a life as an artist. And when I was 27, I said f*ck it, now or never, and I took a blind leap of faith and made the move.
So today, as I walked across the stage at Radio City Music Hall, in New York City, having just finished an $150,000 education I paid for on my own, at one of the finest art schools in the world, I have to say, I was pretty damn proud of myself. I’m proud of myself for setting out and doing the things I want to do. I’m proud of myself for living the life I want to live. I’m proud of myself for being a New Yorker by body, and remaining an Oregonian always by heart.
Hey everyone, first off, thanks to everyone who has been following and supporting the Gay Men Project. I’m putting all my resources into this project because I believe in it, I think it can do a lot of good, and so all your support means a lot. I just wanted to give you all a quick note, that the blog is no longer hosted on WordPress, I’m self hosting now (I wanted full control and access to Google Analytics.)
So if you’ve be following me through WordPress, I’m pretty sure my posts will no longer appear in your feed, so please be sure to keep visiting me directly at:
Once again, thanks for all your support!
I love the project, it’s so simple yet deep. Thanks for letting this out in the world and not being just an idea.
You made it very well executed.
My name is R and I’m from São Paulo, Brazil. Me and my brother are gay, and we live together with our grandmother who is very accepting. We both have long date boyfriends (5 and 8 years) and we’re both pretty young (23 and 27).
I guess this would be a different story to feature on your blog. Let us know if you’re thinking of coming down here, we’d love to participate.
(R, thanks for writing!! i’m trying to get down to Brazil this fall, so i’ll be in touch!!!.. xoxo kev)
Jon Fe, in his own Splanglish words: “Que significa ser gay para ti?
Que te gusten personas de tu mismo sexo, no es un “look” o una actitud. Una forma de vida que No tiene alternativa forzada.
Cuales han sido los retos que haz enfrentado como un hombre gay?
No muchos, he sido afortunado. En secundaria si me molestaron mucho hasta cuando ni sabia que o era. Me maquillaron a la fuerza y me tomaron fotos. Ahora no tengo “retos” mas que encontrar una pareja que me complemente y viceversa.
Como es la comunidad gay en Panama?
Emm, pequena. No es una graan comunidad, pero es algo. Mejor que la de Central Point, OR hahaha. Tengo mas amigos gays, y menos amigas lesbianas. Diria que la comunidad gay se divide en dos principalmente. Los que van a discotecas gay, y los que aun quieren pretender ser straight hahah (closet boys)
Cual es tu historia al salir del closet?
Le conte a mi mama primero, fui MUY directo y honesto. Le hice entender que ya era un hecho y que estaba pasando. She was talking trash of an old high school friend, telling me she was a slut. She reached my boiling point so I told her I was dating a 24 year old guy (17 at the moment, a month away of my bday) and just because I wasn’t going around telling everyone I had sex it didn’t make me more or less of a slut. She didn’t say aything but she’s always been fairly accepting within her own education and cultural beliefs she grew up with. I really can’t complain, she’s met my friends and boyfriend and she’s been fairly accepting.
My dad asked me weeks later and I totally dismissed him and gave him a silly excuse I didn’t think he’d believe. Maybe a year later I told him I was applying to scholarships and grants and there a few for gay guys. He asked me why would you apply for a gay schoolarship. I told him with a obvious tone to my voice, “because I’m queer”. He said he wanted to take me for a drink and talk about it and he invited me to a appletini and he had a beer and it was nice. He was really funny about it. One of my brothers always knew and the other one saw a picture of me kissing my ex. It was hilarious hahah.”
Jason, in his own words: “Growing up and knowing you’re gay at a young age is tough, especially in a small, close-minded town in Indiana. Early on I knew I wasn’t like the other boys (age 5) and pretty much suppressed those feelings until I escaped to college. For years I thought when I came out I would lose friends and my family would disown me (side note; I was voted most dramatic in 6th grade). To no surprise, my true friends stayed right by my side and my family continues to stand up to ignorant people and will always love me. I guess what i’m getting at is that it really does get better.
Being gay is a very large part of my life. However, I try to not let it take over. I’m like an onion. So many layers.”
I wrote this essay four years ago, before I moved to New York City–to attend art school at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Since in a couple weeks I’ll be graduating Pratt, and in a couple months I’ll be making my first trip (and my mom’s first trip since escaping) to Vietnam, I thought it’d be appropriate to post the essay to the Gay Men Project, since in many ways it explains the motivation behind all of my work.
Originally written in August, 2009
“One night in 1981 my mom got in a fishing boat. It was rickety I’m sure. I imagine the wood was rotting, the paint was flaking, patterns were left as the coating began to peel, and chip, and crack. The swelter of the South East Asian heat. By any standards, not a safe vessel. It had a motor, but definitely not anything any rational minded person would feel safe using for a voyage across the South China Sea. But, funny thing, when you’ve spent the day hiding in tall grasses, waiting for the night, the dark, about to flee a country–a life, the only life you’ve ever known–rationality tends to be trumped by fear, fear by desperation, and desperation by the only way to make it through it all–hope. So my mom, with two young daughters and pregnant with me, got in that fishing boat with a couple dozen other refugees and headed out into the water. Headed out towards that hope.
That’s the story of my mother. The night she fled Vietnam. Not too long after my own story would begin—born in a refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a small four walled wooden structure my first home. I would live in that refugee camp for eight months, before spending a childhood growing up amongst the mud puddles and fir trees of Oregon, and then a young adulthood exploring zip codes outside 97236.
Having been fortunate enough to have been raised in this country, for almost my entire life, it’s easy for me to mistake my circumstance as something that just is–something that just happened, not meriting much recognition because it has just been a given that I really do believe I can accomplish anything I want in life.
But nothing just is. My life–the opportunities I have been given–every door that has been opened for me and every window cracked, are things that have been fought for. It’s all a testament to my mother, a woman who went through so much just to get me to this country, to give me opportunities, to save me from the desperation and fear she felt in a life she once had.
And because of that my goal is simple. I want to make her proud. Yes, I have specific goals. I want to move to New York, I want to go to a fine art school. I want to be a writer. I want to be a photographer. I want to find and share stories like that of my mother. I want to fight for my right to marry. But ultimately what motivates me, is the conscious acknowledgement of every opportunity that has been given to me, not just by my mother, but by everyone in my life who has ever contributed in some way to the person I’ve become. I’ve made a commitment to make good on all the fortunes I’ve been given and do my best to not just to take, but to give as well. Because I know that to do otherwise would in many ways be a spit in the face of everyone who’s ever took the effort to love, care, and support me in the hopes of what can be.
And there have been many who have taken the effort to love, care, and support me in the hopes of what I can be.”
Ryan, in his own words: “To ME the word gay is just that, a word, a phrase, an identity that distinguishes myself in this current historical climate as having attractions to members of the same sex. (Sex generally being aligned with the sex organ between my legs)
To me, the essence that the word “gay” is meant to describe is so much more. It is my capacity to love, respect and value the life of another human being in the fullest of capacities.(spiritually, psychologically, physically, emotionally, etc) In my world I am as “average” and boring as everyone else and yet this one small fraction of who I am has in the world around me become the centerpiece of which to transfix one’s gaze. It is but one piece of who I am, and yet a central piece to the very essence of my humanity. Through this lens with which I’ve been given to see the world I’ve come to understand that there is a mystery to us that ought to be exposed and set free. That this capacity for love lives in every one of us and is much more than what may meet the eye at initial glance. That the roots of this sentiment and this essence is capable of shaping the entire world, if only the world would not reverberate so much against it. It is my beauty, my truth and in very many ways my destiny. And while it is but one of many identities that make up the fundamental humanity I share with every other person on this planet, I choose to embrace this culturally, historically time-bound identity because it is through this lens that I have been given a vision of the light that may make us all recognize what we are truly capable of. That it is through our capacities as fellow human beings to see the gifts, talents, strengths and flaws of our fellow persons in the deepest and most sincere ways that we can learn to overcome our differences and the intersections of space that so divide us in our current world.
That I as a “gay man”, and we as an entire “LGBTI community”, every one of us, has the capacity to not only sit and be assimilated into today’s world, but rather that we have great gifts to offer the world through our own abilities to have care and concern for our fellow person.
To what end could this concept be applied and to what extent will LGBTI people be able to influence and shape that end?
Thus my identity politic is staking a claim in the struggle to find acceptance in who we ALL are…every single person on this planet…to accept that which we are and what we are capable of as it relates to the love of our fellow human being. Imagine if we entered into every relationship knowing that no one is perfect? Imagine if we entered into every relationship knowing that our partners were fully equal? Imagine if we considered the life of our fellow being worthy of sacrifice, honor and respect that we give to those whom we love? This to me is a great possibility, but only one we can choose to embrace. We must make that choice every hour of every day.
We are the masters of our own destiny, and this is the direction I can see us headed towards. My life has purpose, meaning, worth and dignity. So does every one else’s. Our difference do matter, including my gender and sexual identity, but our common humanity matters more.”
It’s funny, when you take as many pictures as I do, you develop certain attachments towards certain images. They’re like boys, some fall out of favor, while others forever hold my affection. Here are my current top twenty favorite images from the project, of the over two hundred men I’ve photographed so far.
#20. Andreas. New York City.
I bet it wouldn’t surprise you if I told you Andreas is a CEO. Or that he’s European. Or that he has the most perfect posture and table manners of any person I know.
#19. Justin. New York City.
Ok, so this may sound cheesy, but for me, I’m hoping this project gives some level of empowerment to the men I photograph. I’ve always thought the fact that these men are willing to let me share their portraits and their stories on the internet for all the world to see says a lot, considering most all of them have gone through a period of time where being gay was something they felt the need to hide. That’s why I like this picture of Justin. He only recently came out and I think he looks stoic. I love the light, I love the gaze, and I love the geometry of the buildings behind him.
#18. Edern. Paris.
I’ll admit, I just think Edern is handsome. I’m also infatuated with Paris, and I love the little relics in his room–the little orange robot, the folded clothing in the white cubby holes, the folds of his sheets…
#17. James. Panama City.
Panama City is hot, Panama City is humid, Panama City is a little rough and a little pretty. I think James embodies of all of these attributes in this picture.
#16. Michael. New York City.
Michael is really beautiful in this picture. I love the light on his chest, the patterns on the couch, the textures of the hangings on the wall, and all the color–the yellow in the wall, the orange in the couch, the purple in his top, the blue in his sock, the green in the ash-tray. And the tiny red flower in his hair.
#15. Joe. New York City.
Any guy without a shirt and a tattoo on his shoulder is sexy, but I actually think the light in this picture is even sexier. Of course, Joe is still very sexy.
#14. Jon. San Francisco.
Once again, it’s all about the light. And the TV. Normally, I hate TV’s in these portraits, but something about the big clunky television with the red and yellow candle on top of it I really dig. And I really love the shadow of Jon’s profile in the very bottom right corner of the picture.
#13. Tom. San Francisco.
So, Tom, made the list last time, but I actually had chosen another picture. But my affections have slowly been drawn to this one. I just love the way he’s holding the cat. I love the cat’s two outstretched front feet. And actually, the thing I love most about this picture is the slight rim of orange light on the top of Tom’s head.
#12. Thang. New York City.
I’m in love with Thang. I’m in love with his pink tie-died shirt, the pattern of the flowered sheet hanging on the wall, the laptop on the bar stool, the black crown on his head, the wire hanging down from the ceiling–everything about Thang–I love him, he is Brooklyn incarnate.
#11. Rami. New York City.
Smoking a cigarette in a trench coat in your New York City Chelsea apartment–Rami has so much swagger it kills me.
#10. Collin. Washington D.C.
Sometimes all you need is a beautiful face and beautiful light. I usually don’t take shots this close to the subject, but what can I say, I’m a sucker for green eyes. And Collin’s got them.
#09. Aunsha and Michael. New York City.
I’ve always just thought this was a beautiful moment between Aunsha and Michael. I love the gesture of their arms, their fingers interlocked, and I love how I asked them to do something natural and this is what they do. I guess I was just lucky to take a picture of two men very much in love.
#08. David. New York City.
David and his guitar–this guy oozes masculinity. But for me, it’s the red wall, the rim of yellow light on the side of his face, and the touch of green in the doorway that I’m really drawn to. And of course his big guitar.
#07. Nick. Portland.
Maybe it’s the red of his shirt, or the light spilling through the window, his posture, the way he’s sitting–I don’t know, I’ve just always been into this picture of Nick.
#06. Morgan. Baltimore.
Sometimes as a photographer you get lucky. This was actually the last shot of the shoot I did with Morgan. I was actually finished with the interview, had packed up, and went out the door of his apartment. And as I left I noticed the wallpaper in the hallway, and thought I had to get another shot. So I knocked again on his door and asked if I could take one more shot. And this was it. That one last shot.
#05. Stephen. New York City.
The next five pictures, to me, are really special. I love them, I’m attached to them, and I’m lucky to have been able to spend a moment in my life capturing them.
Stephen and his cat, there’s an embrace here that is iconic, and relatable, and a relationship and emotion here that you can actually read more from the cat’s face than from Stephen’s. My conversation with Stephen was a long one, him being one of those rare New York City gems whose own personal story is so intertwined with the story of the city itself. How often do we all forget that there was once a time when New York City lost an entire generation of gay men? Where friends and loved ones died within the span of six months, from some mystery illness that no one outside the lgbt community seemed to care about. My two hour conversation with Stephen recounted not only his own personal history but the history of the AIDS epidemic in New York City, and it’s a conversation I’m thankful to have had and something I’ll keep with me my entire life.
#04. Frank. New York City.
Frank, what can I say, I wrote about it last time, I think he’s great. And I’ll just repeat what I wrote last time. In all honesty, I don’t think this picture describes Frank well at all. Our conversation and his personality were very comfortable, and there’s a discomfort here I find in his face that may have been a reflection of the the 1/60th of the second with which the shutter of my camera opened and closed. But every time I look at this picture I can’t help but think of some painting of a large Odalisque because of the way he is reclining, which I think makes for an interesting commentary on an image of a man well over the age of seventy, living in a culture that obsessively covets youth.
#03. David. London.
Once again, whenever in my life I ever think about the Gay Men Project, David will always be one of the pictures I think of. I love him. For the longest time he was my favorite, it was just something in his gaze. In fact, for the longest time I wanted to know what he was in fact thinking when I clicked the shutter of my camera. Well, seven months after I took this picture he wrote me this letter:
“Dear Kevin, Happy New Year my love
I wanted to drop you a line to say how much I enjoyed meeting you and how honoured I was to be part of your amazing portfolio of wonderful inspiring gay men from around the globe.
The day you visited me was a very emotional day in my life . I thought I should share with you the tale behind this.
I had the previous evening learnt that my ex partner with whom i shared ten years of my life has lost his fight against cancer . We sadly were estranged and this news that someone I loved had fought such a tough battle without my knowing ripped me to the core.
We collect photos that remind us of the highs in our life but for me its important to document all emotions . For there is such beauty in this image even though its beneath a shroud of pain .
This helps to remind me to never let anything come between those we love , to never let anger or pain cloud our emotions . To never again loose contact with those I care about . You may cease to love in one capacity but can still offer love and support in another.
Thank You for helping me on this journey
Much love from across the pond
I’ll love this image. Forever, for my entire life.
#02. Canon Richard. London.
As anyone who has participated in the project knows, to me, as much as this project is about photographs, more important is the opportunity to sit down and have a one on one conversation with these men I’m photographing. In many respects, through these conversations, I’m trying to resolve something within myself with regards to my own identity as a gay man, as I continue the life-long journey of truly defining for me what it means to be gay.
And an issue I’ve often struggled with in this process is reconciling my personal faith with my identification as a gay man. I’ll always have a strong faith in God. I always have and I always will. When I was a child, I knelt at the foot of my bed and said the same prayer every night, until the age of thirteen. To this day, every time I ignore the plea of a homeless person on the New York City subway train, I feel like I’m making God upset. It’s just the way I think, it’s the way I work, it’s the way I tick.
My mom always says you’ll believe in God when you reach the lowest points in your life. Because you’ll need him. This coming from a woman who escaped Vietnam in a fishing boat, pregnant with me, and with my two older sisters. A woman who spent two weeks drifting in the South China Sea.
And so for me, it was always a source a conflict that all my lowest points were always intrinsically tied with my feelings of being gay. For me, the times I felt like I needed him most were times I felt like I couldn’t go to him.
As with everyone, my faith is very personal. And so when I had the opportunity to sit down with a gay Anglican priest when I was in London, I had a lot to say and a lot to ask.
Again, my conversation with Richard is one I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It was a private one, but I’m thankful I have this image that I can share with all of you.
#01. Andy and Mark, with their son Ben. Baltimore.
This picture embodies everything I want for my own life. And I didn’t know it was possible until I met Andy, Mark, and Ben. And for that I’ll be forever thankful.
Thanks to everyone who has been a part of and supported the Gay Men Project.