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.”
Michael, in his own words:“I’m a small town boy from Eastern Oregon. I grew up in a town surrounded by farm land, deer, barns and rivers in a peaceful valley hours away from any city. I never left my small town until I went to college at the University of Oregon. I ended up getting into Theatre and moved to New York City for a few years after college. It’s hard to define myself because I’ve been know to throw myself into new situations and been able to adapt well. In New York I served celebrities and mafia heads in a high end restaurant in mid town Manhattan. I booked modeling and acting jobs on the side while fulfilling my fantasy of making things happen in NYC. Eventually I missed the trees and returned to Oregon. I define myself as someone who is able to maintain a sense of self in any situation and loves to push my own boundaries.
I’ve evolved quite a bit in the past ten years. I now work with children and have my masters in elementary education. What’s important to me has changed a lot. What’s important to me now is being a part of a community and feeling like what I do gives back to a community that supports and fulfills me. I no longer worry about feeding my own ego like I did in my early 20′s.
Being a gay man to me is much more than helping people accept the fact that I love other men. I feel that that is something that shouldn’t even be questioned. I like that I can present myself as a person who is happy with who he is, no matter what that is. I am comfortable in my own skin. I treat people right and it makes me happy to connect with people on a personal level. I have a hard time finding someone who doesn’t enjoy being around me. I’m happy being who I am and what I’ve done with my life. I think that’s hard to find a fault in. I own my decisions and actions and don’t regret much. If someone doesn’t like me than it’s only because I represent some fault in themselves that they’re insecure about.
My coming out was not nearly as dramatic as most gay men. I came out to my two siblings on my 21st birthday which resulted in a group hug and cheers. My mother’s reaction was simply, “well now we can FINALLY talk about it!” I didn’t come out to my Dad until I brought home a boyfriend when I was 26. He was happy to meet him and they bonded over talking about photography. I’ve always felt that my sexuality is as big of a deal as I make it out to be. I’m incredibly proud to be gay and I would never want any alternative reality. Being gay has brought so many opportunities that I would have never had as a straight man. I’ve met incredible and colorful people from around the world and been able to do things that the average person from La Grande Oregon will never be able to do. Being gay has pushed me to know myself well and to give myself permission to have faults and embrace what makes me an individual.”
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.”
Stephen, in his own words: ” Being Gay to me has always felt like I have the best qualities of understanding men and women and being empathetic toward everyone.
Coming out was exceedingly easy though the phrase “coming out” did not exist when I did it…I was a kid actor doing summer stock, and realized that I was more like a lot of the men I was meeting rather than like my Pop and his pals…I had an easy time of assimilating it as all the older actors were exceedingly supportive; I never felt compelled to hide who I was, but just existed in my comfy world.
My challenges have been to make a living, to continue in happiness, when so many friends in my generation died when AIDS arrived, and to try to be a positive presence on the planet…. I miss so many people no longer on Earth, yet do honor them daily in how I choose to exist here. I adore kids and have helped raise 9 god children over the years, and have always shared life with animals who are constant blessings.”
Ian, in his own words: “Maybe I was lucky but I don’t really remember there being any big deal about coming out. I was about 15 or 16 and pretty confident about stuff, I had always known I was gay and I was never any good at hiding things. I started subscribing to gay news in about 1977 (when I was 15) and this used to arrive in a brown paper envelope. I was also obsessed with gay literature and on my bookshelves there was Edmund White’s, a boy’s own story, Gore Vidal’s, city and the pillar and James Baldwin’s, Giovanni’s room to name but a few – so it was pretty obvious to anyone who cared to look and my poor mum cleaned my room in those days!!!. It was the time of punk and I was a little obsessed with the Tom Robinson Band and in 1977 or 78 they had a rising free EP out which included the song “glad to be gay”. I remember buying this in the local WH Smith (it reached nos 18 in the UK charts) and playing on repeat for hours. So I don’t think anyone in my house had any doubts!!! I recall a conversation with my mum in the kitchen of our house in Newport Gwent when I was about 16 – I guess you can call this my coming out moment but my mum told me she already knew. I think I was a bit disappointed as I was hoping for a bit of a reaction (I liked to court reaction in those days!).
I never actually had “the” conversation with my dad it was just sort of presumed really. I vaguely remember my sister being a bit upset when I told her but she was upset because I had not told her before!
So all in all pretty straightforward and not really an issue or big deal. Mind you looking back I’m amazed at how brazen I was from such a young age!!!
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.”