Sam, in his own words:“Being gay … If I see my life in hindsight, I could say that the fact that I like boys has not caused anything very different in me. I have never seen the fact of being gay as something that gives meaning to my life, is simply an adjective more of me, like my black hair, or my brown eyes.
The biggest challenge I’ve ever had in my life was about a year ago. I had to change my life completely; I had to flee from Venezuela, a country that is undergoing a neo-communist dictatorship that violates human rights and all kinds of freedoms.
Saying goodbye to everything I knew was not easy. I said bye to all my dreams, my friends and my home. However, I got very good people on the road, thanks to them, everything has been much less difficult. My family has remained united and strong, we have been able to adapt very well to all the changes.
My out coming was developed in stages. My family is very Catholic, belonging to Opus Dei, so I obviously talked to my best friend before any member of my family.
I remember being very nervous the day I talked to my friend, I thought he would stop being my friend. Nevertheless, when I told him that I like boys, he thought that I was joking, but then he said “okay, what’s wrong with that?” I felt immense relief.
Two years later almost all my friends knew that I was gay, I was 18 years old.
In those days I was dating a boy, (whom I will call Pedro in this story). In mid-July 2015, my mom was asking me a lot of things, a little strange questions. On July 25 she began to ask me who Pedro was, in a very loud voice, I said nothing, until she, amid tears and shouts asked, “Are you gay?” It took me a few seconds to respond, and I said, “Yes.”
After that day everything was a process of acceptance of reality, but in general, my parents respected my personal space a lot, they never came to insult me.
Today, my parents can talk openly about the topic, especially my dad.
In the time I have lived in New York I have seen that the LGBTQ community is strongly respected and supported by most people and institutions. The LGBTQ community is open, not afraid of anything. However, many of its members, here in NYC, are people to whom the fact of being LGBTQ does not cause them major changes in their life because of being different.
I would advise the Samuel of a few years ago: “Take advantage of each day, value yourself and value others.”
Chris, in his own words:“For me being gay has become just another part of who I am, sometimes important, most times not so much. I have come to understand myself as just another kind of being human, part of the variety of human existence. Being gay means an appreciation that I am different from the majority of the rest of humanity, but similar to a significant minority of others, so I have come to understand that I share my essential humanity with all other humans, but my sexuality with only some. In general I count my values more highly than my sexuality and I share these with my friends, and it therefore doesn’t usually matter to me whether they are gay or otherwise, even though it is becoming increasingly true that most of my friends are also gay.
There have been times when being gay has been a great source of anxiety for me. I am grateful for the great social strides that have been taken over the past two or three decades that have allowed me to take my place in society with my head held high, to openly live with my partner and to acknowledge my relationship at work. I am also grateful my progressive friends and work colleagues who have created a welcoming and nurturing environment. Of course there are still hangovers from the bad old days, but now the photograph I have of Rey and I on my desk is no cause for comment. Except periodically, from older gay men who remember – as I do – when you just wouldn’t dare, maybe not even dare to enjoy a relationship.
So on another, perhaps more important, level, being gay now means for me the opportunity to live life honestly and openly, authentically, without fanfare, but in a way that I consider normal. The opportunity to discuss the ups and downs of relationships, the odd things that I and Rey do, life in general, all in the broader context of friendly discussion; the opportunity to be (in most ways) like everybody else, these are special to me. The social benefit (perhaps the political benefit) is normalisation. I am encouraged when I see young people carrying out their relationships in an open and positive way and I’m even more gratified when I see my peers doing the same. Being gay, welcoming gayness, is not just about embracing diversity in myself and others, for me it’s about living diversity as un-self-consciously as I can – and encouraging others to do the same.
I think the biggest challenge for me has been the challenge of authenticity, whether that has been acknowledging my sexuality to myself, family and friends, understanding and negotiating/re-finding my faith, and/or thinking through the next stages of my life. So far I think I’ve been reasonably successful (I hope so). But I count the biggest successes those times in my life when I have been part of something that has made a positive difference in someone else’s life. These are the opportunities to look out for. Right now, though, the biggest challenge ahead for us is the renovation of our house.
I tried a couple of fairly abortive attempts at coming out when I was younger, first when I was 18 and the next when I was about 25 or so. Neither were particularly successful and I retreated back into my protective shell, denied myself, tried to live in other ways, but at age 40, I finally came to a stage when I decided I no longer cared, that hiding/denying really didn’t matter any more and made no sense whatsoever and that it was time to live authentically whatever that might turn out to look like. And as it happens it has worked out well. I have great friendships, I met Rey and we clicked, we met each other’s families and clicked; we all genuinely like each other and we have a wonderful family life – and for that I am very grateful. That is what I hope for for others because it is so beneficial.
I’m not so sure there is a gay community as such here in Ipswich. There are lots of gay people in the city, of varying ages and life experience – and lots of them know each other. There have been one or two attempts at creating a regular gay venue, that I know of, with little real success. Well, Brisbane, the State capital, is literally just down the road. We are a University city and I suppose if I were going to look anywhere for a gay “community” here in Ipswich it might be on campus, not so much elsewhere. Perhaps people are making their own communities and we don’t feel the need to create an overarching one. That’s certainly my own feeling on the matter. Rey and I have two very close gay friends here in Ipswich (in fact our best and closest friends) and they are part of our “community” of friends (we are always open to making new friends), but I don’t have any particular sense of a wider gay community as such in Ipswich. Perhaps in one sense that’s actually a good and healthy thing if that means that local gay people are finding community with their families, colleagues and friends, but we have rural centres close by and I’m not sure about where the supports come from for those there and more locally who are vulnerable because of their sexuality – and that is, perhaps, a challenge.
I have thought long and hard about this. I’m not one for giving advice and I tend to think if I had an opportunity to meet my younger self, we would have a long conversation about what lies ahead, the good and the not so good. But I think at the moment if there was a short message to give to my younger self it would be that “Gay is OK; it’s OK to be gay” and maybe, “Don’t leave it so long to come out.” Would I have believed myself and accepted the challenge? I’m not sure, but I’d like to think that I would have thought about it :-)”
Kyle, in his own words:It’s a little strange for me participating in a photography series called the “Gay Men Project” when I don’t really personally use the term gay to refer to my own identity. Back in 2008, after taking a series of undergrad courses in feminist theory, particularly looking at how race and class influenced gender or sexuality, I started using the term queer to prefer to a political that better represented the aims of my writing and activism, that better represented self-inflicted and external threats to my ability to thrive as the kind of person I wanted to be.
That being said, I was drawn to the project because the images I saw were not only aesthetically pleasing, but appealed to my own writing project that is currently ongoing, a project that has been informed by a series of tumultuous events in my own life— including repeated incidences of homophobia, including a severe assault in New York City’s West Village back March 2011 that required reconstructive surgery. Queer Embraces, the name of the project, refers to the way in which my identity and my movement through cities informs how I define what it means to belong—to other men, to those cities, to the ways in which my being visible is an act of personal transformation with political possibilities.
For me, The Gay Men Project matters because of the fact that despite all of the reforms in terms of LGBTQ rights, so many of the men, myself included, face day-to-day struggles simply by being on the streets. I actively choose to wear a lot of thrift store clothes that are designed for women, which has lead to backlash in virtually every city I have traveled. When I write about HIV/AIDS, sexual health, or what it means to hookup with other men in the age of phone and Internet apps, I still face discrimination, even from gay men who are supposed to be part of the same community I belong to. All of this to say that for me, being visible and honest about who you are remains as important today as it was during the Compton’s Cafeteria riot or Stonewall because so many inequalities exist.
I’m not really sure exactly what my participation, my being photographed, will do. But I hope that it is, like my creative writing or journalism, a testament to the public life I lead and the struggles that I have to remain visible and not actively silence my desires.