Hans, in his own words:“To me being gay means that I am different then the majority of people in the world around me. As a young man I have had a lot of trouble accepting that, as I have a strong tendency to conform to spoken and unspoken demands. But when I was 25 I fell head over heels and quite undeniably in love with my best friend. He was straight and the situation led to the kind of drama I guess a lot of us have been through. But there was no way back for me.
I guess coming out to myself was the hardest part. Coming out to parents, brothers and sisters and friends was easy in comparison. I experienced hardly any negative reactions. The worst were the comments of some of my so called progressive friends. They said I shouldn’t label myself in such an old fashioned way and that we should transcend the dichotomy of straight and gay. Just the kind of rationalisation I had been using to deny my own sexuality. But the large majority was very positive and accepting, my mother said that she always had known….
The struggle between the wish to conform and the inability to do so because I also need to respect my own individuality, is one of my life’s themes. My coming out has helped me to become a much more free and nonconformist person then I would have been without this experience.
Sometimes I can still surprise myself by finding traces of homophobia in me. Jens and I have been living together for over 30 years now, and we have been married for more then 8. But I still find it difficult to call him my husband, especially when talking to people who don’t know me. I guess that in a way my coming out process will never stop. But then nobody is perfect. Not even perfectly gay!”
Jens, in his own words:“I’m 59 years old, Danish and married to Hans, who is Dutch, we have been together for 33 years in September.
I came out when I was 19, just before I turned 20, on Feb. 9th, 1976. I had been very depressed for a long time, felt wrong, didn’t know what was the matter. But from the moment I came out, it has been great, I have never had a negative experience being gay, never heard anything negative about being gay. I think Im very lucky being gay. The only issue has been the fact, that we didn’t have any kids. We really wanted to, we tried several things, like I tried for 2 years to have a baby with a woman, she got pregnant but lost the child. So that was not what life had for us, unfortunately, but now with what I have now, I feel Im very blessed with ‘my boys,’ the young gay guys I’m close to now are my children and I love them very much.
Hans and I met at a conference in Copenhagen in August 1982, on Friday the 13th. We spend 3 days and 4 nights together before he went back to Amsterdam. It felt so right, like coming home. Two days after he left, I called him and suggested to him that I came to Amsterdam, moved in with him. He liked the idea very much. But we agreed to talk again a couple of days later to see if we still liked the idea. We did!!! So I packed my stuff and three weeks later I left Denmark and moved to Amsterdam, one of my favourite places in the world.
That was one of my biggest successes in my life, getting out of Denmark and moving down to Hans in The Netherlands. It was hard in the beginning, very hard. I didn’t have my friends, didn’t speak the language and I was used to fucking around a lot and now I was living with Hans and had to behave, which was very hard. I didn’t have much money, had just finished my bachelor in Psychology and didn’t have a job. But I managed to earn a bit of money and later got a scholarship to start my masters in The Netherlands. Now it sounds crazy, move to another country, give up everything and start all over again, but it was great. I loved living in Amsterdam and even we had a lot of fights, it was so right, it felt so right and Im very happy and proud that we did it.
We are soulmates, from day one and still are. We don’t fight much any more, we have learned how to cope with our life together. Actually we we are together 24/7 and have been like that for 7 years, because we both stopped working early. By respecting each others differences and different wishes on what to do, we are able to have a good time. We kinda split the house in two, Hans spends his day mostly downstairs and I’m mostly upstairs all afternoon. We eat breakfast and dinner together, but not lunch. It turned out that that works better for us. We meet in the afternoon at 4 PM for an hour together, to talk and be together, share how we feel, talk about whats going on and if something is wrong we try to repair it then. On Sunday afternoon we have a relationship afternoon, do something together in the garden or the house. Afterwards we drink a beer together. It’s always very nice.
Being gay and later being with Hans has been a very important part of my life. Maybe the most important. I didn’t finish my studies, instead I started my own company, but being a business man was not very important for me and I didn’t become a psychologist, so I’m just me, a gay guy.
But I made a lot of money with my company which I sold 12 years ago, so we are able to live off our money and don’t have to work, another huge success in my life. I can do what I want to and have done so for the last 12 years.
Two years ago I started a blog on tumblr, a blog where I wanted to help young gay guys. I had found out that young gay guys are having as many problems as I did when I was young, are feeling as lousy as I did when I was young especially before I came out. I always thought, that now with internet that it was easy to be gay today, but it’s not, its very hard especially for young guys and especially for guys who live outside Northwestern Europe where I have spend most of my life. So I try to support those guys I talk with, help them with whatever they are struggling with. Mostly it’s about being gay, many are lonely, many don’t get the support from their families or friends they deserve. They can’t tell that they are gay, so they can’t share their life with anyone, the good or the bad stuff that happens, which is very tough, so they do that with me. Some guys have become very close friends, we talk a couple of hours a week. Others I speak once in a while, some I talk with only a few times. Whatever a guy needs, I try to give it to him. It can be talking about sex or often about the wish to get a boyfriend, but also about studying or finding a job or a place to live. Some are very, very lonely, so its not important what we talk about but that we talk. That they have someone who cares for them, accept and respects them as they are (gay) and who want to hear their story.
I feel that I have had a very good (gay) life. When I was young, I had a lot of boy friends, fucked around a lot, partied, having fun. Then I met Hans and kinda settled down even it was still a bit wild in our first years together. Then we became a couple of boring, hard working guys. Now being gay is not important for me, in my own life, only in my talks with ‘my boys’. Personally it’s about being with Hans, having a good life together.
I always wanted a life of good quality, thats what I fought to get and I feel I got it. I’m still enjoying myself very much and hope that Hans and I will get many more good years together. When we were together for 30 years, we agreed to go for another round of 30 years together.
To my younger self or to all my young gay friends I want to say, that it is gonna be ok. So many worry about if they will find a boyfriend, be happy as a gay guy. Well, you will. If you go for sex in your (gay) life, you can have a lot of that, but not necessarily love, but if you really want love and thats what you go for, you will find it. Of all my friends, gay guys my age, who wanted a boyfriedn, they all found one. Just focus on that, go for it and you will find it. Its possible to be happy and gay, and you can find a boy friend. The problem is that you never meet or see older gay couples, so you think its impossible, but thats not true, we are there and we are a lot, but you just never see it. But look at Hans and me, you can have the same if you want to.”
Lionel, in his own words:“Je suis né dans une région rurale du centre de la France. Mon premier contact avec l’homosexualité s’est fait par le biais de mes camarades de classe du primaire qui me traitaient de fille manquée, de femmelette ou de tapette à la récré. Mon comportement devait trahir une identité dont je n’avais pas du tout conscience. C’est vers mes 9 ans, lorsque je suis tombé amoureux du garçon qui flirtait avec ma meilleure copine de classe que j’ai commencé à trouver cela étrange et anormal.
A la vérité de cette évidence, j’ai commencé à être conscient de ma propre homosexualité et de l’homophobie latente et omniprésente de mon environnement familial et géographique. J’ai alors très mal vécu le fait d’être homosexuel, imaginant ma vie comme une destinée de malheur et de solitude assurée.
Les années collège ont été très violentes car la construction de ma propre identité était totalement centrée sur cette différence qui me pesait énormément et qui me mettait en décalage total avec mes camarades. J’étais très triste et je me sentais particulièrement seul. La musique et le cinéma sont alors devenus des refuges particulièrement apaisants. Des artistes comme Mylène Farmer, les Pet Shop Boys, Kylie Minogue ou Madonna exprimaient la force d’être différent. Les films « Philadelphia » et « Beautiful Thing » furent les déclencheurs d’une certaine forme d’acceptation de moi-même et de mon homosexualité.
Après le bac, j’ai pu expérimenter l’émancipation du foyer familial pendant quelques mois à Poitiers. Ils ont été révélateurs de mon envie d’exil et de la certitude qu’être diplômé serait la clé de mon indépendance. C’est pendant ces années étudiantes que j’ai fait mon premier coming-out auprès d’un de mes amis. C’était en 1997. Ce fut une libération incroyable, mon ami m’acceptant totalement tel que j’étais. Il était donc possible de vivre réellement homosexuel et en harmonie avec les autres.
L’année suivante, en 1998, c’est auprès de ma sœur que je fis mon coming-out. Nous sommes très proches et nous nous étions rendus à Paris pour assister au concert de Whitney Houston dont ma sœur était particulièrement admiratrice. Ce jour-là, dans la file d’attente, nous avions attendu et discuté tout l’après-midi avec un couple d’homosexuels. Dès le lendemain, de retour à la maison, je lui avais tendu le magazine « Têtu » que j’avais pris l’habitude de lire depuis un an pour m’informer sur la culture homosexuelle. Elle fut soulagée de cette annonce envisagée et notre rapport s’en trouva renforcé.
Lors de ma formation en masso-kinésithérapie, je fis mon coming-out assez rapidement auprès de certains de mes camarades de classe. Tous l’acceptèrent sans problèmes même si certains n’avaient jamais été confrontés à l’homosexualité. Assumer son homosexualité est un geste et un choix militant très important car il permet à l’autre de se confronter à ses propres peurs ou ignorance et d’en discuter si besoin.
L’étape suivante fut celle de le dire à mes parents. C’est la plus dure et la plus stressante. La peur du rejet est très réelle. Cette étape, que j’aimerais que chaque homosexuel puisse faire, est une différence profonde avec les hétérosexuels qui n’ont pas à s’inventer une vie, masquer ou fuir une réalité de façon aussi permanente. C’est terriblement éprouvant d’être dans le contrôle de soi et de son identité face aux autres alors que le conflit intérieur est si grand. Mes parents l’ont très bien acceptée. Ils m’ont toujours soutenu et défendu. Ils ont perdu la plupart de leurs amis à cause de cela. Les plus fidèles, intelligents et humains sont restés. Je trouve cela très dur pour notre entourage qui n’a pas choisi cette différence de se retrouver confronté à la bêtise humaine. D’un autre côté, cela permet de faire tomber les masques et de révéler la vraie nature des liens qui unissent les gens.
Dès 1997, j’ai pu rendre régulièrement visite à une amie originaire de la même ville natale que moi et qui s’était installée à Paris. J’y ai découvert le Marais, la communauté homosexuelle. D’un seul coup, j’ai pris réellement conscience que je n’étais pas seul. Accepter son homosexualité est une chose, envisager de la vivre de façon heureuse en est une autre. J’ai alors côtoyé des garçons et des filles tous ouvertement gays et lesbiens, c’était une bouffée d’oxygène incroyable pour moi et une source de joie très positive aussi.
En 2001, mon diplôme de kiné en poche, je me suis donc installé à Paris. Quelques jours après mon arrivée, j’ai rencontré un garçon avec qui j’ai vécu ma première histoire d’amour qui aura duré 6 ans. Nous nous étions pacsés et avions célébré cette union comme un mariage avec famille et amis dans la salle des mariages du IIIème arrondissement : quelle chose incroyable pour moi ! Ça reste un souvenir très fort.
Aujourd’hui, je ne suis plus en couple avec lui. Après une seconde relation, passionnelle et destructrice, j’ai retrouvé mon équilibre amoureux avec Jean. Nous nous sommes rencontrés en novembre 2013. Il m’apporte beaucoup d’amour et de sérénité alors que je ne pensais plus pouvoir y goûter. Notre relation est profonde, sincère et partagée.
Je suis profondément heureux de mon parcours. Etre homosexuel n’est pas une fatalité aujourd’hui en France. Et ce, malgré le regain d’homophobie assumée, lié au projet de loi de mariage homosexuel qui a fini par être voté en 2013 après des mois de manifestations haineuses et homophobes. Je mesure ma chance d’être dans un pays comme celui-ci. J’aurai pu naître ailleurs et être pendu pour ce que je suis. C’est une phrase terrible à écrire mais une réalité dans certains pays. Etre homosexuel m’a sûrement amené à grandir plus vite, à prendre conscience de la brutalité du monde. Avec le recul et l’expérience, je crois qu’être homosexuel a été une véritable chance pour moi. Cela a fortement construit ma personnalité. Si j’avais le choix, je ne souhaiterais pas changer mon orientation sexuelle. Elle m’a poussé à être un être humain beaucoup plus ouvert et conscient des autres.
Participer à ce projet est un vrai bonheur car Kevin cherche à montrer une réalité qui fait sens pour moi : l’homosexualité ne se conjugue pas d’une seule façon. C’est une différence comme il en existe tant d’autres. Alors même si elle ancre en nous tous des expériences communes, chaque homosexuel est d’abord un être humain à part entière, riche de ses multiples différences et expériences.”
“I was born in a rural area of central France. My first contact with homosexuality was made through my primary school classmates who called me missed daughter of sissy fagot or at recess. My behavior was to betray an identity that I had no conscience of at all. It was around 9 years old when I fell in love with the boy who was flirting with my best classmate that I began to find it strange and abnormal.
The truth of this evidence, I began to be aware of my own latent homosexuality and homophobia and ubiquitous my family and geographical environment. I then felt very badly being homosexual, imagining my life as a destiny of misfortune and ensured solitude.
The college years were very violent because the construction of my own identity was totally focused on this difference that weighed on me enormously and that put me out of step with my classmates. I was very sad and I felt particularly alone. Music and cinema then became particularly soothing shelters. Artists like Mylène Farmer, the Pet Shop Boys, Kylie Minogue and Madonna expressing the strength to be different. Movies “Philadelphia” and a “Beautiful Thing” triggered some form of acceptance of myself and of my homosexuality.
After high school, I was able to experience the emancipation from the family home for a few months in Poitiers. This was indicative of my desire of exile and the certainty that being a graduate would be the key to my independence. It was during these student years that I made my first coming out with one of my friends. That was in 1997. It was an incredible release, my friend totally accepting me as I was. It was therefore possible to actually live as a homosexual and in harmony with others.
The following year, in 1998, with my sister I made my coming-out. We are very close and we had gone to Paris to attend the concert of Whitney Houston, who my sister was a particular admirer. That day, in the queue, we waited and discussed all afternoon with a gay couple. The next day, back at home, I handed her the “stubborn” magazine that I had taken the habit of reading for a year to inform me about the homosexual culture. She was relieved of the proposed announcement and our rapport was given a boost.
During my training in physiotherapy, I had my coming-out rather quickly with some of my classmates. All accepted it without problems even though some had never been confronted with homosexuality. Assuming one’s homosexuality is a gesture and an important militant choice because it allows others to confront his own fears and ignorance and discuss if necessary.
The next step was the one to tell my parents. This is the hardest and most stressful. Fear of rejection is very real. This stage, as is the case for every homosexual, is a profound difference to heterosexuals who do not have to invent a life, hide or escape from a reality as permanently. It’s terribly stressful to be in self-control and identity against the other while the inner conflict is so great. My parents were very well accepting. They have always supported me and defended me. They lost most of their friends because of it. Loyal, intelligent and humane stayed. I find it very hard for those around us who have not chosen this difference to be faced with human stupidity. On the other hand, it allows one to take off the masks and reveal the true nature of the links between people.
In 1997 I was able to regularly visit a friend from the same hometown as me and who had settled in Paris. I discovered the Marais, the gay community. Suddenly, I actually realized that I was not alone. Accepting one’s homosexuality is one thing, consider a life happily lived is another. I then rubbed with the boys and girls whom were all openly gay and lesbians, it was an incredible breath of fresh air for me and a source of joy as very positive.
In 2001, I earned my physio degree, so I’ve moved to Paris. A few days after my arrival, I met a guy I had my first love story with that lasted 6 years. We had PACS and had celebrated this union as a marriage with family and friends in the third arrondissement marriages room: what an incredible thing for me! It’s still a very strong memory.
Today I am no longer in a relationship with him. After a second relationship, passionate and destructive, I found my balance in love with Jean. We met in November 2013. He brings me a lot of love and serenity while I thought being able to taste it. Our relationship is deep, sincere and shared.
I am very happy with my career. Being gay is not a fatality in France today. Despite the resurgence of homophobia assumed, linked to the gay marriage bill that was finally passed in 2013 after months of hateful and homophobic manifestations. I measure my chance to be in a country like this. Had I been born elsewhere I could be hanged for who I am. This is a terrible sentence to write but a reality in some countries. Being gay surely forced me to grow faster and become aware of the brutality of the world. With hindsight and experience, I believe that being gay was a real opportunity for me. This strongly built my personality. If I had the choice, I would not change my sexual orientation. It pushed me to be a much more open and aware human being of others.
Participating in this project is a joy because Kevin tries to show a reality that makes sense to me: homosexuality is not experienced in one way. There is a difference as there are many. Even if we anchor all common experiences every homosexual is first a human being full, rich in multiple differences and experiences.”
Jean, in his own words:“Being gay actually means nothing to me. I never realized I was gay. I realized I was not straight. Being attracted to guys has never been an issue for me. Since I was a child, I always imagined myself falling for the hero, not the heroin. The word “gay” itself only has a meaning today, for our generation, because people are still defined by their sexual orientation. The most commonly accepted orientation being heterosexuality, being gay is still an issue, a pride, a taboo, a reason to love, hate, kill or fight for. If, as I hope, this criteria fades in the future in the way we define ourselves, the words “gay” and “straight” will be outdated.
My coming out was not made to come out as a gay person. It was made to come out in the sense of extract myself. My social surrounding was conservative, religious, wealthy and traditional. Realizing I did not fit the expectations linked to my gender (date girls, be a competitor, practice sports, etc) did not scare me. I was scared by the fact that what was expected from me was the opposite of what I wanted for myself. When I am scared I attack (nothing scares me more than the idea of running away, hearing a predator just after me…)
So my coming out was made as an attack, sudden and sharp. Everybody I knew even from sight including my parents of course were aware of it in a flash. I was sixteen and the word spread extremely quickly. One day I was the shy and lonely boy, the next I was the gay guy who assumed it. It actually made me very popular with many people (mostly girls actually), which was totally unexpected. Those who had a problem with it never expressed it. They were so hard trying to fit in any way possible, than this way of dealing with that subject broke all their codes. They were harmless and I was free.
The gay community in Paris is very sinister and dull. The Marais is probably the shallowest place I’ve ever been to. There are no political or intellectual issues. It is all about appearance, money and cruising. All the interesting and alternative places are shut down to be replaced by tacky and luxurious bars and shops. I am really sad to say that the stupidest things I heard live in my whole life were heard in the Marais. This place is like a bubble protected from any trouble common people face anywhere else. If you are poor, old, ugly, sad, lost (several choices possible) then you are out. If you are able to hide your problems, or if one of these problems is balanced by a quality (poor and lost but cute/ugly and dull but wealthy) you can manage your way through the maze. This description is very sharp and of course it is possible to meet beautiful persons in the Marais, but there is undeniably a thick sadness stuck to this place. Anyway being a Parisian since I was born, I am glad the Marais exists, as a place I can feel totally light with my boyfriend, but I never stay long.
The thing I would teach myself as a younger self would be not to mix erection with affection. It’s taken me a long while to understand this, and I went through a lot of pain.
Going through the Gay men project is a very rich experience. All those very different points of view, all these intimate confidences are very enlightening over others and oneself. Some persons go through very hard times accepting their homosexuality, and their first fight is against themselves. I don’t know how I would have dealt with this issue, but I have deep respect for those who made this journey. After a while reading those stories and watching these very sensitive and intimate pictures, I feel very ignorant and humble. This project helps me opening my eyes, mind and heart. Answering those questions is a very hard task (this is why it took me so long to send the answers).
Kevin, when you came to our place to take the pictures, I had no precise idea of what this project really meant. I had just had a quick look over it, mostly over pictures. We had a very pleasant time with you, talking and posing. You left quite suddenly and I watched you going away from the fifth floor window. When I saw you walking fast in the street, I’ve had the feeling you were lost in yourself. I could not explain why. Maybe the way you moved, in a very intense and restrained way. If felt as if you were both running away and rushing at something you knew nothing of. This made me have a real look at the project. It took me a very long time to read all those stories. And then I discovered the “A personal diary” section. I realized this very strong feeling I’d had about you, watching you from the window was right. What you do is amazing Kevin, and this journey will lead you to yourself, no doubt about it. Your expectations are probably way smaller than what you will actually get from this experience. You do not travel alone, but you take us all with you, the persons who participate to the project, but also those who read it online. This is huge from a man seeking the sense of life. Thank you for that Kevin.”
Vince, in his own words (first published in 2014):“February 6, 2014 was a special day. I met Kevin Truong at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 42 Street in New York City to be photographed. Participating in the Gay Men Project and being photographed in the theatre district of the Big Apple are important to me. I live in Philadelphia, but my life as a gay man began in Times Square thirty-four years ago.
I am sixty-eight now, and on my thirty-fourth birthday I stood in line on 47th Street for two-for-one tickets for a Broadway play. A girl friend met me there. She brought a birthday cake, and people in line sang “Happy Birthday” as she lit the candle. After the show we went to “Uncle Charlie’s,” a gay bar in the Village. She asked if I was gay. Well, six months later in Philadelphia I had my first sexual experience with a man. His name was Jimmy, a great guy and still a friend. When he embraced to kiss me, I remember thinking, “This is what it’s like.”
All of the years before that first sexual experience I was afraid to admit that I was attracted to men. The fear drove me crazy. But admitting that fact to myself was a first step to being a better man. No need to describe the years which followed in any great detail. My life is much like thousands of others who lived through the eighties and beyond. Close friendships were established, boyfriends came and went, and many, many died. But the man who mattered most in my life, my partner and best friend for twenty-three years, made me a “mensch.” In Yiddish, the word simple means to be a real human being. Our life seemed perfect for the first eight years. Of course, that was on the surface. We had the house in Philly, friends, jobs, supportive parents, and each other. But like any other couple, we had hard times, bad moments, frustrations, disappointments; and over our heads hung the fear of AIDS. In 1990 we decided to be tested. I tested negative, and Jon, my partner, was positive. His results came back on the eve of my forty-fifth birthday. He had planned a special birthday for me: a weekend in New York, two Broadway plays, a nice dinner, a romantic evening together. That never happened, but the next sixteen years did. How Jon became positive never mattered. How to live did. The years were tough, but he was the Energizer Bunny. He kept going and going. Jon was my life partner no matter what happened, and many things did. He died in 2006, and like the moment he received the phone call to tell him he was HIV positive, I was there to hold him and love him when he died.
Today, almost eights years later, it’s hard to believe that we could be legally married if he were alive. Unfortunately not in Philadelphia, but that too will happen. Life is good; people are wonderful; and the advice I have for a younger gay man: confront your fears, go after your dream, and be a “mensch.”