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.”
Andy, in his own words:“We have been together 18 years, or as I like to joke, 10 happy years.
I was in the audience when I first spotted Mark, playing the role of Mother Abbess in a campy version of the Sound of Music. Wearing a habit, Mark brought down the house with his falsetto rendition of “Climb Every Mountain.” “You’ve got to find the life you were born to live.”
I came out late, tragically and comically looking into all kinds of conversion programs before coming to terms with my sexuality while in graduate school at UNC- Chapel Hill. With two gay sisters, Mark came out earlier to himself but to his parents only after meeting me.
In 2001, Mark and I returned from Vietnam with our five month old son, Ben. Shy with adults but popular with his peers, Ben is bright, athletic and an expert on advanced weapons systems. Mark created the coolest back yard in Baltimore for Ben, complete with trampoline, zip line, tree house and water slide. Our house is always filled with the sounds of young boys laughing, having gun battles or discussing the latest Bond film.
My dad moved in last year, adding a third loving generation to the family.”
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.”
James, in his own words:“It’s incredible how fast is growing up a city like Panama, but at the same time it is very sad to look around and see discrimination still being a problem in our society. Fortunately the new generations are changing their mind, but sometimes gay people have to be really patient and try to live with this.
In this topic people have to understand that “RESPECT” is the best way to live in society and tolerance is necessary.
I’m really proud of being a part of the change in this country and I’m grateful for having very talented, brave, smart and beautiful friends, who are showing to the world that there’s nothing wrong being gay.”
Sam, in his own words:“When I was fifteen I moved far from the place where I spent most of my childhood, and naturally I became depressed. I spent a lot of time on the computer, writing, talking to the friends I left behind, pirating music, trying to make new friends in town, and watching porn. My family thought my depression was directly caused by an obsession with technology, and with some snooping they found links to porn sites.
I wasn’t bothered much by being forced out of the closet to my family so suddenly (seeing how I was out to everyone else), but I was traumatized with the thought of my family having seen gay porn that I had seen, fantasized over, jerked off to.
My family at first was in disbelief of my homosexuality; they thought that it was just an angst-ridden teenage phase. It hurt that they all had their baseless assumptions of what being a homosexual meant.
What bothers me more though is the growing process of a queer. The rejection, the sneering, the pain… And all from within our own community, the brothers and sisters that are supposed to know similar pains and hold your hand, and all based off assumptions still.
I’ve been told what it means to be a man, what it means to be queer, what it means to be an Asian homo, what it means to have a partner that is older… And you know what? Pretty much everyone was wrong.”