Gary, in his own words: “For me, being “gay” means I am a man attracted to men. It’s indicative of my dating life and many of the social circles I find myself in. Being “queer,” on the other hand, means that I am different from the mainstream. Insofar as my sexuality and gender expression don’t fit into the dominant culture, I am queer. I didn’t realize how interconnected your gender and sexual identities are until I came out. Coming out as gay and embracing my sexuality also meant accepting who I am as a man. I always felt I was different from other boys; I was often deemed a little “feminine” or made fun of for being sensitive or not as into sports like many boys were. I hated my differences, but over the years, and ultimately through coming out, I have learned to love myself for all that I am. I am a gay, queer man and I couldn’t be more proud.
I grew up with a loving father, but he struggled with alcoholism for the better part of my childhood. He carried so much shame, which inhibited his ability to be an even better father. Growing into manhood and figuring out what it meant to be a man was a solitary journey. I count that as a success though; of course it was hard, but it made me stronger and has shaped me into who I am today. Another life challenge was losing my father in a car accident when I was 15. It forced me to grow up quickly, as the oldest man in the house and a source of strength for my mom and brother. I count overcoming that challenge a success too. Other successes I’m proud of include being a first generation university graduate; coming from a family with little financial means, I attended a private university and got my Bachelor’s degree. Immediately after college I spent a year and a half living in a slum in Bangkok doing community development work. I came out during that time, brought about by being away from home and being able to process things more clearly. Growing up in a religious household, not everyone in my life was receptive of it, and it’s certainly been a challenge learning how to love them or draw boundaries where necessary. The struggle is worth it though. Overall, my time in Thailand was difficult, but it made me stronger and I grew so much from it.
My coming out story is an interesting one. I grew up in a conservative, Christian world and I sincerely loved the Church and the ways it enriched my life. My views on queer people began to change my junior year of college when one of my professors came out as transgender. For the first time in my life I was challenged to think through my beliefs and figure out why I believed the things I did. It was through that time that I became affirming for LGBT people. Interestingly enough, I still thought I was straight and merely dealt with “same-sex attractions,” as it’s often called in the Christian world. Years later, while living in Thailand, I was so ashamed over my attractions that I couldn’t bear it any longer. I realized the only way to be free was to call my sexuality for what it is; I initially came out as “bi,” because that was the next safest step for me. Eventually though, I realized I’m solely attracted to men and began identifying as “gay.” Over the course of six months I came out to my closest friends, immediate family, and extended family, as we’ve always been close. I wanted to be transparent with everyone in my life, even if it meant potentially losing relationships.
There’s a decent queer community here in Portland. When I moved here I really wanted to be a part of a church that accepts queer people, so Portland being the inclusive and welcoming city that it is, that was easy to find. There’s a group of us queer people who always sit together at church and we often make jokes about the queer section we’ve established. It’s been a healing and restorative thing, being able to bring every part of me to church without hiding anything; I wish there were more churches like that. I’ve only experienced a little bit of the gay nightlife here, but it’s been more than welcoming. From my work place to walking around town, I never feel threatened or the need to hide my sexuality. I feel like I can be myself everywhere I go.
If I could give my younger self advice I would encourage him to think for himself, not to blindly accept the beliefs of others, and to think about why he believes the way he does. Ultimately, I would tell him not to fear others or what they think of him.”