Eduardo, in his own words:“Ser gay para mí significa entender que todos somos diferentes y que el mundo no es como te lo pintan las convenciones sociales. Es muchísimo más. Es algo que sabemos todos los gays desde que somos niños. Y es una gran lección.
Uno de mis principales obstáculos ha sido enfrentarme a una sociedad tan represiva como la peruana. Pero es lo que me toca y le doy la pelea todos los días siendo yo mismo.
Sigue siendo muy difícil ser LGBTIQ en el Perú pero hay progresos. Creo que la coyuntura de la Unión Civil contribuyó con la visibilidad de nuestro colectivo y además colaboró con la apertura gradual de la sociedad civil en general. Hay grandes desafíos hacia adelante pero las transformaciones sociales toman su tiempo.
Les dije a mis papás que era gay apenas terminé el colegio pero al igual que yo, siempre supieron. Ellos están bien. Solo quieren que sea feliz. Es la misma apuesta que tengo yo en la vida: ser feliz.
¿Qué consejo me daría a mí mismo? Pasa más tiempo con tu familia. La voy a cagar muchas veces y está bien que sea así, pero tengo que aprender de cada error. Se que suena difícil y que el mundo parece un gran problema cuando eres más joven pero me diría que todo va a mejorar. El mundo se ve mejor a los 33. Disfruta de tu vida sin responsabilidades, mientras puedas. Sé una buena persona. Relájate. Dile a ese chico que te gusta. Se feliz.”
“Being gay to me means understanding that everyone is different and that the world is not only as you paint it in social conventions. It is much more. Being gay is something that we all know since we were children. And it’s a great lesson.
One of my biggest obstacles has been to confront such a repressive society like Peru. But it is what touches me and I have to fight every day just to be myself.
It remains very difficult to be LGBTIQ in Peru but there is progress. I think the situation of the Civil Union contributed to the visibility of our collective and also assisted with the gradual opening of the civil society in general. There are great challenges ahead but social changes take time.
I told my parents I was gay just as I finished school, but I always knew. They are fine. They just want me to be happy. It’s the same desire that I have in life: to be happy.
What advice would I give my younger myself? Spend more time with your family. I’m going to mess up often and rightly so, but I have to learn from every mistake. I know it sounds difficult and the world seems like a big problem when you’re younger, but I would say that everything will improve. The world looks better at 33. Enjoy your life without responsibilities, while you can. Be a good person. Relax. Tell that guy that you like. Be happy.”
Erik, in his own words:“What does being gay mean to me? I feel if I do not give some philosophical answer I will not win Mr. Gay America! With all joking aside, it is more about an acceptance of one’s self rather than the acceptance most gay men look for from family, friends, or society. When I wakeup each morning I feel happy to be me and am ready to live this charmed life I have been blessed with. Most people, gay or straight, are not able to do that, because they have not accepted the fact that each of us has a charge and higher calling in life.
Life itself is the greatest challenge of all and it is the one challenge we all must face, but each of us yield an infinite amount of paths to the finish. My greatest challenge is myself! I would say I am a very independent, honest, and caring person. When it comes to the subject of dating and relationships I seem to dismiss these qualities in potential partners.”
TJ, in his own words: “I don’t know that being gay means anything intrinsically besides denoting my sexual preference, but to be gay means you live life as an Other, an aberration, defined in opposition to straightness which is ‘normal’.
It means the world is not made for you.
I grew up in a small town in Alaska so my view of the world was also small. There weren’t any openly gay adults and there were very few representations of gay men in the media I consumed, most of which were one-dimensional stereotypes or defined by having AIDS.
My family was not religious or conservative, but conversations I heard around homosexuality in school, around town, and on the news, made it clear to me that I could not expect to receive dignity or legal equality, I did not deserve it. And though I didn’t believe my life was worth less than other lives, I knew that if everyone else believed it then it might as well be true.
For a long time it was difficult to imagine a future for myself. A future that felt meaningful.
I grew up afraid of the world I inhabited. I saw how casually boys and men inflicted violence on each other. Being gay (even perceived as gay) was automatically a reason to have violence inflicted on you, whether through intimidation or actual physical violence. It made me cautious, overly aware of my voice, my mannerisms, my body, and it’s proximity to other bodies. Even now, even in Portland, I cannot completely stop myself from feeling afraid; it’s conditioned in me. To reach for another man’s hand as we walk together in public is a deliberate decision I make. I still don’t trust the world I live in, and I don’t know that I should.
I grew up with secrets, which I believed would keep me safe, and made me feel distant from my family. I learned to sublimate my desires. I grew up independent, believing I could only rely on myself, determined to be my own man. I grew up lonely. I grew up tenacious, focused on getting out of Alaska, organizing my life around this goal. I grew up internalizing shame, and when people told me I didn’t ‘seem gay’ I took it as a compliment. I grew up with low expectations, not wanting to be disappointed. I grew up with walls, to keep other from hurting me. I grew up and learned there is power in the feminine, in empathy, in traits straight men weren’t allowed to access. I grew up believing I was irrevocably damaged by the pain I experienced, that no one would want to date me. I grew up and stopped apologizing for myself; it was not my job to make people comfortable. I grew up and had my first kiss; I was 21. I grew up to trust my family later than I wanted to. I grew up and dated, badly at first, but better as I got older. I grew up and noticed when I fell into old ways of thinking that did not serve me anymore. I learned to take my mental health seriously. I grew up and stopped being afraid of being alone; being worthy of love and having a relationship are not the same thing. I learned to take down the walls when it mattered, to risk being hurt. I learned to move through pain. I grew up to be honest, with myself, with family, with boyfriends. I grew up to be more optimistic, not an optimist, but more optimistic. I grew up stronger that I ever could have imagined.
That’s what being gay has meant to me. To come to terms with being an Other. To try and thrive in a world that’s not made for you. I feel lucky that I have.
I hope it’s easier for those growing up now.
I knew I was gay from a young age, years before I knew the word for what I was. But I also knew this wasn’t something I could talk about with anyone; it felt dangerous. I started coming out to my friends in Middle School. By high school I knew four or five other gay guys, we weren’t all friends, but we were all aware of each other. I didn’t date; I wasn’t ready for that. I came out to my mother right before I left for college, it felt important to do, to close the gap I felt between us. I waited till we were alone one night and told her, she didn’t get angry or cry. I remember she told me she was scared for me. But we couldn’t have a real conversation about it for years. After college I was living in Seattle and my parents planned to visit, so I told my mom that I wanted them to meet my then-boyfriend. This meant I finally needed to tell my dad I was gay. She told me she would do it. I let her; it felt easier. Then she told everyone else in the family and it just became a fact. A few years ago I took my (different) then-boyfriend to my brother’s wedding, the first time anyone in my family had met someone I dated, and it felt surprisingly natural. It was strange to me how effortlessly acceptance suddenly appeared, like it all happened behind the scenes.
(With regards to the gay community in Portland) I’m a terrible person to ask, I hardly go out. But I know it’s there and it’s strong and I’m glad it exists.
I’ve generally become more political as I’ve gotten older, I’ve aged into the demographic that reads the news for fun now instead of doing things that are actually fun. Also we’re about to enter four years of a Republican controlled Congress and White House (probably followed by the Supreme Court) so I’m preparing myself to stay engaged through what I fear will be a tough time for a lot of people I care about. My rights exist because people before me did the work, work they didn’t always know was going to pay off, and the work isn’t over. It’s probably going to get harder for a while, but I can’t let the work stop. To me, that also means working to protect and advance progress for other members of the LGBTQ community with less privilege, specifically trans people. As a person of color I also want to see conversations around race continue nationally, as well as in the LGBTQ movement, as we move forward.
I would tell my younger self what I tell myself now when I’m struggling through hard times: You don’t know what you mean to other people and you don’t know what will happen in the future.”