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.”
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.”
Stephen, in his own words:” Being Gay to me has always felt like I have the best qualities of understanding men and women and being empathetic toward everyone.
Coming out was exceedingly easy though the phrase “coming out” did not exist when I did it…I was a kid actor doing summer stock, and realized that I was more like a lot of the men I was meeting rather than like my Pop and his pals…I had an easy time of assimilating it as all the older actors were exceedingly supportive; I never felt compelled to hide who I was, but just existed in my comfy world.
My challenges have been to make a living, to continue in happiness, when so many friends in my generation died when AIDS arrived, and to try to be a positive presence on the planet…. I miss so many people no longer on Earth, yet do honor them daily in how I choose to exist here. I adore kids and have helped raise 9 god children over the years, and have always shared life with animals who are constant blessings.”
Spencer, in his own words:“I grew up as a gay, Japanese-American, devout Mormon in Boise, Idaho. Convinced that I would overcome my sexuality by throwing myself into a diligent Mormon life, I locked myself in the proverbial closet and promptly ingested the key. This meant not just complete immersion into the Mormon Church, but to stand out from among even the most devout practioners. Wasn’t I told that salvation would be mine if I did everything right? And for all intents and purposes, my upbringing in the Mormon community was idyllic: soccer and baseball with my Mormon brothers; shoveling snow for the elderly on winter morning with my Mormon leaders; I was an Eagle Scout (whose favorite Merit Badge was kayaking), a proud and decorated member of Troop 83.
It is October 1997, and I am standing at the Salt Lake City International airport waving goodbye to my family. My crisply folded itinerary tells me that I will be landing at Hiroshima Airport in fifteen hours. My two-year Mormon mission has begun. Elder Jared is Caucasian, and at twenty, only one year older than myself. He is the first of seven mission partners that I will encounter over the next twenty-four months. These two years spent in Japan speed by, faster than I used to slurp down long strands of ramen at the noodle shops, elbow-to-elbow with well-dress Japanese business men.
My attendance at Brigham Young University yielded the same results: teeming with fresh-faced Mormons, the community came built-in. My junior year is when my communities began to overlap. After much consideration and prayer, I felt strongly that for me to be happy in life, I had to allow myself to love freely, and that meant disavowing from Mormon beliefs and beginning the slow process of accepting myself as gay.
San Francisco has been my home for the last nine years. This is my community. I’m an avid sportsman; completed my first triathlon in 2010, the Escape From Alcatraz. Participated in an Urbanathlon in 2011, finished 47th out of 1,161.”