Piotr, in his own words:“(Being gay) means a lot because I consider myself a human being, a gay and a European. I’m so proud in this respect that would never change. It’s inseparable, blissful, it’s me!
I’m critical of myself and think there are loads of those much better than me. However, I’m working on that at the moment. Because it’s not so easy to organize the biggest gay party in this part of Europe and be the owner of a gay bar – this is certainly a success. A personal success!
The gay community in (Warsaw) is more & more aware of its rights and value. It’s clearly visible when one goes for a trip outside the capital. The gay guys there are greyish or even invisible, thus do not stand out from the crowd. That’s why Warsaw has become a gay capital with a large community of those who cannot resist the temptation and are super cool and super colourful.
(Advice I’d give my younger self) To be more determined when it comes to dreams that were in fact reachable at some point. Now I know that a person can step back from any decision and any plan, or simply get back to the previous position. My younger self was far too scared and unaware of that.”
Kyle, in his own words:It’s a little strange for me participating in a photography series called the “Gay Men Project” when I don’t really personally use the term gay to refer to my own identity. Back in 2008, after taking a series of undergrad courses in feminist theory, particularly looking at how race and class influenced gender or sexuality, I started using the term queer to prefer to a political that better represented the aims of my writing and activism, that better represented self-inflicted and external threats to my ability to thrive as the kind of person I wanted to be.
That being said, I was drawn to the project because the images I saw were not only aesthetically pleasing, but appealed to my own writing project that is currently ongoing, a project that has been informed by a series of tumultuous events in my own life— including repeated incidences of homophobia, including a severe assault in New York City’s West Village back March 2011 that required reconstructive surgery. Queer Embraces, the name of the project, refers to the way in which my identity and my movement through cities informs how I define what it means to belong—to other men, to those cities, to the ways in which my being visible is an act of personal transformation with political possibilities.
For me, The Gay Men Project matters because of the fact that despite all of the reforms in terms of LGBTQ rights, so many of the men, myself included, face day-to-day struggles simply by being on the streets. I actively choose to wear a lot of thrift store clothes that are designed for women, which has lead to backlash in virtually every city I have traveled. When I write about HIV/AIDS, sexual health, or what it means to hookup with other men in the age of phone and Internet apps, I still face discrimination, even from gay men who are supposed to be part of the same community I belong to. All of this to say that for me, being visible and honest about who you are remains as important today as it was during the Compton’s Cafeteria riot or Stonewall because so many inequalities exist.
I’m not really sure exactly what my participation, my being photographed, will do. But I hope that it is, like my creative writing or journalism, a testament to the public life I lead and the struggles that I have to remain visible and not actively silence my desires.
Kelvin, in his own words:“When I look at my coming out process I have to honestly say I’m blessed to have the circle of love that I have. I came out to my siblings when I was 19. Both my Mommy and Mom (foster mom) went through the discovery of my sexual identity with me. Although it wasn’t easy for Mom and I it certainly made our relationship stronger. When I told my little brother 4 years younger than me he was convinced that I was joking with him. By the end of our conversation he told me that he now had a different perspective on what it meant to be gay since now he knew he had a gay brother. The clown in the bunch, my baby sister, had my favorite reaction. She looked me dead in the face and said “ok…and? you want a cookie or something?!” You can’t help but to love that girl! She always keeps the bunch laughing. My big sister seemed so unfazed. As far as she was concerned people were coming out the closet left and right. I was no different. I surprisingly never personally came out to my baby brother, but I’m sure by now he’s figured things out! I was afraid that living in my truth would tear me from the bond I shared with my siblings, but instead it verified the strength of our love for one another.
Once I came out to my siblings I thought my work was done. I would soon realize that if I wanted to live a life equal to that of my siblings then I would have to give voices to the injustices suffered by the lgbt community. The coming out process is never finished only started! After a Day of Silence event held at Ohio University I came out on facebook. Then came one of my first major challenges, my father’s side of the family. Two awkard phone calls were quickly followed by the fear that I may have been outed to my father. Thus setting the stage for me to come out to him months later. It didn’t go well. It was the first time I had really received negative reaction to my coming out and the topic quickly became the elephant in the room when ever I was around my father’s side of the family. Through out that whole process with my father’s side of the family not once did anyone say to me “I don’t care that your gay I still love you” not even my own father. Sadly I think it’s the underlying reason that with them I stay so distant.
Needless to say the negative reaction pushed me even harder to be vocal about lgbt issues. This passion led me to become a student leader. I co-founded a chapter of a lgbt organization for students of color called SHADES at the largest public university in the country The Ohio State University. Hands down the best thing I’ve done yet with my life as the chapter is still standing. Through my experience I learned not only how to find my voice as a leader but also as a black gay man. That in it’s self has it’s own special challenges, especially when it comes to dating. One big lesson I quickly learned is acceptance in difference. How could I possibly expect someone to accept my difference if I couldn’t accept theirs? I also learned the understanding of processes. I had to go through a process of accepting my sexual identity and I must afford others that same right to process. In cooperating with others it’s important to agree to disagree because not everyone will be on your exact page all the time. This does not mean their not in the same chapter! In closing I would like to give one of my biggest and currently practiced lessons, knowing when to sit down. There will always be something to shout about, something to get angry about, something to cry over. All of this can be very draining and it’s not your job to take on the world. Stay in tuned to your spirit and know when it’s your time to take a break from it all and just do you. I promise you when ever your ready there will be so many issues to give your voice to upon your return! “