Tagged: tennessee

Christopher, Claims Examiner, Nashville, Tennessee

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

Christopher, in his own words: “I cannot remember a single moment when I wasn’t gay.

But being gay … that’s another story, one that I’m still figuring out.

Like a bitter batch of sun tea, I was steeped in fundamentalist Christianity since birth. I entered my adolescent years with a foul taste in my mouth and enough guilt to last until I was over the hill. I bottled that up and tried to be devout.

Until my 29th year I truly believed that no person actually was gay. I thought my same-sex attractions were some kind of spiritual oppression. And I imagined two polarized forces fighting for the fate of my soul.

Imagine that.

It all seems so dramatic now.

Regardless of how it feels now, for too many years I believed it to be true and I knew my only option was to follow the doctrine in which I had been stewing. I did what every good Christian boy does: I married a woman and started a family.

Six years later I woke from the fever dream.

Coming out was utterly terrifying. All I could think about was my children, and the effect it would have on our relationship.

I had always been a very connected father. My kids were born at home with a midwife and I was there to catch each of them. I cut their umbilical cords and rinsed out their cloth diapers. I know that granola phase is long gone, but I loved every second of it.

It’s much easier to deny who you are when you are giving every moment to three precious little ones. But eventually there came a point of clarity in which the veil was pulled back (or torn in two — you take your pick). Suddenly I realized I had been fighting to maintain a certain standing in a religious paradigm to which I had always struggled to relate.

This epiphany resulted in my dual coming out—as a gay man and as a humanist. The ripple effects were beautiful and devastating.

When my ex-wife quickly moved them from northern Illinois to Nashville to join an oppressive religious community, I left everything I had ever known behind to follow my children. I didn’t know what to expect moving to the Bible Belt just months after coming out. What I found in Nashville was a wonderful queer community that embraced me.

After spending almost three decades feeling mostly alone, now I am surrounded by people that love me for who I am and support me as I navigate my way through the trials of divorce and a new and unexpected version of fatherhood.

It’s been a painful process, and I know challenges will persist. This is obvious when your father is a gay, secular humanist and your mother an outspoken Christian fundamentalist. I know my children will come out on the other side of this as strong, freethinking individuals. They will see that their father never stopped loving them.

As for me, I’m in a city that feels like home and sharing life with a man with whom I’m completely in love. What more could I ask for?

If I could go back in time, I’d tell my younger self a lot of things. I would grab me by the shoulders and shake me violently while proclaiming “feel the fuck out of your feelings!”

I’d remind myself of the beauty in simply being alive.

Being gay is small in the scope of the human experience. Stop making such a big deal about it. Accept it and move on so that you can look your life square in the eye and be in awe of its sheer magnitude.”

Mark and Wayne, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

Mark, in his own words: “Being gay has meant different things to me at different times of my life. In the early years it was a burden. Being raised in the south and in a Christian home, my family had very strict beliefs. And being gay did not fit at all. I mean you can’t blame them for that, Mama and Daddy taught us what they “thought” was correct and to them, being gay was a sin. You teach what you know I guess. So I struggled for a long time with that. At this point in my life I could never imagine not being gay, it’s normal. I have a fantastic life with a great man and a loving family. I’m truly blessed. I suppose I have been lucky, I have not had many challenges in my life as far as being gay goes.

Wayne and I stay so busy with work that we don’t have much of a social life. We have a handful of wonderful friends. A good night out for us is getting together with them for great food and drinks and just to catch up. I really don’t feel connected with the gay community here in Pigeon Forge and Sevierville maybe because most people drift through the area and tend not to settle here, so the scene changes every few years.

If I could go back many years and give my younger self advice there would be two things: I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to entertain people that much I knew for a fact. But as far as college went I was just not that into it because nothing at all interested me at the time. So first I would tell myself to go to culinary school. I would love to have been able to go fresh out of high school. I still would. Second I would simply say this “Days are long and masturbation is fun. Go for it!! You won’t go to Hell for playing with it!” Do you know how much I suffered over that? Too much!”

Wayne, in his own words: “I have been very fortunate and blessed to have had a 35 year career as a professional dancer/singer/actor/choreographer. This life has allowed me to travel the world in ballet and jazz companies, revues, television, movies, the cruise industry, cabaret and theme parks. I have loved every minute of it. I am glad I decided to put down roots in east Tennessee which is where I met my best friend and partner Mark. We have endured it all for the last 19 years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love grocery shopping and couponing, which helps with our addiction to the kitchen. We spend most of our time planning and creating food. Most of the time it is worth the happy dance…food should make you happy and worthy of a dance!

Other than the love for our four legged children and the love of crafting, which I take much pride in, I have a simple and complicated life like everyone else. Life is way too short to not enjoy each day that is given to us. Make the best of each of them. Happiness is not a goal, it is a journey.

As far as coming out…I don’t think I ever did. By that I mean that I always knew even as a young child. And I was fine with that. I didn’t feel that it was wrong and I never lied about it. I didn’t flaunt it but if someone would ask I would tell them the truth. My senior year of high school I was working with and then dating a man that was 20 years older than myself. I never thought of the age difference and I was the one that chased him till he gave in. My parents kept on and on about the time we were spending together, so I asked them what they wanted to know. Dad finally cornered me while I was cleaning out my closet (I know…how perfect) and asked me “Are you seeing ***** because he is gay?” To which I replied “No I am seeing him because I think I am in love with him”. They had some issues to deal with of their own but I was never disowned or kicked out of the house. I have wonderful parents, brothers, nieces and nephews and in laws that love and support us both. I wish the same for everyone else.”

Jacob and Sam, Business Owner and Operations Manager, Sevierville, Tennessee

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Jacob, in his own words: “I see (being gay) as an exciting challenge that makes life that much more interesting.

Being born gay to a farming family in the rural areas of South Carolina was horrible. I hated life, myself and most of the people around me including my father. It wasn’t until I moved to Tennessee and came out that I found love in my heart for that man.

My successes? Finally when I was around 27, I found self worth. I had auditioned for a singing job (which was why I moved to TN) and I got the job! It would end up being the best (nearly) 10 years of my life up to that point. At the same time I started a small multimedia business which also became successful.

Today I no longer sing (I do miss it). Instead I run my business which I’m extremely proud of. We have many wonderful clients but the one that brings me the most joy is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. It’s a program that Dolly started that gives kids free books all across America, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

So, each month when nearly 3/4 million kids get their free book, I’m filled with joy knowing my little company had a hand in that.

My dad would have been so proud of that and my former singing job but sadly he never knew. He died before I got a chance to tell him I loved him and before I had any real success. As a matter of fact, when I was home for his funeral, I found out that I got the singing job.

(With regards to the gay community in Sevierville) Ha! What gay community? No really, we have our close network of gay and straight friends but there’s no “gay scene” here like it is in Knoxville or Nashville.

(Advice I’d give my younger self) There’s a kid in Bristol that you need to meet as soon as possible. His name is Sam. Go find him and never let him go.

Sam, in his own words: “Being gay is just a part of me. It took a few years after high school to be comfortable enough with myself to tell anyone. The first person I told was my boss, who is still a really good friend. Telling my family was a little more difficult but after the initial conversation my family accepted it and still loved me like they always did. Coming out is a life long process because you’re always meeting new people. Our society has changed a lot in the 14 years since high school because back then I didn’t know anyone openly gay in school and now it’s commonplace to be out. I sometimes feel like I lost all the fun times in my teenage years because I wasn’t the real me. All the decisions I made and paths that I took led me to one spectacular man that I’ve shared my life with for the past 10 years and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”