A photo/essay project for LGBTQ adults (of all genders) to submit childhood pictures and stories (roughly ages 2 to 12), reflecting the memories and early beginnings of their innate selves. See how nurture allows what nature endows - and it's their nature, their truth!
“Mom, what is gay?” That’s what left my lips one day when I returned home from kindergarten. After having been called it over and over, I kinda wanted to know what it meant. Mom did what she’s done my entire life - she told me the truth.
No judgment. No shame. Just truth.
Even though I had no idea what sexual orientation was,
I knew this much: I wasn’t going to be something people saw as different, even if I was.
And I spent the next 20 years living up to my misguided commitment.
Through all of the bullying, teasing, hurt, and loneliness,
I fooled myself into believing if I didn’t acknowledge being gay, it wasn’t real. I remember looking at Ricky Schroeder on "Silver Spoons"and thinking, 'I think I ‘like’ him. But only gay boys ‘like’ other boys, so I’ll just not like him.'
And I never watched "Silver Spoons" again. It was all too real.
In the end, the only one I was fooling was myself. As was evidenced when I began my coming out at age 25. That process was both wonderful and frustrating.
I didn’t have one negative reaction to my coming out, which was such a relief.
What I found frustrating was this: when you finally make the agonizing decision to come out, you want a certain kind of “TA-DAH!” moment. Well, no one was surprised. It was more like a “Well, duh!” moment. Over. And over. And over.
It was better than the alternative, but it took me some time to get comfortable in this “new” skin, the skin everyone was aware of but me. I had to get to know myself all over again.
I’m still in the middle of that process. During the past 15 years, I’ve been the most destroyed and most overjoyed I’ve ever been. I consider my high-highs and low-lows evidence that I’m living a full life. I’ve loved. I’ve lost. I’ve grown. I’ve learned.
My true passion is photography, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have really beautiful subjects in front of my lens, both inanimate and human alike. I’m so proud of who I am, who I'm surrounded by, and the man I continue to become.
As I look at this picture now, I see exactly what I want to see: A carefree, flamboyant young boy just living in the moment.
If I could go back and talk to my 4 year-old self, I’d say nothing more than:
“Just be yourself, kiddo. It’s going to be a fabulous ride.”
I’ve always known I was different. My first flashes of strange feelings started to appear when I was 4 years old and continued to grow inside of me each year.
At school I realized I wasn't discussing boys like the other girls.
I tried to convince myself I liked men or boys (at least in movies and music bands), but it was all false.
Then I saw "her" for the first time when I was around age 8.
She was a teacher who came to take my classmate from school. And I was standing there, shocked and speechless for about 30 minutes.
Her beauty captured me.
Next year, she came in the classroom to say she would be our math teacher for the next 7 years!
I was terribly in love with her for that entire time, but I didn’t know there was something wrong feeling that way. She saw what was happening to me, but obviously she couldn’t do anything to help me get over it.
Many years have passed since then. Like the majority of people in our country, she hates me and thinks I’m a weird lesbian who was trying to seduce her.
But I wasn’t.
At that time, I didn’t even know it was actually possible to love another woman.
Today I’m 26, and I have a girlfriend and we have two children.
Hopefully, one day, we’ll have a chance to marry. I believe in it.
This photo should be in the dictionary under foreshadowing. Looking at my baby picture now, I find it extremely funny. And think at some point, my mother most likely HATED that damn toy box.
As a kid, I was all about watching TV. "Dallas" was my favorite, but my mom didn’t let me watch "Dynasty" because there was a gay character on it.
In my teens, music (and especially Laura Branigan) was my obsession. I even managed to meet the woman three times in the mid-80's.
I’d have to say that my first man-crush was Michael Landon from his "Little House On The Prairie" days. But it was my obsession with Lindsay Wagner in "The Bionic Woman" during the 5th grade that started the years of bullying.
We were inside for recess and I was pretending to be bionic. Of course, I couldn’t say that I was pretending to be Steve Austin - it had to be Jamie Summers. Thankfully, though, the teasing finally ended during my senior year of high school.
The truth is, I can’t remember NOT knowing that I was gay. But I fought it tooth and nail until the spring of 1986 (the end of my freshman year of college) when I gave in to my primal urges and kissed a boy on the lips (and some other things).
I had a long coming out process starting with my college friends, friends at home, my family (cousins, sisters, aunts), followed by sharing with my parents when I turned 30. And no, it wasn’t any kind of surprise.
Today, I'm a happy, well-adjusted 46 year-old gay man living in Chicago. I'm the Director of Operations for a Healthcare IT company and have been happily partnered for the past 7 years.
The funny thing is, everyone loves my partner – especially my parents. So sometimes life just works out, even after living through some hellish times as a kid.
I imagine it’s easier to be gay these days, but for all of the kids who find it hard to accept and might not have the strength to come out, my message is:
Be strong, be yourself, and know that it does get better.
I was definitely a tomboy when I was young. My favorite activities were building tree houses, playing in the woods, reading adventure stories, riding my bike and playing kick ball. I hated playing with dolls, especially Barbies!
As you can see in my photo, I loved wearing comfortable, functional pants with lots of big pockets - and I still do!
My first crush on a girl was in the 6th grade, but she wasn't particularly interested in me.
Soon after that I started having boyfriends, because I had no clue that having a girlfriend was even an option.
At that time, all you saw on the television were white, straight folks.
When I was 16, I visited my cousin at his college. For lack of anything better to do, we went to a panel discussion put on by the Gay Activist Alliance. There were two women and one guy on the panel. And that experience was like a big lightbulb that went on in my head.
I spent the next 7 years looking for other lesbians, while still dating guys.
As soon as I found my first girlfriend, I gave up dating guys immediately.
It took my family a couple of years to get used to the fact that I am a lesbian.
But that was over 30 years ago!
Since then, I gave birth to a beautiful daughter (using artificial insemination), have had a great career, and been involved with my wife for 16 years.
We eventually got married in Massachusetts.
So for all you young folks reading this, listen up:
It does get better and you can have it all!
This picture was taken on Easter Sunday, 1959. Ever the fashion plate even then,
I remember how proud I was of my new outfit. The pants and the plaid shirt were baby blue, and I was really looking forward to showing it off.
I was a typical suburban kid from the 1960's - if typical includes not wanting to get your clothes messy, playing with your cousin's Barbies, and naming your first dog Toto after the dog in "The Wizard of Oz". I even had a doll house which caused my dad fits.
I remember many whispered conversations between my uncles and my dad that he should take me outside and teach me sports.
It was a futile effort on my dad's part and he eventually gave up.
I remember thinking even then that I was different from the other kids. As I got older, I hid it better.
My first gay crush was on Robert Conrad in "The Wild, Wild West." I'd sit as close to the TV as possible and watch each episode with rapt attention. My favorite part was when Conrad would lose his shirt in a fight and get tied up - which, thankfully, seemed to happen nearly every episode.
My dad thought my TV interest was unwholesome, but since it was my clearly straight brother's favorite show also, he let us both watch it.
I never did come out to my dad, who died when I was in my 30's. I did eventually come out to my mom when I turned 40, and she became a life-long and very vocal advocate for gay rights.
This picture remains a favorite of mine and brings back mostly happy memories of my childhood. I haven't really changed all that much. I still don't like to get my clothes messy and I still like bright and flashy shirts.
I still like Barbie dolls and have several Bob Mackie collectors editions of my own. I still don't care much for sports. Oh, and I still like pictures of shirtless men.
Finally, I still give my pets the names of gay icons. Lucy is my current dog, and every time I walk into my house I call out in a Cuban accent: "Lucy, I'm home!" ___________________________________________________
This picture is from one of my first dance recitals, where I began to find my true self. I even remember that the name of the dance was "Turkey In The Straw."
I couldn't catch a ball or play sports, but when I put on my tap shoes and a sequined vest, I felt valid and real. Like I mattered. I knew I wasn’t like other boys, but I didn't know how or why.
The teasing, embarrassment, and shame had not started when I was that age. I was just enjoying being me, and I long to be that boy again. I want to be myself without the ridicule and judgment of others.
As a teen, my walls were covered with posters of James Dean and Elvis Presley. I thought I wanted to be them, but I was actually attracted to them.
No. Fred Astaire is who I wanted to be!
At age 15 my experimenting with boys began, and although it felt right, I lied to myself for another 6 years. Coming out was hard, but it was much more freeing than living a lie.
It took time to find my footing, but now because of my honesty, I’m a better son, brother, friend, partner and uncle. It was very hard to resist the temptation of giving up my dreams because of the bullying, but it has all paid off.
Today at 41 years old, I miss that kid in the picture. He was authentic, and that is something I am striving for now. I've been in 7 Broadway shows over the years, so now I pay my mortgage wearing my tap shoes and other dance shoes.
I turned being different into a success.
I am gay and proud, but that is just a sampling of many wonderful qualities.
While I look like a happy go lucky teenager, that was just not the case at this time. I was in such turmoil about my sexuality, I often contemplated hurting myself.
I was raised in a very religious home. The bumper sticker on my car behind me says, "His Banner Over Us is Love" - and I was horribly conflicted as a teenager.
Thankfully, I soldiered through it all, and I am now a successful CFO of a
multi-million dollar company. And my partner and I will soon celebrate our
16 year anniversary, and life is so, so very good now.
If I only could have know all that was awaiting me back then! :-)
When I look back now, I think, “Well, no duh - I’m gay!” I can recall buying my first Green Day CD, with a recurring fantasy where singer Billie Joel Armstrong and I run away together. I was young so I never had a sexual attraction to him. But for some reason the fantasy made me feel safe.
When I played with my Lego people I only had one girl, so many of those toy pairings were gay.
But I never really realized exactly what I was doing.
My best friend since I was age 1 turned out to be homophobic, and I repeatedly defended the gay community when he claimed that all gay people were going to hell.
Yet I could never bring myself to identify as gay myself. I knew it was there, but I just did not recognize it.
I can recall my parents finding gay porn on the computer two times and having a conversation with a boy on MySpace when I was 12. But when I came out four years later, they seemed surprised.
My first boyfriend was one of my best friends and we are still close today. I have taken guys to every school dance since I came out, and fortunately I've survived high school without too much bullying.
It certainly was not easy sailing, though, and I had many nights where I cried, ready to swallow a handful of pills and end it all. I'm sure glad I didn't!
And today, I am thankful that I am gay.
Being out has even brought my dad and me closer. I'll talk to him about boys while we work on his car together. It is completely ironic, but it's home.
PS: 12 years after my photo was taken, I made out with a boy in that same van. :)
As a kid, I always had way more guy friends than girl friends, and I wanted to look and dress like a boy. Even my parents were convinced I was a boy. My mom wanted to name me Ben, but my dad said "No!" because people would call me "Bengay" - which is kind of ironic considering how that all turned out.
Thankfully, my parents let me express myself the way I wanted and do the hobbies I was interested in.
It is hard to pinpoint the age, but I guess I always knew I may be different. Especially since the girls I was friends with didn't want to look like a boy or build forts.
As you get older, you start to realize being gay isn't the norm, especially in such a small town in middle America.
Although being made fun of hurt my feelings, I never let it get to me. I was determined to not let anyone see it hurt me, and eventually I grew thick skin and slowly stopped caring what people thought.
My first girl crush was on Jennifer Aniston, but I wasn't legitimately attracted to a woman until college. I didn't get to officially "come out" though, as my college roommates told everyone after they saw me sneaking out a girl who had stayed the night with me.
Today, I guess I am almost a poster story for having the most supportive friends and family, who have Platinum PFLAG status. I am so thankful for them, my wonderful friends, my chosen career path complete with all the accomplishments, and a wonderful dog.
Oh, and my girly hair cut now.
I've known I was different from the first moments of my self awareness. I came from a mixed marriage that turned into a violent household. My father's family was Jewish and I never felt that I was part of that community. I always felt safe with my mother's family, who lived in a small town in Central Ohio.
Until I was age 5, I was pretty much a rough and tumble boy.
I was obsessed with playing with cars, riding my bike, and doing everything else that boys did.
The only real love that I received was from Leatrice, a woman my father hired to help with house cleaning. I adored her, and she was my world.
My first inkling I was gay was around age 4, watching Batman and hoping his costume would rip open. I can't explain it, but each episode I hoped it would happen. Of course it never did, but I never stopped hoping.
I later found copies of my father's Playboy Magazines and tried to will myself to find those women attractive. But when we would be at a pool, I was obsessed with the men in their swim suits and seeing their chests.
I became very body conscious at a very young age, and became painfully shy around other guys. I was skinny and didn't like to fight. I hated gym class because I thought I would get a hard-on in the locker room and would be made fun of.
My home life was violent and unpredictable, and I had no safe haven.
And I was bullied in school. I was beaten up. And I was called a fag.
The "normal" people in suburban Ohio in those days did not acknowledge gay people. I had no mentor, no one to look to for guidance. I just wanted to die and be wiped from the face of the Earth, because I feared I would shame the family.
My coming out happened in January 1983. I saw that gay men were just like everyone else, and we were everywhere and doing everything that "normal" people did. And I also understood that when you hide who are you, you give total power to the negative people around you.
While it took me 20 years to get there - and everyone's journey is different - it was such a relief!
And the reward? I made it. And I made my now-deceased parents both understand that they didn't "do this to me," but that I am who I am, and that I was born this way.
My partner and I have known each other for 32 years and we've been together for 16 years. And all of those years have been warm, loving, and supportive.
We live in amazing times, and its so good to be here and see how the world is getting better and better for LGBT people.