December 07, 2016

Terry

Terry, age 7
Mt. Sterling, Ohio (1968)

My mom was a big supporter of Santa Claus. Actually, it wasn’t until the first Christmas after she got married (at age 17, and Santa didn’t come) that she learned the truth. But despite that knowledge and a short, rocky marriage, she instilled in my brother and I the confidence that we could ask Santa for whatever we really, truly wanted. If Santa could afford it, that’s what he’d bring.


I think my older brother was on to mom and started working the system.
But I believed in the man who didn’t judge me wholeheartedly.

All our Christmas photos show the clear difference between my brother and I: He’d get a rifle, and I’d get a pogo stick with pink tassels on the handle bars.
Santa kept me stocked with dolls and even a patent leather purse once.

Here’s a photo of the year I scored both a dollhouse and an E-Z Bake Oven. Santa (and his helper) never disappointed, except that my mom didn’t have a lot of time to pull off all this magic.

So we were raised with the slogan, “Santa doesn’t wrap.”

Thus, anything from the North Pole was laid out under the tree in it’s original box. But it was fine. My brother and I had no trouble figuring out which present belonged to who.

And although I was teased and tormented throughout my school years for being a sissy, I always knew Santa was my safe haven.

 I just didn’t know to thank my mom for that until much later in life.
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October 31, 2016

Norn

Norn, age 6
St. Petersburg, Florida (1975)

It was October 1975, and my my mom dressed my little sister and I up as "hookers" for Halloween. "Hookers" was a sure laugh-riot for any occasion,
but I wonder now what we thought "hookers" were?

I remember mom instructed us to "Swing your purse a lot!"

My mom also used to dress me up as Shirley Temple, Tina Turner, Cher, or Gilda Radner and have me perform for her friends during their cocktail hour. Wigs, dresses, heels, etc. They would HOWL with laughter as I camped it up, and I LOVED getting laughs!

But as I got older, and dressed in drag by my own choice, my mom grew more alarmed. Suddenly this thing that I been rewarded for, the thing that got me attention, I was now being punished for.

I'll just turned 47, and that betrayal still feels raw... Though I hadn't even thought of that until I found this photo.

But today, I still wear whatever I want and I still love to get laughs!
And my art and illustrations feature and salute many of the ladies I love.
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Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
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October 24, 2016

Jeff

Jeff, age 7
Chestertown, Maryland (1970)

I grew up in a small college town surrounded by corn fields and dairy farms. 
If you threw Colonial Williamsburg, Mayberry RFD, Norman Rockwell and "Deliverance" into a blender, you'd end up with Kent County, Maryland. Every year there was a Halloween Parade and most of the kids from town would dress up in their in costumes and follow behind the high school marching band. 


I really don't remember wearing this uniform (but I did like playing with GI Joe dolls and my friend Gretchen's Barbies too), so maybe my parents were probably trying to butch me up a bit? But as you can see, my queerness overwhelmed the intended machismo of the uniform. Nowadays I have a bit of a uniform fetish, so maybe this is where it all began?!

My home town, though quaint as hell, was sometimes a scary place for a young gay boy to grow up. Most of the kids in school were nice to me, but a handful of jocks made my life miserable from Jr. High all the way through High School. 

I can remember being call homo, queer and fag and being puzzled why they were calling me these names. When I was 11, we were square dancing in gym class and one of the jocks told me that I was dancing like a fag. I was upset that, once again, I was being called a fag. And so I asked myself, 'What is a fag?'  

The gay rights movement was all over the TV news at the time and I remember seeing a shot of two men kissing in the streets. As I was doing a dosy doe to some corny country song, the image of two men kissing was making me very excited. That's the exact moment that I realized that I was gay!

It would take another 8 years before I would finally comes to terms with my sexuality, but it was at 11 that it became pretty clear to me why I had crushes on some of the guys at school.

Once I was safely cloistered away in Art School in Baltimore, it was much easier for me to meet guys and figure out just who I was. Living in major cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles gave me the freedom to live an openly gay life, decades before we became a part of mainstream culture. 

As the years past, I became interested in gay history and learning about what it was like for earlier generations of gays and lesbians. In the 1980's, while shopping at antique shows and flea markets, I began collecting vintage photos of men hugging or holding hands. This ultimately inspired me to create my website Homo History, which re-appropriates vintage found photos of same sex couples, who may or may not have actually been lovers. 

What started first as a hobby and a personal collection ended up becoming a popular gay history website with over 3 million page views! To this day, I continue to add to my personal collection of vintage photos.

And I'm very happy to be able to share this vintage photo of the little gay boy that I once was.
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Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
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October 12, 2016

Tori

Tori, age 4
Columbus, Georgia (2002)

All I know is I didn't want to dance with that boy. I pouted the entire time, because no one would let me dance with my best friend Sydney. 14 years later, and I would still rather dance with a pretty girl. Gay as hell now, gay as hell then.


But, growing up I wasn't always so happy to accept that. I struggled with internalized hatred and disgust for a long time. And when I finally had found the self acceptance and love to come out to my family and my friends, they said:
"Why didn't you tell us sooner? Why did you lie to us?"

And, yes, I have extremely accepting and loving people in my life, and they deserved to know. But I was frustrated that no one could understand that I was not afraid of them, but of myself - and of all the people out there who do not share their open minds. 

And above all, my coming out was not about them.
It was not something they had the right to feel angry with me for.

I think it is hard for family members to grasp what it is like to grow up knowing you are different in a way that many do not accept. And not in a "I like weird clothes or weird music and they make fun of me" kinda way, but in a "I love who I love and some people would kill me for that" kinda way. And they'll try, but they may never understand what it is that drives so many of us to hide who we are, and even pretend to be who we are not. 

That doesn't make them any less loving or caring or accepting, it just makes them human. They have no way of knowing what it is like, they can't read our thoughts. They can't relive our experiences or feel our hearts sink every time something hateful is spit at us. They can't imagine what it is like to be afraid to hold the hand of the person they love while they walk on the sidewalk. But they are trying -- always, always trying to empathize and learn and change.

I am so grateful to have people who love me and are willing to try and to change. And to now be able to say that I love myself too. 

I just want anyone out there that's having a hard time finding self-acceptance to know that so many others have felt that pain too. You are beautiful, and there is nothing wrong with you, nothing you should try to change or hide. 

When you learn to love yourself, you get to be proud, and be a part of a community of amazing people. You get to laugh and smile and love wholeheartedly without feeling like you are wrong. 

And I wouldn't trade such a colorful, diverse, and happy life for anything. 
Let yourself in so you can let others in.
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Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
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September 08, 2016

Eric

Eric, age 11
Toronto, Ontario Canada (1962)

I'm here in the middle with my younger brother and sister. I was born on a farm in a family of seven, and we moved to the city at age 5. Before moving, I was invited to stay overnight at my neighbor Maryann's place. I assumed I would sleep with her, which made her parents laugh. They refused with no explanation, leaving me puzzled and offended.


I had no sense of sexuality till the bullying started in grade 7, and even my home room teacher encouraged it. It turns out he was getting it on with a girl in class. 
I volunteered at recess to clean his blackboards so I wouldn't face the bullies.  

Instinctively, I was sucking up to him (figuratively) to neutralize him as a homophobe - before I even knew I was gay! Even that lecherous teacher was better than recess that year.

Prior to that, I had friends. And a few guys that I liked especially and who remain in my mind as innocent loves. They let me play soccer (badly) and treated me like one of the guys. I thrived on the comraderie. 

I remember in grade 8 a loudmouth teaser tormenting me in the hall, and my friend Bob grabbing him and telling him to stop taunting me. My knight in shining armor was thoroughly a jock and very handsome. Why was he so willing to stand up for me?

Bob even took figure skating classes with me for a while 'To improve my skating skills' and let me play hockey (badly) in his backyard with his other friends. 

I wish I had learned team sports, but I lacked the jock spirit. 
Instead, I filled my plate full with studies, playing piano, and skating. 

Then came high school, which was great. No taunts! I was good at gymnastics, and the teacher made a point of praising my athletic ability in gym class. 

Those were idyllic years. 
My crushes remained fantasies, but they were still vivid. 

I remained in the closet with my family, where there was much upheaval and much heartbreak. I breathed a sigh of relief when I began university far from home and could starting dating etc.

I met a very effeminate, pushy guy from the US on a choir tour, and the sex we had was a nightmare! He eventually hitchhiked back to school - unannounced - and was camped out in my dorm room when I returned, much to the hilarity of my dorm mates. I was a victim, and that episode scarred me for life!

I finally had a few good encounters, but never found someone I really wanted to be with and who really wanted to be with me.

So my story has no 'happy ending' yet. 
Sadly, I keep looking but never seem to find a stable relationship. 

I suppose I might still be the problem?
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Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
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August 01, 2016

Hartson

Hartson, age 10
Paducah, Kentucky (1976)

I think this photo of me just about sums it ALL up!!! ;)

I always liked being an entertainer, and in 1976 I also learned to play the flute. 

Later during Middle & High school years while in the marching band and playing in parades, my "friends" would yell out, "Play that skin flute!" 

Something tells me they knew I did. And very well!

Growing up in a mid-sized city had its drawbacks, but I think it made me into a great person. 

Now at age 49, I look back and remember all the fun stuff, not the crappy stuff. 

So that's my advice to LGBTQ kids reading my story today: 

Just enjoy life!!!

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Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"

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June 08, 2016

Andrew

Andrew, age 3
Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset UK (1988)

The picture shows me a little disheveled looking. I don't think I look much different these days, though my little brother here has changed a lot! I suppose the earliest sign that I was gay was that out of the four sons she had, my mother always described me saying, "He was never any trouble at all." 

I was a very gentle, sensitive child. Unlike my little brother, who was an absolute nightmare who never stopped screaming and crying!

I knew I was gay from the get-go, and it sometimes caused me embarrassment. Like entering a flower arranging competition at school, simply because I wanted to arrange flowers. 

Why? Because I loved flowers!

And I didn't think anyone would notice I was the only boy to enter a flower arranging competition. 

Unfortunately, for me, I won! 

I had to accept a prize in front of the whole school. And because I was a boy, 
I think some bitter parents bypassed the early signs I was gay. I think they assumed my mother had created the arrangement, and I was simply cheating. 

Ironically, my dad had picked the flowers, but it was all arranged by myself. 

The obvious "gay" behaviors I exhibited were never discouraged by my family.
At my grade school, I was friends with everyone in my class, and we all loved each other. So I never felt that I should be deeply worried about being different. Although, I was definitely aware of it. 

It wasn't until Jr. High when things changed and I realized my gayness was something to not draw attention to, despite it targeting me for daily insults. 

Today I can say I know that things do get better as you get older. And now I hope sometimes to bump into old bullies from school and not be scared of being gay. 

It's such a liberation, not being embarrassed or ashamed anymore. 
And I still love flowers!
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Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
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May 16, 2016

Shaun

Shaun, age 12
Buffalo Grove, Illinois (1991)

Growing up one of my favorite places was the Richard Simmons workout studio. Tucked away in a strip mall in our suburb between a Chinese restaurant and a Baskin Robbins, it was aptly called, “Slimmons.” My mom would take me with her after work, but I didn’t join the other kids in the play area. I’d sit in the back and watch the overweight women flapping their arms in the air as they sweated to the oldies. I memorized the routines, so sometimes I’d join in the fun. After class, we’d pick up Chinese take out and a pint of Rocky Road for dinner.

One evening, I had to use the bathroom. On the bathroom wall was a large poster of Richard Simons dressed in his iconic red striped shorts and rhinestone studded tank top. 

I loved and hated Richard Simmons at the same time.

I appreciated him for his flamboyant exuberance, but I was also embarrassed by it.

I sat down on the toilet and grabbed the magazine on top of the stack – Muscle and Fitness.
I thumbed through the pages looking at pictures of scantily clad, bronzed men and women. 

But when I reached the centerfold, I was paralyzed.  

The left side of the page was a woman in a gold bikini flexing her biceps. Meh! On the right was a man in a royal blue Speedo holding a bar bell over his head. 

My eyes raced over the picture of the woman, without so much as a glance, and landed in the center of the right page - directly on the man's Speedo bulge. I felt a spark, a tingle, a jump. This caught me off guard and I quickly looked up.  

My eyes landed on Richard Simmons' photo again - and he glared at me like he knew my dirty little secret. So I shifted my gaze back to the magazine first to the left side, at the woman. Again, I felt nothing. I then looked back to the right, at the man - and I sure felt something.  

"No,” I thought, “this can’t be right...”
I repeated the steps several times:
Richard, Woman, Man - Richard, Woman, Man.

And it was at that moment - as I took a dump at Slimmons, with Richard glaring at me - that confirmed what I had been trying to suppress for years: 

I was definitely gay!

Editor's note: you might remember Shaun from THIS brilliance! :)


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Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
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April 18, 2016

Ray

Ray, age 11
Villa Park, Illinois (1970)

I was about age 11 in this photo of me and my siblings on vacation. It's hard to believe, but there is three years between me and my older sister on the right. And the rest of us are only one year apart!


As for me, I grew up very fast. And I always knew I was gay. But looking back at this pic, I don't understand how it was a shock to my parents when I came out.

My siblings knew I was gay right from the start. When I told my parents, they were very accepting to me and my friends. All in all, life was good. 

That was so long ago, that in this day and age, it just breaks my heart how some parents can just toss their kids out of their lives for being gay. 

We've come such a long way, but we still have a long way to go. 

Today, I'm 56 years old and living a wonderful life in fabulous Las Vegas. 
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Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
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March 29, 2016

Erica

Erica, age 3
Bedford, Texas (1999)

I'm too queer to be straight, yet too straight to be queer. 


I grew up as a huge tomboy, always wanting to play with Legos and GI Joe dolls, but my parents insisted I have a bunch of "girly" toys instead.

I was always jealous of my younger brothers, who were both really into cars, Legos and Nerf guns. I was very unlike my younger sister, who adored frills, pink, and wearing makeup. Thus my mother always complained I wasn't feminine enough.

I always played "doctor" with the neighborhood girls, having my head against their chest.  

The one who got away, was this beautiful girl named Alyssa. 
We were both really into each other, and I wanted her to be my girlfriend. 

Eventually, I stopped talking to her, as she had gotten back with her boyfriend. It wasn't until years later she told me she had a huge crush on me, too. 

Frustrating.

I haven't came out as bisexual to my family yet as they are homophobic. I hear the words "It's just a phase!" or "Are you sure you're not just gay?" all the time.

Nope, I'm not "just gay," as I am crazy in love with my loving boyfriend, 
who just sees me as a wonderful person. No labels needed!
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Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
Click to follow my blog with Bloglovin'