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
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
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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
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
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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
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
Click to follow my blog with Bloglovin'