November 13, 2017


Ryan, age 8,
Quezon City, Philippines (1990)

I grew up a poor, black child....oh wait. Wrong story! :) Growing up in the Philippines, being a flamboyant young boy wasn't an issue. And luckily, I grew up with not only my family's support, but also the support of my friends. 

The topic of sexuality and being gay was not yet discussed at that time. 
But what I know is that everyone saw that I was happy, and they let me be me.

And I do remember when I was age 11, I told my parents I was going to the neighborhood fiesta. I left the house in a white T-shirt and cut off denim shorts and my "tsinelas" - they are also known as flip flops. I joined the masses to enjoy the festival until I heard a popular song being played in a distance.

I walked over to see what was happening. A crowd had gathered to where the song was playing, and I saw a few girls dancing in formation to the beat.

The song was called “Aringkingkingking" - and I have no idea what that means! But in a quick instance, without even a thought, I tied a knot on my white
T-shirt, just above my left hip to bare my mid-drift, and I joined the dance.

I copied every step, every move, and every flare. I was happy and overjoyed, especially when the crowd erupted in cheers and applause!

This story has nothing to do with my picture here, but I thought it was a perfect memory to share. However, I DO think this picture perfectly sums up me, my fashion sense, and my ability to coordinate clothing at an early age.

I mean, only us — those who are a little different, a little or a lot gay — can put together prints serving a BATMAN look, and know the world can't tell you SHIT — because you OWN it!

Of course, when asked to pose - even as a young child - there was always a little sass and a little flirt in my pictures. This image couldn't be anymore ME, and proves that I was BORN THIS WAY!

Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
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August 28, 2017


Kelly, age 9
Cordell, Oklahoma (1986)

I was born n' raised in a small rural town in Oklahoma. My Daddy was the high school football coach, my brother was the all-star athlete, and my uncle (my Dad's older brother) is Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees. No big deal, he's just mentioned right up there with Uncle Sam, apple pie, and Jesus Christ.

And then there was ME!

Townsfolk would ask, " gonna grow up and be a famous baseball player like your Uncle Mickey?”

'No,' I'd say. 'When I grow up, I'm gonna be a black soul singer just like Diana Ross.' 

Because one is just about as likely as the other.

The only thing Uncle Mickey and I had in common was switch-hitting!

As a kid, I used to dress up in Grandma's clothes and play Dolly Parton songs on my lil' geetar.

And they had no clue what the hell was happening!

But regardless, I was blessed with parents who always encouraged me to embrace my differences and “eccentricities.” They accepted me as every parent should for their child! Bless their wrinkled little hearts.

And as you can see in this picture, I LOVED being a little girly-boy. I think I had just told Santa that I wanted a Barbie, a boy, and some boobies! It made him very uncomfortable, and I didn't understand why. Because I loved being different than my peers, and I wasn't ashamed to be me.

That's a true testament to my upbringing.

But, like most of us, I had my fair share of getting bullied from time to time. Usually from kids from other schools at out-of-town events. Their favorite taunt was always "Are you a boyyyy or a girrrrl?" And I'd say 'Both!' Like it was a bad thing? I never could figure that out. Who wouldn't wanna be both?

Luckily, because of our LGBTQ pioneers that came before me, we now have terminology that kids can use today. In my case, it would be "gender-fluid."
Or as I prefer, "two-spirit" because after all I AM a Cherokee Native American Poke-A-Hot-Ass from Oklahomo.

So when I look at this picture of me and Santa, that's who I see — a late blooming two-spirited little gender-fluid kid, almost too comfortable in my own skin — but unsure how to explain it to others. Yet, never afraid to show it or be it, and most importantly — never once told to hide it.

And that would be my Christmas wish to Santa today — for every little boy and girl and in-between to be given the freedom to be in love with yourself exactly as you are! And to realize that when another person tries to hurt you, they're actually the one who's hurting.

Because people who love themselves, don't hurt others.
So don't ever let anyone change who you were born to be.

I’m Kelly Mantle, and I was BORN THIS WAY!

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July 05, 2017


Candace, age 3
Panama City, Florida (1970)

I don't remember who owned this motorcycle in my photo.
But I do remember that if my brother thought it was cool, well - so did I!

This little tomboy was raised in a Southern Baptist home in northern Florida, and I was taught forgiveness and to love your neighbor as yourself. I was what you would call "all in" and I was very involved with the church as a young girl.

Since no one in my life ever discussed gay people and I was taught "Christian love," I was completely unprepared for the total rejection I received from my church and family when I came out. 

Today, I still consider myself a recovering Southern Baptist.

Yes, 2017 is a world away the 1980's. But figuring out who you are is difficult for any kid, especially for GLBTQ youth living in a far right, Christian home.

While I had little support from my family I did find support from the GLBTQ community. That "family" saved me. 

So to all GLBTQ youth: You are loved!
And to the families of these kids: Love them, period!    

Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
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May 04, 2017


Tony, age 6
Natchez, Mississippi (1973)

I'm on the left in my photo, with my little brother. I grew up in the deep south in a very Christian town. Although we moved around a lot, we always ended up back in Natchez. I knew I was gay as far back as I can remember. I didn't know the term "gay" but I knew I enjoyed being around other boys my age.

I would stay at my grandmother's house a lot, which was the best place in the world to me. My grandmother had 5 daughters and she kept all of their things in what was called the 'toy room.'

I was always dressing up in my aunt's prom dress with all of its pink tulle and fluff, wearing her platform clogs and painting my nails with magic markers.

I loved playing with Barbies and their 70's play sets. I was always putting Barbie and her friends in different hairdo's and fancy dresses, because they were always going to fancy parties. And not just one party, but several a day. Every few minutes they had to run home for a complete makeover for the next party.

And my Miss Piggy puppet was the best thing in my world!!! She and I were inseparable. I would give her amazing hairstyles and make outfits for her.

I also remember sitting on the shag carpet in our living room, watching something on TV by myself. It must have had mermaids in it, because I rolled myself up in a blanket - and I was a instant mermaid!

I remember my mom walking in, and asking me what I was doing.
I said, "I'm a mermaid!!!"

Well, that didn't sit well with my mother. And I didn't understand why she gave me such a weird look after I said I was a mermaid.

Around 8 years old, I remember having a crush on a boy in my class that I thought the world of. I even remember his name -- Billy. I would stare at him in class wondering what it would be like to hold hands and kiss him.

As I got older, things got pretty bad. Kids in Jr. High knew I was different, even though I tried to hide being gay. But the other kids knew. I was always being threatened to be beaten up on a daily basis, to the point I would break out in hives on my wrists everyday before school.

It wasn't any better at home. My father was a sociopath and was extremely mentally abusive. My mom was so busy dealing with him that she only found relief in her Pentecostal church, where I was told I was going to hell for being gay. And those kids at church were more evil than the kids at school!

Looking back, my fondest memories are about my grandmother and her amazing amount of love, because she allowed me to be me without judgement.

That was the world I had at her house, and I'm eternally grateful to her for that.

I do have a happy ending, though. As a young adult, I met a guy in town and I fell in love. And as soon as I turned 18 we moved to Atlanta, Georgia.

Today, I live in Los Angeles and have made my truest home here.
I love my life now and wouldn't change it for anybody else's life!!!

Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
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April 20, 2017


Karli, age 4
Courtice, Ontario, Canada (2001)

Growing up, I was always a tomboy of sorts. I preferred to play with boys as a kid, I always wanted the "boy toy" from McDonalds, and I always preferred movies where the lead female was the hero rather than being a helpless princess.

You can even see the difference in these pictures: the extremely fake smile that I had while dressed as a princess, compared to the one I was dressed as a cowgirl, taken either moments before or after.

In Canada, our junior kindergarten school pictures were done in costume to be "fun" for young kids. I remember that day very specifically, because I wanted to dress as the knight, having picked that from the table of costumes.

But I was told I wasn't allowed to because it was one of the "boy costumes," and they made me wear the princess one. I was much happier with the cowgirl outfit, especially since "Toy Story 2" was one of my favorite movies.

This was probably the first time I felt that society was telling me I couldn't be who I wanted to be.

Thankfully, my parents didn't care how I dressed or what toys I wanted to play with when I was younger, proven to me more when I was 5 and I dressed as Spider-Man for Halloween.

Luckily, my generation is growing up in a time where gender non-conformity is not that big a deal. When I eventually came out, my parents weren't too shocked and they accepted me wholeheartedly.

I always find it funny to look back at these two pictures because it's very obvious which costume I was more comfortable in.

Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
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March 24, 2017


John, age 7
Pierre Part, Louisiana (1996)

I grew up in a small bayou town.
My mom was a single mother who loved dressing up and going out.

I almost always copied her style in the male form and I loved having grown up with confidence taught.

But that didn't last long.

In the world, and even inside our own gay community, people are picked apart.

And now I find myself grasping to find some self-confidence.

I think the most important message I want to send out is to always keep that confidence.

And I don't mean fake confidence.

Someone will love every part of you, so what I'm trying to say is:

Own all that you are!

I hate the whole masculine/feminine label, because I am personally the "/" symbol in that equation.

Remember that no matter who you are, you are a snowflake and you are unique and deserve to be a part of this world. You deserve to breathe and conquer!

Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
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February 15, 2017


Nathan, age 12
Springfield, Missouri (1994)

I remember when I was younger being bullied and teased. I felt differently than other boys at around the age of 6 or so. And I started to get bullied when I was finishing up my elementary years in the 5th grade.

I came out to a group of my closest friends at age 9.

And during middle school, I would get pushed into lockers and walls.

I did not always have a support system. But when I finally formed one with my friends and teachers, I was much happier and I saw less harassment and bullying.

My advice to all the young and new generation of LGBT youth is:
Keep your head up. Other people have the same, if not worse, things going on.

What makes me most proud now is being openly gay and being accepted by my neighbors and friends.

Today, I'm still am single at the age of 23.
But for now, I will concentrate on work and furthering my education.

Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
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January 09, 2017


Peter, age 9
Hungary (1999)  

I grew up in a small Hungarian village, and I never encountered the subject of being gay until I started to read books and watch movies on my own. So even then, my first LGBT discoveries were in the fictional world.

I was a weak and sensitive kid. But I always had some good friends, who were mainly girls.

At age 6, I wanted to start ballet classes. But my father wouldn't allow that, so I learned karate instead. And surprisingly, I was quite good at it.

Until age 11, everything seemed normal, even neutral. Then puberty hit, and things changed with my crush on Liam Aiken from the movie "Stepmom."

We had no internet back then, so I literally started to search for other movies he was in, and I watched everything I found. However, it never occurred to me that I might be gay.

At the time, I figured I just wanted to look like him, because he was so gorgeous!

Later on, I tried to have girlfriends, but when I closed my eyes, I always imagined I was with boys. Even then I didn't suspect anything. I thought it was just part of developing my identity. At age 17, I started to date a female classmate, and we were together for four years.

Later on while attending college, I started to consider the option of dating boys.

I didn't get religious education, and my parents were less conservative than the rest of our village. And yet, my family always asked me if I already had a girlfriend or not. It took them an unnecessarily long time to discover my truth.

I came out slowly, but every single person was incredibly supportive.
And many of them said, "Finally!"

Today, I live a happy life with my fiancé now, and I don't regret the long time it took to get here. Things take time, as a friend of mine keeps saying.

My word of advice to gay kids today is: Don't be scared.

I think most people don't know much about this subject, as it's just not the part of their life. And when they find out that LGBT people live the same way, wash the dishes the same way, drive a car the same way, do everything the same way - they soon realize the only thing we do differently is a private matter.

Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"
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January 05, 2017


Lenny, age 3
Bellevue, Idaho (1947)

I was known as Little Lenny, the "City Boy" with wild west affiliations combined with an English bloodline. My great grandparents were pioneers to the West and were among the earliest ranchers and silver-mining adventurers in Southern Idaho. I have a little Native American blood, too.

I always felt different deep down. You know what I mean? As a young child I slept outside in the summertime and stared up at the stars, pondering: 

Where does life end? 
How far is infinity? 

Nobody knows everything, but I knew being different was unanswerable even then. I had no choice but to go along with life and take a ride.

From my earliest memories I knew I was not like everyone else. But I didn't know what "gay" actually was back then. 

People mostly liked me, but I do have an older sister who sent me to the emergency room after various baby-sitting "accident" occasions. Truthfully, I would call those homicidal inclinations. 

I still have scars, and I call her "the assassin" to this day. She pretends she doesn't remember any of this because I was an "adorable" child. Yeah, right.

I know that life can be a double challenge for LGBTI people of all nationalities and races. I come from hearty English-American stock and we keep on moving no matter what troubles we encounter. It's the American Way!

I also know that we are everyone's child, sister, brother, co-worker and best friend. Gay people are a part of life and we share our lives with everyone. 

Nothing can change that fact!

I am now 72 years old and an active artist, and I live at the foot of an active volcano in Central America. I have always loved my life, and I still love my life.

And I still stare up at the stars in the heavens and feel inspired by life around me. The life I have been given is the one I deeply enjoy and am grateful to always have had. So for all the young gay kids reading this now, I will tell you: 

IT GETS BETTER! It honestly does.

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