July 16, 2014

Mark

Mark, age 6
Centralia, Washington (1968)

My first grade teacher Mrs. Carlson wrote on my report card:
"Mark is a very sensitive child, wants attention, and needs reassurance. 
He expresses himself very well through his artwork, is quite creative, and has quite a flair for play-acting. He really puts himself into it and does quite a good job." Great insight on her part, as I have become a professional entertainer. 

Mrs. Carlson could also see I was gay, and 'Sensitive' was another 1960's American code word for homosexual. 

She also knew that I had no friends in a neighborhood full of children. It was hard to miss them chanting 'Finley Faggot' during recess, or from over her fence on an occasional weekend afternoon visit. 

She opened my world to the fine arts by way of the local library. The works she put in front of me all had much the same theme - the misunderstood overcoming their adversity to shine greater than ever before. 

Not having friends, I lost myself in reading, listening to records, and stamp collecting. Then my maternal grandfather gave me two amazing gifts: a spinet piano and a 12-inch black & white television. Thanks to him I poured myself into practicing my piano and recreating scenes from the movies I watched at night.

I couldn't catch a ball of any kind, but I could do a great Mae West and W.C. Fields routine complete with a chorus of "Willie Of The Valley." Soon it was quite clear to my parents that my 'creative flair' was not simply a phase.

I'd love to say that it was all sunshine and lollipops after that, but I'd be lying. 
The rest of my childhood was nothing short of a living hell. 

But at age 10 I was in my first play (a community theatre production of an old English melodrama), and I stole the show. I had finally found the one place I was happy and content. Not to mention safe from the constant torment that was the rest of my adolescence. 

Some would say that I escaped into my own private world with theatre. 
But I would say it gave me the chance to escape and join the world! 

As an adult, my performing has taken me all around the world on many wonderful adventures. It was not easy growing up 'different' in a small town in rural Washington. But I am forever thankful that Mrs. Carlson gave me hope that happiness was possible!
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Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"


June 09, 2014

Sawyer

Sawyer, age 5
Boise, Idaho (1998)

I remember in kindergarten I'd bring my "Star Wars" toys to school and trade them with the girls for their Barbies. This is definitely not to say that I didn't love "Star Wars." In fact, I loved it so much that I received duplicates of almost every toy available for birthday/Christmas gifts. And that made it possible for me to have a Mermaid Barbie with color-changing hair AND a Star Wars Disk Shooter!

When I'd spend a night at my grandma's house, she'd always let me safety pin a towel around my waist. Or wear one of my grandpa's t-shirts with a belt, as I liked the way it felt to spin in circles and have the fabric billow out below me.

My grandma was, in fact, the first person to inform me that gay people even existed.

One time, we were looking through a People Magazine and she told me the women in a photo were Rosie O'Donnell and her girlfriend.

I asked, 'Girlfriend? Like they're in love?' and grandma said "Yes" with a smile. That short conversation gave me the courage to get through high school and come out to my family soon after I graduated.

Honesty is the best policy, I say.
Today, I don’t hide myself anymore and people love me for it.

I still love to wear XL t-shirts around my apartment, because it reminds me of the ball gowns and red-carpet evening-wear I used to work at my grandma’s house.
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Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"


May 19, 2014

Wendell

Wendell & Rick, age 3 and 5
Brownsville, Texas (1955)

Here's my brother Rick dressed as Davy Crockett's wife Polly and I'm dressed as his husband Davy. He carefully draped cloth over his head to make lovely hair and wore a bath robe for her beautiful dress. He placed a piece of white cloth on my head (which is supposed to be a coonskin hat) so I could be his husband.


I decided Davy needed a nice dress also, so I tied a belt around a brightly colored pillow and placed it in front of me as a skirt. Then we added Ricky's prized "Tiny Tears" doll as our darling child to complete the picture.

When Daddy saw us, he was not interested in taking a picture, so Ricky sent me to do it. I was the baby and still Daddy's favorite, so talked him in to it. I waited until my mother had had a few cocktails and then went in to convince her to get Daddy to take these pictures. 

He was willing to take my picture but did not want to take Ricky's.

"But you have to," I told him. "He is my wife. Davy loves Polly very much."
Daddy thought this was very funny and took these pictures.

Later we saw a faux coon skin at the store and I was asked if I wanted to try it on. I did, but when I felt the tail I freaked out and started crying. When they asked what was wrong, I said: "He killed that cat!"

In 5th grade I broke with Davy Crockett for good when I wrote a school report about the U.S. government's policy of exterminating buffalo to destroy Native American culture. I also discovered that Davy was an alcoholic murderer and racist who killed a black man and got away with it, claiming he was too drunk to know what he was doing. I titled it "DAVY CROCKETT WAS A MURDERER!"

My teacher was a bit nervous about this. 
She gave me a good grade but made me change the title.
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Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"


April 16, 2014

Austin

Austin, age 4
Novato, California (1978)

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


March 26, 2014

Tatiana

Tatiana, age 12 
Moscow Region, Russia (2000)

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


March 06, 2014

Jack

Jack, age 2
Chicago, Illinois (1969)

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


February 19, 2014

Nancy

Nancy, age 5
Columbus, Ohio (1961)

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


January 28, 2014

Rick

Rick, age 5
Los Angeles, California (1959)

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


January 20, 2014

Brad

Brad, age 9
San Diego, California (1980)

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


December 29, 2013

Russ

Russ, age 17
Springfield, Virginia (1982)

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