Listen to Your Elders – Pt. 2

Part 1 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here.

A.J.: I have not gone to PRIDE (yet), mostly because of wondering if I belong in that space due to not figuring myself out until I was older. Many of the LGBTQIA people I personally am acquainted with have known most of their lives they’re queer, and unfortunately, in my area of the world, some/a lot are judgmental. Like having to somehow ‘prove’ queerness to be in that space. Or that only certain labels are acceptable, and those are not my labels. I had a negative experience at a ‘Fruit Fest’ (queer music fest) a few years ago that really drove home the issues for me.

Maybe we’d be okay. Even if being queer meant we had to break away from what we were born into to form new families. ~ Allen

Allen: I was almost 16-years-old, so summer of 1995. Overwhelming. Colors and sounds and voices and wigs and music and rainbows and glitter and confetti and, just, everything. The thing I remember the most is the laughter and love, though. And drag queens and the older members of the community calling me “baby” and looking out for me a lot. Endearingly, of course. Queer people ON THE STREET walking up to other queer people they’d never met before to form friendships, share stories, give support, hugs, tell jokes, and just feel comfortable being queer for one day a year at the very least. I don’t have an annual tradition of going to Pride, but I will always remember the sense of community and non-judgment at my very first Pride. It was truly the first time I’d ever felt accepted for who I was. The thing that sticks out in my mind the most, though, is the 70ish year old mother of an older gay man, there with her son, giving “Mom Hugs” to other queer people who had been disowned by their families (or worse). Seeing queer people crying because it was the first hug they’d had from a mom in God knows how long was heartbreaking, but also gave me a little hope. Maybe we’d be okay. Even if being queer meant we had to break away from what we were born into to form new families.

Anne: I was 27-years-old when I went to my first PRIDE celebration. A few weeks before the actual day of PRIDE, my partner and I had been assaulted by a pair of men who had thrown lit cigarettes through our car window. We were both nervous about going to such a significant, public event. Both of us knew hateful people would be there to disrupt the parade. It felt important, though, to face our fear and support our community. It was a fantastic experience. Even walking to the parade route (we didn’t march our first year) was like being surrounded by family. And something was compelling about joining in that experience.

What makes that Pride so very special to me is by July 16th, 1991 I was diagnosed HIV+, now thirty years later, this year! ~ Charlie

Charlie: My first Pride event was 1991 in Cleveland, and actually the cover of my memoirs is a photo from that day. What makes that Pride so very special to me is by July 16th, 1991 I was diagnosed HIV+, now thirty years later, this year! But right after Pride I was so gravely ill. Passing out at work and my first attempt at college. I lost 70 pounds in a very short time frame and fell to 100 pounds soaking wet, and at five foot ten inches tall it wasn’t pretty. It was rather ghastly. The photo was actually taken by a photojournalist from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and I ended up buying a few of them. I was twenty-four at the time as well even though I had known for so long, but it wasn’t until being in Cleveland that I went to my first Pride parade and festival. I had done Pride drag shows in Fort Lauderdale prior to that but nothing else.

David: I’ve never been. I think this is because I have never had close friends who I could go along with. In the early days, of course, it was seen as a protest, an event to attend as an activist – and I just couldn’t, for many, many years. I do hope to go one day. I think I should.

Dee: I have not gone. I think too soon for my wife, I came out about 4 years ago and she still struggles with it. I do want to go at some point.

At the time I couldn’t believe a world like that existed... It was such a great experience the three of us returned the following year along with a friend of my cousin who had recently come out. ~ Estebán

Estebán: I went to my first pride when I was 18. Now I know I mentioned the college group when I was 19, but the first pride I attended was not with a group of friends. So, as I mentioned earlier, my cousin Danny had died from AIDS complications. At his memorial service, I sort of came out. It was not intentional. Long story short, I was upset about some family stuff and my uncle came over to comfort me because he thought I had come out to my grandmother. I hadn’t, but now everyone knew. My mother’s family was cool with it, as I said before, I was the third person to come out on that side of the family (this is the white side of the family). My uncle was a former rock star in the 80s, so he wasn’t like the rest of my family. I ended up spending most of the service hanging out with him and his wife (he had remarried and I had just met her that evening). Growing up, my parents didn’t like my sister and me hanging out with my uncle because of the lifestyle of bands in the 80s. Anyways, my aunt and a family friend, who was gay, offered to take me to pride. My uncle lived in Berkeley and San Francisco was just a BART ride over. So, I went with the two of them. It was amazing. I walked around in wide-eyed wonder. We got there before the parade and I was in awe of the floats and seeing people being free and comfortable with themselves. Women were walking around topless and no one paid them any mind. Men were dancing around barely dressed. At the time I couldn’t believe a world like that existed. When I was a kid, the only image I got of gay culture was the Blue Oyster in Police Academy. But my favorite moment at the pride was, there was a group of women walking dressed as Xena and Gabrielle carrying a sign that read, “Xena Loves Gabrielle.” Later that day after the parade, we were walking around the festival and we saw one of the Xenas. She looked just like Lucy Lawless. Sort of shy me walks up to her and says that Xena is one of my favorite characters. I ask her if I could have a hug from Xena. The woman smiled and opened her arms and pulled me towards her. It was such a wonderful moment for me. It was such a great experience the three of us returned the following year along with a friend of my cousin who had recently come out. It was fun walking around with him and seeing him be exactly how I was the previous year.

Eugene: My first PRIDE was in Washington, D.C., in 1986. The pastor of the local MCC had described it as an event where people got drunk and cruised, but I found that not to be the case, or perhaps I had directed my attention elsewhere. I could have done without all the floats whose riders threw strings of beads to onlookers, but other than that, I found it affirming just to be around that many queer people.

Jean-Christophe: My first Pride took place as I was 18 and living in Germany. It took place in Frankfurt, and even if I did not make it to the parade itself, I was soon in charge of serving beers at one of the bar tents called “Gay village” in one of the largest parks of that city! I had already started to drink heavily when I was still underage (and my inner hatred resulting from my complete inadequacy resulting in failing at making any kind of meaningful relationship was fueling it, and I don’t remember anything after the last people left the park to go to one of the many pride events taking place at quite a few clubs. What I remember is that it actually smelt like freedom and that people you had never met, and would never meet again were like member of your extended family. I met with some other volunteers of the AIDS-Hilfe and I felt exhilarated by this sense of “communion”.

Kevin: There aren’t any Pride events in a reasonable distance from where I live. I also have no one to go on a road trip with, so I always celebrate Pride year round by supporting LGBTQIA+ artists, authors, and performers, and by donating to worthy causes.

My (nice) colleague saw me and told me he was disgusted. “AIDS is self-inflicted.” ~ Lyndizzle

Lyndizzle: My first PRIDE was when I was about 35. It wasn’t a big one. I went with my partner. Before that, there wasn’t much in my city and I would have been scared of being “seen” in my 20s. I did go on various protest marches in the late 80s and 90s and I did AIDS street fundraising in London. My (nice) colleague saw me and told me he was disgusted. “AIDS is self-inflicted”.

Maestro: It was my first year in SF 1990. I was singing with the SFGMC and we performed. Then afterward, my new friends and I meandered all over Civic Center plaza. Everyone was so ebullient. I can’t count the number of times people wished me “Happy Pride!” Before that moment, I never felt who I am was something to be celebrated. I felt valued, loved, and safe for the first time.

Matt: I haven’t.  Living in denial and being so unaware, I never felt this was my community until this past year.  That I belonged or that that was me. 

Maxime: No, I haven’t been to a Pride yet, mainly because the Pride parades here are always accompanied by a heavy right-wing protesters’ presence, and it could be dangerous. We might go this year if safety is guaranteed somehow.

Melissa: My first Pride wasn’t a good experience. My ex-wife insisted on us being in the parade. It was nothing more than putting us at the center of attention for her own narcissistic needs. It put a damper on ones that came after. I have attended one since our divorce and I had a blast. I went by myself and made all kinds of friends and hung out with complete strangers.

‘Nathan: I worked! I’d come out once I got to University, got disowned, and picked up any and all jobs I could find to get by, including a gopher-style job where I ended up handing out magnets and coupons for time for gay chat lines to parade watchers. By then, I was lucky enough to have found a chosen family mostly of drag queens and the bear community, alongside some queer university friends, but I didn’t actually “go” to Pride as a celebration that year.

It was the first time I ever felt quite so affirmed and it was amazing. ~ Owen

Owen: London, 1994, at age 18, a little while after I came out at university. The sense of not being alone, of being among thousands of people like me, was almost overwhelming. It was the first time I ever felt quite so affirmed and it was amazing.

Phaeton: Wow! No words. 1981, Denver Colorado. Pre-commercialism, raw emotion, motorcycles, floats, banners, and rivers of people. The heady camaraderie, something often missing in queer people’s lives at the time. The next (Western) generation can’t understand what it’s like to suddenly be the majority in a world where you are excluded. Queer people at the time were outside of the herd, and there was that one day, where the numbers and presence didn’t just give you a sense of acceptance, but safety…and power!

Rob: 1997 Calgary. Seeing the parade, being invited to march along in the parade, was such an overwhelming sense of community and inclusion.

Roberta: I haven’t gone to PRIDE because I hate crowds and going outside. *laughing*

S.A.: I haven’t gone to PRIDE yet. I was planning to go just before the pandemic. I have plans to go next year.

Shai: My first pride was in Boulder in 1992. I was very much a bystander but it felt remarkable seeing people march and sell goods. My first time actually marching was in Denver two years ago with other people in education.

Urban: My first Pride was in Stockholm 2000. This was a fantastic time because it was just a month after I came out and suddenly gay guys were everywhere. Also this is when I met my husband as he is now.

I’m extremely shy so to have strangers just come up to me and chat and dance and flirt, it was really special!! ~ Vince

Vince: My first was Philly Pride, probably around ‘92-93. I missed the parade itself as I worked every Saturday but the parade culminated into a huge dance party right on the riverfront. It was a beautiful day and everyone was just so nice and friendly and it felt like everyone became friends by the end of the night. I’m extremely shy so to have strangers just come up to me and chat and dance and flirt, it was really special!!

W.D.: I checked out my first PRIDE parade in the late 1970s; the parade was festive and celebratory. Some 30 years later, my son and I were on a float in the parade itself, and it was empowering.

A.J.: Accepting myself (and others) and being proud of who I am no matter what.

At its heart, it’s a protest. It’s a rebellion. We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it. Or you can take a brick to your fucking face. ~ Allen

Allen: The demand for equality and to be free from persecution. Pride isn’t just a colorful, loud, joyful event. Though it is also those things. It’s also a remembrance of all of the queer people who came before us, demanding we be treated equally and that we have the same rights as everyone else in this world.  It’s a lot of fun, because us queers love a good time. We love a party. But at its heart, it’s a protest. It’s a rebellion. We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it. Or you can take a brick to your fucking face.

Anne: PRIDE’S meaning has changed for me as I’ve grown in my awareness of my own queerness. It has also changed as I’ve witnessed the exclusion that exists in our community. The first several years I attended PRIDE, it was for the celebratory aspect of the event. And that was all I wanted to see. But as I’ve aged and become more aware of how PRIDE celebrations exclude, denigrate, and ignore members of our community, I’ve become more cautious about the event. Now, I feel that PRIDE is a time to reflect on the journey we’ve taken as a community, celebrate where we are, and look forward to the spaces and fights we must engage in to realize our liberation. It’s not just a time for sparkly hand-fans (of which I have several) and parades. Celebration is part of it, but recommitment to honoring every member of our community and their journey should be part of that experience, too.

Charlie: First of all Pride, for me, marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and those brave souls who stood up to the cops and fought back. Without those brothers and sisters on the very fringes of society we wouldn’t have anything that we have today. Pride also, ironically, marks the death of Judy Garland the day before the riots, and Judy has always played such a huge part of my life that I can’t leave her out of this equation. Pride also means that we are still fighting, to this very day, for our most basic rights that so many of us still do not have. Especially trans rights, that so many feel that should not be part of the gay rights movement, based on what is being said on Twitter this year during Pride. However, trans rights are gay rights and until we all are equal, none of us are equal. Pride, to some degree, is a protest demanding our equal rights, it’s part party, of course, for the ground we’ve gained, part memorial for a lot of us who lost so much and so many because of the AIDS Crisis.

...it is extremely important for the LGBTQ+ community to unite and proclaim their presence to the world ~ David

David: I think as a month-long events platform, it is extremely important for the LGBTQ+ community to unite and proclaim their presence to the world, and for the rest of homonormative society it is important for them to acknowledge our existence and think about how they can do better to include and not discriminate against, or attack us.

Dee: A celebration of acceptance and strength in numbers–true love.

Estebán: It changes for me constantly. It is affected by my mood and what is happening in my life and what is around me. But at my core, it is about being yourself. Standing up and allowing yourself the freedom to be your true self. It also means being the strong one for those who need help standing up. I learned early on the history of Pride and what had happened to have sparked it. Before coming out, I knew nothing of Stonewall or Harvey Milk. But once I came out and I would talk about things, my father would reference remembering seeing stuff on the news about it. But it was like these small news bits that he got from the paper that was buried behind other news items. It should be a time to celebrate who we are, but we shouldn’t forget why we are celebrating and the price those who came before us had to pay for us to have what we have. In my 20s, I would see many other young queers being disrespectful to the older generation and it would infuriate me. Each generation of LGBTQ does have it a bit easier than the one before. It shouldn’t be forgotten and the fight to be equal should never stop until we truly are equal.

Eugene: It does not mean that I’m proud of an attribute that I did not select. It means that I am not ashamed of who I am, including that attribute, and that I am proud of what I have made of my life despite the impediments.

Hadrian: Pride events are a moment when I, as a gay kinky man, get to set the parameters of society and when straight vanilla people have to take a backseat and be the uncomfortable ones for a while. It helps balance out all the rest of the year when I’m the weirdo who has to blend in. Pride is a moment for me to blend out.

Jean-Christophe: It should be a time to celebrate our few victories but also remember that these victories have never come without a fight. That our “allies” are only interested in us as long as we mean potential votes. That what we have today can be taken away from us in a glimpse. That in 2021, almost everywhere on this planet, LGBTQIA+ are being molested, killed, and persecuted for being just who they are. When we move one step forward, other members of our community are still nowhere near even a semblance of freedom, and even that step we took can lead to even more hate. Places like Iran execute teens for being gay. Russia, and now Hungary, are fighting to put all gays back in the closet, forbidding any kind of so-called “homosexual propaganda.” The Catholic church is still persecuting our community everywhere it can as does many other faiths. It should be a time to remember all those who have come before us, have given any form of comfort and sometime their lives for us to have better chances at happiness. It should be a time to educate younger ones who in safe places can be themselves and come out at a very young age. LGBTQIA+ history should be taught to all in school from an early age and we should make sure to put up websites or other mean of communications so LGBTQIA youth can see what it was like and oftentimes what it is still today to grow up gay. Many teens today don’t even have a clue why we celebrate Pride.

It’s about celebrating the diversity in our community. It’s about equality. It’s about love. ~ Kevin

Kevin: Pride means remembering those that came before us, blazing the trail, risking and often losing their lives, to forward the cause of freedom, equality, and love. It’s for every bullied kid, every couple who had to hide their relationship, and every person who had to pretend to be someone they were not. It’s about celebrating the diversity in our community. It’s about equality. It’s about love.

Lyndizzle: To me it means claiming our space as full people. To say: “here we are, all of us, outrageous, ordinary, fun, boring, people you relate to and people you don’t.” To me it’s so important to have queer rep – I grew up without pretty much any. Everyone should be able to see themselves in books, movies and in real people, and everyone should have a chance to get together with people like them and celebrate. That’s why I think there should be space for all queer people, for kink, for allies (some of whom are queer people who haven’t come out or are still finding themselves out), for everyone.

Marcus: I’m grateful for the people who fought for queer rights early on and who took many a beating so those who came after them don’t have to. If people want to celebrate that by dancing down the street half naked, I’m all for it. If it annoys queer-phobic bigots, even better. Also, the history of PRIDE needs to be taught in schools.

Maestro: A Safe Place to love without judgement.

Matt: Living your truth and authentic life; acknowledging the suffering, but also the progress by brave individuals, of the past.  Standing up with pride for yourself, vs cowering (even if only internally).

To have the freedom to be who I am. To be proud of who I’ve become. ~ Maxime

Maxime: To have the freedom to be who I am. To be proud of who I’ve become.

Melissa: It means I get to be around people I can be myself with. I don’t have to try to act “normal” to get anyone’s approval. I can just be me and there’s no negative repercussions.

‘Nathan: A protest, ongoing remembrance, a continuation of queer culture and history, and a celebration, in pretty much that order.

Owen: A celebration of our difference, of our identity. A “fuck you” to cis-hetero-normativity. A protest of the discrimination and hate we still face.

Pride will evolve, as it should. By evolution, queer people prove their adaptability, our ultimate survival traits. ~ Phaeton

Phaeton: What Pride means to me…that has gone through an evolution within me. At first, it was revolutionary. Then it slowly morphed into the massive protest movement, trying to raise awareness about the AIDS crisis. Then that changed, into an open effort to integrate/assimilate. I find no fault with that, assimilation was very controversial in my day, but it did lead to equal marriage rights, the most profound victory in queer activism. But in the end, our rainbow flag flies around the world for a reason, we fought and didn’t back down, and we never will. Pride will evolve, as it should. By evolution, queer people prove their adaptability, our ultimate survival traits.

Rob: Pride means celebrating our accomplishments as a community, and committing to continue to fight.

Roberta: It means celebrating diversity and strides the queer community has made toward political and personal acceptance.

S.A.: Being comfortable with myself in my own skin. Being a part of something bigger than myself.

Shai: The absence of shame. A public declaration that we exist in numbers and could be anyone you meet.

Urban: It means that one month we are in focus, and the rights we have fought for and still have to fight for is in focus. They easily drown in the news-flow and so other times of the year but are (more) in focus. Also it is a time to show that we exist right next to all the people who don’t know us and that we are proud of who we are and will not hide or excuse ourselves. In Sweden this isn’t as big a thing as in e.g. the US. I attended Pride in Charleston, SC in 2019 and that was very moving because of the Pride events being held in such a not-so-liberal part of the country. Also seeing all the anti-LGBTQ+ people and religious fanatics was an interesting but scary aspect of the town’s parade.

Vince:  Pride in the sense of the parade/party has unfortunately turned into a giant, drunken mess here in Philly. But the word itself has a lot of meanings. I don’t actually consider it to mean the textbook definition as I don’t know that anyone is really “proud” to be gay but rather to NOT be ashamed to be. I mean, straight people aren’t necessarily proud to be straight and I think most queers anywhere on the spectrum aren’t proud but rather just happy that they can be accepted and respected much more so now than in our recent past. Just my thoughts as I suppose some people are actually proud of their queerness.

It means writing my own narrative rather than have it written for me by the “dominant culture.” ~ W.D.

W.D.: It means living my life authentically each day, embracing all of who I am. It means writing my own narrative rather than have it written for me by the “dominant culture.” Hiding significant portions of one’s life out of guilt and shame is both stressful and exhausting, and the price is high. I wear many hats—African American, Native American, son, father, brother, husband, Baby Boomer, cousin, author, child of God, and being gay is one of those hats. In the words of Rev. Jesse Jackson, “I am somebody.”

Allen: I’m a white cisgender queer male. Massively privileged as far as race and gender go. I haven’t been to Pride since I was in my early thirties, so I’ve never personally experienced age discrimination. However, I’m fat. The queer community—especially queer men—can be very judgmental about body type. You either have to be a toned twink or a muscle queen to be accepted by some queer people. However, I also don’t give a single fuck about that attitude and make space for myself, so the body negativity hasn’t really affected me personally. I see it, though. I see the ageism. The body negativity. The racism. Transphobia. It’s all very noticeable if you don’t have your head up your ass when you go to Pride. I do have personal experience, not necessarily with discrimination or hate, but with judgement for never fully committing to just men or just women. That kind of sucks.

I’ve had my queerness questioned and been told outright that my “straight” relationship wouldn’t be welcome at some community PRIDE events
~ Anne

Anne: PRIDE is a vastly different experience based on the type of PRIDE event you attend and your race, Ethnicity, age, physicality, sexuality, and gender. It feels like more mainstream, corporate-sponsored PRIDE events are explicitly and implicitly hostile toward anyone who might jeopardize what those organizers consider “respectable.” BIPOC experience racism, open hostility, and exclusion. Disabled people often find events physically inaccessible. And those that don’t fit into what the dominant white culture considers family-friendly are often shunned (for example, transgender individuals and specific kink communities). Community PRIDE events, which may be more open to BIPOC and disabled folks, are often hostile toward folks outside binary sexuality (gay or lesbian). I’ve had my queerness questioned and been told outright that my “straight” relationship wouldn’t be welcome at some community PRIDE events because my spouse is a cisgender male, and I’m a femme-presenting nonbinary person. My relationship with my spouse, who identifies as grey asexual, shouldn’t have to pass a visible queerness test to be accepted. Still, I recognize as a white, femme-presenting person, I carry a tremendous amount of privilege. And I see that privilege as conferring even more responsibility to fight for inclusion of the BIPOC, disabled, and transgender people in my queer family.

Charlie: Well, I was going on three years old when the Stonewall Riots took place, so it’s literally my lifetime. A time and place that we had so very damn little in regards to anything. Hell, drag queens were arrested for not wearing one article of men’s clothing! I think age wise, Pride has evolved so much over the years, that so much has been gained, that there are out big time celebrities across many arenas when there was so very little in representation. Age also impacts Pride once again because of the AIDS Crisis. I was fourteen when that very first article about the five gay men in San Francisco and the “Unknown Gay Cancer” broke, and between 1986 when the first person I knew who died of AIDS and 2002 when my husband at the time died; I kept track of every single name. 600 names, and ironically I sat shiva (the period of mourning for Jews) it’s unfathomable the loss, and I thought for the longest time my own name would be among the dead. But I feel to a large degree that AIDS brought out this big time activism for rights that to some degree propelled our overall rights. The community had enough of people doing nothing, not responding to our deaths let alone our lives, and ACT UP was a huge part of my life for the longest time. My gender and race I think play a big part in how the gay community is viewed sadly. As a gay, white, man it seems so many still equate that to a large part of our communities visibility, but it is not necessarily the case as people of color play a HUGE part of our community, and the barriers for coming out are so very different for them from race to religion, to discrimination, to unemployment and so many others. Race affects and compounds so many issues and being gay and of color compounds the issue of even more so as I feel it divides them even further from their own community. We as the LGBTQIA+ members of our community I feel could be doing so much more than what we already doing in regards to race and other issues. It seems that we can be our own.

David: Personally, I don’t feel excluded or that it is a privilege purely for the young.

Dee: I want to think it’s the same for everyone. acceptance is acceptance.

After years of seeing what we have gone through and still need to go through, you reach a point where enough is enough. ~ Estebán

Estebán: Being older, Pride has become more internal. I haven’t been to a Pride parade or festival in years. I would love to go, but something seems to come up and it doesn’t happen. But having grown up in the 80s, I did grow a thick skin. Even to this day, being called a slur has no effect on me. I have heard them all, and they are even less impressive now. There is a certain joy watching a homophobe struggle to try and hurt you with words when you can throw it back in their face. People who know me now, can’t fathom the person I describe to them in my youth. I am more outspoken now and speak out against injustices. Even if it means hurting myself professionally. But, after years of seeing what we have gone through and still need to go through, you reach a point where enough is enough. For physical traits, when I was in college, I had a lot of friends who had genuine concern for my physical safety out in the world. I would often be asked by my straight friends if I worried about being jumped. My response to them was, and still is, “Who messes with a 6-foot tall Mexican?” There is this notion that pride, especially pride events, is catered exclusively to gay men. Which, I can see why people see it that way. But having been to the parades, I never saw it as the exclusive gay men’s club. I would see all parts of our rainbow. I do feel there is a need to be a united Pride. I understand wanting unique pride experiences. But I think, in the long run, it hurts us more to be separated. There should be a united front that in the past couple of decades I fear has fractured. It is going to end up falling to the next generation of LGBTQ youth to bring us back together. As for racial and ethnic identity, that would be a whole separate conversation. Being biracial has a set of issues in itself. Throw in being gay and it can be even more challenging. From the Mexican community, I have to deal with not being Mexican enough. Lacking in heritage, because I was raised like a “white kid.” My mother was from the South and raised us the way she was raised. Something people, who have not endured it, can never truly understand.

Eugene: The booths serve a diverse enough crowd that I do not believe it is. One year, however, many people showed a double standard on horseplay by lesbians as opposed to gay men.

Hadrian: I am old enough to remember when being LGBT was something shameful, when it was a necessary counterbalance to the constant drumbeat of shame that we used to face in most aspects of our lives. It’s wonderful to see so many younger LGBTs for whom their queerness isn’t something they have to struggle for. But I worry that many of them don’t understand that the world was quite different even just a generation ago and that it wouldn’t take much for them to lose the rights we’ve fought so hard for.

Jean-Christophe: I think that it has a lot to do with where the Pride takes place. In Paris it had become a huge commercial event where I would not feel welcomed as looks are almost everything. These last few years a huge effort was made to make Pride – again – a time to fight for complete equality and not just be a way for bars and clubs to make people dance. Stonewall 25 was a huge cultural, art, literature, political, activist event along with the Gay Games. It lasted 3-4 weeks and I felt that anyone could feel welcomed. But that’s somewhat easy as a white gay guy who had sufficient means to stay at the Marriott Marquis to say. On top of that I was accredited as a CC student journalist and a junior member of the NLGJA.

Kevin: Pride wasn’t such a huge event when I was growing up. I think people of my age were still afraid of being so open about everything. We were also in the middle of the AIDS crisis, and we seemed to focus our attention on getting the powers that be to acknowledge what was happening and to do something about it.

Being a privileged white person in a job that won’t sack me because I’m queer, is a massive privilege. ~ Lyndizzle

Lyndizzle: I didn’t go when I was young because I was intimidated by the “tell me how you’re queer” vibe. Now I’m old I’m not really intimidated by much. Being a privileged white person in a job that won’t sack me because I’m queer, is a massive privilege.

Marcus: Young people who, unlike me, didn’t come of age in the 80s at the height of the AIDS epidemic, might otherwise not be able to appreciate how much it took to get us where we are today.

Maestro: My generation saw the decimation of millions of gay men. In the SFGMC, I sang at countless memorials. Gay men were vilified and AIDS was used against us. Not only did we battle the disease, but we battled the prejudice and misconception that we deserved to die, that we were carriers and should be isolated. It’s strange, but my cohort of friends was multi-racial, multi-ethnic. What united us back then was our mutual struggle. We didn’t play the “who’s more oppressed” Olympics. We were fighting for our lives.

Matt: I’m not sure I feel like I’ve earned Pride yet, but accept that’s my own issue to overcome.  But also know as a white and middle class male growing up in an overall liberal and accepting area and family, my privilege has shielded me from much.

Hungary didn’t have Pride at that time and being queer had to be hidden. ~ Maxime

Maxime: I grew up without internet, in a post-communist conservative country, so knowledge of anything Pride-related was almost non-existent. Hungary didn’t have Pride at that time and being queer had to be hidden. I guess that made it something of a novelty when the first Pride happened in 1993. I was in high school then. I remember having this distinct feeling, watching it on TV, that something new was starting, a breath of freedom, and was amazed at the number of people marching there. Maybe the first realization came then that there were others like me, that I belonged somewhere.

Melissa: It’s definitely different for me based on my age. I’m giving out Mom hugs now instead of getting them. I love it though.

I had this incredible swath of queer elders who helped me come into myself, but those same elders are so often gone now, or, not to put too fine a point on it, exhausted. ~ ‘Nathan

‘Nathan: I’m a cis white queer guy, so really, when it comes to queerness, I’m playing the game on a much easier setting than other queer people, though my (invisible) disability comes into play. I’m also in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, which changes things dramatically (for example, I’m not in a smaller town in the much more conservative Alberta). My age, though—I find myself straddling two generations. I came out (privately, with a smaller group of people) quite young, and then more publicly once I was away from my family. I was lucky enough to meet so many people who were taken from us by violence, hate, and ignorance, but I’m also sometimes “young enough” to exist in the circles of queerlings coming into their own in the present day. I find myself trying to build bridges over the gaps of history and culture that exist by virtue of queerness not being an inherited marginalization. The vast majority of us don’t have queer parents telling us about their queer grandparents, but quite the opposite, growing up isolated and without even the language at hand to even start asking questions, let alone know what we don’t know. I had this incredible swath of queer elders who helped me come into myself, but those same elders are so often gone now, or, not to put too fine a point on it, exhausted. I find myself, in most Pride settings, trying to find ways to connect all these generations of queer people.

Owen: I’m a cis-gender white man with a passport from a G7 nation, a relatively stable income, a regular roof over my head and people who love me. That I’m multiply-disabled and queer doesn’t change that I have a lot of privilege that is not shared by a lot of our queer family; the discrimination I face is never due to the colour of my skin, my passport, citizenship, religion, gender identity or presentation. While my life has rarely been easy, I am definitely one of the people Pride is designed for; I’m not from a part of the queer family that is so-often overlooked and discriminated against, even within the Scene.

Phaeton: I’m a white male, the difference in Pride between myself and someone visibly ethnic, is vast. But the difference in Pride to a queer woman is even greater. I truly believe queer people get the idea that our differences make us stronger. Women have always been my beacon when it comes to activism. More than 50% of the population, women remain oppressed around the world. I feel that women activists know the importance of accepting all under a Big Tent more than anyone.

Rob: Cis white gay guys are fairly mainstreamed. We can get complacent and forget the struggle is ongoing for many in our community.

Roberta: Honestly, I kinda feel like PRIDE isn’t for me as I’m straight-passing and I don’t experience the prejudice and struggles other queer people do.

Shai: I do still feel somewhat uncomfortable about skimpy clothing and overt sexuality, even though I absolutely think sexuality is part of the queer experience. After all, it is what defines us as queer. But being Ace, it often serves as a stark reminder that I am not “normal.” Mind you, I would feel this way at something like Mardi Gras as well. But I don’t feel part of that sort of community and would never go. I was upset not to find Ace rep at Pride the last time I went.

Urban: I don’t think so. It is for us all to be out, proud and happy together!

My coming out was much more difficult than young people have it today ~ Vince

Vince: This is a tough one and I’ve given it a lot of thought! I suppose being male and white is definitely different than being a person of color or a female and being gay. I think white men just have everything easier than non-white, non-male people, in every aspect of American life. I won’t get political but it’s just the way it is. As far as my age…being almost 60 is certainly a lot different than for thatr of a 20 or 30 year old, in every way! My coming out was much more difficult than young people have it today and just being an old dude compared to young guys….well, you know what I mean.

Even in 2021, the overall perception of the LGBTQIA community is that it is predominately whiteIntentionality is required in order to change that narrative. ~ W.D.

W.D.: It is different for me because representation matters. Even in 2021, the overall perception of the LGBTQIA community is that it is predominately white. As someone who stands at the intersectionality of African American and LGBTQ, I’ve seen this perception reinforced far too often in media coverage, given that the “Mothers of the Movement,” Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were transwomen of color. Intentionality is required in order to change that narrative.

Part 1 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,
Chase

Listen to Your Elders – Pt. 1

Part 2 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that earlier this month I asked members of the LGBTQIA community who are over 40-years-old to answer 10 interview questions. The response was…incredible.

In my opinion, older members of the LGBTQIA community are not seen as the valuable resources they are. So much of our history is not passed down–and when it is, it’s not listened to by younger queer people. Our older community members should be cherished, listened to, and valued. There is wisdom, history, and lessons we all need.

To remember who we are, where we came from, and how we got here.

Complacency and a feeling of “well, things are fine now” have infiltrated the LGBTQIA community. Many younger queer people don’t have respect for the people who got us to where we are today, nor do they understand why we must keep diligent in making sure the rights we fight for daily are not taken away.

I think reading the thoughts of older LGBTQIA members will help us remember our history and see a clear path to our future.

Having said all of that…I’ve broken this blog post up into three parts. The first one will be today, the second one will be Wednesday, and the third will be Thursday. Not every participant answered every question, and I am providing the names and demographic information as was provided by each interviewee. For the sake of brevity, not every response was used in these blog posts, though I’ve done my best to use the most intriguing and enlightening and made sure every participant had at least one of their responses used in each of the 3 blog posts. If any changes were made, it was for spelling/grammar/clarity. These are THEIR words. So…let’s get started!

Interviewees:

AJ Urbanek – 47yo/Caucasian/Wisconsin, USA/Enby, Demi-Pan
Allen St. Clair (a.k.a. Thomas Allen, author of THE LEGEND OF THE KEEPERS SERIES) – 41yo/White/DFW area Texas, USA/Queer, cis-gender male
Anne Stagg – 50yo/White/Ohio, USA/Pansexual, Genderqueer, Non-binary, Trans
Charlie Dale (author of FREEING MYSELF: ONE MAN’S JOURNEY WITH AIDS) – 55yo/White/Small town near Canton, Ohio, USA/Gay male, pronouns: they/them/her
David Ledain (author of GAY DAD and other gay non-fiction books) – 60yo/White/British, UK/Gay
Dee – 59yo/White/suburb of Dallas, TX, USA/Bisexual
Estebán Q. Mathieus (author of STICKS & STONE) – 44yo/Scottish-Mexican/Los Angeles, CA, USA/Gay
Eugene Galt (pen name) (author of THESE WORDS ARE TRUE AND FAITHFUL) – 59yo/White/Mid-Atlantic, USA/Gay Man
Hadrian Temple (pen name) – 53yo/White/Milwaukee, USA/Gay Man
Jean-Christophe (John) HENEL – 50yo/White-Caucasian/France by the Belgian border/100% Gay
Kevin – 49yo (almost 50)/White/West Virginia, USA/Gay
Lyndizzle – 53yo/Pākeha (New Zealander of European descent)/New Zealand/Gay or Lesbian depending on the day, Demi
Marcus Herzig (author of HEARTMATES and CUPID PAINTED BLIND) – 51yo/White/Germany/Gay Man
Maestro (pseudonym) – “Over 40″/Caucasian/USA/Gay
Matt – 47yo/White-Caucasian/New York State, USA/Gay
Maxime Jaz (pen name) – 44yo/Caucasian/Hungary/Queer, Bi, Genderfluid (it’s a work in progress)
Melissa Power – 49yo/Caucasian/Nova Scotia, Canada/Pansexual-Queer
‘Nathan Burgoine (pen name – apostrophe is intentional) – 46yo/White/Born in Britain, live in Canada, now Canadian/Queer and/or Gay, depending on who I’m talking to
Owen Blacker – 45yo/White/United Kingdom/Queer (or mainly-gay)
Phaeton (pseudonym) – 55yo/Anglo-Saxon/Los Angeles, CA, USA/Gay, cis-gendered Male
Rob Browatzke – 44yo/White/Edmonton, Canada/Gay
Roberta Blablanski (pen name, author of RETURN TO SENDER and ADDICTION) – 41yo/White/New Orleans, Louisiana, USA/Aroace, AFAB, non-binary
S.A. Crow (author of INTO THE FIRE) – 42yo/Native American/North Texas, USA/Bi-sexual
Shai Porter (pen name) – White-Ashkenazi/Denver, CO, USA/Queer, Asexual, Bisexual, Agender
Urban – 54yo/White-Caucasian/Sweden/Gay; he/him
Vince (or “Vince H”) – 56yo/White/Philly Area, PA, USA, born and raised in DelCo/Gay or GayPoly or PolyGay
W.D. Foster-Graham (author of the CHRISTOPHER FAMILY NOVEL SERIES) – 68yo/African American/Minnesota, USA/Gay; he/him

AJ Urbanek: I realized I was queer around the age of 40ish. After figuring it out, the biggest thing I felt was relief that I finally understood why I felt weird and out of place my whole life. Then I just had to figure out how I was going to handle it, which I am still doing.

I just felt really confused for a long time, but also had a sense of fear that it was something that I couldn’t really ask anyone about. ~ Allen

Allen: Pretty young, though I couldn’t give you an exact age. Before puberty, though. I just knew that I was “different” than all the other boys my age (or so it seemed at the time). I just felt really confused for a long time, but also had a sense of fear that it was something that I couldn’t really ask anyone about. I didn’t understand why I felt that way until I realized what being queer meant and started noticing people (especially my family members) making derogatory comments about queer people.

Recognizing my queerness, seeing myself as a part of a larger community, was informed, in part, by what felt like was the inevitability of HIV and AIDS. ~ Anne

Anne: I was born in 1970, a year and a half after the Stonewall Uprising. The idea of being queer, part of a larger community, wasn’t something I had access to growing up. Sure, I had dizzying crushes on both girls and boys and ached to understand why the word “girl’ felt less like a descriptor and more like a lie. Keeping silent was a means of survival in my family. If you didn’t talk about things, they weren’t real. But I’ve always been a mouthy little shit, and I chaffed against it is the only way I knew how, through writing. I penned stories that centered my hurt, my loneliness, and my queerness and transness. Any creative writing assignment in school became an opportunity to create characters whose gender and sexuality didn’t fit into the social expectations crushing me. By the time I hit high school in 1984, HIV and AIDS had swept across the country. My family lived in a relatively small town in Vermont. The epidemic’s impact wasn’t anywhere near the crises in New York or Chicago. HIV and AIDS weren’t at the forefront of my lived day-to-day experience. The idea of dying of AIDS before I turned 25 ran in the background of my thoughts all the time. It was terrifying, and I spent most of my teens and twenties bouncing between trying to shove away my queerness and embracing it like the world was ending. Because a lot of times, that’s how it felt. Recognizing my queerness, seeing myself as a part of a larger community, was informed, in part, by what felt like the inevitability of HIV and AIDS. Acceptance was something I sought through books and a small circle of friends. Celebrating my queerness and community didn’t become a part of my life until I was in my late twenties.

Charlie: I knew very early on, like 4 or 5, that I was very different from other little boys but didn’t have the language or the exposure to gay people growing up. The closest thing was Paul Lynde in the center square of “Hollywood Squares”, a closeted Rock Hudson, a closeted Jim Bailey who appeared on the “Carol Burnette Show” as Phyllis Diller and Barbra Streisand. Things were very different then growing up; especially for me as the child of Southern Conservative Baptist parents. The language for all that emotion, feeling and angst came in high school when the bullying started, and for me it was severe. But hearing the words, “sissy, faggot, queer, homo, fruit” and others it all made sense in a sad but real way. It was a very lonely, confusing place growing up the way I did. Wanting to play Barbie dolls and not allowed. Playing dress up when my father wasn’t home. Religion, of course, didn’t help in the least, and in many ways, made it so much worse. I was very introverted growing up, very “girly” in my activities helping my mother with her daily housework and such. Even growing knowing at a very early age I too wanted to be a “housewife.” The pain, sadness, confusion, anger, non-acceptance from religion for many years led me to a path of addiction I wrote about in my memoirs, “Freeing Myself: One Man’s Journey with AIDS”

David: Knowing and affirming my sexuality didn’t come for a long time, but I knew I was ‘different’ from everyone else around me from a very early age. I played with dolls and had a lovely handmade dolls’ house. Given that this was the early sixties it seems a very progressive way of bringing up your child. My parents are no longer around to ask, but I did ask my ninety-year-old aunty ‘how was that ever a thing? How did I come to have dolls to play with? Whose idea was it?’ Even my cousin, who is a year younger than me, remembers me having dolls, though I outgrew them and moved on to Lego, cars, and soldiers fairly quickly. The dolls lost their charm. I just don’t understand how my parents, who were otherwise strict disciplinarians and not at all demonstrative in their affections, would have agreed to allow me ‘girls’ toys. It will remain forever a mystery. I knew myself, however, that when I reached school age it was time to give up the last of my girly toys and we gave my dolls’ house to the gardener’s granddaughter. ‘Are you sure you want to let it go?’ I remember my mother asking. I reluctantly agreed. In my head I wanted the dolls’ house but I knew I wasn’t a girl. The dichotomy and turmoil had begun.

Dee: I always felt different even in elementary grades but I was sure around 17. I had a crush on my friend who was completely straight.

I responded with, “I’m gay, too.” It was the first time I had uttered those words out loud. It is a moment that stays with me. ~ Estebán

Estebán: I always knew I was different from the other boys growing up. I had an attraction to the other boys on the playground, that I knew was not accepted. Most of my friends were girls and I was most comfortable around them. It took me a while before I understood what I was and accepted myself like that. I grew up around Spanish gay slurs being thrown around. Even though I didn’t know what they translated into, I knew what they meant. By the time puberty hit, I understood my attraction but did everything I could to try to suppress it. I grew up in a small farm town. People called me gay and other words in school, but I did everything I could to prove them wrong. I feigned interest in girls in junior high school. Then in high school, I dated a lot of girls, but unknown to my friends, between them I was hooking up with boys. Even then, I still wouldn’t admit the words to myself. Looking back there is a lot I missed out on because I wasn’t able to be open with who I was. By the time senior year rolled around, I had a moment of clarity. I knew that once I graduated high school, I would be moving away for college. The hang-ups and issues that I had through my teenage years would be behind me. So, I stopped trying to hide it. I didn’t come out to my friends, but they knew and showed their acceptance in a way that let me know they were cool with it, even if I wasn’t ready to talk about it. I officially came out to both myself and two others when I was 17 years old, 3 days before my 18th birthday. By then I was in college and I was with a group of friends at an event. One of the girls made a joke that I didn’t catch or understand. When I asked for an explanation, she smiled at me and said, “Didn’t you know? I’m bi.” The other friend on the other side of me came out to me as a lesbian. Without giving it a second thought, I responded with, “I’m gay, too.” It was the first time I had uttered those words out loud. It is a moment that stays with me.

I was concerned for my safety. ~ Eugene

Eugene: It became obvious when, once I hit puberty, I started having erotic dreams about my male teachers and other adult men. Living in a blue-collar suburb in the seventies, I was concerned for my safety.

Hadrian: I was attracted to men sexually from the moment I started thinking about sex, which was about 13. I didn’t want to be attracted to men because I was raised in a conservative religion and my father was a minister. I spent about a decade struggling with this before I was able to accept it. Now I’m very happily gay and wouldn’t be straight if I could. I find being gay quite freeing.

Jean-Christophe: I started realizing I was gay when I was around 10 years old. I had met, through the Boy Scouts, a 15-year-old apprentice butcher and the least I can say is that I could not keep my eyes off him when he was around. When he was not, I could not keep myself from asking other scouts who knew him what was going on, if he was delayed or could not make it, even though we were not supposed to have any kind of interaction as I was with the Cubs and he was already a Scout.

Kevin: I was very young when I realized I was different. I live in a very rural, conservative area with a deeply religious family. I grew up thinking I was going to Hell, and I prayed a lot that I would change. I had also experienced sexual assault by a family member, so I was a pretty miserable teenager.

Lyndizzle: Hmm, sometime around about 13. But it was a gradual realization over a few years not a Damascus moment. There was very little information in the olden days pre-internet, and I didn’t know a single out queer person. (Later in my teens there was a gay couple who had a cooking show on TV. They didn’t say so, but they were obviously a couple). Other than that the only information I had was at the public library. Most of the books ended unhappily. Oh, and I remember seeing an Agatha Christie on telly that had a middle-aged lesbian couple as characters. I felt fine within myself, but also isolated, afraid that I was letting people down, afraid of receiving violence, and sad that I wouldn’t get a “normal” life. Even at university, it seemed that the lesbians there were all conforming to a new orthodoxy. I felt strongly that I wasn’t finding my own way just to buy into someone else’s idea of how I should be. And a guy in my class, who I was pretty sure was gay, used to come to class with bruises quite often. I only realized there was a word – demi – for that part of me, when I was about 50. I just thought I was weird before that.

I didn’t think anything was wrong with me until I reached puberty and I realized society expected me to like girls and cars and soccer. ~ Marcus

Marcus: I guess deep down I always knew, even before I knew there was such a thing as being gay. I remember frequently kissing my best friend (on the cheek) when we were seven or eight years old and the older kids would laugh at us and say, “They’re gay!” It was the first time I ever heard that word, and I didn’t know what it meant. But surely, if it meant being affectionate toward other boys, it couldn’t be a bad thing. I didn’t think anything was wrong with me until I reached puberty and I realized society expected me to like girls and cars and soccer. I only liked soccer, but, being gay, I wasn’t very good at it.

Maestro: I first realized I had feelings for other guys in high school. I was already called queer and faggot, so I felt even more isolated—as if they were right by bullying me—that perhaps I was depraved.

Matt: Uh, as a sheltered kid in the 80s, it was a process.  I knew I was different by the time I was 11 or 12, and probably not in a “good” way, it seemed.  I would say I “knew” by age 15 – but with no acceptance of it, I rejected, repressed, and denied, beginning my decades of smoke-screening and doing anything to not appear to others (or myself) as anything other than straight.  I didn’t fully actually accept it myself until 44, telling people starting at 46.

Maxime: This is not easy to remember, as I was raised in a homophobic family, according to Roman Catholic values. I had always wanted to be a boy, though, when I was a kid (I’m AFAB although I’m not even sure this is a correct term anymore?) and got mocked for it too. Family members saying that I should have been born a boy because I was mostly interested in horses, action movies, and playing outside. Anything related to same sex attraction was a crime and a sin, and homosexuals were always mocked in my family. I knew I was different from early on, but it was terrifying and shameful, so I hid it. Around 13-years-old, I had a crush on a girl in my class and we made out in her room, and it was wonderful and terrifying at the same time, because I was convinced that I was going to die because I had sinned. Maybe this is the first moment I sort of realized I was queer (but the only available words for it then were “lesbian” and “gay”). I was always a man though, in role playing games, DnD sessions, and videogames when they came into existence. That was pure freedom. Later, I put the label bisexual on myself, when I realized I was attracted to men and women (in those times, there were no other terms available to describe gender). I might have realized that I was fully bi when I had my first sexual experience with somebody of the same sex, as an adult already. I had no notion of being genderfluid at this stage, just that mild feeling that I had a man’s soul in a female body. At the time in post-communist Hungary, there was no notion of queerness, nothing to cling too, no support, so I was flying blind.

Melissa: I was about 21 when I realized I was queer. It made me really uncomfortable, because I didn’t know any queer people. I had been raised Catholic, so I knew I’d have to hide who I was. I only told my best friend (who said she knew since we were 10), and later my son’s father, who always accepts everyone for exactly who they are without judgement.

‘Nathan: The first inklings hit somewhere around fifth grade, which was for me about age nine, but it was more of an amorphous “something isn’t right, I don’t like the things I’m supposed to like on many levels,’ and realizing I was drawn to, say, superheroes or actors in a different way than my fellow boys were. My home life made it 100% clear that queer was bad—no end of dialog on that front, be it as “jokes” or otherwise—but I didn’t entirely connect that I was one of those people they were talking about right away, until somewhere closer to about twelve-years-old, when it really became clear—the language of attraction was being used pretty commonly all around me—that my attractions were running counter to expectations. By virtue of the family around me, and my “friends,” and school and pretty much every facet of the world around me, the main fact I knew about queer men was they died, so mostly it terrified me.

Phaeton: I was very young, pre-teens. I remember the exact moment well, when I finally put it together that the names other boys were calling each other on the playground applied to me. A boy that I knew showed me and his brother where his father hid his pornographic magazines. It was just a stack of playboys, with one Hustler magazine mixed in. The centerfold had a naked man standing in front of a woman. This was the first time I had seen a grown man nude, much less aroused. One of the two boys saw my shocked look and barked out, “What, are you a fagot or something?” And it all came together at once. My nature, the name-calling, they were one and the same. I’ll never forget it.

Gay was a punchline, and I was the joke. ~ Rob

Rob: I started coming out when I was 15/16. This is the early 90s so there’s no such thing as GSAs in school, no internet. There were no gay role models in entertainment. Gay was a punchline, and I was the joke. My family had a lot of religious people in it and I was terrified of being cut off from my family. None of that really ended up happening, but that was the fear.

Roberta: Roughly 5 or so years ago, I came to realize I’m asexual. I didn’t feel part of the queer community because, at the time, I identified as straight. As I’m married to a person of the opposite gender, most people automatically assume I’m not queer and I was a rider on that bandwagon for quite a while. The more I got to know people in the queer community and discovered different labels, I came to realize that I don’t fit neatly into one box.

There haven’t been a lot of Bisexual role models. ~ S.A.

S.A. Crow: I was in 5th grade when I realized that liking both girls and boys wasn’t the norm for everyone. I remember the moment so clearly. It was gym period and I was sitting on a bench with a bunch of girls that I knew. We were watching the guys play basketball and talking. They all made comments about a cute guy when he walked by. I joined in because he was attractive to my 5th grade sense of attractiveness. Then there was an attractive girl walking by and I started to say she’s pretty and made a comment about her attractiveness and realized that I was the only one saying anything so I quickly commented on her shoes and was quiet the rest of the class period. From that point on until I was 19 I thought I was alone in the world where other women didn’t find both men and women attractive. There haven’t been a lot of Bisexual role models.

Shai: I grew up thinking everyone was bisexual. I think I became aware of this at around 10-years-old when I really didn’t care about anyone’s sexual identity, although it wasn’t a true sexual attraction (I still don’t really have that even now) The kicker was when I realized other people *weren’t* that way. I guess that was around 17 or so when my boyfriend made it perfectly clear he was straight. Absolutely straight. To make it clear, I didn’t expect that everyone was to be out about being bi…I just thought they all secretly were and that they were told by someone it wasn’t okay (parents…church?). I felt smarter than everyone else at first, not gonna lie about that. But then I accepted that there is an infinite range of things people like and don’t like…including sexual attraction.

Urban: For me the coming out took a very long time. Too long in hindsight. I knew I was sexually interested in boys from age 13 I guess, but I never admitted it to be “being gay.” These were other, harsher times for gay people and I didn’t want to be that. All thorough my teenage years I never had any interest in girls, in any way, all my friends and the people I hung out with were boys and I always became friends with the cutest ones when I changed schools, and I was crushing on them, friendship being the only way to be close to them and have them around the whole time. When I started high school I had a short friends with (small) benefits with a guy I was so into. He was straight or maybe bi, but unfortunately, he moved to the US after six months. After high school I became an Army Officer and being gay there at that time was not okay so I buried it deeper again. Not until 2000 when the Armed Forces in Sweden embraced LGBTQ+ officially did I come out. And boy was that a relief! I could finally be open and quickly was to all the people I knew. So back to the real question, how was I feeling. In my teenage years I felt okay, not lonely, but lacking sex like my (straight) friends had. In my twenties I felt quite lonely, though, when everyone else got into serous relationships, getting married and having kids. Like I wrote, coming out was a great relief, like I stopped holding my breath.

Vince: I think I always had a feeling I was, starting around the time I started to understand sexuality but knew I was for sure around 14 or 15. It truly didn’t bother me as I didn’t know how or what it was like to be straight…if that makes any sense.

W.D.: I was aware at a very early age, but I didn’t have a name for it until I was in my teens. All I knew was that I was different from my relatives and classmates, and the fact I was both quiet and a nerd didn’t help matters. It was a lonely space to be occupying.

AJ: I’m not out to my family (only out to a few friends IRL and online friends), and when my sister asked to read my WIP, when I mentioned there were queer characters, she made a disgruntled face and then changed her mind about reading it.

Allen: I was probably 11 or 12-years-old (maybe younger) when my mother told me in an incredibly nonchalant manner that she would rather I brought home an n-word than another man as a partner. The implication being that both Black people and queer people were lesser than and I would basically be disowned if I dated someone who was not white and cis-gender female. I’m married to a white cis-gender female now because that’s who I fell in love with and wanted to be partners with for life, but Mom died before I got married and didn’t get to see her wish fulfilled, so I think we all know who won.

“It’s your own fault. I’ve told you two to tone down the gay or that stuff’s going to keep happening.” ~ Anne

Anne: My first steps in embracing myself as a part of the queer community coincided with the beginning of a serious relationship. I was 27 and fell in love. For the first time in my life, everything seemed possible, including surviving my twenties. It was the first year I celebrated PRIDE. My partner and I had festooned everything with rainbows, including bumper stickers. One evening, early in PRIDE month, we were driving to meet friends for drinks. The night was warm, without sweltering, so we had the windows down and the music up. It was that magical time of day in early summer when the shadows paint the ground with darkness, even as the sun gilds the horizon with fire. We were stopped at a light, chatting about our expectations for the night and listening to ridiculous sappy love songs, when two white men walked into traffic toward our car. The closer they got, the more afraid I became, even though they were smiling. There were cars behind and in front of us. There was nowhere to go to get away. They leaned down, shoving their faces through my open window, yelled “fuck you, dykes,” flicked their lit cigarettes into my lap, and walked away. The entire event took less than a minute. I flew out of my side of the car and shook the cigarettes out of my skirt. I wasn’t physically hurt, but it was a horrifying, helpless experience. No-one stopped to ask if we were okay. What was worse was that when we arrived at the restaurant to meet our friends and told them what happened, a friend shook his head and said, “It’s your own fault. I’ve told you two to tone down the gay or that stuff’s going to keep happening.”

David: Regret is a terrible thing to take with you through life. I don’t regret the course my life has taken; my twenty-year marriage to the woman I still love and my beautiful sons, now grown up and leading their own lives. We are still very much a family. But I do wonder with some sadness what became of the gorgeous model I met in Grannies nightclub in Portsmouth one Wednesday (gay night) in 1982. We spent the night together and he gave me his telephone number, but at that time I was frightened and lacked confidence, and I really didn’t know who I was or how I thought my life was going to be. I let him slip away. With some ceremony and severing of any ties, I burned his phone number and never saw him again. Until a few months later when he appeared in a fashion shoot spread in The Face magazine. I only bought it because Bowie was on the cover. I still have the magazine, of course, and often wonder what became of Simon the model. That memory, and George Michael’s ‘Different Corner’ (about a different boy), fill me with sorrow.

Dee: Being told that if I turned out to be gay I could not remain friends with my best friend.

It was as if, to them, being gay meant I was inevitably going to have something horrible happen to me. ~ Estebán

Estebán: Growing up, both my parents were quite homophobic. It was the 70s and 80s. Being gay was very much considered wrong. My mother would refer to gay people as “Those Funny People,” with that offensive wrist wave. My father would get tense around anyone who showed any gay tendencies. I was terrified to come out to them. In my mind, the moment my father knew, I would be kicked out and on my own with no support. Even though, I wasn’t even the first in my family to come out. I had two older cousins from my mother’s generation that were out. One who I only recall meeting once was lesbian, and my cousin Danny, who sadly passed away in 1995 from AIDS complications. What was upsetting about all this was that I was a freshman in college afraid of what my father would do. By this point, my parents had separated and I was living with him. For months I agonized about what to do, I had been out to my friends in college, who were mostly straight. His girlfriend at the time knew I was gay. She had approached me about it and we were on good terms. She had tried to encourage me to come out to him, but she understood my hesitation. After several months of my father asking me over and over again why I wasn’t dating and didn’t have a girlfriend, I came out to him. I hadn’t meant to, but it slipped out in the middle of an argument. I used it as a weapon to try and hurt him. I didn’t give him a chance to respond and left. I spoke with his girlfriend later that evening. That was when she informed me, that she had told my father months beforehand. I had been agonizing about it and he had known. He had been told, she had wanted him to reach out to me and talk to me about it and he didn’t. That hurt and in my mind at the time proved my thoughts about his feelings about it. Later that evening he called me and asked when I was going home. I asked him if I was welcome at home. There was sadness in his voice and he told me yes. He did accept me, but it took him time to accept what being gay meant and what my world was going to be like. He is much better now, has even met a few boyfriends. Some he liked, some not so much. But those are stories for another day. The most frustrating thing that I found when it came to coming out to family members, was every time they would say the same thing, “be careful.” That phrase makes my skin crawl now. Why should I be anymore careful that my straight cousins? It was as if, to them, being gay meant I was inevitably going to have something horrible happen to me.

Eugene: I was fag-bashed in junior high school. I knew that I would have no recourse and that those in charge of school discipline would likely side with my attacker or at best pretend that nothing had happened.

Did my father really think it was necessary to tell me I was going to hell in his funeral sermon, the last thing he ever had to say to me? ~ Hadrian

Hadrian: My father had a medical crisis about a year before he died. When he was in the hospital he was extremely concerned that he outline his funeral sermon before he died. He recovered, and gave Pastor Scott very extensive notes about what he wanted said at his sermon. He built his sermon around St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, using Paul’s structure to lay out an argument that all people have sinned and justly merit God’s wrath, but that salvation is available to all through God’s love and grace. My father was a skilled theologian and from a Biblical perspective it was a very smart sermon. My brothers and I were in the church and Pastor Scott explained that he was preaching a sermon that had largely been written for him, based around 4 passages from Romans. And then he said, “This is a very unusual passage to include in a funeral sermon, but theologically I can’t fault him for this.” And he proceeded to read the second half of the first chapter of Romans. “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” So, yeah, my dad’s funeral sermon opened with a passage about homosexuality that was only tangentially related to the message of his sermon and which could have been left out without making a difference. My brother Peter was sitting right next to me, and I remember his body stiffening and his face getting flat with thinly-concealed anger. A decade later, he still hasn’t forgiven my dad. I spent several months trying to understand why my father had done this. Did my father really think it was necessary to tell me I was going to hell in his funeral sermon, the last thing he ever had to say to me? I don’t think so. My father was, for all his faults, a loving man, a man who could only express his emotions through the code of religion. I prefer to think of that sermon as another step in the conversation that we had begun about my sexuality, an effort to express a concern he had and to urge me to think more about the issue. It was, in a rather ham-fisted way, an attempt to tell me he loves me. I just wish he’d found a better way to say that.

Kevin: I was with a guy I was seeing at Walmart. As we left, we briefly held hands. Three young men saw us and began yelling gay slurs at us. They followed us, screaming threats and chases us in their car on the highway to the next red light. They got out of their vehicle and came toward us. My friend got out of our car to face them. He was a large, well-built man, and he intimidated them into back off. I was very shaken up, and it took me a long time to get over it. It brought up memories of my abuse and of the severe bullying I received in school. I don’t think I ever got over it.

Lyndizzle: When I was about 16, my country went into an extended frenzy over gay law reform; that is, to make sex between consenting male adults over 16, legal. The Catholic church and many others put pressure on people to sign a petition against it. There were large “anti” marches and much smaller and braver “pro” marches. AIDS was a thing and the rhetoric was hateful. The (heterosexual female) MP who proposed the legislation in Parliament received death threats. I wore a badge on my school uniform “I support homosexual law reform”. I felt like a coward when I covered it up on the bus or when my friends’ dads were around. They would yell obscenities at the TV when the news covered the issue. It passed, by one vote. The sky stayed up. The Civil Union Act in 2003 was a little better but still brought out the homophobes in force. In the 80s and 90s and even 2000s you never knew when someone was going to say something hideously homophobic even at work. The first 5 people I came out to (all friends) were horrified and thought it was Sinful or Disordered. Gay Marriage in 2013 was all hearts and rainbows and singing in Parliament. Amazing how far we could come in 30 years. I never thought I’d live to see it.

Marcus: My brother, a homophobic and generally unpleasant POS, always discouraged close contact between me and my nephew because he thought I was out to molest him. Because, in my brother’s opinion, that’s what gay people do.

In my first week in San Francisco, I was pelted with eggs. I was crushed. ~ Maestro

Maestro: Getting bullied in high school was a great fear of mine. But I suppose a memory that sticks with me is from adulthood. I moved thousands of miles from family and friends to San Francisco because I didn’t have to courage to come out back home. I felt free at last as I walked down Castro Street believing I had finally arrived in Mecca. Then a carload of high school boys drove by screaming faggot and queer while throwing eggs. In my first week in San Francisco, I was pelted with eggs. I was crushed.

Matt: The biggest to me is a general – deep regret that at the time I was realizing I’m gay I didn’t get anything I needed to know and be myself.  No role models, no (positive) representation, no one noticing anything and speaking to me.  I can look back now and see all those times I could have been ok, if only there was something/someone to give me an indication it was and would be ok.

Maxime: Probably that awful feeling of guilt whilst living in religion, that you are flawed and a sinner. It was suffocating during all my youth. Having to listen to homophobic rants during family reunions were deeply hurtful. Thinking that I would burn in Hell.

Melissa: When I came out to my parents at the age of 37, my mother drew back from me as if I was contagious and called me “disgusting.” I’ve never really recovered from that.

That story is perhaps not as impactful or immediately distressing as the time I was beaten by bigots, but in many ways, it’s closer to the daily reality: small reminders, over and over, of how we are “lesser than,” and how it erodes joy. ~ ‘Nathan

‘Nathan: Canada has three major parties, politically speaking: the Conservatives, the Liberals, and the NDP. Mostly, the government has been made up of Conservatives or Liberals, and the NDP are the more socialist/left-leaning party (the Liberals are honestly pretty darn moderate at best, and the Conservatives, well, they waited ten years after marriage equality to decide their platform shouldn’t refer to marriage as “a man and a woman.”) I’d love to vote NDP, but for years, the candidate who would come to my door, when I asked her about queer issues, would tell me that given her faith, she’d abstain from voting/taking part, but her party was pro-queer. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t a single-issue voter where my single issue wasn’t “does this person/party think I’m a human being and have a better chance of beating the party that outright admits they do not”? That story is perhaps not as impactful or immediately distressing as the time I was beaten by bigots, but in many ways, it’s closer to the daily reality: small reminders, over and over, of how we are “lesser than,” and how it erodes joy.

Phaeton: When my mother found out I was gay at fourteen, having read notes I had passed to a young lesbian friend, she placed me into a Mormon church-sponsored program that was basically reparative therapy. The head of the program was a man that was abusing the boys under his care. This led me down a destructive mental path, culminating in my trying to take my own life. When my family turned on me I realized that, unlike any other minorities, gay people can find themselves completely alone, with nowhere to turn. It is most often a trait not shared by your family, the closest people in your life.

Rob: The year was 1996 and friends and I were walking along the seawall in Vancouver. I had zero worries, Vancouver was some gay destination for a gay boy from the prairies. But that just made the sudden appearance of a group of drunken straight boys, hurling bottles and yelling “faggots,” all the more troubling. It could happen anywhere.

Roberta: I get criticized a lot for being in a straight-presenting relationship and for having a kid. Some people discount my attraction to people of all genders and asexuality because of these two things.

Shai: When I came out to my now ex, I thought it was no big deal (because i thought nearly everyone was bi). He didn’t take it well and assumed I would cheat on him and gave me “permission” to so long as I never told him about it. I was horrified he would think our relationship (always monogamous) meant so little to me. He was constantly telling me my definitions were wrong because they weren’t in line with what most people thought, so I should change to meet their expectations or use different words because they were right and I was wrong (ie: bisexuals sleep with more than one sex and aren’t faithful and can’t be and everyone knows that, so if you are with me you are straight).

Urban: When I was dating a younger guy in the early ’00s we were clubbing but went outside for air and started to make jokes about me being an older perv and him being a poor innocent boy. This was overheard by a gang of guys who came over and started to push me around telling me to leave him alone. He assured them we were only joking but they were probably just looking for a reason, hanging around outside a gay club so I was beat up by them, I fought back as hard as I could but they were three so…

Vince: Other than the endless, horrific bullying, I think just the hateful humiliation was probably the worst. I was physically beaten and hurt countless times but the degradation in public in front of peers and teachers was by far the most unbearable!!

As one who stood at the intersectionality of Black and gay, I felt like an outsider. ~ W.D.

W.D.: My freshman year of college was in the fall of 1970, a time when all the movements of social change were happening simultaneously—civil rights, Vietnam, Wounded Knee, women’s rights. The Stonewall riots had only occurred the previous year, and homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. As one who stood at the intersectionality of Black and gay, I felt like an outsider since 1) the liberal arts college I attended had a majority white student population whose exposure to African Americans was limited to television 2) the small Black student population was distant to me once I came out that year.

Allen: My grandfather (mother’s father) telling me a year or two after my mom made horribly homophobic and racist remarks that he knew of a few men who were queer in the Navy during WWII. They were incredibly discreet then, but he knew they were queer. He “didn’t understand it,” but they were “good men” and “people should just be allowed to love who they love” because they “weren’t hurting nobody.” It let me know that all hope was not lost as a queer man.

“Honey, I love you. This has always been a part of you, and I’ve loved this part of you, too.” ~ Anne

Anne: Finding the language to describe my experience of my gender was a journey. I didn’t come out as genderqueer (trans/nonbinary) until I was 49, and at the time, I’d been married to my spouse for 13 years. He’s a fantastic person, open, sweet, and he’s loved and seen me since the day we met. Still, coming out to a long-term partner is terrifying, mainly because, for as many lovely stories of acceptance as there are, there are also stories in which the other person can’t reconcile their sexuality and gender with their partner’s revelation. I was scared he’d think I’d been lying to him or that I was just a blithering idiot for not coming out sooner. We have a daily practice we call a family meeting. It’s a daily check-in. Each day when he came home from work, we’d hang out in our bedroom, no phones, no TV, no music, just us, reconnecting. We talk about anything and everything, including using the time to discuss issues that may have come up between us. How’s this marriage working out for you? is a common question we ask each other regularly. I chose our family meeting to broach the subject. We were cuddled up, and I just dove in feet first, saying, “Hey, so, you know, I think I’m, I mean I know I’m, I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past year, I’ve felt like this for most of my life, and yeah, so I’m genderqueer.” When I was finally trailed off into a mumbling nervous mess, he smiled at me, this loving, beautiful smile full of all the warmth and acceptance, and said, “Honey, I love you. This has always been a part of you, and I’ve loved this part of you, too.”

Charlie: My mother use to tell this story that in 1970, at the tender age of like 3 and ½ years old Judy Garland’s variety show was in re-runs, as of course she had died the year before, but she had Barbara Streisand on her show with their iconic “Happy Days” duet. Later in the show Ethel Merman joined them and my mother said I was RIVETED to the TV the entire show. My mother said then she knew I was very different than little boys. It’s also my favorite memory as a little boy.

My sons were instantly accepting and had no qualms about what was just a part of who their dad was. ~ David

David: This has to be the love and support my two sons have given me. Telling your children that their dad is not the person they thought, is an excruciatingly difficult moment and one that can only be done when you and they are ready. My sons were instantly accepting and had no qualms about what was just a part of who their dad was. They have been brought up to be accepting of other people. They are well-travelled and have experienced many different cultures around the world. Deep down I knew they would not be anything other than understanding, but still, it is a very difficult thing to do. As for heartwarming and realizing that living authentically is the right way, I took my youngest son along with me to an event hosted by Queer Britain Museum, and I heard him talking to a group saying that he was there supporting his dad. That is Pride. I almost burst.

Estebán: Not sure if this would qualify as heartwarming, but it is amusing. It is one of my favorite stories to tell from when I was a pretty young gay boy in college. Freshman year of college, I knew very little of what it meant to be gay. This was in the mid-90s. I literally went to a gay bookstore and found books on gay history to even try to understand what it meant. That was when I learned about Stonewall, Harvey Milk, and tons of other gay history. By my sophomore year, I had joined an LGBTQ club on campus. It was simply called the Rainbow Club. It was the first time I had felt emerged with a group of other LGBTQ people. Everyone was welcoming and I finally felt like I had found my people. There was going to be a stand-up comedy show in town and we decided to go as a group. Now I loved standup, I would stay up late at night as a teenager to watch Evening at the Improv. So, I had a rough idea of what it would be like at a live show. We got there and one of the people in our group insisted we sit in the front row. Now, having seen comedy standup on TV, I knew that was the worst idea. But I went along with it. Between the acts, the emcee would come out and entertain the crowd. He was older, probably close to my parents’ age at the time. He kept glancing down at me, the pretty wide-eyed gay boy. During one of the mini-sets, he pauses and looks down at me. “Aren’t you the cutest little thing? How old are you?” I respond, “19” He does this pose and sound and then says, “Aww, I have cockrings older than you.” I was mortified. I seriously thought I was going to die on the spot. Looking back, I find the whole thing hilarious, and I wouldn’t trade that memory for anything.

Eugene: The acceptance that I found in my spouse’s family as his significant other and later as his spouse.

Hadrian: After I came out to my father, we spent 20+ years not talking about it. But when he was in his 80s, he came to visit me and I finally decided that we needed to have a discussion about it. So I brought up the subject and he rather predictably threw the story of Sodom and Gomorrah at me. But I was prepared for that. I gave him a very in-depth analysis of the passage and what it says in the Hebrew. After several minutes of that, he three Leviticus at me. And I did the same thing. We slowly worked our way through all the Bible verses, and for each one I was prepared for him, and he couldn’t really respond to my analyses because I was going into way more depth than he was. Finally, he said, “I can see I have to do some more thinking about this.” I replied, “I don’t expect you to say you think I’m right. But I hope you can see that I’m approaching this as a serious and faithful Christian, the way you raised me to.” “Yes, I can see that.” And that was my win condition, the best outcome I had been able to picture. The next morning I dropped him off at the airport. As I was getting his suitcase of the car, he said, “At my age, I’m not going to be traveling any more. So if you don’t come out to Oregon, this is the last time I’ll see you.” That sounds manipulative, but he was just being a good pragmatic Scandinavian Lutheran. And then he shook my hand and said, “The Lord be with you.” It felt like he was an Old Testament patriarch giving me his blessing. It was his way of saying “I don’t agree with your choices, but you’re doing ok.” I cried all the way home. And he was right. That was the last time he ever saw me. The next time I saw him, he was comatose in a hospital bed from a heart attack and the nurse was preparing to turn off his life support. My father was normally a very emotionally obtuse man—growing up among Scandinavian Lutherans in rural Minnesota during the Great Depression will do that to you—and I have no idea how he knew exactly what to say in that moment at the airport. But it was one of the most healing moments of my life.

Jean-Christophe: It was the “year” (around 7-8 months in fact) I spent with the AIDS-Hilfe Frankfurt e.v. volunteering in the needle exchange program (yes a needle exchange program in 1987-88!). At the very beginning I just made coffee and was doing mainly menial chores. But rapidly I took a real interest in talking with some of the “patrons” who came thrice a week to exchange their used needle and syringe, take a coffee made for 40% of sugar and milk (as heroin makes you crave for sugar) and was so strong that if anyone but the addicts had drank it they would have not slept for a week!, and/or meet with one of the social workers who were also part of the team. I had a crush on one of the recovering addict. He was turning his life around (I could tell that as he was always clean and wearing clean clothes when he came to the bus) and had plans. We spent one bizarre night, just walking in central Frankfurt, he told me everything about heroin, the market!, the price of the different sorts of heroins and where it came from … I guess when you’re 17/18 you don’t really care you are walking with a junkie in some of the most dangerous parts of a city (known then as the European Heroin Mecca), saying hello to armed dealers, prostitutes and their pimps, talking freely about being not interested because you are gay and the prostitute or the pimp giving you some advice as to where to go to find someone interesting or exciting whether free of charge or on a paying basis!

He told me he wished my life wouldn’t have to be harder because I was gay, but it didn’t change the way he felt about me. ~ Kevin

Kevin: When I came out to my late father, he was very supportive. He told me he wished my life wouldn’t have to be harder because I was gay, but it didn’t change the way he felt about me. He passed away in 2012, but this memory always makes me feel loved.

Lyndizzle: The first affirming straight person I came out to was a nun at the Catholic chaplaincy at university. She was awesome about it. The feeling of being accepted without judgment by someone I respected was stupendous.

Marcus: I had pretty much come to terms with staying single for the rest of my life and stopped looking for The One when fate brought me and my boyfriend together. We’ve been a happy couple for 13 years now and I will never love anyone the way I love him.

She said it made her feel so sad because I had been struggling with being gay all alone~ Maestro

Maestro: When I came out to my immigrant Italian mother, I rambled on not letting her speak. I was afraid of what she would say. The first question was whether I had AIDS. Then she said it made her feel so sad because I had been struggling with being gay all alone—that I was afraid she’s stop loving me. She worried for my struggle, loneliness, pain. I’ll never forget her tight embrace following that conversation.

Maxime: When I came out to my husband as genderfluid/genderqueer, I had to explain to him, the best I could, what it meant. But my husband is a pragmatic French, so he just said, “Should I call you George from now on?” It had made us laugh. Then a couple of days ago, we had a chat about trans people and being trans, and I just sort of told him my thoughts, and of not being sure if I were trans somehow, maybe… He just said that he would love me no matter what. To me, having his acceptance means more than anything.

Melissa: My father was looking at a picture on my wall that was hanging crooked. He said: “It’s not straight.” My reply was: “That’s okay, neither am I.” He stood with his back to me for a solid minute, his shoulders shaking with laughter. Then he turned around, grabbed me in one of his trademark bear hugs, kissed me and asked if he could tell people because it was one of the funniest things he’d ever heard.

She whispered into my ear, “I was never that brave,” and that was how I learned she was a nonagenarian queer woman. When we speak up, we find each other. ~ ‘Nathan

‘Nathan: When I worked at a bookstore, I had a repeat customer who was a lovely, older woman in her nineties who was an absolute treasure. She was originally from Eastern Europe, and we became good friends partly over her assumption that my name, ‘Nathan, meant I was Jewish (I’m not), and she would often tell me about some of the terrible things she survived, though rarely with any specific details. She’d followed me from store to store when I got transferred and promoted, and we even gave each other small presents (she’d give me a gift at Christmas, I’d pass her a gift at Hannukah). When the laws changed, and I proposed, she saw my ring and gasped. “You’re married?” I explained I was engaged, starting to worry how this might go, and she asked, “you found a lovely woman?” and I just… couldn’t. I’d promised myself that unless my safety was involved, I wasn’t going to lie about my impending marriage. So I said, “A lovely man, actually.” She burst into tears. I wrapped her in a hug, with no idea what else to do, and she whispered into my ear, “I was never that brave,” and that was how I learned she was a nonagenarian queer woman. When we speak up, we find each other.

Phaeton: When I came to terms with being gay, it was a grand epiphany. As a young man, I could be right and the whole world could be wrong! Stunning. It freed my mind and gave me confidence that has been like a suit of armor I have worn my whole life serving me well. The fire that springs up in my eyes when I defend not only my rights but more importantly to me, other people’s rights, is an all but physical force. I know in the deepest part of me that queer people really are special because they come to this understanding on their own. I have seen the empathy this realization has generated in queer people over and over again. I truly am proud to be gay, on a fundamental, indescribable level.

Rob: I have found a great group of friends and family. We celebrate together, we grieve together, we’ve laughed, we’ve lost, we’ve loved.

Roberta: Finding out a friend from high school (whom I still keep in touch with) is also ace was nice.

Shai: My son is Ace, just like me. We bought a big Ace Pride flag for our apartment window. We joke that he was a product of asexual reproduction.

“I have always held the conviction that we all should love the people we love, regardless of who they are, so that’s something you shouldn’t even have to ask.” ~ Urban

Urban: When I came out and had a new Commanding Officer I told him I was gay and asked him if that would be a problem between us. His only response was “I have always held the conviction that we all should love the people we love, regardless of whom they are, so that’s something you shouldn’t even have to ask.”

Vince: I have several but probably the one that’s most special would be on my wedding day…outside on a beautiful patio at a popular local restaurant, gorgeous sunny day. When people realized it was a wedding ceremony taking place and a gay one at that, there were OOOO’s and AAAHHH’s and people cheered (quietly of course) It really touched my heart as I was terrified of hecklers ruining the entire day.

W.D.: Growing up in my church as a teenager of the 1960s and a young adult in the early 1970s, I felt invisible, which has often happened in Black churches in regard to its LGBTQ members. I moved away from my hometown and stayed away for 26 years. I am back at that same church now with a husband and a son, serving God in authenticity as a Black gay man, with the respect and support of my congregants, my fellow church officers, and our pastor.

Parts 2 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase


Universal Links

This isn’t the most profound or revolutionary advice–what I have to offer today–but let’s talk about universal links.

Recently, an author friend and I were talking about promos on social media, and I mentioned that a universal link is always important in every. single. post. It seems so simple–like everyone would just know this, right? Trust me, there are a lot of people who don’t even know what a universal link is.

Why should they? Most people don’t work in tech or fully understand most of the technology they use.

There’s absolutely no shame in not knowing anything. Almost anyone who has used the internet has clicked on a universal link at some point but they had no idea. They weren’t meant to know. There’s no reason for a website to indicate that any of their links are universal links. So…your average person, while maybe having a vague idea of how URLs and links work, doesn’t really give it much thought. There was a time that I had no clue about universal links.

So…what is a “universal link?”

A universal link is like a URL in that it directs an internet browser to a specific website, however, it matches a URL to a group of URLs and is coded to take the internet user to the site that fits their needs. For example, a book link I share on Twitter will take the person who clicks on it to the Amazon website for their specific country.

Why is this important?

Imagine that I go to the Australian Amazon site. I live in the United States. If I try to buy something from the Australian site, it will give me a message that a book I want is not available. Because I do not live in that country. I need to go to the U.S. site in order to purchase the book.

Amazon doesn’t give customers messages telling them they are on the wrong site.

So, if a customer sees that a book is unavailable, instead of checking to see if they’re on the right site…they might just give up. Lost sale. Sad author. Bad times.

But why would someone be on the wrong Amazon site to begin with? Who pulls up the Amazon site for a different country???

Good question. Many people looking to sell things through Amazon will simply cut the URL in their browser (from their product page) and paste it into their tweet or post. This link is for the product in their country because they are on their country’s version of that website.

So, it’s not the customer’s fault they ended up in the wrong place. It’s the person who made the post. The seller.

By having a universal link, this oopsie is avoided. An author/seller can simply paste a universal link (which is generally shorter and uses less of the maximum characters allowed) and they can rest assured that the potential customer is directed to the best place for them to buy their book/product.

I know you’ve been asking since the first sentence of this post: Well, where do I get a universal link for my book/product???”

Some of the more popular services to make universal links are:

Bitly

Books2Read

Booklinker

But there are tons of free and not-so-free options out there. A simple Google search will help you find the one that is best for you and your product(s).

Lastly, let’s talk about the psychology of this situation. And, by “psychology”, I mean facts that I’ve totally made up based on my experience as a reader and customer.

In my experience, if an ad for a book catches my eye and the author/publisher has drawn my attention with an amazing blurb or cover, it will make me consider buying it. I don’t buy every book that catches my eye (I don’t know what you’ve heard and I’m offended), but maybe 33% of the time, if an ad is great and the book looks interesting, I’ll click on the link and at least add the book to my wish list.

If the link takes me somewhere else…for example, another landing page where I have to search for another button to take me to a bookseller, I’m probably going to lose interest quickly. There are maybe two authors I would put that much effort in for, but someone I never heard of is probably not getting that courtesy. Does that make me a douche? No. It makes me a customer with a life. I’m not going to waste 10 minutes searching out a product I’m not even sure I want.

Make it easy for me to give you my money.

One of the reasons Amazon is a huge international business worth fuck-tons of money is that they make it easy for you to give them your money. One click purchase? Yup? Buy Now button? Yup. Saves your shipping and payment info so you don’t have to enter it each time? Yup. From a product page to having the product, customers sometimes only have to click a single button on the site to get their product. Want an ebook in your Kindle? Click “Buy Now” and it’ll be on your device in seconds.

Don’t make customers beg you to take their money.

A seller has to catch a customer’s eye…and then they have a set timeframe to keep that interest and make a sale. If you can get the person whose eye you caught to your product page in under 10 seconds by clicking a single link, you’re much more likely to get them to click “Buy Now.”

Some exceptions to this are – some customers prefer to buy from an indie bookstore. Or a brick and mortar store. Or they want to order from their local bookshop. These customers are GOLD and will put in extra work. You don’t have to worry about them. If your ad is great and they want your book, they will get that damn book. However, that is not how most internet shoppers (or shoppers in general) behave. They want what they have an interest in easily accessible and they don’t want to have their time wasted.

Some customers like to comparison shop as well. They’ll check every bookseller website to see where they can get it cheapest. These customers are amazing, too!

We don’t have to worry about these customers. As small-time authors or merchants, we have to focus on the customers who are used to what big corporations can provide–convenience, ease, rapidity.

I’m not proud of this, but just to give you more insight into how our brains work when we’re in “customer mode” – one time, I wanted a particular notebook. I was going to buy it from a stationary store that specializes in, well, stationary. I wanted to buy from them online because it was the pandemic, they were a small business, and I wanted to support small businesses when I could–especially when they were relying on online business so heavily.

However, I could not find where the actual purchase page was.

I kept getting redirected to the product description, product ad, blah blah blah. Finally, I gave up and bought it on Amazon. At a higher price.

I paid five dollars extra because time is money and I’d already wasted $5 of my time (in my mind) trying to buy from the stationary store.

So…in summation, universal links make it easier for customers to give you their money.

Use them. Customers will thank you with clicks and (hopefully) sales.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,
Chase

Coming Soon

Today, I decided to take the easy way out of writing a blog post. This last week, I’ve shared the book trailers for 3 upcoming books in 2022 on Twitter. For those of you who don’t have Twitter, or just don’t follow me, I’m sharing them here today, along with any blurbs/information I can share at this time.

It’s a short post, but hopefully, it will get you all jazzed for 2022!

THE WARMTH OF OUR CLOSEST STAR – The long awaited sequel to BETWEEN ENZO & THE UNIVERSE. I don’t think this one needs much explanation. However, we’ll all get to revisit Enzo and Peter, and find out what happened after their one perfect night in Montreal. Spanning nearly a decade of life after that one night, WARMTH should leave readers satisfied.

POSSIBLY TEXAS – Jordan Burke has spent much of his life on the road with his wannabe actress mother. When his mother decides that he just can’t keep traveling the country with her, he’s sent to live with his stepfather in the quirky, mysterious town of Possibly, Texas. They don’t immediately hit it off. Left to his own devices, Jordan has nothing to do but acquaint himself with Possibly. Almost immediately, Jordan begins to wonder why the town is so weird, why Possibilians are even weirder, and what the boy with Poliosis is building in the big red barn by the creek.

TGatDCTitle and full cover reveal coming soon…watch Twitter for more information.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

Birth

I can be happily walking my dog. Taking a shower. Eating breakfast. Watching a movie. Riding in the car with my husband. In the middle of a damn REM cycle.

And the voice comes.

“What if…,” It says as an opening.

The voice is a book trying to push its way through the birth canal that is my brain. Okay, so that elicits a pretty graphic mental image of blood and viscera and a lot of heavy breathing and grunting–and those are usually things people don’t want to imagine when thinking of the creative process.

But it’s a pretty good analogy, honestly. An idea popping into a writer’s head is almost like a birth. And it’s the best kind of birth because it comes with the best gender reveal party.

Congratulations! It’s a book!

Just sayin’…

Regardless of the oogey feelings this analogy elicits, a sudden spark of an idea that pops into my brain suddenly is where almost every book starts. It’s where the book first starts its life. It’s not when I create the Word file (yeah, come at me), or type the first word, or start outlining. It’s a single thought.

Some of my books have started with a fully formed plot popping into my head. Or a wish to write a type of story that everyone loves, but make it queer. I guess, when you think about it, that’s how my writing career began.

Not that I’m even close to being the first writer to think of just taking a traditional Young Adult trope and making it Queer AF, but that’s how I started. The simple idea that I loved a story I had read, but wanted to see it with leading characters who were queer is a good start.

So, any idea that pops into my head–regardless of when or where that happens–can lead to great ideas. I just need my brain to give birth to a book baby, and I can start the rest of the steps.

A non-comprehensive list of simple thoughts that have popped into my head in the past that have led to published books:

Can anyone really plot out their coming-out?

What if two boys could only be friends during summer?

What would a celebrity do if they were worn out and had to return to their sleepy hometown?

Can Othello be made queer?

Can I explain how one night can become an epic love story?

Mistaken Identity: Sex Worker Edition.

All of these thoughts have led to whole ass books being written and then being published. Sometimes, a simple, intriguing thought can get me more excited to outline and/or write an entire book more than a complex, fully fleshed out one. In fact, it can be more exciting simply because there’s so much possibility. So much discovery to be done. I’m going into the story completely blind, willing to let the characters tell me what needs to happen.

I give myself over to The Muse and just go with it.

Often, those are my favorite books. The ones where I don’t think about “does this work” or “does that work” or “will people like this” or “is this going to be an issue?” I just run with the idea and write it the way it unfurls as I go. It feels completely free, uninhibited, and thrilling. I feel like a real creative. A real writer.

I’m not just some guy writing a story because I think it might sell a few copies. I am actually creating for the sake of creating.

So, next time the Book Stork™ slides into your brain and deposits a brain fetus, don’t fight it. Just go with it. It might turn into some of your best work.

Horrible analogies aside, of course.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,

Chase

PRIDE

Some people may say today is the first day of June; I say it’s the first day of PRIDE!

Lately, there has been a lot of discourse about PRIDE, how the community treats its members internally, how PRIDE should and should not operate, and lots of other spats I just don’t find very productive right now. Not that many conversations shouldn’t be had–particularly, how people in the LGBTQIA community treat each other–but the way these conversations are being conducted (particularly where… *cough* Twitter *cough*) just isn’t very productive.

I was going to write an entry addressing all of this before I got to the meat of the post, but I decided against it. Today, I just want to celebrate one of my favorite times of the year. Regardless of everything–all of the discourse–PRIDE is a wonderful time to me. Not that I don’t love my LGBTQIA community 365/366 days a year–but during PRIDE, that love and respect takes on a magical feeling. It’s like Christmas for the queers.

I love seeing the twinks in their manties dancing on floats, the Dykes on Bikes, the pet parade where all the animals wear rainbow kerchiefs and the like, the elder gays marching together and reminding us of our history and who got us where we are today, THE DRAG QUEENS AND KINGS, the muscle gays, the leather daddies, the queer families bringing their babies in strollers for their first PRIDE, the trans community coming out, the black, brown, white (and everything in between), my non-binary siblings, the allies coming to show support, all of it. I love all of it. I love the sterilized family friendly events–such as the parade and marathons and pet parade. I love the naughty side where shirtless men dance around and leather and straps and harnesses are abundant. I love the concerts and the speakers and the older members of the community sitting around near the parade site, willing to tell anyone stories about our history.

I’m not particularly interested in some of the things PRIDE offers, but I support it all because it’s all part of US.

PRIDE, a long time ago, was the one day a year where all of us “freaks” could take to the streets and be exactly who we are–before being stuffed back into a box for the other 364 days of the year. We had that one day where we kind of didn’t have to worry about losing housing, jobs, healthcare, our families–or worse–over our PRIDE. We had to be kind to each other but we didn’t police each other because it was all we had.

I’d hate to see that spirit squashed.

I wish PRIDE was broadcast like the Macy’s Day Parade at Thanksgiving. Alas, that’s probably asking too much. For now…

Regardless, today, I wanted to jump PRIDE off with list of my favorite queer media. Movies, music, books, and the like, that you can enjoy during PRIDE. Media that can help you connect to your LGBTQIA roots. Granted, this is far from a comprehensive list (it’s extremely short compared to what is available, actually), but these are just some of my favorites.

Hopefully, you’ll all find something new to watch, listen to, read, or whatever, that you’ve never seen or heard of before. Something to help you enjoy PRIDE even more this year–especially since we’re living in a time when it may be difficult for most of us to attend an event in person.

Now that I’ve said that–don’t forget–if you do go to in person PRIDE events, wash your hands, observe social distancing rules, and wear ya’ damn masks! But have as much fun as possible while being safe!

Queer Movies I Love

But I’m A Cheerleader

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Love! Valour! Compassion!

Paris Is Burning

Pride

Naz & Maalik

And the Band Played On

Room In Rome

Jeffrey

Love, Simon

Queer Books I Love

I realize that all of these books may not have been written by queer authors. Regardless, these are books with queer characters and queer plotlines that I enjoy.

The Dancing Turtle by A.J. Stiles

Icarus by Adam Wing

Butterfly Boy by Rigoberto Gonzalez

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

They Both Die At the End by Adam Silvera

Pride: The Story of the LGBTQ Equality Movement by Matthew Todd

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benajmin Alire Saenz

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Queer Music I Love

I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ by Scissor Sisters

Heavy Cross by Gossip

Strawberries & Cigarettes by Troye Sivan

Tightrope by Janelle Monae

Born This Way by Lady Gaga

Wait On Me by Siena Liggins

IN IN IN by Zebra Katz

Levon by Elton John

Bad At Love by Halsey

All That You Have Is Your Soul by Tracy Chapman

Closer to Fine by Indigo Girls

Muddy Waters by LP

Radio GaGa by Queen

Kill the Lights by Alex Newell

Poses by Rufus Wainwright

Regardless of how you are able to celebrate PRIDE this year–maybe you stay at home and watch queer movies and make rainbow cookies?–or you strap on your mask and hit the parade, I hope you are proud. I hope you spend time reflecting on our history, our community, and how we all need to respect, accept, and love each other more and more each day.

This PRIDE, speak truth, speak to power, and, most importantly, love yourself and each other.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,
Chase