Sunday, June 25, 2017

"The Truth About Who We Are..."

George Towne, Artist, New York City

by thegaymenproject
photos by Kevin Truong

George, in his own words: "I would imagine that for other gay men, the fact that they “happen to be gay” might be more of a non-issue. But for me, I came to NYC years ago to help me more fully realize my attraction for visual arts. What I’ve found this to look like is a search for beauty, and an overwhelming desire to make things that I feel are beautiful, and then to show those things to others. There’s those dual aspects to this process: First Identifying and trying to emulate the beautiful thing, and then showing your creation to others with a small hope for some kind of validation. Even cavemen who were visual artists would get into drawing a bison on the wall, and trying to really make it feel like a bison, but then they’d want to show it to other cavemen with the hope that they’d like their bison drawing too. But the thing of beauty that I often choose is a male figure or portrait, and this means my audience is going to have to consider the gay question, consciously or not. A homophobic person might think I’m trying to shove my homosexuality in other people’s faces, but I’m just another visual artist, who’s trying to show them beauty.

As a gay man who studied painting and visual art, I’ve struggled to figure out ways to earn a living. Each year, I tend to make more money than the previous year from my artwork, but it still doesn’t add up to a figure that doesn’t need supplementation. And the supplemental jobs cut into my art-making time. But I have to keep my focus on the positive progress, and not on the financial challenges. I’ve also struggled after sero-converting to becoming HIV-Positive in 2005. Thankfully, not as much as the generation before this, who had little or no medical solutions. But still, the stigma that leads many to not disclose the information is real, and the ridiculous price of HIV medication and healthcare today is another issue that really needs attention so I try to talk about it.

My coming out story: I guess I always knew I was Gay, even before I had a name for it. To survive grade school & high school, you learn pretty quick that it’s something to try to hide. But in one of my first jobs, as a stock boy in an A&P Grocery Store in upstate Port Jervis, NY, a hot Italian guy from the next town over started to come in and boldly flirt with me. He’d act like he needed one more ingredient for some meal that he was making, ask where he could find it, and he’d ask what time I got off. Sure enough, he’s be there with his Z-28 Camaro ready to drive me home. This was 1986, when gay things weren’t discussed and rarely in the news, but he’d try to bring up gay topics – he played the song “West End Girls” by the Pet Shop Boys and he told me it was a song about Homosexuality. I had to listen again to realize he was right. My mother wanted to know what a 24 year old man was doing driving me, a 17 year old boy home from work, and I somehow just came out with it: “Mom, I’m Gay.” I was done with lying to her. She had a look of disappointment that I somehow expected, and she later encouraged me to not tell anyone in my small town, but I now know that it’s just that she loved me so much and didn’t want to see me get hurt. Since I had already been accepted to an art college in New York City, we both agreed I’d be better off there. Her and the rest of my family’s love and support of me has strengthened with time and communication. I’ve always felt very fortunate with having such a loving family.

About the gay community in NYC: I think it’s incredibly diverse, and that people in New York who haven’t found like-minded friends must not be looking hard enough. You can’t judge the whole “community” by looking at who is pictured in a local bar magazine like “Next”, or by who’s on a float in the Pride Parade. It used to seem that certain neighborhoods had like-minded gays (i.e. – the artists were in the East Village, the Muscle guys were in Chelsea) but now with the Internet, social networks are easier to come by. Places like the Gay Center in the West Village and Arts Organizations like the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art I find to be very inclusive and Community oriented."

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