Wednesday, August 30, 2017

"The Truth About Who We Are..."

Peter-James and Manny, New York City
by thegaymenproject
photos by Kevin Truong

Peter-James, in his own words: "In this political climate; a time when you can't open your phone without seeing another debate or think piece on "identity politics" I find myself at the intersection of QPOC (Queer person of color) and a gay man. "Gay" was always used as a slur against me during my childhood and adolescence. Even before I knew what gay was, let alone my own grasp on my orientation, I knew of the negative connotation. As I came out physically and metaphorically in the big cities of Philadelphia and New York, having grown up in the suburbs I quickly became exposed to spectrum of colors, genders and expressions that didn't exist in the homogenous place I called home. However, on the flip side there was the exclusion of POC in the gay community in clubs and definitely online. As exposés were written and the spotlight shone on this very subject I have embraced the term queer and the more inclusive community that it brings. Being a gay and queer man means for me to continuously be open minded to new ideas, perspectives and experiences. I'm constantly learning!

When I recall the challenges I've faced in my life, I immediately think of my biological mother passing away of complications during childbirth; being born 3 months premature; feeling inadequate in school (academics, sports and social interactions); I tap into my experience of growing up in a mostly white household, and how at such a young age I had to defend my family unit as "normal". Having a lisp as a child didn't help matters of being accused of being gay either - how confusing it was to have to grapple with what a sexual identity even is in 2nd grade onward. Having to drop out of art school. And of course the trials and tribulations of attempting to date women... But, in tandem I think of my successes; having a family that loved me unconditionally; the odds I beat of being a premie and "under-developed"; that I could have meaningful and fulfilling friendships; excel in the workplace regardless of a degree; that I could come out on my own time, and be/build a life with my partner.

[With regards to coming out] How many times do we lie to our parents? Coming home from school and answering "How was your day today?" with "Fine," and quickly breezing past any possible reasons to suspect otherwise and retreat to our hiding places. I dodged many questions of, "Are you seeing anyone?" with "No, I don't have any time." It was Easter weekend that I was visiting my parents, and asked the same usual questioning, I changed my answer to "Yes," and showed my mom a photo of me, Manny and José James (the singer who's show we met at). It wasn't a lot of questions after I disclosed, my mother in fact told my father and the rest of my family before I had the chance to. For a while my parents felt hurt, but I was confident in my decision to wait on my own time before thrusting a new and vulnerable relationship (my first) into the stress and spotlight of family events, holidays and the like.The good news was I overcame any fear/negative thoughts about being gay a long time ago. The confusing part, even though I sensed a physical attraction to men, an emotional one I did not. It wasn't until I met Manny did my feelings begin to change, and so the first year of our togetherness was a test of could I be with another man. After 365 days of test-driving, I decided to take my new vehicle off the lot and onto the winding roads, driving down to the Philadelphia suburbs, where we had breakfast in a diner with my parents. It was my birthday weekend. As a gift, my Dad gave me his vintage record player, perfect for any Brooklynite, but especially a couple who met and connected through music.

New York is one of the greatest cities in the world. If you want to be anonymous, there are 7+ million other people for you to blend in with. If you like attention, you can be as loud as you want. For a young queer person, the possibilities are endless, and most New Yorkers have seen it all. The ability to be yourself and to try on different experiences is truly its biggest asset. The LGBTQ community here is as diverse as the many expressions that exist, the tricky part can be finding your place and people to co-exist with. Many of the legacy clubs are gone and with them a nightlife of yore. Many POC spaces have been compromised due to gentrification and rising rents. In their place, parties and special nights which many people like myself look forward to and follow around the city. Papi Juice, a QPOC party that occurs semi-regularly began in a small club in Bed-Stuy they quickly outgrew. The club itself didn't survive after they found a new and bigger space, with it a crowd with more white and straight folks then before. Everything evolves as the city itself evolves.

I think as a child and even a young adult I wanted to please the people I looked up to, whether it be my parents, family, elders, etc. A lot of the moral compass I believe was correct, but at times I think I overlooked the freedom of expression in order to come off as responsible and I may have forced myself to grow up too quickly. I genuinely think everything happens for a reason and usually there is a time and place for everything. My advice though to my younger self is to embrace the confidence, but also embrace the unknowns. You don't have to have all the answers and it's okay to deviate, not know what's coming next, and that sometimes being a little "out of control" doesn't need to equal being irresponsible."

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