Last month, the bisexual, lesbian and gay therapists at Chicago based IntraSpectrum recommended some coffee table books. This month, we are focusing on the entertaining read Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay by Paul Vitagliano. Based on his blog, Vitagliano has compiled childhood pictures and stories from gay men and lesbians. In so doing, he reveals that many gay men and lesbian women knew their sexual identities from a young age, even if they didn’t have the vocabulary to express it clearly.
Vitagliano arranges his book chronologically starting in 1948, Chicago. Labeling each picture with the city, year, and age of the child, he records the stories of a variety of participants, including Barney Frank, Miss Coco Peru, and Perez Hilton. While many people share the struggles they faced in accepting their sexual orientations, every story provides an underlying message of hope and inspires readers to embrace their true identities. For example, Tracy, age 7, in 1973, Yellowstone, Wyoming, is photographed on a family vacation in her cowboy hat. She remembers, “I had my first serious crush on a girl in second grade, and I never looked back. When I was that young, I never would have imagined that I could be married to a woman, but I now live in New Hampshire and I am.” This entry among others validates the experiences of queer youth.
Another entry recounts how as a child Clinton, age 13, in 1979, Bronx, New York, was called “Girlboy” and “Fruit Loop.” In the accompanying photo, he is sporting a “sleeveless blue terry-cloth T-shirt with matching shorts” to a family reunion when an older uncle inquired, “And who is this lovely young lady?” Clinton remembers being mortified at the time, but now he says, “It’s hard to believe I once wanted to hide from the very thing that put me in the spotlight. You see, I am a Girlboy! A Fruit Loop! And I’ve made a career out of it! What I wouldn’t give nowadays to have someone look at me and ask, ‘And who is this lovely young lady?’” Clinton’s story demonstrates the feelings of empowerment that often accompany embracing one’s gender identity.
The book also relays the fact that many queer children face struggles that have nothing to do with their sexual orientations or gender identities. Joshua, age 12, in 1995, Los Angeles, California stands out among them. Pictured shirtless and flexing with a medal around his neck, he recalls, “I had a bumpy childhood, raised by a single mother suffering from multiple personality disorder…I bounced around foster homes and group homes until I was fifteen. That was when I came out, and it was the best decision I have ever made. After I came out everyone was so loving and kind toward me. Today, I’m a professional ballet dancer, and I’ve been partnered with my husband and best friend for seven years.” Collectively, these tales create a diverse portrait of childhood for queer kids.
As awareness grows about the beauty and naturalness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and genderqueer identities, people will continue to become more accepting. In the meantime, the therapists at IntraSpectrum are at the ready to help you learn how to accept yourself, cope with any oppression you may face, or overcome any other struggles you may have that are unrelated to sexual orientation or gender identity.