INTERVIEW | Paul Vitagliano: Born This Way9th October 2012
Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay
Paul V. is a club/radio DJ, writer and blogger based in Los Angeles who acts as a strong advocate and role model for gay rights and self acceptance. His “Born This Way Blog” (which began in January 2011) is a photo/essay project featuring childhood pictures of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people along with their sometimes heartbreaking and frequently inspirational stories. The blog has garnered massive media attention worldwide. Paul is due to release the “Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing up Gay” book in October 2012.
1) So, Paul, What was your inspiration and motivation for writing the blog?
The entire idea/inspiration came when I saw my friend Dennis (the boy in the plaid jumpsuit on the book’s cover) post that exact photo on MySpace in 2008. I actually envisioned it all as a book first, and thought it would be great if it was mainly public, out gay people like Elton John, Ellen Degeneres, Neil Patrick Harris etc. Which could inspire gay kids by showing them role models, and that the gay people they admire had similar experiences. And I’m so honored to have people like Rep. Barney Frank and Erasure’s Andy Bell in the book. I think the project grew as popular as it did, because it simply had not been done before. And I think it struck an immediate chord with LGBTQ people, because it showed how similar our growing up stories are/were. Yet, so few of us ever talk about our childhoods, even with close friends. And I think it’s a huge catharsis for many people. For some of them, it was the only place they could feel safe enough to share something that personal with the world, without judgment.
2) I particularly love the line “Nurture allows what nature endows. It’s their nature, their truth”. Can you explain this for our readers?
That is an interpolation of a quote from David G. Meyers’ book “Exploring Psychology,” which was “Nurture works on what nature allows.” So I just made it rhyme as a bolder statement, which is: Nature determines our sexuality, but it’s the nurture that shapes our self-image or self-esteem as a gay child. And basically, that no amount of nurture (or lack thereof) can shape someone’s sexual orientation. Human sexuality is hard-wired inside all of us, from a very early age. And essentially the blog is saying: “I’m telling you I was born gay. There was no choice.”
3) The blog has had staggering success and huge media attention turning you into somewhat of a celebrity. Were you surprised by this and has becoming a spokesman for gay rights been difficult?
I think your terms for how I felt is “Gobsmacked!” or “Chuffed!” I knew it was a cool and interesting concept, but I had NO idea just how fast it would explode, be written about, and shared across the globe. As for being a spokesman for gay issues, I’ve always felt comfortable being that kind of advocate. I’m a very opinionated and driven kind of person, especially when it comes to full equality for the LGBT community. And I’m thrilled this project gives me a larger, public platform for that.
4) You’ve had some accusations of furthering gay stereotypes as some of the children featured are noticeably effeminate boys or masculine girls. What’s your reaction to this?
My reaction is multi-layered. One, stereotypes exist because they are real, and every community has them. Two, no one image or story could ever represent an entire community, especially the gay community. Three, the sooner we drop the shame and guilt that society places on our masculine or feminine traits, the better off we’ll be. Lastly, each photo is self-submitted, with no encouragement from me. So that person’s self-expression is theirs alone, with no right or wrong opinion about it.
All of the stories surprised me, to be honest. I’ve seen some of the most joyous and positive experiences, along with many heart wrenching and extremely sad experiences. But that’s why I encourage people to let the gay kids of today know that we can all come out of the darkness in to the light, and evolve in to happy, healthy adults with a life full of love and acceptance. It’s not always easy, but it’s attainable.
Well, that’s a commonality for most of our experiences as gay kids, that we don’t fit in to the “norm” of straight society. Personally, I loathe that term “straight-acting” especially when I see it in the gay community’s desire to fit in. We should be celebrating all our differences or uniqueness, and not altering ourselves just to fit in. Why would anyone want to be lump of coal when they can be a sparkling diamond?
7) I’m afraid we ask this of everyone. Consider it a British quirk: what is your favourite fruit?
Oh, that’s an easy one: pineapple! It’s just so sweet and juicy and succulent!
8) Finally: any music tips for us British boys? What are your top 5 tracks of the moment?
Now this is always harder for me, because I love so much music and always forget stuff. But here are some tracks I’m really digging now:
1) Pink – The Truth About Love
2) RAC ft. Penguin Prison – Hollywood
3) Diamond Rings – I’m Just Me
4) Scissor Sisters – Baby Come Home
5) Calvin Harris ft. Example – We’ll Be Coming Back
“Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing up Gay” is released in the U.K. on 25/10/12. In the meantime, check out Paul’s photo project here:
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