Firsthand: Learning to Say Gay OK

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I’d never been around gay people before I came to New York. I’m from Atlanta, Georgia. I moved here three years ago when I was 19. Back there, if people were gay, they wouldn’t tell anyone.

My friend and I started hanging out at [local nonprofit] Make The Road By Walking’s office because his girlfriend worked there. After a while they asked me to help out with things here and there. After a month, everybody knew me.

One night they had a meeting, a homo meeting, and I was just chilling, not being part of it, when a guy asked me if I was gay. He was like, “you’re cute,” but I walked away. That’s what I did all the time. I didn’t trust them and kept a distance. I just walked away, or stepped into another room. Some of them wanted to beat me up because of that.

The staff asked me to paint the mural outside. I started getting used to hearing the gay guys’ stories while they were hanging out there. When I noticed they’re like me, that they like going out any time and say what’s on their mind, I started joking back with them. The first part of the mural is about that. I painted figures with different shapes to show that people seem to be different, but that’s just on the outside. When I decided to open up my mind to them, I started getting a lot of friends. I’ve been to gay bars, even the gay parade, and it’s cool as long as they’re with me because they’re my friends.

The straight youth here started seeing me chilling with the gay people and they were like, “What are you doing?” After a while they started hanging out too, because they saw that I was still straight, that nothing happened to me. That’s what it’s all about when you see people turn their backs. It’s because they’re afraid. Now there’s no distance anymore. That’s why it’s important that people like me are here. I put something new into their heads.

I still call Dee [a transgender staff member] by her man name, David, just to piss her off. She doesn’t like it. We’re cool like that, you know, we tease each other but we know it’s all for fun.

One of my best friends, Malcolm, is gay, and he has good taste in women. Whenever I talk about a girl, he comes with good comments, and he’s always right. I should just let him pick my women.

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