Gay in America
Text JF. Pierets Photos Scott Pasfield
Scott Pasfield celebrates diversity in this first-ever photographic survey of gay men in America. Stereotypes are laid to rest and an intimate, honest picture of contemporary gay life is revealed through stunning personal portraits and narratives of 140 gay men in all 50 states. Joyful and somber, reflective and celebratory. A rare and honest book.
Name Michael & Allen
Location Delta Junction, Alaska
My partner and I have been in Alaska for ten years. We own an eighty-acre ex-dairy farm that we are trying to resurrect. Since 2006, we’ve been building a large (some would say huge) two-story house right in the middle of it. We’re finally getting siding on this month! We’ve begun collecting milk cows; two are currently being milked, and two heifers were born this year. We’re also raising hogs and one of our sows had her second litter two weeks ago. The goats kept eating my garden, so I insisted they had to go. The farm looks out on the glorious Alaska Range, as well as the White Mountains and the Granites. Living here brings us closer to our dream of self-sufficiency. I work as an environmental specialist for the Army. I am also chief of the Delta Junction Rescue Squad, an unpaid volunteer position that takes up many hours. Allen works for the state during the summer as a park ranger and is the true farmer between the two of us. We’re two Southerners who moved here for my job. We were curious how such a small town would greet us, and discovered that everyone knew pretty much everything before we even got here. Small towns have no secrets – even if you want to keep them, which we did not. There was a week of polite but curious gossip and questions, and then nothing. Our lives as gay men here have been completely uneventful. In fact, it’s more like the movie Big Eden, where good-hearted, loving people have pushed us to share our lives with them in a way that completely surprised and overwhelmed me. For this reason alone, we are home.
Location Chester, Virginia
I live in what I would call a “retirement” town. There are lots of elderly people, everyone here is pretty conservative, and there are very few activities for people to do. When I entered high school I had just moved here from Atlanta, and it was an extreme change of pace for me. Everyone was quiet and tightly compacted into the stereotype of what was acceptable. I always knew I was gay, and in Atlanta I was slowly beginning to show it. I told my mother before we moved away and she was fine with it, but I was afraid to tell my father. He was a military man straight out of the country; I doubt he had ever come into contact with a sexual minority, let alone spend time with one. When we moved, we left my mother behind. They weren’t quite divorced and they weren’t quite together. I guess they assumed that moving away from each other would help them realize what they really wanted. When we got to Virginia I was excited about the fresh start; I could just come into school gay, no need for a back-story, no need to make friends, I could just be myself. I quickly found that being out of the closet wasn’t going to go over easy. Everyone in town was a carbon copy of each other. All the kids wore the same clothes and looked exactly the same. I forced myself to fit in, even carrying on relationships with girls from time to time. I was upset I had to act this way, to put up a front. During a visit to my mother, I told her how unhappy I was. She explained to me that if the people at my school couldn’t accept me as gay then they really weren’t my friends at all, and that I wouldn’t know those people ten years from now. She said I shouldn’t be something I’m not just to impress people. On the way back to Virginia I decided I would be an out gay male, probably the first my town had ever seen. It was a long ride back, and I told my father everything. At first he was uneasy, but he told me he was going to love me regardless. When I returned I cut my hair into a mohawk, got rid of all my masculine, loose-fitting clothes, and became more fashion-forward. I was on a high; I loved being myself. Unfortunately, other people didn’t. I was ridiculed, mocked, bullied, and harassed. People called me a faggot, wrote “fudgepacker” on my locker, and even threw things at me. Every night I would cry. I was so miserable. I got into fights and was beat up a few times. Someone vandalized my house, writing “faggot” across my front door. My father had enough. He put me in boxing classes and told me to stop being so passive. I spent the whole summer learning to defend myself. On the first day of tenth grade I got in a fight and made an example of the kid. If anyone insulted me I would curse them out so bad that they’d never want to utter another word to me. I became a bit of a bad-ass, but I was happy because people stopped bullying me and started looking up to me. More and more, boys started coming out of the closet, and became examples of how happy gay teens could be. I started a small gay student association at my school and became actively involved in a youth group for teenagers in the city. I’m not worried about fitting in anymore.
Name Jacques & Abi
Location Sacramento, California
I live in Sacramento with Abi, my partner of more than thirty years. We recently married in front of twenty of our closest friends. Abi is very fond of telling me how he first observed me, long before we actually met, paddling my kayak upstream on the American River, which flows through the community where we currently reside. We have lived together since we met on the disco dance floor in 1976, where we were both inventing our own moves and steps. Abi moved to Sacramento from Detroit in 1973, and enjoys a semi-retirement as an antiques dealer. He collects antique miniatures and dollhouses and has an intense passion for finding and arranging furnishings for our home, which is dramatically filled with our shared interests. My hobby is riding and restoring antique bicycles. Using a bicycle built in 1886, I have set a two-hundred-mile distance and time record in Europe, and a one-hundred-mile distance and time record in Australia. When I can pull him away, Abi and I enjoy traveling together to warm, exotic places.
Location Austin, Texas
I’m a bit of a maverick, a roamer, and a wanderer. The most stable time in my life was my childhood. Growing up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the small California town of Twain Harte, I spent all my time playing in the forest. We had miles and miles of woodland around us. As an adolescent I resented where I lived—it was too remote, too far from my friends. Now, as an adult, I envy those who are able to live and thrive there. I left home at eighteen and spent a few months in southern Oregon before returning to California to attend college, where I came out. After I graduated, I moved to San Diego, and learned all about computers and corporate life. I was young and eager to conquer the world, but after five years of living the gay lifestyle I longed to be back in the country. I found that just because I was gay didn’t mean that I had to conform to the city culture of gay life. San Diego had become too big for me and was not fulfilling on a spiritual level. I met a couple while on vacation who were moving to Austin and they suggested I take a look as a possible place to live. Texas was hot, but there were rolling hills and the people were friendly. I was living on four acres outside of Austin with a couple of friends, enjoying both the country and the many comforts that come with city life. Ultimately we lost the ranch to foreclosure, but I was able to turn what some saw as a tragedy into a dream come true. A few weeks before losing the house I bought a fifth wheel RV. I moved myself, my three dogs, and my cat into my escape pod. It has been two years since I made that move, and I have never been happier. I am now free to roam the country, taking my family and my home with me where ever I go. Native Americans had the right idea keeping their lives so mobile. There is nothing more liberating than coming home one day, hitching up the house, and moving on to another town miles away. The scene outside my windows changes regularly and I love the mobility. There truly is a different way of life for each of us, and I have found mine.
Location Orlando, Florida
I’m from the Deep South. I always knew I was gay. It was never a big issue for me. It didn’t affect the way I thought about myself or make me feel like any less of a man than the other guys at my school or the friends I grew up with. It never occurred to me that I had some need or desire to come out. Over time my family and friends realized I was gay, but there was no need to talk about that, any more than who my brother was dating, or the private lives of other family members. If someone feels the need to ask me directly about my sexual preference, I have a few responses. If you’re an important person in my life, I’ll say yes of course I’m gay. If I’m asked in connection to a civil rights issue, I’m happy to stand up and be counted as gay and fight for our rights, as I do for all civil liberties. If you’re a relative stranger and are prying, I take the Southerner’s approach by politely saying that it’s my personal business and has nothing to do with you.
Scott, what triggered you to make this book?
I wanted to make a book that I wished existed when I was a kid. To show that as a gay man, you can go anywhere and do anything.
When I think about being gay in America, I think of only a few progressive countries. What did you experience?
I think the gay world in America is certainly as diverse and varied as the straight world is. Slowly we are assimilating into mainstream culture and healing from all the discrimination that has been thrown our way. How that compares to the rest of the world, including other progressive countries, is still something I would like to investigate.
You chose to put all stereotypes aside. Why did you make that choice?
I tried to vary the men and stories as much as possible when selecting who to include. I felt it was important to do so, to be true to all types of gay men. Often only the a-listers get all the attention.
Why only men?
I chose to do this for many reasons, including healing from my own past. I saw it as a way to learn from other men who had gone through similar things. They opened up to me and felt comfortable doing so because I was one of them.
You travelled 54,000 miles across fifty states over a three-year span. You listened to stories and documented the lives of 140 gay men. What’s the most beautiful story you heard?
That is a tough one. Many of these men had such wonderful stories. I love Stephens’ in Miami who talks about coming out to his parents at a young age. They dragged him off to a psychiatrist who ended up telling the parents that they were the ones who needed therapy. Such a simple and wonderful tale, if only all of our parents were told so.
Can you tell me your own story? Coming out?
I write a little about my coming out in the book’s introduction. My father was a born again and on his third marriage when I told him. His belief was that I was doomed to go to hell and I should pray to change. Religion is the root of so much hatred and making this book certainly allowed me to see that I was not alone.
Where did you find your models and how did you contact them?
I put ads out on social media and dating sites, looking for guys who might be interested. It was very easy to sort out those men that truly wanted to take part in this. They had to believe in me and my mission and had to send me their ‘story’ before I would commit to photographing them.
What would you like to achieve with these pictures? What do you want the spectator to see?
I want to help educate those that struggle with their own sexuality and perhaps those that struggle with accepting gay men, perhaps even their own family members. We are all God’s children, all created equally. We all face the same issues.
The pictures are accompanied by essays. Do you find it important for people to know the story behind the models?
Absolutely. To hear their own words adds incredible depth to the portraits. The stories are as important as the photos.
You featured 50 states. Was it important to cover the entire country?
It was a goal I set for myself from the beginning and one of the parameters of the project. To look at the life of gay men in every state. I felt it was socially important to view the country as a whole.
As an artist, are you most narrator or photographer?
I have always been more of a photographer than a narrator, but that is changing in time. This project has made me realize how important storytelling is to my job as a photographer.
Why is such a project important for you personally?
To make a difference is something we all aspire to do. I saw this project as a chance to do just that.
My partner and I renovated and opened an Inn and restaurant in Vermont last year and have been having fun getting it up and running. Getting out of the city and challenging ourselves with something new has been a wonderful change of pace. Yet my heart still longs for more photo projects like Gay in America. I’m heading to Los Angeles soon for more work and am looking forward to what that will bring. It’s all about balance.
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