Paul Vitagliano Reclaims Gay Childhoods With Book & Blog
In January of 2011, Paul Vitagliano created a place online called (borngaybornthisway.blogspot.com) for "those gay adults (of all genders) to submit childhood pictures and stories (roughly ages 2 to 12), reflecting the memories and early beginnings of their innate LGBTQ selves.
"See how nurture allows what nature endows," writes Vitagliano on his blog's homepage. "And it's their nature, their truth!"
The popularity of his blog led him to create "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay," a book with which Vitagliano presents over 100 of these photos and accompanying thoughts on self-awareness and ultimate self-acceptance.
The stories and photos represent a cross-section of people from the United States, several foreign countries and even a few prominent members of the LGBT community such as Michael Musto, Andy Bell and Barney Frank and others. As he said of his book during our interview, "It's another tool or another way to break down misconceptions, flat-out lies about our community and the negativity. We should not be judged on our sexuality. We should be judged on our deeds and our actions, just like straight people."
EDGE: Your book has an innovative concept, but I was curious as to its age-appropriateness. If you were asked to put an age-appropriate tag on ’Born This Way,’ what would you recommend?
Paul Vitagliano: That’s hard. Probably age seven and up. While this is a book for adults, I’m so hoping that it gets into the hands of kids. Those are the moments especially before puberty that most of the confusion, the worrying and the not knowing... and though I hate to say it, the dread of once you figure out that ’I’m different’ or ’What does that mean? Why am I not like other kids?’ So, the book can reach them and show them that other people had those feelings too and they made it through.
EDGE: Right. I think one of the most important facets of the book is for someone who is in their teens and discovering the feelings you mention and realizing that they are not alone.
Paul Vitagliano: This is an important message that I want people to realize is that our identity at a young age is really not about sexuality per say, it’s not about the knowledge of sex. It’s about this innate attraction and connection we have to the same gender. There is nothing explicit in the book. We purposely made it about cognizance of self-awareness.
I actually hope that younger kids will actually be able to read it themselves or have it read to them by parents or teachers. The thing is it needs to be normalized. It shouldn’t be thought of as ’Oh, we’re reading this taboo subject that is not really the ’norm.’’ It is the norm. We need to not treat homosexuality and gay people as the secret or the ’hush-hush’ topic. This is everyday life. I hope that little-by-little, it knocks those perceptions down.
Playing Dr. Phil
EDGE: The book is a great tool for parents who possibly have a gay or lesbian child and the fact that the parents might have to deal with the child being bullied or simply being different, or even a parent’s acceptance of having a gay child.
Paul Vitagliano: That’s right. In my introduction, the last thing I say is that my message is for parents. You need to realize that your child could be straight or they could be gay. It’s a fact and it is okay.
EDGE: The book is also entertaining as the photos are really just kids being ’kids.’ For those who have ’been there’ or older gays and lesbians who have found that core of self-acceptance within themselves, it also strikes an important message.
Paul Vitagliano: What I want to add to that is there is a ’cut-off’ point for the age of the person in the photo because what you see... for example, ’the cover boy in the plaid jumpsuit is three-years-old’ is that we don’t censor ourselves, the younger we are. That’s when our true nature shows through. One other person in the book said, ’Children don’t censor themselves. And you might as well not try because your photos are going to capture it anyway.’
EDGE: A gay adult might say of that plaid jumpsuit, ’Oh boy, he’s working it!’
Paul Vitagliano: And ’working it’ means I’m just me. You know what I mean? Yes, there are some silly-ass photos and some of them are stereotypes but there also are bunches that are school photos or don’t really say anything per se in a pose. Photos do capture our essence and even in a school photo sometimes... it’s all there.
EDGE: What was some of the feedback you received after initially starting the blog?
Paul Vitagliano: I would say and this was almost immediately that about 80 percent of the blind e-mails I got were from parents. The subject was either ’I have straight kids but I’m teaching them to be accepting and tolerant of all people’ or ’I have a seven-year-old boy and he loves the color ’pink’ and he doesn’t play sports, he’s sensitive and I’m not sure what this means. What do I do?’
I was playing Dr. Phil for a while but I was really glad to do it. Again, this is how things change. What I told all these parents was to accept their child exactly as they are and give them unconditional love and to ask their child, ’What makes you happy?’ Just to support those things and not to treat it as a freak-out moment or negative moment and to just treat it as a fact.
Talking to parents
EDGE: That’s phenomenal. As well as being a cute or entertaining book, there is also depth to it, if you look a little further, to helping parents or children. The fact that parents are contacting you is an excellent thing.
Paul Vitagliano: Yeah and I’m really floored by a lot of e-mails I got of how younger parents of today look at this as opposed to say, my parents or an older generation. It’s that we’re really getting to that place where it’s just another fact. It’s not a bad fact... it’s just a fact. The future is the acceptance of this.
EDGE: The dialogue on your blog and the book open a ’window’ for everyone.
Paul Vitagliano: The blog really took on a much larger purpose and had a much deeper impact. Instead of ’This is really silly and fun’ it went to ’I just feel really connected to this.’ I’m not going to brag but I knew it was a great idea. Let’s put it that way. To catch the way that it did and to get the support for the book, that support really was there from the very beginning. The blog is up to almost 3.9 million hits. All these people are finding it and taking the time to read it. I also am grateful to Quirk Books for publishing ’Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay.’ They saw something in it and really believed in it. That’s really important to me.
"Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" by Paul Vitagliano is available at amazon.com and borngaybornthisway.blogspot.com