New ‘Search for Gay America’ Showcases a Diverse Community
A new book of photography showcases diversity within the gay male demographic and shows that masculinity and homosexuality are not incompatible.
Only a few years ago, there was a commonly accepted definition for what it meant to be a gay man. Gay men, so the stereotype went, were loud. They were obsessed with musical theatre. They were witty and bitchy and snarky. They dressed in bright colors. They hated sports. They were sensitive and prone to tears. They had incredibly overactive libidos. They were, essentially, Jack McFarland from Will & Grace. Above all, they were not masculine.
Of course, we know the gay man stereotype is about as valid as any other stereotype—an entire community of people cannot and does not fit a narrow list of characteristics.
That’s part of why Scott Pasfield decided to produce Gay in America, a new book of portraits that examines 150 gay men from all over the United States. The book features beautifully striking portraits of men, accompanied by their stories, which range from humorous to tragic. Pasfield spent three years traveling to all 50 states in an attempt to “search for gay America.”
The book won’t be released until late September, but each week, Pasfield is publishing several photo spreads on Facebook in anticipation of the release date. The spreads are already providing clear evidence that homosexuality and masculinity are not incompatible. The men in the pages of the book are businessmen, farmers, artists, and teachers. They are old and young. They are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist. They come from a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds. They are single, in long-term relationships, and in at least one case, in a functional, monogamous triad.
Several of the men in the preview pages fiercely combat stereotypical images of gay men. Ken from Brunswick, Maryland, who shares a heartbreaking story about his boyfriend, even self-identifies as a “gay redneck.”
Kev was killed on impact or shortly thereafter. As they laid him on the road, I fought to get to him. I had to see him one last time. I prayed that he would be safe, that he did not go in pain, that he would remember to meet me when my time came. I prayed… and I prayed. They took him to the University hospital in Madison. That was where my life really changed. We were not partners in the eyes of the state. I was denied the right to see him or fill out any of the paperwork, because I was not family. I can say that I really came out there—to myself and the world. I was not going to be able to go on without seeing him one last time. I tried everything I could think of to convince them. Finally I looked at a nurse and yelled, “Damn it let me see my boyfriend!” Right there, standing in the hospital, I knew I was gay. Up to that moment we were just together and it was not a big deal. I never thought of him as my boyfriend, even though he was, the whole nine years. But never once did I have to introduce him as that. It was just Ken and Kevin or Kevin and Ken. I never thought about putting a label on it.
Yet despite entries like Ken’s, Gay in America doesn’t seek to discredit feminine gay men, mock drag queens, or suggest that guys who don’t comply with the Jack McFarland stereotype are the best kind of gays.
After all, JT, a man from Lexington, Kentucky with aspirations to be “the next Whitney or Oprah,” starts his spread with, “I just came out of the womb looking feminine.” And Joe from Sioux City, Iowa talks about his experiences as a drag queen, saying, “The first time a friend painted my face and placed the wig on my head, a new personality was born. Fearless and outspoken, I was larger than life, 10 feet tall, and bulletproof.”
Gay in America looks like it will also be a fascinating look at the impact of location on the gay experience, as Pasfield’s work encompasses red states, blue states, and everything in between. Some of the men, like Robert and Ryan from Kansas City, Missouri, speak directly to how their city plays a role in their relationship:
Kansas City is an amazing place, full of life and history. This time of the year the fountains are roaring, the theaters are buzzing, the jazz music is playing, and the BBQ is cooking. I think like most cities, gay life here is full of ups and downs. It’s certainly not like New York or San Fran where being gay is not considered unusual. Walking down on the Plaza here, or even in Westport, it’s hard to find to men or women hand in hand. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place to live, but it’s still the Bible belt and we have a long way left to go.
The book is not a refutation of the traditional gay stereotypes that are still present about the gay male community. Rather, it is a testament to the idea that there is no clear “gay America.” The community, like many communities, is diverse. In the same way that The Good Men Project posits that there is no clear definition of masculinity, Gay in America suggests that there is no clear definition of male homosexuality.