Boys started with what seemed like a simple enough idea: We wanted to bring together gay men to tell their stories in a way that felt honest, personal and real. Our community is changing – generationally, technologically and geographically – as we continue to fight for our rights and grow as a community. How we document ourselves speaks volumes about our ability to know ourselves and write our own histories, and we need more opportunities to do that as our histories are unfolding. To know where we are now is to begin to explore where we have been and to begin to reflect on where we are going.
However, the problem is that even asking an easy question isn’t so easy. When we begin to ask where we are now and what our community really looks like, we must first address the way that community is represented — which is usually urban, middle-to-upper class and white. Saying the word “boy” in gay and queer male communities is constructed to mean a certain thing about what maleness is and isn’t, who is included in our spaces and who is left out. You can tell a lot about a society by those they push to the margins, and our community doesn’t leave much room for men of color, trans men, disabled men or anyone who doesn’t look like our friends. We show them the door. We tell them they aren’t allowed in here.
It’s easy in our community to call for change from without — to demand that our politicians lobby for our civil liberties — but we believe that real change starts from within. We will never be one community, a monolithic dream under a united flag, and we don’t seem to want to be. However, we can be communities that work together and advocate on each other’s behalf, realizing that everyone’s issues and stories have a right to be heard. Sometimes the most important changes aren’t giant steps for mankind, but smaller ones — and sometimes it’s not a step at all. It’s simply sitting down at the same table with a willingness to hear perspectives that aren’t your own and learn more about where are all coming from. Change is about learning to listen.
That’s what Boys is: It’s about coming together not to speak, but to listen and to learn about each other’s’ histories. No one in this volume pretends to have an answer to the problems that face us, but we know where it starts. Change begins with an incitement to engagement and asking the questions we are often too afraid to. To quote The Real World, it’s about when we stop being polite and start getting real. For us, realness was about representing our community as best as we could, highlighting issues of race, class, geography, economic background and gender identity, as a way of widening the space for discourse. We cannot fix the discussion, and our own scope is limited, but we can broaden it.
The stories included in BOYS range from hopeful and heartfelt to angry and critical – a diversity of styles, tones and themes as diverse as the community itself. For the volume, we asked each of the writers to give us a piece of their history – a part of them to put in a time capsule. Some of our authors wrote about the struggles of being transgender in a family that won’t even recognize your chosen name and others wrote about what it’s like to be able to be queer in your family – so long as you don’t bring home a black man. It’s about looking at the contradictions and the conflicts, moving from the sour to the sweet. Our hope is that by documenting our stories we can show that even at our darkest moments, we are not alone.
Our hope is that in sharing these histories, other publications, journals and outlets that focus on the gay male experience will begin to question the limiting ways that we are often portrayed, seeing not only the way others stereotype us but the ways by which we box in our own community. The goal is to show our readers that we are all so different, because we have all these disparate experiences, yet see the ways that our stories overlap, like a patchwork that just needs stitching. AIDS activists once put together a quilt to symbolically unite our struggles and find solace in death. With this volume, we want to make a blanket for life. It might not cover everything, but it will hopefully make us feel a little warmer.