Sweet Child O' Mine

12.14.2012

By Jeremy Kinser

Author Paul Vitagliano discusses his liberating book 'Born This Way: Real Stories Of Growing Up Gay'

Admit it. There's a revealing childhood snapshot of you —perhaps you're holding your mother's purse with one hand placed provocatively on a hip, or you're unable to conceal the giddiness of playing with your sister’s Barbie—that just announces to the world that you were gay from the womb. Author Paul Vitagliano, beloved by LGBT Angelenos as DJ Paul V., co-founder of the city's legendary club Dragstrip 66, knows all about these revealing photographs. After launching the Born This Way blog (which, besides sharing the theme of self-acceptance, Vitagliano states is unofficially affiliated with Lady Gaga in solidarity), which encourages LGBTQ people — including contributions from Barney Frank, Andy Bell, and Sia— to share their own stories, he compiled many of the sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking stories and photos into a book version that was published in October. Vitagliano tells Out about the incredible response to the project.

Out: What inspired you to create the Born This Way blog which later became the book?
Paul Vitagliano: The original idea/concept came to me in 2009 and first I envisioned it book form. But I decided to get it all online via the blog in early 2011, after the horrible news of all the gay suicides in late 2010. I think we all had moments of thinking, How can I do something -anything - to help these kids?After the blog exploded very quickly, it caught the eye of some literary agents and publishers, so now it's come full circle with Quirk Books.
How did you accumulate so many stories? Did you ask people to share or did they just read about the blog and submit?

In the beginning, I was basically begging all my Facebook friends just to help me get content posted. But within a month, I was literally getting submissions from all over the world and about 20 new emails a day. It was pretty crazy. But I was thrilled to see how people were responding to it.
What was it about the stories that made you realize there was potential for a book?

With four million hits on the blog, I think that shows that people were responding to the stories in a very powerful way. As gay adults, we tend to tamp down some of our memories of growing up, because of the confusion or shame of living with a secret. So I could tell right away that documenting our stories was not only important, it offered a kind of cathartic connection for a lot of people. And the book makes it even more intimate.
How did you pitch the project to publishers?

It was multi-layered. There was the silly, retro-cuteness factor, the emotional factor, the gay historical factor, and the sociological factor. Because this project is making a pretty bold statement, in that there is no choice being made in human sexuality, gay or straight. And I believe that this project can touch people way beyond just the LGBTQ community, such as our siblings and straight allies.
Whose story did you find most surprising?
It's hard to cite one story. But there're a few that are extremely painful to read. And the stories of fanatical religious parenting or extreme bullying and hatred I'd see kind of blew my mind. But the surprising part is hearing how those people ultimately arrived at a place of pride and self-acceptance in the face of such adversity.
What’s been most gratifying about the project?
The most gratifying thing is knowing that any gay kid in some tiny town can read my book and get the message that they are loved, and that they're a gift to this world. And I want parents to use my book to better understand our experiences and needs, should they "see the signs" in their own children. And as you can see/read, there are definitely signs.
Do you think the project will continue to evolve? I think it has television potential.
Hmm, a TV show? That would be cool. I'd definitely like to see future volumes of the book, because there are many more stories to tell. But my dream for this project is to tour with my book and speak to kids in high school and middle school, or at GSA's all over the country. Then afterwards, throw all those kids a big gay dance party with me on the DJ decks! Maybe that's the TV pitch? Dance Party GSA! Do you have Andy Cohen's number?

Vitagliano will be at Book Soup in West Hollywood for a Q&A and book signing tonight, December 5 at 7 p.m. For more information on the book, go here.

Tags: Art & Books
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