Growing up Gay in the South

10.24.2010

By Danielle Levitt

Photographed by Danielle Levitt for Out

As the online editor for Out, I spend a lot of time sighing and drooling with envy over the beautiful photography commissioned by the magazine -- one surefire way that old-school media still trumps online journalism. But those photos don't usually make me cry and gasp and get chills all at the same time.

These did. Our March issue features a series of portraits of queer kids in Savannah, Georgia, shot by Danielle Levitt and telling Out, in their own words, just what it's like to grow up gay in the South.

Zac, 16, seen above, said:

"When you're the gay kid in high school you're bound to be a celebrity whether you're famous or infamous -- you just get used to it. I came out when I was about 12, when I fell in love for the first time. I never wanted to be in the closet -- the closet is a place of death."

And here's Editor in Chief Aaron Hicklin on why the new gay, South and otherwise, is here to stay:

I may be biased, but I don't think it would be hyperbole to describe the resulting portfolio as one of the most powerful things this magazine has ever commissioned -- simple, direct, and eloquent. If you're anything like me, you'll find yourself drawn into these photographs by the way in which the subjects address the camera, an awkward blend of confidence and wariness that captures the transition we call growing up. And Levitt's suggestive use of space -- the schoolyard, the bedroom, the suburban street at dusk -- only serves to accentuate the transitory nature of it all. Because we were there too, once upon a time, and maybe even recently, though it seems unlikely that we were as relaxed about our sexuality.

Of course, these are only the people who chose to be photographed for Out, so you have to be wary of drawing easy conclusions. For others, such a conspicuous act would still be unthinkable. And yet there's 15-year-old Nathan in his tie-dyed T-shirt, whose father is in Iraq and whose mom is a lesbian, who says he's encountered mostly support at school, and just a "little" ignorance. There's Josh, 20, who prefers dating older guys because "I've had a pretty good sense of self for a few years, and I don't like managing people who are still figuring that out." And there's Na'Quelle, 16, who has been out at her private religious school for a few years now, and is thinking of transgender surgery.

Maybe I'm feeling overly optimistic about what this tells us, but I don't think such an exercise would have yielded similar results a decade ago... It's probably still easier for those who grow up in Atlanta, say, than in Savannah, but thanks to the Internet, meeting similar kids no longer has to depend on chance or circumstance. Affirmation and support is often just a mouse click away. That doesn't make coming out easy, only easier; nor is homophobia going away anytime soon. But caveats aside, we'll take new gay over old gay any day. It's one value judgment we're not afraid to make.

View the full portfolio at Out.com.

Moved to tears or action yourself? Help support Stand Out Youth in Savannah, who helped put us in touch with these kids, or check their resources page to find a group near you looking for donations -- or out and proud mentors. You might even find you've got something to still learn about being gay.

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