Many images emerge when we think of what it means to be gay in America. There are muscle gods, Photoshopped and almost comic-book surreal. There are Twinks, reveling in their emaciated un-gym come-ons. There are Bears and Dilfs and boyz and girlfriends, and there are shameless bigots caught with their pants down. And there is everyone else.
Three years ago, photographer Scott Pasfield embarked on a true American journey, photographing openly gay men in 50 states. His idea was to show us, well, us, and the result is Gay in America, a sprawling coffee table book that profiles our community in every shape and size.
“I was searching for a project to embark on,” says Pasfield. “I was going to make my dream job happen. A lot of my clients stopped spending money; I had a thirteen-year-old German Shepard that passed away. I had more freedom to travel.”
Travel, he did. Pasfield searched Internet chat rooms to find gay men from around the country, started a dialogue, and then hit the road (or plane). “I realized the power of the gay community,” he says. “The Internet is a connecting device for many men, especially in rural communities. The men I was searching for weren’t necessarily the kind of guys who’d go to a gay bar or march in a gay parade.”
Pasfield says he spent about $1,200 dollars on hotel rooms, and shot everything digitally. He also stayed with friends as much as possible, which turned the journey into a trip to make even Priceline execs foam at the mouth. Some big states, like California, have more spreads (“It was the gay electoral college”), and some states had bigger problems.
“Alabama, Mississippi, some of these men were concerned if I used their last names,” says Pasfield. “They feared for their safety perhaps; they were afraid the book could become a hit list in some way. I had never thought of that. It dawned on me that the strength of storytelling would be enhanced if we just used first names.”
The men used were, ultimately, the book’s biggest fans. “They’re thrilled to be in it,” says Pasfield. “They’ve helped promote it; they’ve arranged parties.”
Absent in the pages are women, a decision that Pasfield says was part practical, part artistic. “It became clear that I would have to masquerade as a woman,” says Pasfield on navigating female chat rooms to find subjects. “Some lesbians are upset by the title; they feel like they fall in that umbrella. But would I be the one to share their world? Your first project is your own world.”
Any project of such magnitude is going to have ups and downs (four people profiled have died since the project wrapped up; another guy, an actor, wanted to go back into the closet so as not to hurt his career), and its wonderment.
“We should sit back and pat ourselves on how wonderful we are,” says Pasfield on his education. “There is incredible diversity. To love yourself you have to be honest; it helps people understand gay culture.”
Pasfield (who’s own story is told in the introduction) believes that coming out is key to acceptance, and hopes this book will encourage more men to admit who they are. “Storytelling is a pretty powerful device.”
So is America, when it tells the truth.
Photo, at Left: Scott Pasfield. For more information, visit the Gay in America website.