It’s okay to be gay… Well, controversially for some, and obvious for others. These days too much attention is paid to different «gay issues», but why it shouldn’t be? While we see a huge progress along the States and most of Europe, there still are countries, where you can be persecuted for being gay (like that I live in, but f**k it) cause things are even worse in Muslim countries and Africa, where you can be sentenced to death just for who you are. All that may sound so pathetic, but apparently organizations like AllOut.org will have much ado during further decades.
In this article I would like to tell you the story of a man, who usually tells the stories of others. With his camera. Kevin Truong, born in a refugee camp for Vietnamese boat people in Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia, he immigrated with his family to the US the following year. He got his art skills only back in 2009 as his second education, but apparently it was the right twist. In summer 2012 he launched his not yet iconic «The Gay Men Project», capturing gay couples around Manhattan, while ironically I’ve been working as a waiter in NY. I never met Kevin personally, but we’ve become good Facebook friends, so I had an opportunity to track his work since his first ever image.
These days Kevin is becoming increasingly popular around the world. He started getting his project funded earlier this year on Kickstarter and managed to get more than $30 000, which he now spends to travel around the globe and makes his project international. His interviews already appeared in «Le Monde», «The Advocate», «Tetu» and plenty of others.
This time, I decided to take a deeper look into his work, life, desires and aspirations. While Kevin is in Argentina, he saved some time to ask my questions exclusively for KALTBLUT.
KALTBLUT: Do you remember the moment of your coming-out? I think everybody does, so tell me about that.
Kevin: This can be a tricky question, as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to believe coming out is a life long process. I can talk about the first people that I told I was gay. They are two close friends I’ve known since childhood, sisters, who used to be my next door neighbors. I was 21, and one day one of them out of the blue asks me if I was gay. Of course, I had been asked the question plenty of times in my life up to that point, but I had always lied and said no. But when she asked me, something just changed, maybe the lying was too much, it’s like a pressure cooker and just builds up and eventually you need to let out the steam, so I made the decision to be honest and I said yes. And she was so nonchalant about it, she was like, “That’s cool,” and then we went back to the house and told her sister and she was the same, she was like, “OK, no big deal.” For me, I was kind of in shock. You have to understand, I had known I was gay for quite some time, but it was something that I didn’t share with anyone. It was a conversation I was having in my head with myself for years, like ten years, and then to finally verbalize it, to speak it out loud, and for it to not even be a big deal to my friends, it meant a lot. It gave me the courage to slowly start telling the rest of the people in my life.
KALTBLUT: How did the policy on gay people in the US changed since your early youth?
Kevin: With regards to policy, we can see how quickly things are changing in the United States. Marriage equality is the law in the majority of the states, and it looks like the Supreme Court will most likely take up the issue again next spring, so there’s a good chance it will be the law of the land across the entire country in the near future. And this is all happening within the span of a few years, it’s happening so quick it can actually be hard to put everything into context. But what I’ve seen the most change in, is mostly with regards to culture. When I was younger the only openly gay person I even remember being referenced, was maybe Ellen (Ellen DeGeneres – Vlad), when she had her sitcom. And then of course she came out on the show and then the show got cancelled. Now most television shows have a central gay character, and of course we have the internet and youtube and such, so it’s a lot easier to find reference points into the lives of LGBTI individuals, the access to this information is much more readily available then when I was younger.
KALTBLUT: Have you experienced bullying at school?
Kevin: I was always a little effeminate when I was younger, I was never good at sports, so of course because of these things I was bullied. I remember very specifically being called a faggot or gay before I even knew what those words meant. The funny thing is, all those kids were right. Luckily, now at the age of 32 it’s something I take pride in.
KALTBLUT: How did you came up with the idea of «The Gay Men Project»?
Kevin: The Gay Men Project started as class project when I was a student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, I had just learned of Cathie Opie’s project, “Domestic,” in which she did a cross country road trip in the United States in the nineties photographing lesbians, and I thought I’d do something similar with gay men in New York City. So really, I just started photographing my friends, then I started the blog, and it all just grew from that.
KALTBLUT: What is your goal? Why you doing this?
Kevin: When I first started the project, and specifically the blog three years ago, I had very clear goals and intentions with the work. I had a very clear message of what I wanted to convey with the Gay Men Project. But having done this for a few years now, my attitude has changed. Really, I’m just one person. I’m traveling to different cities across the world and photographing individuals and documenting their stories. I’m building something, and then I’m throwing it out into the world. And the world really can do whatever it wants with it. Hopefully I’m created a resource, something that is of value to others, that’s what I want, but my intentions really aren’t important.
KALTBLUT: How do people react, when you ask them for the shoot?
Kevin: It depends on who I’m asking. Many times, I find people to photograph through a mutual connection, and they are usually more willing to be photographed. Recently I’ve tried using dating apps such as Grindr or Tinder to find individuals to photograph, and as you can imagine those individuals are usually a bit more hesitant.
KALTBLUT: Have you shoot any famous personalities so far?
Kevin: I’m always quite proud when I’m able to photograph politicians. I’ve photographed Carlos Bruce, the first openly gay Congressman in Peru, Jaime Parada, the first openly gay elected official in Chile, and Jean Wyllis, the secondly openly gay Deputy in the history of Brazil. Of course the value of photographing a well known individual is that my platform gets larger, but my interest in the work has always been documenting the stories of every day individuals, whose stories don’t always get told.
KALTBLUT: How do you feel about international attitude to gay issues?
Kevin: What I’ve learned is that the attitudes about LGBTI issues varies from country to country, city to city, individual to individual. What’s interesting to me when traveling is to see the different stages that each place I visit is at, with regards to their fight for LGBTI individuals. For example, a project like mine that in many respects aims to increase visibility, may not hold as much resonance in a place like the United States where in many respects that visibility is already present. But I’ve noticed in the countries that I’ve visited in South America, the reception is strong. Maybe because in many regards, these countries are very much at the beginning of their fight for equality.
KALTBLUT: Xavier Dolan refused to visit Russia for his latest film premiere, explaining this in his YouTube video as «he doesn’t want to come unless the attitude to people who are «different» is changed in Russia». Would you like to come to Russia and shoot some gay people there?
Kevin: I do think it’s important for me to visit countries where the environment for LGBTI is more difficult. That said, I always make sure to be respectful of the law in all the countries that I visit.
KALTBLUT: Tell me about your experience with Kickstarter. Why have you decided to go international?
Kevin: From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to photograph the project in as many cities as I could. But remember, when I first started I was still a student, living in New York City trying to find ways to pay my rent and tuition. So obviously, traveling to the extent that I am now wasn’t an option. And with the Kickstarter, I knew if I wanted to be successful and raise the amount of money that I felt I was going to need, then I was going to have to wait. So I spent two years doing the work on a much smaller scale, and once I felt I had an audience and a body of work that proved my ability, that’s when I decided to do the Kickstarter. It was nerve wracking, because in many regards I was using the Kickstarter as a way to validate the work.
KALTBLUT: The question which I’ve stolen from Beyonce’s music video – what is your aspiration in life?
Kevin: To live a life of with a sense of purpose and duty.
KALTBLUT: Do you have a boyfriend?
Kevin: Nope, very single.
KALTBLUT: How do you imagine your life in 10 years?
Kevin: Building a family with the man I love. Being so regretful that I didn’t manage to ask all these questions personally, while editing the text, I thought that it is always interesting how the contribution of every one is important and helps to change the world. Remember, like in “Dallas Buyers Club” officials are always refractory to everything and anything that may take the wind out of their sails in terms of money, but even a cowboy and transgender can start the change. For me, the story with Kevin is very personal and I see him as a role model for queer community around the world. He does what he likes, doing it good, and tries to develop it and change people’s minds where possible. Maybe you got the talent that you have to get to life right now?