Origins of Love
Born This Way visualizes preteen queerness
by Jim Provenzano
Paul Vitagliano's Born This Way, a collection of short essays, many with telling pre-teen photos of the subjects from grade school, visualizes what many of us have always known, that our homosexuality was known to us, and shown to others, before we even knew it ourselves. He'll be visiting San Francisco's Books Inc on Thursday, January 17, to talk about the mini-phenomenon his blog and book have created.
"The original concept was in book form in my imagination," said Vitagliano from his home in Los Angeles.
"I didn't do anything with it until January 2011," he added. "I did a little bit online. This was after the rash of gay teenagers who committed suicide that were reported. Much in the way that it inspired Dan Savage with his It Gets Better campaign, I wanted to do a variation."
Vitagliano, also known as DJ Paul V. in LA's club scene, said that the original concept was to showcase the preteen lives of famous LGBTQ people, but he realized that expanding the profiles to people from all walks of life, and accept open submissions, would be a better idea.
"Nobody chose to be gay, and these gay people of note were just like you are; they went through the same fear and shame as kids."
Wanting to also provide "a level of aspiration," Vitagliano did request submissions from some celebrities. "But then the blog happened and I realized it didn't have to be famous people."
Since then, the blog, www.BornThisWayBlog.com has accumulated more than 600 posts. The book is limited to about 100 short essays and photos selected from the blog, and formatted in a small size to resemble a children's book.
"Kids need to see the messages," said Vitagliano. "It all took off very quickly."
Of the book's editing process, "We knew there's no way we could get all the submissions in," said Vitagliano. "Knowing we had limited space, we wanted to make it the size of a children's book. We also tried to make is as balanced as possible, with people from different decades and locations. We wanted a wide range of stories."
While the blog in its fascinating number of posts has what Vitagliano called "a lot more 'warts and all' stories," the book is focused on mostly uplifting tales. "We tried to make sure there's a nice payoff even after homophobic attacks," he said.
Along with the majority of positive media responses to the book, Vitagliano said he had to counter a few critics who claimed that the personal photos were exploiting stereotypical imagery of effeminacy in preteen boys and a butch nature in girls who later grew up as lesbians.
"My response was that we should declare our fabulousness," said Vitagliano. "For every photo of the boy with a hand on his hip, there's a class photo that's much more subtle; everything is in the face. Let's celebrate that we were so unselfconscious as kids. Our nature got to shine through before we mis-learned that those feelings were wrong."
For Vitagliano, the array of photos shared by the hundreds of LGBT people "captures the true essence of who we were. The messages we got when we were young was never good, it was always followed by negativity. That's why we self-censor at some point."
In many cases, that once-free openness, that innate fabulousness, is obviously clear in Born This Way.
Vitagliano will be at Books Inc., 2275 Market Street, on Thursday, January 17, at 7:30pm. 864-6777. www.booksinc.net