After 30 years of spinning musical tales that entertain and inspire patrons at nightclubs like Dragstrip 66, DJ Paul V. of Los Angeles decided to compile encouraging stories for and about LGBTQ readers.
He started a blog called “Born This Way,” a collection of real-life childhood memories from a variety of people who grew up gay. And this year, V. (which stands for Vitagliano) realized his dream of turning the blog into a book.
Why did you want to do this book?
The original idea was a book of famous gay people so it would provide some insight. I thought for gay people and gay kids we’ve had so few role models and out people to aspire to. This would be a great way for kids today to know that Ellen DeGeneres or Elton John or Neil Patrick Harris were just kids who went through all the same things you did.
That was in late 2008. I told a few friends about it, but I didn’t do anything with it.
In the fall of 2010 when the rash of suicides happened with the gay kids – it’s interesting how things happen for me and similarly for Dan Savage, who started “It Gets Better.” I had this idea: OK, skip the celebrities, skip the book, start it online so that it will be seen by kids. That was in January 2011. I still had hopes it might be a book but it shifted.
How were the 100 stories selected for the book?
That was tough. Eighty percent of the book comes from people who were on the blog, which at the time had about 600 submissions.
We looked for a lot of different things. We wanted it to represent as far back as it could and different geographic locations. Most of the stories are positive. We didn’t want to browbeat people with the bullying stories. We tried to find as many as we could from outside the U.S.A. and we had to make sure we had enough women represented.
How do you plan to get it to young readers who may benefit from it most?
I believe it’s going to end up in libraries. I think, broadly now, it’s more that parents are going to be the ones to get it in their hands. It’s been like in the top 15 on best parenting books on Amazon. I didn’t expect to see that so quickly. It appeared there right away.
When I started the blog, the response was really quick and really fast. Eighty percent of random emails were actually from parents. I was playing Dr. Phil for awhile. I mean really, this one mother asked how she should deal with thinking her son might be gay. My advice was: A. Unconditional love has no sexuality to it; secondly, tell your child you love them and let them know they can come and talk to you about anything they want. We’re not talking about sexuality at 7 or 10. We’re talking about feelings and attractions.
It’s a slippery slope. It’s hard enough to talk about sex period. I just think the lines of communication need to be open. If you’re a parent you have a chance your child is going to be straight, there’s a chance your child is going to be gay.
I’m a child of the ’70s. The main reason I waited so long to tell my mom is that I had moved away. AIDS was still such a huge thing. My mom worried about me a lot, and I thought, I’m not going to give her one more thing to worry about by coming out. My sisters knew. Coming out should be a topic that’s not brought up with shame. It should be just a factual conversation.
What is the most important idea you want young people to take away from the book?
I want them to take away that they should love themselves for who they are and they should treat their differences as a gift, and they should learn how to take those differences and realize differences should be celebrated. That’s what makes up this melting pot.
Some of the greatest gifts to this culture have been by gay people. They have the potential to be on that list. That comes with a larger responsibility of messages to them when they’re young.
Listen, just hang on. Once you get out of your high school or small town, there’s this huge world waiting for you.
Six decades are represented in the book. Were there major differences in the stories among generations?
It goes back to, can we see ourselves in the media or in the public eye? Who was out and gay in the 1950s? Nobody. Or if they were, it was probably a joke. Even though Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly were never out gay men, I instinctively knew watching them on “Hollywood Squares” at 10, I knew something about that was me. It was a little frightening.
We’ve come such a long way in terms of visibility. It comes down to in each era who the gay people were, and how a gay child could see themselves and feel connected to that imagery.
WHERE TO GET IT
“Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay” by Paul Vitagliano is available at Amazon.com and other booksellers. Paul will be signing books at Book Soup in West Hollywood at 7 p.m. Dec. 5.