The “nature vs. nurture” debate has been raging since before gay rights advocates were even officially organizing. Now, a new blog is looking to bolster the argument that same-sex attraction is an inherent, organic facet of people’s character. The website is called Born This Way, a name borrowed from a disco song performed by Carl Bean, not from Lady Gaga’s new chartbuster. The concept is simple: Users submit a photo from their childhood that reveals an early demonstration of not-quite-straight behavior or self-identification. A brief story tracking the innocent roots of the child’s LGBT future accompanies each snapshot.
The creator of Born This Way, Paul V. from Los Angeles, only launched the blog the second week of January, but it’s already spread like wildfire, thanks in part to a virtual thumbs-up from Dan Savage, who complimented the site on his own blog. From there, it garnered praise and press from The Advocate, Towleroad, and even El País, one of the most influential Spanish-language news sources online.
The site’s traffic grew exponentially, Paul says. “It was like watching a gas pump—ding, ding ding ding—the numbers kept turning over. It was insane.”
Paul is now taking advantage of all of the attention to communicate his fundamental message that members of the LGBT community should be proud to be true to themselves because they didn’t have a choice in the assignment of their sexuality.
Gay people have never really been allowed to celebrate their childhood or how they felt. I think that when you’re reading [these posts], you’re seeing yourself. Some postings that I’ve put up, it’s almost like the story mirrors mine. I think it’s cathartic, I think it’s self-affirming, and I think it just gives people a sense that there are other people just like them.
Yet for all of the positive reaction he has received for Born This Way—which launched a Spanish-language version at the end of January—Paul has also received significant criticism. Some readers accuse the website of encouraging warped views of gender by suggesting that all boys who played “make-believe” in dresses are gay and all girls who played “boy sports” or didn’t like dolls are lesbians.
Paul says that’s an unfair assessment of his project. He explained:
I try to reiterate to people who say I’m spreading stereotypes that gay people come in all shades of masculinity and femininity, just like straight people. However, [some male users] do submit their photos of themselves in dresses or feminine poses. Those are their photos and their stories, and they are telling us the truth about themselves. There’s no discussion about that.
In many of the posts, the written story seems to be more important and insightful than the photo. Some of the pieces are particularly powerful, humorously and poignantly recalling the users’ first realizations that they were different from their classmates.
Take, for example, a story by a man named Arthur:
In 1st grade, I would chase down and kiss Kevin on the playground. He didn’t really like it, and the other kids would tease him when he got kissed, but I didn’t see anything wrong with it. These days this would be called “not respecting boundaries.” … Later in grade school, the kids started to develop more accurate vocabularies and started to call me “fag.” … Other contributors to this blog wish they had a name for what they were when they were growing up. I had a name, and I didn’t like it.
Paul’s mission with Born This Way is to ensure that kids like Arthur don’t feel like they’re the only one experiencing complicated feelings that much of society still declares less than normal.
I want these kids who are feeling the bullying or the sadness or the alienation to see themselves in the stories of the people who came before them and to realize that they can make it through, too. We can’t change what happened to us—the past is the past—but we can try to shape the future.