Editor's Note: You've seen Steven Colbert's "Better Know a Lobbyist," but our version is so much gayer! Each weekend, we spotlight a different TBP contributor. In case you've missed any of our previous interviews, I've got links at the end of the post.
This week we're spotlighting one of our more outspoken contributors, Eric Leven. Eric is one of a new generation of gay men using new media to agitate, educate and organize. He is, in the words of Joe Jervis, creator of the massively popular blog Joe.My.God., "one of the brightest stars of young gay activism in NYC." By day Eric works as a story producer for reality and documentary programs. On nights and weekends he blogs, writes and films with the goal of empowering gay men and creating a greater sense of community unity. He is creator of the blog KnuckleCrack.
Follow me after the jump for Eric's comments about coming out, Hannakuh, and the joys of living in New York.
1. How did you get involved with TBP?
I got involved with TBP when Bil Browning contacted me after a Safe Sex PSA I wrote, produced and directed hit the gay bloggosphere and was considered "controversial." I had already begun writing my blog, KnuckleCrack, which began as a journal during a brief time of unemployment but quickly evolved into my passions toward gay history, gay empowerment, safe sex, HIV/AIDS, equal rights and random anecdotes about being a twenty-something unapologetically gay hairy-man chasing New Yorker. Bil Browning welcomed me aboard. Michael Crawford slapped me a blogger-to-blogger high-five and I've been happy to be here since!
2. What was your coming out experience like?
My coming out experience may or may not have been much like any other upper-middle class suburban teenage Jew from New Jersey's: Tumultuous. Same-sex attraction or being gay was nothing I wanted nor wanted to be a part of. I was 14 and 15 years old realizing I was gay and stressed out to the point of a mouth pock-marked with canker sores, a mind full of unbearable depression and fantasies of suicide. Often times I'd come home from school, slam the door shut and beg my mind or god for a change of mindset through a face streaming with tears. Being gay, or the fate of being gay, was the first thought that left my mind as I drifted off to sleep and the first thought that visited me when I opened my eyes in the morning. The walls of my High School were finite and inescapable and I was already dealing with the Italian kids calling me "faggot" for no other reason than being short. Coming out was not a foreseeable option. It was the same story at home. Even though my parents are proud, creative, supportive free-thinking liberal democrats I was in no way prepared to bare the secret I so desperately clutched inside my thunder storming head. I had no want for them to carry the weight of my troubles. Not at least until I was out of their house and on my own feet.
Of course, though, this all happened during the emerging household use of a dial-up modem and what I think was AOL version 2 or 3.0. My parents both worked and every day after school I had at least an hour or an hour and a half to myself where I'd creep downstairs, flick on the computer and through shaking hands and a dry mouth look at pictures of naked men, masturbate and turn off the computer no sooner than my mind turned on a ravenous sense of guilt. Yet, after awhile, this practice became a routine, and the more I searched, the less guilty I felt. Through the computer screen and the dreadfully slow dial-up Internet I would learn that gay is anything from lithe, smooth and young to older, burly and hairy. I would learn that gay is anything from men who wear dresses to men who wear leather and absolutely everything in between. Somewhere within it all I soon found a sense of identity and what I now know of today as Pride. My confidence rebuilt itself around the idea and the fact that I wasn't alone and there were thousands like me. After the 10 or 15 minute uploads, I would look at pictures of men kissing, holding each other, having sex with one another or just simply cuddling with one another and it boggled my mind that two men, so obvious in their manhood could be so confident in their liking of one another and I thought that I, too, could be just like this. And so the days would follow as would the routine. Teachers, desks, teenagers, gym class, the sound of locker doors slamming, a 3 o'clock bell, a bus ride home and running downstairs to investigate my feelings. Sooner than later the daily torments ended, my mouth stopped being a canker sore mine field and I resigned to myself that I might be gay but that I would wait until I was in college, some place where I could be away from it all and take my time, my own time, to make my own decisions, without the pressure of others, and finally make advancements toward a life which drove a truth through my brain sharper and heavier than any hard metal railroad spike.
By winter break of my Freshman year of college I told my best straight friends as a group that I was gay. Their first reaction, God bless 'em was, "Why did you wait so long? Who did you think we were? We're your friends."
That summer I began telling my family.
And by 27, I've told everyone.
3. You seem to be very passionate about advocating for queer youth. What drives your advocacy?
4. What is your favorite part of living in New York?
Often times New Yorkers kind of forget that they live in New York, yet to live in New York is often the single reason many people move to New York! Everything! Being in the heart of it all! Intellectualism, inspiration around every corner. The endless opportunity for adventure, experiences, the what-happens-when, a feeling of connectivity, a sense of community, double-dutch jump roping concrete summers and hands-stuffed-in-pockets thick jacketed winters with hot coffee and brisk walks to destinations. Lights, towers, elevators, escalators, sidewalks, subways, cabs, parks, bars, clubs, people, people in your way, people in a rush, people without homes, people with millions, cafes, restaurants, delis, bodegas, vegan, vegetarian, veggie-light, burger joints, 5 star steakhouses and pizza at 4:30AM!
Geez, you know, I can type all that and yet even still, just 2 years after being a permanent New York resident I find comfort in "laying low" and not going out sometimes during the weekend. ;)
5. What are your favorite holiday traditions?
Ha! Reminding people that not everyone celebrates Christmas and having holiday break off from work and traveling. Definitely, dancing until the sun comes up on New Years Day.
6. During this holiday season, what are you most thankful for?
I always say the same three things: Hot water, shoes, and a wildly supportive family of parents, siblings and friends.
Check out previous interviews with TBP Contributors
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Rev. Irene Monroe