DiversifYA: Peter Monn, part one

PeterPeter Monn is a life coach, author of young adult novels, one half of the online entertainment magazine, raannt, and a Huffington Post Gay Voices guest blogger. Prior to being a life coach and author, he worked as a counselor at an adolescent, residential treatment center. His debut YA novel, The Before Now and After Then, released earlier this year. His favorite pastime is chasing full moons, reading 1940′s pulp mystery novels, gambling in Vegas and reciting movie lines.

1. How do you identify yourself?

I identify myself as gay.  I’ve been out since I was 18 so I’m actually really comfortable with it now, but there was a long time I didn’t feel comfortable saying the word.  I think growing up male in our society, the last thing you want to be called is gay so to actually love myself for being gay took some time.

2. What did it feel like growing up as gay?

Extremely lonely.  I was horribly bullied from the time I was five until I graduated from high school.  In my recent book The Before Now and After Then, I basically told the story of my being bullied through my main character’s eyes and it was extremely cathartic for me to see how it had really affected me.  I’m grateful in that I had tons of support from close friends and family, but they never knew the extent of the bullying and I tried to protect them from knowing the severity of it, especially my mother.  Over time, I became used to the bullying but in the long run, that did more damage because it affected my psyche and the way I interacted with people.  I lacked any kind of self-concept or self-esteem for a very long time.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

The biggest challenge has always been people accepting me for just being me without having the gay part thrown in.  I am not a gay person; I am simply a person who happens to be gay.  It is just a part of who I am.  Other challenges? I hate locker rooms, especially growing up because everyone thought I was looking at them.  I hate having to justify my marriage to straight people who don’t feel that it is the same.  People say that words don’t hurt but words have hurt me most of my life.  We give words a lot of power, but when you hear the same thing over and over again, especially in an ugly tone, you start to believe them and think of yourself in the same way.

Perks? I love being gay today.  It’s so hard for me to hear stories about gay teenagers who kill themselves because I just want to hug them and tell them that it’s going to be ok.  I never dreamed I would have such an amazing life, especially that I would be able to be married to a man, have three dogs and be a writer.  My life is amazing.  I’m not big into this It Gets Better crap.  I think we need to stop promising teenagers it’s going to get better and show them how it’s going to get better.  I think as gay adults we need to be role models and talk to them as if they’re young adults not kids who don’t know anything.  Love and pain feels the same at 15 as it does at 40.  Oh…and we get invited to both sides of everything; the bachelor parties and the bachelorette parties.

4. What do you wish people knew about being gay?

To be honest, I’m not really sure I wish anything.  I kind of stopped feeling like it was my role to educate people on being gay a long time ago.  If it was a gay teenager who wanted advice on coming out or a parent wanting to help their child I would feel completely different and be helpful and I get asked those questions all of the time.  I guess one thing I wish people would do is treat us more respectfully.  There always seems to have to be this discussion about being gay first and then some people are afraid to ask if have a boyfriend or a husband.  Years ago I worked with this teenager who sat down in my office and asked, “What’s your boyfriend’s name?”  She didn’t ask me if I was gay, she assumed I was and I was fine with that.  I loved her honesty and how she was willing to just come out and ask about my boyfriend.  Teenagers are so raw.  I love it.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

I know people get squeamish talking about sex, but the whole top/bottom thing is way overplayed between gay men.  I think in the past, maybe those roles defined someone in the relationship but not today.  There are just as many super masculine men who are bottoms as super feminine men who are tops.  Macho guys don’t just like macho guys and vice versa.  The whole stereotype of gay men has kind of been thrown out with the wash and it’s really allowed a certain amount of renaissance to begin with gay men to redefine themselves and not necessarily by sexual terms.  That being said, most stereotypes are based on some truth so there will always be the funny gay guy who is super effeminate and I have to say, I’m honored to have had some of these guys as my closest friends.  They bring laughter to any situation.

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

I’m currently working on a novel about an awkwardly, almost painfully shy teenage girl, so it was important for me to find a girl like that and spend some time with her, to really get to know what it is like to be inside of her head.  I was able to find such a young lady and I’ve learned so many things I would never have expected.  I think research by just getting to know someone is powerful. In terms of writing gay characters, I think it’s pretty safe because like I said, being gay is just one small part to a person’s whole.  Love is love, it’s just a common thread and really doesn’t know gender.  

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