Logo Click BACK to return to Basecamp
Lost Teachers
Search Info
White beveled edge

Meet Stephen

Stephen Archive



Product of Suburbia, Child of the New World

When my family and I left the suburbs of San Francisco twenty years ago, we moved to Atlanta where the five of us settled into a split-level house for the next fourteen years. While American suburbia is a strange blend of contradictions, somewhere underneath its protective shelter, between cross-country road trips and local fundraisers, you can learn something very profound ,and very natural about yourself.

Like most people in the U.S., my distant ancestors were immigrants, and, though my parents and grandmother say that we have Germanic, Scots-English roots, I was not raised with a strong sense of our original cultural identity. Throughout years of living in the U.S., my ancestors gradually shed their old customs to adopt the new values and ways of life here. And now, generations upon generations later, I sit writing to you not knowing who they were.

A few years ago when I was interning with the AFL-CIO, I worked with a diverse group of students who were asked to speak about their ethnic identity. Some of the many ethnicities mentioned were mulatto, Asian American, Islamic, Latino, Chicano, and Black. When it was my turn to speak, I could have easily made some reference to my ancestor's roots, but it felt more honest for me to say that I did not identify with a particular ethnicity. Admitting that at the time seemed kind of sad, like I had lost something that was important or, perhaps, that my sense of self was somehow more shallow than these other students who had a rich, informed sense of their families and cultures.

Since then, I have learned that there are other ways to construct cultural identity, and that while my knowledge of my ancestral roots is limited, the concept of family and ethnicity extends far beyond blood ties. I write that because, while I grew up in suburbia, I also grew up gay.

Fortunately, I did not live through many of the atrocities that many gay/lesbian youth confront in the U.S. Nevertheless, I did experience damaging periods of ridicule, self-censorship, and losing friends. Those are some of the difficult consequences of being different. Through the difficult times, however, I developed a profound awareness of honesty and personal respect.

The combination of being gay and living outside of the U.S. has been an interesting, if sometimes difficult, experience, too. While there is more to me than being gay, I inevitably approach foreign travel and cultural differences as a gay American. By this, I mean that I bring with me a rare sense of liberalism, personal freedom, and independence, and a sensibility about gender identity.

In 1996, I spent four months living in Mérida, Venezuela, and, in 2000, spent seven months in Lima, Peru. From these travels, I see that the New World is born from a mix of contradictions--colonialism, persecution, progressive thinking, and struggles for independence. I also see that across North and South America today, very different cultures have emerged: in some, liberty is taken for granted; in others, it is still a distant goal.

During my time abroad, my friends and I had to confront a very traditional and rigid set of social customs (like those of Catholicism and machismo). Although being gay in Venezuela and Peru is noticeably more difficult than it is in the U.S., we all face the same stigmas and fight the same stereotypes. In so doing, we experience life similarly and can identify immediately on a very basic level. Isn't that what cultural identity and ethnicity are about?

I believe ethnicity comes from the people, the race, and the culture from which one derives a sense of history and self. I share this with my parents and brothers. However, I also share a part of my identity, my ethnicity, with a long history of people who come from different cultures, speak different languages, and share different political histories. It is a family of people that extends beyond the boundaries of nationality and race but one with which I share a similar social history: a family which, among others, includes writers such as Oscar Wilde, actresses such as Ellen Degeneres, economists such as John M. Keynes, politicians such as J. Edgar Hoover, and activists such as Candace Gingrich.

And so, I suppose I have changed my views somewhat since that time I was asked to talk about my ethnic origins. I can no longer say, nor do I feel, that I lack a cultural identity or an ethnicity, for I derive a sense of self from being gay. I have never been one to argue whether one is born gay, or if one is raised that way. I just know it's the way I am, and after years of wanting to be different, I know I am happiest just letting myself be.


Please email me at: stephen@ustrek.org


!--LINKS TO OTHER DISPATCHES--> Stephanie - Watch as the largest oil company crumbles at my feet!
Daphne - We've got borax. We've got rat feces. We've got America's meat factories
Jennifer - A suitcase full of travels! It's Trekker Jennifer
Rebecca - How would you like that community? Sunny-side up?
Making A Difference - America's corporate battlefield claims another victim: the car consumer
Stephen - When Americans could live together in solidarity
Stephanie - Triangle Shirt Factory #9 going up in flames!
Rebecca - One heroic woman that no one will honors