"I wouldn't trade the life I have now for anything else, and I know I have this life because I'm proudly gay."

Danny Moreno, 27, works in communications and sings in the Gay Men's Chorus. He's gay, mixed race, and vegan. He lives in California. Photos by Maggie Tauranac.

 

At what age were you aware of your sexuality and gender identity?

I remember being fascinated and often infatuated with boys and men in some of my earliest memories. From having a crush on [Disney's] Aladdin to seeing the other boys change before swimming trips at age 6, I was always aware of my attraction to people of the same sex/gender.

 

Did you have any support from friends, relatives, or mentors? were any of them LGBTQ?

My mom was always incredibly supportive, and my family was loving and accepting of every member, including me. My mom had a gay friend who was partnered to another man, and the two of them became sort of like my gay uncles, starting when I was about 10 or 11. It was great to have gay adults who were happy and healthy in my life. I still see them every couple of years.

I also had the most kickass GSA [Gay Straight Alliance] leader in middle school. She was the government and history teacher, so I saw her in class and during lunch at the GSA. She brought in trans speakers, HIV+ speakers, she showed us documentaries and gay films, and she led great discussions that focused inclusion and education. That GSA changed my life, no question.

 

Did you find representation for your identity?

I remember convincing my mom to get a cable package with Showtime so I could watch Queer as Folk. I would also regularly rent The Object of My Affection (a cheesy 90s flick starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, who played a gay character. *swoon*), The First Wives Club (with the brief but involved lesbian daughter character), and Clueless (with Cher's crush turned gay shopping buddy). I loved seeing other gay people. It made me feel less alone.

 

Do you feel your sexuality is essential to your identity?

Yes, I do. My sexual orientation is about sex in the literal sense: it specifies that I find men sexually attractive. My being gay has led me to my best life. I joined the NYC Gay Men's Chorus in 2012, created lifelong bonds, and became part of an incredible mission. I've attended the True Colors conference in CT (the largest youth LGBTQ conference in the country), and I've inspired my mom to start gender identity education. She wrote a recently released children's book about the time I wanted to be a princess for the school parade. 

I'd like to think that my life would be just as full if I were not gay. I'm sure it would be great, because I have a wonderful loving family and I'm a smart and capable person, but I wouldn't trade the life I have now for anything else, and I know I have this life because I'm proudly gay.

 

 

"As a gay person, I notice when I don't see or speak to other LGBTQ people for days at a time. I notice when someone talks about a child or baby and assumes they'll grow up to be heterosexual."

Danny5.jpg

 

Does your sexuality and gender identity shape your daily life?

Besides who I check out on the subway or while walking around NYC? Yes, I'd say it does. I don't notice my gender identity or sexual orientation impacting my actions or the way I'm treated on a daily basis, but I know that both affect the lens through which I see the world every single day.

As a (mostly) male identified person, I never get harassed or regularly approached by strangers. I'm able to speak up in meetings and conversations without coming across as "bossy" or "bitchy." But I'm confined by masculinity and the fear of rejection by folks who might think I'm "too fem" or "too thin."

As a gay person, I notice when I don't see or speak to other LGBTQ people for days at a time. I notice when someone talks about a child or baby and assumes they'll grow up to be heterosexual. If I see a same sex couple holding hands or being affectionate in a "not gay" neighborhood, maybe I'll walk a bit closer to them to make sure no one gives them a hard time.

 

Have you been open about your sexuality and gender identity at home, school, and in the workplace?

Yes, I've been completely open since I started coming out to friends in middle school. I've been lucky enough to find jobs and communities where being gay is either no big deal or expected (NYC Gay Men's Chorus). I'm planning to move to Spain next year to teach English, possibly to a smaller, less urban area. While I'm super excited, I have some (possibly irrational) reservations about finding a thriving LGBTQ community or even about being open and honest about who I am.

 

Have you experienced homophobia, mistreatment, harassment or discrimination because of your sexuality and gender identity?

Yes, mostly when I was young. In middle school, I would regularly get bullied by this one kid. He was relentless in calling me names and saying I was weak. His taunting was a huge part of why I spent the first year of middle school eating lunch in a secluded stairwell or quietly alone in the library.

Since high school, I've experienced almost no overt or threatening discrimination save for an interesting arc in college. I went to school for musical theatre, so as you'd expect, I was surrounded by gays. I was on track to graduate with honors with one of the "coveted" spots in the audition-based BFA program, and but the other guys in the program were tall, white, straight, and very much the "leading man" type. I was constantly encouraged to bulk up, act more masculine, be more "grounded," sing with gusto. In short, I was encouraged to play a part, to be someone I wasn't.

I remember picking an outfit for my big senior showcase and my professor said, "Well, the thing is... it makes you look kind of..." "GAY?" I filled in the blank for her. She apprehensively, but clearly, confirmed my assumption. I just said. "Welp... I AM gay, oh well."

 

when did you stop eating animal products and why?

I went vegan in August of 2013. I was 24. I had always eaten everything, no dietary restrictions at all. I went gluten-free for about a month, but then it was Thanksgiving and I was like, Eff this.

I remember watching two documentaries on Netflix on a Saturday night: Food Matters (which was educational, but not that influential to me), and the kicker, Vegucated. That second doc completely got me. I will never ever unsee a pig getting bolted in the head and writhing on the floor, surrounded by other terrified and abused pigs just trying to live. The next morning, I went vegan and haven't looked back since.

 

Did you have any support from friends, relatives, or mentors? were any of them vegan?

I stayed up all night doing online research after watching those two docs. I found so many advice columns that said going vegan with a buddy was super helpful, so I asked my roommate, who was pescatarian at the time, if she wanted to go vegan with me.

I told both of my best friends (with whom I enjoyed crazy indulgent meat/dairy foods with very regularly). I can't totally remember their reactions, but they are very supportive now. My mom is also mostly vegan now, largely, she says, because of me.

 

 

"I never thought about what I ate or used or wore, in terms of how those choices affected the lives of animals. Now that I know my choices affect the lives of animals, I choose differently, and I probably always will. In that way, being vegan is an intrinsic part of my identity."

 

Did you find representation for your veganism?

Not that I recall. I read The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone (I know... but hey, I said I was a Clueless fan). Otherwise, I really didn't seek much community.

 

Do you feel being vegan is essential to your identity?

I think the literal dietary preferences aren't essential to my identity, but I do know that the ethical and moral reasons I'm vegan are very important to my identity.

I've always been an animal lover since I was a kid. I wanted to be a veterinarian. We got a dog when I was maybe 9. When we started taking her to the vet, I would see the other sick animals and hear about animals going into surgery or being put down, and I realized I probably couldn't emotionally handle being a vet.

I never thought about what I ate or used or wore, in terms of how those choices affected the lives of animals. Now that I know my choices affect the lives of animals, I choose differently, and I probably always will. In that way, being vegan is an intrinsic part of my identity.

 

Have you experienced mistreatment, mockery, or bullying because of your veganism?

Yes, people love to give me a "hard time." I put that in quotes because it's really just a euphemism for bullying. My true, close friends have quickly learned (because I've had to speak up) that I don't like, enjoy, or tolerate being made fun of for making vegan choices. It's one of those things like, I can make fun of myself and vent and complain, but don't you dare make fun of me, because you really don't know what it's like.

Some friends/coworkers will complain about going to a vegan restaurant, say how gross vegan cheese is, or tell me I make things "difficult" in group settings that involve food. I've gotten to the point where I choose my battles carefully, and I try to make it more about mutual respect than starting a fundamental argument. I'm learning, too.

 

Do you participate in LGBTQ or animal rights activism?

As part of the NYC Gay Men's Chorus, I consider myself to be an LGBTQ activist. I've done lots of extra projects and events through NYCGMC. I've also worked with my mom on her book and a few other events. I think my participation in my middle school GSA instilled a sense of belonging to a community, and also a sense of responsibility for keeping that community alive and well. I want to protect the LGBTQ community by increasing awareness, supporting LGBTQ youth, and educating folks on gender (and how to deconstruct it).

 

What effects do your food choices have on your daily life?

I'm an expert label-reader now. I know the spots where I can order vegan delivery. I know which grocery stores carry the best meat substitutes. I know how to prepare if there's a group outing to a non-vegan restaurant, etc... Yes, this is a life choice that manifests in daily choices and thankfully I've built strong habits to keep things moving.

 

Has being vegan functioned differently at home, school, and in the workplace?

It's easiest at home because I control what I buy, order, and cook. I have to make my veganism known everywhere else, like at a restaurant, for chorus outings, for work lunches, etc... It becomes everyone else's business when I'm not at home because it has to. 

 

DO YOU USE FOOD TO better relate PEOPLE?

My favorite thing to do is take an omnivore to a vegan restaurant and watch them genuinely enjoy something. I try and show them that vegan food is just food. It's not horrible or gross or boring, it's just food. It's also not dead flesh on a plate, so like, what bonus for me :)

 

do you avoid food to better relate to people?

At every work birthday party ever, I just don't eat. I'll carry a cup of water so I have something in my hands, because otherwise I'll get the "why aren't you having anything?" question, inevitably. If anyone asks, I just say I already ate.

 

This interview was conducted in October 2016 via online questionnaire and has been edited.