www.ambiente.us MARCH / MARZO 2007
An Interview with Christopher Lee Nutter
By Herb Sosa
Christopher Lee Nutter is the author of The Way Out: The Gay Manâ€™s Guide to Freedom No Matter if
Youâ€™re in Denial, Closeted, Half In, Half Out, Just Out or Been Around the Block. He has been
shedding new light on the gay experience for over a decade through his ground breaking journalism
in The Village Voice, Details, The Advocate, The New York Times, Vibe, The Gay and Lesbian Review
Worldwide, and many others.
About the book, GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) President Neil Giuliano says
â€œChristopher Nutter shares his personal story with candor and honesty, providing insights and
observations that are sure to help other gay men no matter where they happen to be on their own
So who is this Chris guy, and what does he have to tell
or teach us? Has he figured out the whole gay life thing?
I wanted to know. What he shared with me was insightful,
eloquent, extremely honest and real.
This is his journey so far â€¦
HS- Christopher, you were raised in Birmingham, AL. and
later moved to New York City. Can you tell me your
observations on the differences or similarities on being
gay in each?
CLN- The funny thing is that I donâ€™t really have a proper
perspective on the difference because I came out of the
closet simultaneous to my move up North, so I have never
known a gay life down South. So though Iâ€™m 100% out of
the closet back home, my whole life down there is still
100% straight. All my friends are my straight friends I
grew up with, and every time I go down itâ€™s for a wedding
or a birth or something like that.
Christopher Lee Nutter photo by Atila Marquez
Itâ€™s true that Iâ€™ve had a gay life in Miami having spent so much time there, but as you know, Miami
is not the South. I think I can say, however, that being gay in New York, and especially Manhattan, is a
very visible, standard part of the experience here, and it is totally expected that people are gay or can be
gay and that gay people are around and they can look like any type of person. I think in the suburbs
where I grew up in the South itâ€™s a totally different dynamic: I think everyone is assumed to be
straight and that being out and gay is different and exotic. And I donâ€™t think itâ€™s very homophobic,
per se, where I come from in the South because I hail from an educated and affluent world and that
world has moved a lot with the times. I canâ€™t speak for the more rural aspects of Alabama. Iâ€™m
told Birmingham has a very big gay population though.
HS- In The Way Out you speak about the process and steps you went thru while coming out - Girlfriends,
school, reading, religion, work, the gym, etc. Tell me about this, and where they effective?
CLN- I think the relevance to my various routes to realization and acceptance of my nature is that each
step was one step on the way to the truth. In other words, trying to force myself to be straight via hiding
behind a girlfriend or hiding within religion helped me learn that that would never change me. Living in
the allegedly totally straight society of school and work taught me to trust my own experience of truth
rather than rely on what was being said around me. Spending a lot of time at the gym helped me
compensate for my fears and insecurities and thus enabled me to become more authentically confident
in who I am on every level. So I think what has to be understood is that every route in life is right because
every route leads eventually to the same conclusion, which is that you are who you are, not who society â
€“ gay or straight â€“ tells you who you are. Understanding this helps me look upon other people and
their routes with understanding and compassion, even if it seems in direct contradiction to my own truth
because in the end it really isnâ€™t.
HS- Many young persons have a tough time identifying their sexual orientation due to the lack of role
models. Was this your experience? What can be done the help with this?
CLN- That was my experience, but that was only because I was closed to knowledge that other gay
people existed and had existed. If I had wanted to know about Oscar Wilde, Gore Vidal, Andy Warhol or
Alexander the Great I could have found out. Also I think if I had not so firmly believed that I was the only
gay person in the world besides the kind of clownish and tragic closet cases represented in the media
at the time I would have naturally sniffed out others around me. I didnâ€™t do these things because I
was insistent on feeling all alone. And so I was.
However, that experience is now ancient history. You absolutely would have to be living in a cave in
Afghanistan to not know that lots of gay people exist and that they do everything in the world straight
people do. It is still, now and forever, a fact of the matter that humans only see what they are ready to
see and which confirms their existing storylines, so gay people today who have not truly understood and
embraced their sexuality can still look at George Michael, Barney Frank or Melissa Etheridge and not
take any inspiration from them. But if you live in the modern world, you know these powerful and brilliant
gay people exist. So what Iâ€™m saying is that people are in charge of what they see, so if unrealized
gay people of all kinds want role models, theyâ€™ll have them. If they donâ€™t want role models, they
wonâ€™t. In the meantime the only thing out people can do to help them is to be as out as possible,
which a lot of people are doing.
HS- New York, like Miami, is a definite melting pot of society. How, if at all, has the cultural diversity of
NYC affected you? Does this diversity help or hurt the LGBT community in being understood or accepted?
CLN- The cultural diversity of New York and also Miami has expanded me in ways I could never truly
quantify. I grew up in a very homogenized society in the South â€“ everybody was white, protestant, and
prosperous. Living in New York exposed me to the world because the entire world is represented in New
York. So after all these years Iâ€™m still a Marcia Brady suburban boy, no doubt. But Iâ€™m also now
part Puerto Rican, part Brazilian, part European, and, thankfully, part black because living in New York I
became receptive to everything they do and feel that I was blocked off to by virtue of the bubble I grew up
in, and because of the ancient tradition of extreme racism in the South which made us all losers. So in
this process I discovered that there was so much more to me reflected in these people and brought to
life in my relationships with them. When I go back home now and I listen to my own accent it is the
weirdest hodgepodge of influences you can imagine.
And I think the fact that gay culture is so much more
integrated than straight culture because we come from
literally every back ground and form our own mini
societies is one of gay societyâ€™s greatest attributes.
Itâ€™s funny I hear a lot about how gay society is supposed
to be very segregated, but the gay society Iâ€™ve lived
in has always been extremely diverse. Iâ€™m never in a
room full of all white gay guys. Never. So what all this
exposure does is enlighten you to an understanding of
the universal nature of the human experience. It also
makes you very socially sophisticated â€“ Iâ€™m never thrown
off by anyoneâ€™s accent, rituals, or viewpoints because at Miami Beach Winter Party â€“ 1998, Nutter on far
this point, Iâ€™ve seen quite a bit. I also discovered that I
could have Cuban food every day for the rest of my life and never get bored.
HS- One of the ways you tell about dealing with your sexuality was thru reading & writing. Was this an
easier way to communicate, vs. spoken words? How?
CLN- Absolutely. What I found was that what I could not say, I could write, and with a much greater
degree of authenticity and eloquence. Writing basically forces me to be honest because when Iâ€™m
staring at a blank screen, I know if something is a lie because it is staring right back at me. However if Iâ
€™m speaking to someone, Iâ€™m often too caught up in what Iâ€™m afraid theyâ€™re going to think
or what I want to get from them to detect what is less than truthful. Also when Iâ€™m writing I have time
to vet what Iâ€™m saying for its truthfulness, but when youâ€™re speaking you canâ€™t sit back and
think for ten minutes about whether what you just said is really, deeply true. So that was why The Way
Out turned out so personal and autobiographical. Besides the fact that knowledge means nothing
unless its directly experienced and so I really couldnâ€™t pass on any wisdom unless I had indicated
that I had lived it myself, the fact of the matter is that as soon as I began writing the book I felt an
instantaneous desire to be mercilessly honest about myself because the blank screen demands it.
HS- Tell me about coming out in a national arena. Had you come out to your family/loved ones when the
Details article was published in 1994?
CLN- I had not come out to anyone before the Details article about my life inside the closet hit the stands.
The funny thing was that, having never been published before, I had no idea of the power of the national
media, so, if you can imagine this, it never occurred to me that anyone other than my friends and family
would read it. Thatâ€™s the truth. I thought of it as a letter to my loved ones. So when both the
magazine and I began to receive letters and calls I suddenly understood that you reach great numbers of
people through the media. I just didnâ€™t have a concept of this before. But the good thing is that I
learned that there is power in reaching many people in one swoop because both you and your reader
discover that you have so much in common. That brings you together. It was scary at first to be so
exposed publicly, but now Iâ€™m used to it. The great thing about coming out in a public way is that is
that you donâ€™t have to come out individually to people over and over againâ€“ when you do it publicly
itâ€™s taken care of in one swoop. Do you know that never in my life did I have to go to someone and
say, â€œIâ€™m gay.â€� Never. And yet Iâ€™m as out as it gets.
HS- Fitting in is such a huge part of adolescence and identifying who we will be as adults. Did you try to
fit in? Was blending in and following a physical and characteristic mold of what you perceived as gay,
easier? What were the positives and negatives of this for you?
CLN- Growing up, I was dedicated to fitting in and looking the part was the easiest way to do it. However I
found in the South that I could look arguably straight, but it didnâ€™t make me straight, so I couldnâ€™t
really fit in, in a way that was acceptable to the well being of my psyche.
Nutter & friends at Miami Beach Winter Party, 1997
Fitting in was much easier in gay life, especially because I had been a gym queen for ten years before I
even knew what that was! However the same process followed through, which is that I discovered that I
couldnâ€™t truly fit in to the gay ideal because I am not the gay ideal. Nobody is. And the more you try to
become an â€œidealâ€� the more uncomfortable you get once the high of external acceptance wears
off. Thatâ€™s because an â€œidealâ€� is programming that is poison to your being.
Interestingly I think thatâ€™s what makes my book unique in the canon of spirituality and gay specific
spirituality is that I was, by all reasonable ways of measuring it, living the gay ideal for years, so I can talk
about it from that vantage point. After all, I was an attractive, 20 something, built bartender and party boy
living in Chelsea, partying at circuit parties on South Beach in February and sleeping with gorgeous
Cuban trainers I met on the gym floor at Crunch on Washington Ave. I mean, if that isnâ€™t a very
specific gay ideal, I donâ€™t know what is. I loved it for a while because I was high from my successes.
But I was the one who woke up with myself every morning knowing that I was not that â€“ I was scared,
insecure, defensive, and terrified of being exposed as a fraud. So again it was very positive because I
learned that that â€˜gay idealâ€™ doesnâ€™t exist because I walked through it myself. Thatâ€™s why I
encourage gay men to go for whatever their heart longs for because it will lead them to the truth. And
thatâ€™s why no matter how any individual may interpret my book, I absolutely do not stand in judgment
on contemporary gay life because it is as valid a route to higher awareness as any. And where would I
be if I hadnâ€™t taken that one myself? If I had never let myself try to be that ideal, Iâ€™d still be longing
for it in my heart today, but too old to do it.
HS- Do you have siblings, and if so, what would you tell your younger brother about coming out in
Birmingham, today? What resources, if any, do you see available today that you did not have?
CLN- I do have an older brother who is straight (and who, by the way, loves me and supports me
emotionally and materially in way that is absolutely out of a dream). But if I had a younger gay brother in
Birmingham today I would tell him to focus on accepting himself, and that in that process he will naturally
draw on to him people who accept him too. The main message I would get across to him is that he has
the power to create any kind of life that he likes because the life that he lives and the opportunities and
limits that he sees are simply reflections of what he believes, and what he knows.
The most obvious external resource that any young gay person has today that I didnâ€™t have is the
internet. I mean, it literally gives back to you what you type in. So if youâ€™re looking for help, youâ€™ll
get it. If youâ€™re looking for support, youâ€™ll get it. If youâ€™re looking for sex, youâ€™ll get it. With
the internet, isolation as a gay person is impossible.
HS- Many of the intellectual and artistic and identifiable members of our LGBT community were lost in
the 80â€™s & 90â€™s due to AIDS â€“ practically a whole generation wiped out. Were you aware of
this back then, and how, if at all, did this affect your reality?
CLN- No, I was not aware of this at all. But now I understand that the loss of that generation left many gay
men orphans without mentors. I am unusual in that I always sought out older gay men as friends and
advisors, but because there were so few around, and because there is such a chasm between younger
and older gay men due to the poison of sexual politics and sexual power, it really required a focused
intention on my part. So I think it affected the reality of the next two generations because there were not
many people around to pass along wisdom gained from the gay experience. So like a lot of gay men my
age, in the end I had to be my own mentor.
However it is amazing as I get older to discover that I myself am now around to be that voice for the gay
generation below me and Iâ€™m always thrilled to discover that a teenager has read The Way Out,
which I see is the case on MySpace. Interestingly, they are so much more advanced that thereâ€™s a
lot they donâ€™t need from me. In fact I think the only thing I can really say to them is look, you are much
more powerful than you realize, and yes there is this thing called â€˜gay lifeâ€™ that you are going to
discover, but it is not bigger than you and you can live anyway you like.
HS- You talk about religion and politics and other â€œcreative outletsâ€� as points of inspiration or
escape for you in dealing with your sexuality. Do you believe this was helpful? Did either offer you
inclusion or an identity?
CLN- Well, I donâ€™t look back on my intention to escape from my sexuality as something effective or
advisable. It did provide temporary relief from the pain associated with my own self rejection. I think if I
could do it all over again I would just start accepting myself early on and I wouldnâ€™t have had to try to
escape my feelings, which is, in the end, impossible anyway.
A- Bars, drugs & the gym seem as a right of passage for many in our community, especially in places
like NYC and here is South Florida. Is this a problem, or just part of the process? How can this be
CLN- No, nothing is a problem. And the culture we live in is simply a mirror of our own beliefs and
desires. So you canâ€™t change a culture in order to try to change people - nor is judging it to be â
€œwrongâ€� in some way helpful. Obviously youâ€™d have to be in strict denial to not see what is
dysfunctional about the bar, gym and drug scene in the gay world â€“ I mean, when death by steroids or
suicide from a crystal crash are the norm, you know something is not working! And when people started
dying on the dance floor, I got out of the scene. But it all comes down to the fact that people need to live
what is going on in their mind in order to discover what they need to discover. So if they need to be a
gym bunny taking E and falling in love with different guys every weekend, they need to do that. If theyâ
€™re sixty and still doing that, then they need to do that because experience is the only way to learn. If
they need to be at the gym seven days a week downing supplements trying to get to 250, so be it
because their soul is longing for this experience in order to know it and grow from it. So I do think its part
of the process. The problem would be if gay men were not allowed to do it. The process will modify or
change only when gay men themselves are no longer as interested in it. My only message is that once
you are done with it, there is more to discover.
HS- Who were your LGBT role models, where they helpful, and why?
CLN- Well, I remember when Barney Frank came out and thinking, wow, a United States congressman
is gay. That was very helpful (And Iâ€™ve since become friends with Barney through my book and that is
an incredible thing for me). Greg Louganis inspired me too because he showed that athletes were gay,
which, in the 80s, was not commonly understood. Itâ€™s so prehistoric to talk about now!
After I came out I developed personal role models in the form of mentors. My good friend and Miami
Beach author David Leddick and my editor at the Village Voice Richard Goldstein both became role
models because they had been living a free life for decades before I had ever even heard of being gay
and free. So I took many cues from them and bathed in their wisdom.
But you have to be careful with role models: though you take great inspiration, you must maintain your
freedom of mind or you will also take on their personal set of limits. And older role models can have very
powerful personalities, so you have to be vigilant when it comes to taking from them what seems right to
you, and discarding what does not seem right.
HS- Has becoming a national public face for coming out helped you personally/family/professionally?
Should we have LGBT role models and what should they be/show us/inspire â€“ and how?
CLN- Being a public face for coming out has given me a career. So thatâ€™s helpful! Itâ€™s also
brought me into a greater aura of realness with people â€“ after all, if youâ€™ve read my book, I canâ
€™t really be too fake with you because you know the deal.
As for LGBT role models in general, I think the main thing they should do is only pass on messages of
empowerment: if you are a role model and your instinct is to say something negative, judgmental,
limiting or disempowering to someone, please keep it to yourself. Only pass on what will help people
grow into limitlessness and power. Listen, this isnâ€™t easy. Weâ€™re all drawn to projecting our
own limits onto others. But to be a good mentor or role model you must zip it when it comes to saying
anything disempowering. When I speak, I keep it to one simple message: there is no power in your life
greater than your own. Once Iâ€™ve said that, Iâ€™ve said everything, and whatever limits Iâ€™ve got,
Iâ€™ve kept them to myself and not infected others.
HS- Any opinions on same-sex unions/marriage, adoption or other LGBT issues being tossed around
nationally? Any feelings on our countries current state or future, as it relates to our community?
CLN- Gay civil rights are as inevitable as any other form of progress in our country and this is absolutely
a good thing. Also I certainly think that we should all check ourselves when it comes to our instinct to
bow down before the â€œpolitical realitiesâ€� of homophobia and accept the kind of pseudo-first class
citizenship that many, though not all, Democrats offer. I mean, can you imagine Martin Luther King
agreeing to allow black people in some white restaurants, and not others? No. We have to be the ones
who see things the way they are â€“ believe me, straight people wonâ€™t, and canâ€™t do it for us. We
have to be the ones with the vision.
That said, no individual should wait around for the government or organized religion to make them right
or valid. You are right, perfect and valid regardless of what any supreme court, senator, minister, pope,
rabbi, mullah or presidential candidate may say. It doesnâ€™t matter what they say! And when they say
â€œGod thinks homosexuality is a sinâ€�, just respond in kind in your mind with, â€œNo, God doesnâ
€™t think that, you think that.â€� And their power over you goes away with just a thought.
HS- Are you involved in a romantic relationship? If so, how does this play into your public persona?
CLN- If youâ€™re asking if Iâ€™m single, the answer is yes. However I do have what I call my â
€˜primary male relationshipâ€™ with a wonderful and amazing guy named Sagi who I love so much I
canâ€™t even begin to tell you. The reason we donâ€™t call each other boyfriends is that we are honest
about who we are with each other and do not force our relationship into a category of any kind. Funny
thing is that while our relationship does not fit into existing and familiar categories, it is one of the most
meaningful and deep relationships Iâ€™ve ever had because Iâ€™ve learned how to be close to a man
within it. Iâ€™ve learned how to let go of my defenses and get on the track to loving fearlessly. Sagi and
I are very exposed with one another and itâ€™s not easy. But it is very healing. And this relationship is
making it possible for me to have a deep relationship with a guy with whom Iâ€™m also having sex,
which is the next level for me. I think having sex in a way that truly exposes you is the undiscovered
country not just for gay people, but for all people. And Iâ€™m interested in going there.
The only effect of being single or not on my public persona is that I have at points been self conscious
about having written a self help book and being a human being working through normal and typical
sexual issues in real time. I guess I worried for a while that I couldnâ€™t be sexually attractive to
someone when I am so exposed in my book â€“ I mean, I canâ€™t pretend to be anything anymore
because itâ€™s all out there. But amazingly Iâ€™ve leaped over that recently and, with the help of Sagi,
realized that being real can be very exciting and very attractive. I love Sagiâ€™s realness and Iâ€™m not
afraid of my own with him. I think my old much more superficial self was worried about not being able to
rely on being phony in order to be sexually alluring. But Iâ€™ve kind of processed through that old
thinking now and I donâ€™t see things that way anymore, which is quite a leap, let me tell you.
HS- You are currently on a book tour promoting your book The Way Out, which you have described as the
painful psychological process that you underwent before and after coming out. Where are you
personally today with these same issues?
CLN- Well Iâ€™m always evolving so Iâ€™m actually different than who I was when I wrote the book a
year and a half ago. I would say that Iâ€™m still very hard at work to heal myself and to love myself
entirely. I will also say that Iâ€™ve gotten much better at it.
HS- You will be in Miami Beach to promote your book next month. Been here before? Any opinions on
gay life in Miami? Latinos/Hispanics?
CLN- Yes Iâ€™ve spent a lot of time in South Beach over the last eleven years. For the first few years I
came down to party. Then after I turned 30 I would go down and stay by myself and treat it like a
sabbatical and an escape from New York in the winterâ€¦though I love Miami in the summer just as
much. Now Iâ€™m coming down as a self help author on book tour. The one consistency is that Iâ
€™ve always stayed at my good friend Davidâ€™s home on Flamingo Drive which, to me, is the most
beautiful house in the world. I donâ€™t care what crowd is currently there either â€“ it is always beautiful
and wonderful and romantic to me and I canâ€™t get enough. It is my second love outside of Manhattan.
And of course as a born and bread white boy from Alabama Iâ€™m perennially fascinated by and drawn
to Latinos. How could I not be?
HS- What can the world expect from Christopher Lee Nutter? Any new projects on the horizon for you?
CLN- Iâ€™m currently at work on my next book which Iâ€™m actually doing with a collaborator who is a
renowned trauma therapist. Itâ€™s going to be a book on creativity and itâ€™s a revolutionary book, no
doubt about it. Iâ€™m extremely excited about it.
As for what to expect from me, I would say to expect me to be saying the most empowering thing that can
occur to me any time, and for me to be broadcasting the message to as many people as I possibly can.
The journey Christopher covers in The Way Out is but a window into a particular period of his life - ever
evolving, ever growing. He is honest, stripped and direct in his delivery. He does not preach, rather
shares what worked and didnâ€™t â€“ for him. When we speak of role models, many times we think of
athletes, movie stars or historic figures. Christopher Lee Nutter is the real thing. Christopher shows us
a face, spirit and person of substance, thought and depth. His written words will definitely help and
inspire most who read them. His honesty and journey thru life will empower many more. I look forward
to hearing and reading a lot more from Chris, and joining him on what will definitely be a life of growth,
reflection and sharing of what he learns along the way. Christopher Lee Nutter is what real role models
are made of.
Note: On April, 5, 2007, Christopher Lee Nutter will sign copies of his book, The Way Out, at Books &
Books, which is located at 933 Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, Florida.
He can be reached at: www.christopherleenutter.com
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