US: ‘Gay,’ ‘Femme,’ ‘Nonbinary’: How Identity Shaped the Lives of These 10 New Yorkers

THE WORDS WE USE to identify ourselves can give insight into our values, our personality, our appearance, our profession and our passions.

But identity is complex, and is becoming even more so as the vernacular of L.G.B.T.Q. identity continues to evolve.

Last month, as people from all over the world came to New York City to celebrate WorldPride, The New York Times asked readers to, in ten words or less, tell us who they are.

We had submissions ranging from a 34-year-old Disney-obsessed, transgender woman to a 63-year-old Nuyorican AIDS activist who is H.I.V. positive. Many respondents listed multiple, intersecting identities, and some discussed seeking acceptance and community and finding it right here in New York City.

As these unique descriptions poured in, we were reminded that we are all humans with a story to tell.

Here are 10 of those stories:

AT 33, MELVIN WEST knew it was only a matter of time — months maybe, a year for sure — before he would be dead.

A gay man living in Paris in 1986, he was attending, he said, a funeral a week. He had lost a dozen acquaintances to what was being called “the gay plague” and would go on to lose dozens more, including his close friend, Patrick Kelly, the trailblazing black fashion designer.

But once West’s own H.I.V. positive diagnosis arrived, the end, he felt, was near: “It was a death sentence.”

He was a shoe designer, working alongside the couturiers at the Givenchy headquarters in Paris. He had already achieved a great deal in his career. By the time he was in his 30s, the poor, black boy from southeast Washington D.C. had graduated from the Pratt Institute and moved to Europe, where he would spend more than a decade designing footwear — in France as well as Italy and Germany — for brands like Christian Dior, Louis Feraud and Esprit de Corp Europe. If the run ended, he thought, it had been a good one.

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