Last Saturday marked a first for the annual Mr. Gay competition.
Lou Cutler, 33, was crowned Mr. Gay Philadelphia out of 14 contestants — making him the first transgender winner in any city since the national competition began. Philadelphia’s competition began in 2007.
Cutler hails from Wayne, N.J., and currently lives in West Philadelphia. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a master’s from the Eastern School of Acupuncture and Traditional Medicine. He currently works as an acupuncturist.
This was Cutler’s first time participating in a competition like Mr. Gay Philadelphia.
“I’ve always wanted to be in some kind of event like this, and also to do some kind of modeling, but stage fright has always gotten the best of me. It was time,” he said.
Cutler came out as transgender at 23 but said he knew at the early age of 5 that his true gender didn’t match the one assigned to him.
“I had never met a trans person before to my knowledge. I simply told my parents it was life or death, without being able to tell them with specific trans-identified language,” he said. “I visibly transitioned on campus at Rutgers in 2004 as the only transman at the time, as far as I know. It certainly wasn’t one of the easier things I’ve done, but it literally saved my life.”
Cutler said initially, the transition was difficult for his family to accept but they went on to become very supportive. He said he has also been bolstered by support from friends, including his best friend, Tia.
Cutler took the stage June 21 at Field House with the 13 other contestants and competed in casual wear and swimswuit portions, as well as a question-and-answer session.
Cutler said he believes his ability to be true to himself helped him stand out.
“People pick up on this and my humility right away. I think they see my individuality, which is not only conveyed in my clothing, hair and tattoos, but also in my warm personality, demeanor and the way that I move through the world,” he said. “For the Q&A, I think people appreciated my genuineness and authenticity and can pick up on my sense of humor.”
Cutler said that his participation communicated a powerful message about visibility, both to the audience and to himself.
“By simply being me, I have the power to influence and can change the relationship that people have to LGBT folks, including the relationships between people already in the LGBT community. Visibility isn’t always easy, but it can be extremely powerful. And it reinforced something I already knew: Staying true to my authentic self is the best thing I can do for me,” he said. “People can be uncomfortable and even hateful towards what they are unfamiliar with. I believe that by being seen, people will become more accepting and aware of trans people, if they weren’t before. It’s also important for me to be a visible gay trans guy. We also exist. The ‘T’ is not silent.”
Since winning, Cutler’s story has made the rounds on social media and national LGBT sites like the Advocate.
Cutler said he’s grateful for the opportunity to represent his city and community. “I’ve been ecstatic — like the waking-up-at-5-a.m.-excited kind. I am so humbled by this experience. When the first article was released and said I ‘made history,’ I came close to tears. I am so moved by all of this. It’s so very special for me.”