Sum, sum, summertime! Well, it’s not quite summer yet, but the wondrous “75 and sunny” weather we’ve been having does make you want to dance in the streets, or kick your heels up in the club, or do anything to get up off the couch and shed the winter doldrums.
This week’s portrait is a prime example of shaking things off and embracing life. Not only is Justin Dile a nice guy, handsome fellow, and the Director of Coordination for BOS (formerly Boys of Summer), he’s got quite a tale to tell.
I was doing a little reading and I understand that you’re from out west.
Yes, I was born in Tucson, Arizona and lived there until high school. Then I moved to San Diego and went to high school and college there. Well, between that I went into the army reserves for eight years. I went over to Iraq, did that whole stint in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” time, which was not fun, but it paid for college. I was the very first person in my family to go to college, so that was a huge accomplishment. I think it was really the only way that I was gonna be able to do that.
What’s something you remember from Arizona?
Oh, my gosh, the Mexican food. You cannot find Mexican food like that anywhere on the East coast.The Sonoran-style Mexican food is just like, totally different.
Tell me a little bit about the family.
Well, that’s a crazy story. I have one birth sibling, but my grandparents adopted me, so my 4 uncles and aunts became my brothers and sisters. The closest to me was 16 years older, so I really grew up almost like an only child after the age of seven.
Did your birth sibling stay behind with your mother?
My sister, yes, she stayed with my birth mom. I moved in with my grandparents, who I call my mom and dad, when I was 7, until they kicked me out. I came out at 13 and by 16, they were like, we’re not dealing with you being gay anymore. So I was homeless for a stint. I couch surfed for a bit and then one of my good friends from high school took me in until they couldn’t afford to take care of me anymore. I wound up staying with a boyfriend for a little bit, and then here and there bouncing around just trying to figure out what to do. I actually never graduated high school because in the state of Arizona, if your parents unenroll you from school, you have to have a parent or guardian re-enroll you, so you can’t finish it even if you want to.
It also didn’t help that my grandparents were older and very religious. The only thing they knew about homosexuality was AIDS. Their whole thing was, ‘Oh, you’re gay, you’re gonna get AIDS’. I mean, at one point my mother even offered to pay me $50,000 to be straight and have kids. [Laughing] I was like, that’s not a good investment.
Did she ever come around?
Not until I met my current husband. That was the very first time she finally kind of came around. And that was in about 2018 when she finally met him. It was the first time she told me she was proud of me and then one year later, she was gone. So it was a very interesting time period of closure, but then not, all at the same time.
What did you like to do as a kid? What did you think you wanted to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a pilot. I just thought that was the coolest thing in the entire world. I was always into performing arts. So I did a lot of acting, modeling and dancing when I was younger. At one point I was in a high school specific for the arts, and I majored in dance for the time I was there. I was on a professional dance team as well. They have the Universal Dance Association competitions on ESPN, it’s almost like cheer. I actually competed in that and we got, like, 6th in the country for jazz and 5th in the country for hip hop. What’s funny is that I think it was something more that my mother wanted me to do. She was putting me in dance and theater and in modeling. I mean I’m walking around the house in your high heels singing and enjoying myself and then you’re shocked that I was gay.
It’s amazing. But think of how many old ladies refused to believe that Liberace was gay for years. I admire you for coming out so early when you had an idea, I’m sure that things would be difficult.
Actually, I didn’t ever really think about the action of coming out. You know, younger kids just make fun of you all the time. Right? You know, they called me the f-word and they called me fat. It was during an Ugly Duckling stage. And then I just started admitting it at school. I was at a Jewish religious school and one of the rabbis kind of knew. One day, my dad was dropping me off. There was a boy I liked and I asked my dad if he would take me to the movies with my friend Brandon and our friend Ali. And he was like, “Why, does Ali like Brandon?”, and I’m like, “No”, “Does Brandon like Ali?” No. “Do you like Brandon?” I didn’t realize he was joking. I thought he was goading me so I got out of the car, looked at him through the open window and said, “Yeah, I’m gay”. He just looked at me and, “Okay, I’ll tell your mother.” He never spoke about it a day after that his entire life. The wrath was from her.
Everything changed at that point. They told the school, and it was right before going on our eighth grade class trip to Israel. The school didn’t want to let me go because they said they couldn’t put me with the girls and didn’t trust me with the boys and weren’t sure if the parents were gonna feel uncomfortable. Finally, they agreed to let me go, but they segregated me. Like for any sleeping arrangements I was completely away from everyone. I was done, and that was when (grand) mother was like, “You need to go live with your sister (she was 16 years older than me), she can handle it better. I was still in high school and it was not better in any capacity and went downhill from there.
What was the lowest point?
I would say probably that, I mean, my birth dad left when he found out my mom was pregnant. My birth mother got rid of me and kept my sister, gave me to my grandmother when I was 7. I’m trying to be myself with my grandparents, so they boot me to my sister, my sister kicks me out, I move in with friends. They boot me because they can’t afford to take care of me, not because of anything else. I go back with my mom for a bit and then she eventually was just like, “Nope, you’re out”, and puts my stuff on the front porch and pulls me out of school the next day without telling me. I get to school, and they say “you can’t be here.”
And I think that was the moment when I thought that everything I had, looking towards a future, was done. Because if you don’t have education, and you don’t have any type of wealth of any kind, no money to your name? What do you do? Where do you go? And I think at that moment, I could have gone one of two directions, I could have just buried my head in the sand and said, you know, it’s too, too hard, or, as I was lucky enough to, figure it out.
They let me talk to my counselor that day, and she said your option is to move into a group home, and you can apply for emancipation. Once you get emancipation, then you can come back into school. But by that point, you’ll be halfway through senior year, or the other option is get your GED. I can give you the resources to figure out how to do it. But beyond that it’s 100% on you. And so I studied and got my GED. But when people see a GED, there’s a stigma, they just assume that you were a deadbeat of some kind, or you just didn’t follow through. It wasn’t until I went to college after I went in the Army, that I was able to kind of stand at the same level as anybody else in my career. It made it a little bit more difficult but I think it also gave me the grit to push myself forward and do me.
What were the best and worst parts of being in the Army?
The best part were the skills that I walked away with. Things like how do you manage stress, how do you think critically in situations that are uncomfortable, and how do you pull yourself through that. Again, it’s that determination factor. They’re gonna keep throwing obstacles in your way, and you have to find your way through it. I was already doing that. The physical part was hard. I was a chunky monkey and that part was miserable, but all the things that I gained from it, and the experience? I could never get that anywhere else. Now, going to Iraq was its own whole thing. I was there for 15 months. So to see everything that was going on and not know if you’re going to come home? There’s a mixture between having to cope by ignoring it and pushing it down deep, and there’s also trauma that’s not visible with it that you have to deal with in some way later.
What was your role?
I was a military police officer, an MP, which was not my first choice, I wanted to get into military intelligence. But most people don’t realize that, when you sign up for the military, they take you to a processing station. They only have a certain number of jobs available that day. And based on what your test scores are, you can qualify for different types of jobs in the military. My scores were high enough that I could get pretty much any job that I wanted, and what I wanted was intelligence, because when you think about it, what’s applicable outside of the government for high paying jobs? Intelligence people typically go to things like the CIA, or they can go into the private sector and work for the government. But they ran out of spots for that. So they convinced me to still sign up that day by saying that a military police officer had a very similar security clearance. And that once I got in the military, I could just do one or two years, and then request to transfer to the job I wanted. It didn’t work like that.
I was laughing because in my mind, as you were talking about how they brought you in and sorted you out, I imagined them putting that Harry Potter sorting cap on you.
It’s actually much more embarrassing, because they literally throw you into rooms, take your clothes off and walk around and look at you. They’re looking for tattoos and scars and you’re just a specimen. Then it’s like, okay, we clear you enough to go to basic training to then go through all of that, again, where we can then potentially disqualify you for something. If you imagine a more modern version of what you would think a draft would look like for WWII, it’s almost like that. It’s very interesting, very mechanized.
When you got out, what was your next step?
While I was overseas, I got hit with an improvised explosive device on a convoy. I suffered a traumatic brain injury that was undiagnosed and not treated while I was overseas. I had a job that was not replaceable at the time, so any type of non life emergency medevac for me was not possible. They kept me there, even though the doctors wanted to move me to Germany.
Before I deployed, I had a job at AOL. I was doing technical support for dial up. Crazy, right? When I came back I dealt with a lot of things like memory loss, PTSD, etc. and I didn’t want to be idle thinking about things. I immediately called them and told them I was ready to come back. Luckily, the HR person was really sweet. Bottom line she was like, trust me, take another month. Turned out, they were laying off and closing our entire offices in the United States but by me not reporting back, I was able to collect my severance. They’d been trying to get rid of everybody so if you were a minute late to work for clocking in, they let you go, with no benefits. But because I wasn’t there, they couldn’t fire me!
But then I had no clue what to do with my life. Like zero, right? So I got pulled into doing collections at Citibank. And this was right after Hurricane Katrina, so those phone calls were not very good. I think I lasted six months in that job before I was like, I can’t do this. This is horrible, horrible work. So then I went to work for Brinks for a little while as an armored truck driver. This was the time period when I had no money, I was just jumping around not knowing what to do. And it’s when I moved in with my biological sister for a little bit. And then eventually, I moved to San Diego, met a guy, stayed with him for a little bit, and then enrolled at the University of San Diego.
What did you study?
Finance, which I am not doing now!
So how did you end up in Philly?
So fast forward: I’d been working for Houzz for a while making good money. It’s like if Wayfair, Pinterest, and Better Homes & Gardens had a baby. It’s an app where you can hire designers and architects, all kinds of stuff. I did sales for them but got burnt out. Really, really bad. And my best friend who I lived with in high school and am still friends with to this day was moving to DC for work. She looked at me and said, “Justin, you hate your life right now. You’re holding on because everything in the world has told you that having this title and working and making money is what you aspire to, but you’re miserable. Quit your job and go with me.” I told her it wasn’t that bad but that I’d think about it.
Shortly after that, I was driving across Vermont on a business trip and I started breaking down in tears, like ugly crying. I had no real idea why I was crying. So I called her again. And she was like, I got you. We’ll rent a one bedroom, you live in the living room and figure out what you want to do. And so I quit, and I moved across the country to DC without a job. I took a little time to myself, and then I got a job with a nonprofit in economics. That first summer I was in Rehoboth at Aqua Bar and Grill. I didn’t know really anyone except for the people who I came with, and as I came out of the bathroom I looked up and I saw my friend Michael Bumbry, who I wasn’t expecting to be there, and I bolted to him. Meanwhile, apparently, my now husband was trying to get my attention and I ignored him, that’s his story. As I hugged Michael he was looking over my shoulder and he turned me around and said, “Justin, meet Joe. Joe, meet Justin. You’re both good guys” and then he walked out. And my now husband Joe and I have not been separated since that day. There was an instant connection. He’s my rock and the best thing that’s ever happened to me. But I will say one of the worst financial investments, because three weeks prior to that I had bought a condo in DC. But he’s what brought me here.
See, good things happen in Philadelphia. How did you get involved with BOS?
One of my husband’s really, really good friends is Alex Ortiz. He has been involved with BOS for a few years. I always gave them my thoughts and feedback and about two years ago, they officially invited me to come be one of the members of the team. They made me the Director of Coordination, which is a very odd, weird title, but basically, my role with the organization is finding talent, booking talent, and dealing with them.
What can people expect at a BOS event?
I like to say that we’re a party for a cause. It’s fun to be out and have fun, but what we don’t often get to do is have that money go into helping our own community. I believe we’re one of the only party groups that acts like a non-profit where we donate the funds to people and organizations that need it. We’re all volunteers, no one gets any compensation. And it’s really whatever you make it. If you want to come in street clothes, or the most outrageous outfit you own, or if you’re feeling frisky and you want to come in a jock strap, it’s all good. Come as you are and be who you are. We’re body positive and human positive. We want the parties to reflect the whole community, but within that EMD, house circuit scene. We try to bring the best talent that we can to Philadelphia. And we like to focus on themes and doing them bigger and better than anyone else. And this year is the first time we’ve started doing monthly parties, which is in part why we changed the name, it’s not just Boys of Summer. We’re now year round!
And you have two parties coming up, the “Sir, Yes Sir!” party which has a military theme. I got a chuckle out of the ad that read, “Break out your sluttiest camo and shine up those dog tags, because we’re about to go hard!”
Yes, that’s going to have disco circuit music, so that should be a lot of fun.
And your big Pride party, “Candy Land” on June 3rd.
We have DJ Abel spinning for that one which is a big deal. He’s half of the Grammy-nominated duo Rosabel, who have created hits for artists like Rihanna, Madonna, Katy Perry and Cher. Drag artist Circuit Mom is the co-host for the evening, and of course we have the BOS go-go dancers as well. Our Pride event sold out last year, so get your tickets early!
We know these parties are known for energetic music. What’s a sound that soothes you?
The sound of the ocean. That’s the one thing I really miss from San Diego. Did I mention that I’m a rescue certified scuba diver? So if you fall overboard, I can search for you.
What do you love about BOS?
I love the buzz, the sound of the people. In addition to or under the music, you can still feel that buzz of people connecting. When I think about why I love doing this for no pay, it’s about that. The ability to help host something where people have the ability to connect. We don’t connect any more. We just don’t, period. We’re on Grindr, we’re on Scruff, we pass by people with our earphones in, we’re at the bars but in our cliques, but at these events, people meet people from other cities or areas that they’ve never met before. People are free to just be themselves, and that is amazing to me.