Twelve months ago, Jeff Perla decided to be open and honest about his sexuality — marking the moment by posting a naked photo of himself. Perla’s post inspired a lot of people to do the same thing — sharing their butt photos via Perla’s site The Travelin Bum.
We caught up with Jeff Perla to talk coming-out, photography, and naked butts.
Why did you start posting naked photos of yourself?
I went to college at Niagara University, and I had pictures with my friends and solo shots that I thought would be fun to share.
The first photo I shared was of myself with my friend Steph. It received over a thousand likes — I didn’t expect it to get that kind of response. I kept posting photos, and in less than a month I had over ten thousand followers as well as people reaching out to me asking to be featured.
Slowly people started to become interested in me as a person, but at that point I wasn’t comfortable in being publicly identified with the photos, so I chose to remain anonymous.
At some point I made a promise that I would reveal who I was when I hit twenty thousand followers. That was a big deal to me because I wasn’t officially ‘out’ to most of my family, and the thought of throwing myself out there to twenty thousand people made me a little nervous.
Once I revealed who I was, then people really started to share their personal stories with me. It’s kind of snowballed from there — we’re now sharing the stories of gay men from around the world.
When did you realize that this form of coming out statement might be a concept that could have wider impact beyond your personal story?
It was when the first person messaged me asking for advice and to be featured on the site. It surprised me, but it made me think about the purpose of The Travelin Bum, and what it could be.
Why do you think your coming out photo and post resonated with so many people?
I guess people realised that I was just a guy who was struggling just as much as the next person.
All of my friends — gay and straight — who follow the account, always tell me about the posts that really connect with them. Whether the story is about someone’s coming-out experience, the first time that they had sex, or a relationship issue, I try to share topics that are interesting and different so that people realise that they aren’t alone.
What have been some of the most memorable submissions that you’ve received?
Often my most memorable messages are the ones I can’t share, because people aren’t ready to actually come out. Sometimes I get messages from people that check the account on a daily basis, but can’t follow it or like any pictures because they don’t want their friends to see their activity.
One of my favourite messages came from this 18-year-old kid who wasn’t out to anyone else, but he came out to me.
Is it difficult to get people to submit their photos to you?
Encouraging people to submit photos is the least of my worries. In the past twelve months I’ve received about 15,000 submissions.
Sometimes people direct message me their photos, but I get around 150 messages a week and sometimes I miss the submissions. The best way for people to get their photos featured on the site is to email me — the email is in the Insta bio.
Which countries are most represented in the submissions received?
My biggest following is in New York, then London, and Sao Paulo. Most people who reach out are Americans, but I love getting messages from people globally because it offers a different perspective.
My following is 90 percent males, and the submissions I receive are all from guys. I’d love to grow into featuring women as well, but I can count on one hand the amount of women that have ever messaged me.
How much further can you take this concept?
My next move is to expand into vlogs. I think there are a lot of topics to be discussed in the LGBTQ community that would be fun to share. I’ve also been doing a bit of traveling along the way, which would be great video content. 2018 is the year I want to make this my full-time priority, and create a concept that no one has seen yet.