The morning Daniel J. Raps and I meet is the 28-year-old’s first time ever in New York City. After growing up in Western Connecticut (“don’t worry, not Bridgeport,” he promises), Raps moved to Boston to attend Newbury College, deciding after graduation to stay put.
A full time dog walker, Raps lives at home with his tuxedo cat, Mr. Binx, named after Thackery Binx in Hocus Pocus.
“Optimism, open-mindedness and spontaneity are a few main tenets of how I like to interpret the world,” he says. “I really try not to take myself too seriously, there’s enough around to take seriously already – can’t we just have a good time?”
When he’s not prancing around with pooches, Raps can typically be found at home playing video games or watching Pokemon – “although a night of dancing, drag queens and staying up all night is not something I’m a stranger to!”
Below, we chat with Daniel J. Raps/@djraps.
What is growing up gay in Danbury, Connecticut like?
There was nothing to do, especially growing up when I did. I could count the amount of gay influences I had in my life growing up on one hand. There was me watching Queer As Folk when my parents weren’t around and the other gay kid that was in my high school. There was no Grindr back then, or any of these social media tools to be put in touch with like minded people, so I was kind of sheltered from gay culture until I went to college and started exploring it for myself.
Was there a particular storyline from Queer As Folk that resonated with you the most during your youth?
What sticks out the most to me about it was the promiscuity… and the nightlife. The liberation of going out and celebrating yourself, your culture and your sexuality.
Another storyline that has always stuck with me was Ted’s meth storyline. That was terrifying! With ’parTying’ being so prevalent these days, that’s something that has made sure I never had to think twice about getting involved in that kind of scene.
Did you understand that the show was representing a culture, or was it merely a TV show to you?
I think it was just a TV show to me at the time. It did appeal to me; I did want it. I love going out and clubbing now, but it wasn’t until I actually did it for myself that I started really coming into my own. I didn’t become this confident in what I want, who I’m looking for and what I am until 3 or 4 years ago.
What shifted in your life to give you this confidence?
I got into a series of relationships. Which I wouldn’t have changed. but I would say that I would recommend to others not to get into a serious relationship between the ages of 18 and 24. Those are your key developmental years where you can explore what you want.
Did you find being in a relationship stifling?
I didn’t find it stifling when I was in it. But looking back I definitely think I bloomed late, because I wasn’t open. I wasn’t open to exploring myself and what I wanted, because I was too focused on somebody else.
Looking back, is there a fictional gay character that resonated with you or that you could relate to?
I feel like a cross between Will Truman and Brian Kinney probably. Half of me wants to keep my shit together and half of me wants to go out and dance all night. But at the end of the day, they’re both confident in who they are which is what I can relate to the most.
Do you ever feel a sense that there’s a disclusive community being cultivated within Instagram?
I suppose there probably is. I don’t like to pay much attention to those kinds of politics.
I think no matter what avenue of recognition you’re looking for on whatever platform, of course it’s easier when you’re perceived as attractive. I follow plenty of people that either I don’t find attractive myself, or don’t fit the cookie cutter mold of what’s viewed as beautiful.
How do you keep your ego in check on social media?
I’m all about confidence over arrogance. Confidence is so sexy, it’s sometimes that’s all you need, but arrogance is what gets in the way of you appreciating other people. Your confidence can expand your ego in a way to the point where you don’t see people who you think are beneath you. You don’t allow yourself to view them as a human being. I just find that when you let your eyes stay open to see people for who they really are, without rating your attractiveness versus their attractiveness, life can be a very enjoyable place no matter what.
Who do you think does a really good job at representing the LGBT community?
Ellen DeGeneres. I feel like she does a really good job at staying true to herself and what’s important to the gay community without being wrapped up in these labels of what people think a lesbian is supposed to be. There’s an air of acceptance and fun with everything that she does.
Humor is important to everything in my life. I think you should be able to have a fun time doing anything. I was arrested a few years back and I didn’t have a great time, but you have to make the best of any situation that you’re in. If you’re open to it, everything can be a positive experience, and that’s what I see when I look at Ellen DeGenres. Someone who makes everybody happy.
Where does your love for animals come from?
I’ve always been an animal person. When people asked me while growing up what I wanted to do when I was older, I always said veterinarian. I’ve always gravitated towards animals. I admire the innocence and the rawness of them as creatures. I think people could learn a lot from dogs.
How many tattoos do you have, and which one is your favorite or has the most interesting story behind it?
I have 11. The only two that don’t have stories are the stars on my left inner forearm; I got them because I was 18 or 19 and just wanted tattoos. But I really try to put a lot into each one I get and make them my own. I have a fortune cookie on my chest with a blank fortune, because you can write your own. I was originally going to get it with a quote, but the longer I left it blank, the more I liked it that way.
I just got a machine lady bug on my shoulder. I’ve always had a thing for luck. Where serendipity can bring you in life if you’re paying attention. It’s a typical lady bug, but the inside of it are gears and sprockets, and I like the idea of nature, and dealing what fate has to offer when you’re in any given situation. The other half of that is the machinery behind it. I feel like life is a direct combination of fate and serendipity versus your own choices and actions.
What’s one thing from 2015 that you hope you don’t bring into 2016?
I would like to stop wasting my time with people who don’t have anything to offer.
To that end, how do you discern who to invest time in?
I don’t second guess myself. I trust my intuition and my gut about most things. People can put on a really good show, and often turn out to be a waste. People who say they want to get to know you, when they only want to get to know what’s in your pants. Or people who say they want to be your friend but then talk about you behind your back.
For me, it’s about taking a step back and doing a second evaluation. The first evaluation is always happening in my consciousness and how I perceive what’s going on around me. But I need to learn to step back and process what’s going on manually, instead of just going on auto-pilot and following what I feel in the moment.
I have amazing people that surround me in my life, and the more time that goes on, the more I realize the people you have an instant connection with are really hard to come by. Since I’m a nightlife guy, I can go out and have a great time and meet a bunch of people in one night, but I’m looking to focus less on these artificial people and making sure people I really divulge myself to are genuine, and have good intentions.
What is the biggest hurdle you’d say our community is facing going into the new year?
The whole masculinity struggle needs to end. It annoys the f*ck out of me. This whole masc-4-masc thing. I love all of the sub-sects of our culture that embrace femininity, I think there needs to be more of that.
Who are you?
I am a man who is still trying to find his place in life, and trying to make sure every step along the way is enjoyable.