Let’s Get One Thing Straight–I’m Not: Growing Up Gay in Beverly Hills By Josh Flagg

I grew up in Los Angeles just off of Doheny Drive North of Sunset in a location known as Lower Bird Streets or “Doheny.” I initially went to Stephen S. Wise elementary and then Brentwood School. But from an early age all I wanted to do was real estate, so I was asked to leave Brentwood and then finished at Beverly Hills High School. I split my summers in three sections: Catskills camp at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills in June, the South of France with my family in July and Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu in August. Although I was an only child, I was so close to my parents that I never felt as if there was anything lacking in my life. I also spent a lot of time with my grandparents too, and would have many wonderful dinners with them at every weekend at the Beverly Hills Hotel or the Bel Air Hotel, or weekends with my parents and them in Montecito. My grandmother Edith was an extremely strong role model; she literally didn’t give a crap about anything or anyone. Her attitude definitely set the stage for me to ultimately be able to live my life unconcerned by the judgment of others.

When I was a child, people might not of thought I was gay at elementary school. Then again, my teachers likely suspected. But back then, I was certainly different because I was not playing handball on the schoolyard. Instead I was singing opera or hanging out with my teachers instead of students during recess. Most kids wanted a hamburger or pizza dinner. Meanwhile, I enjoyed having lamb chops or Beef Wellington with my parents. And the next day I would bring food for my teachers to try. I don’t want to paint a picture like I was a total privileged snob with a silver spoon in my mouth. Well, maybe I am but that’s not my parents fault. I was exposed to things that other kids were exposed to… it just meant a lot more to me then most other kids my age. I don’t think I was experiencing anything different than any of the other kids I grew up with. In fact, my parents were relatively humble. They had never lacked for anything and had therefore never tried to impress anyone. They grew up in well to do families so they never felt the need to impress anyone like a lot of kids parents I knew. They simply did their own thing and I grew up appreciating the nice things in life because of what I was surrounded by, but not because they pushed these things on me. My parents were also not the type that wanted to be friends with all the parents of their kids friends so I really did not have that bond with kids because my parents didn’t say “We are going over to so and so’s house and you get to hang with their kids”  So that also limited me to the amount of friends I had growing up. So we covered the precociousness, we covered the exposure to kids my age, now we move on…

In many respects from an early age I felt different. For example, unlike many of my peers I was completely disinterested in sports. While they were into playing basketball, baseball and soccer, I’d prefer spending time at my mom’s friends’ houses. I had much more in common with them than with any kid my age. I also loved ballroom dancing and won many awards. Fun for me would be sorting bottles of wine with my dad in his wine cellar or redecorating my parent’s living room. At eleven years old I installed a chandelier when my parents were out for dinner… that’s an entirely different story. Before traveling once or even twice a year with my grandmother to Europe every year, I did most of my traveling with my parents. I bring this up to ingrain the fact that I was one of the few kids who preferred going around the world with my grandmother rather then going to sports camp with kids my own age. So as a youngster I would often go to the South of France with my parents and a gay couple close to our family. We’d have a blast every summer. It was never weird or anything as a thirteen-year-old hanging every day with my gay uncles. I had a blast and I just felt myself around them. However, I still don’t think I was one hundred percent sure I was gay yet.  To be honest, I probably didn’t think I was because if I was why would I have slept with girls at fifteen? My parent’s support undeniably shaped me into the type of person I am now. Because my parents were such extremely easy-going and open-minded people, those summers were incredible and likely made me feel more comfortable with myself.

Both my parents are the best combination of loving and hilarious. I am reminded of a funny story. I liked ham sandwiches and Steven S Wise was a Jewish day school. One day the teachers told my parents that I could not have ham sandwiches at school. So my mom had to sneak me the sandwiches like contraband, because that’s all I would eat. Both she and my dad were the perfect parents for me in every way. Most importantly, they were always there when I needed them most. Although I have come from an extraordinarily amazing and successful family, especially well known were my grandparents Margie and Herman Platt and Edith and Eric Flagg. From an early age I was always committed to not hang on to my family’s name to achieve my own triumphs, but to always let everyone know where and who I came from because I was so proud of them.

It is hard to say what age I realized I was gay. I suppose it is something I think I always knew, but I guess I thought about it more actively as other kids my age began to hit puberty around thirteen. I mean I did make my mom and her best friend take me to a gay bar in Cannes… but I told them I just wanted to go in because the dancing looked fun! The first person I told was my mom. Her reaction? Exactly what I had hoped: “Oh, that’s nice honey.” When I came out my dad, he said to me: “I thought I was gay once. It didn’t last very long. About twenty minutes later I DEFINITELY knew I was straight. But I still feel for you.” I’ll never forget the first time I told my grandmother about being gay. I was sitting at the card table in the family room of her penthouse and I just happened to mention that I’m bisexual… You know, try to ease it in before going for the full monty. She replied, “That’s nice… but tell me exactly what that means?” When I did she said, “That’s OK… you do whatever you want. We had a cousin named Yancov who was like that once back in Romania.” She continued. “Some of the villagers did not get it, but he was a wonderful pastry chef.” And then without skipping a beat she added, “Do you want to go to Hillcrest for dinner?” We walked across the street to Hillcrest Country Club and that was that. And by the way… yes if you are thinking…my grandmother came from a village in Eastern Europe.

Telling people outside of the comfort of my home I was gay wasn’t that easy. Even though I was never terribly flamboyant or feminine, everybody already assumed I was gay because I just had such different interests than most guys my age. And believe me, I was proud of it. I wasn’t getting my nails done and shopping for a really tight clothes so I was probably not the stereotypical gay, but I liked things that most of the kids didn’t. Kids did everything that normal kids do and I did everything opposite. For example, most kids wanted to watch a football game at high school or middle school and I liked to go to Europe with my grandmother. I was probably the only kid that would rather go to the Polo lounge then In-N-Out. I was probably the only kid that would rather go to Neiman Marcus then attend a football game. Frankly, I’m still that way. I have zero interest in sports. I have zero interest in restaurants without tablecloths. And that’s just who I am. People thought I was precocious and pretentious growing up and in some sense I was, but in other respects I just did what I liked.

It was different back then—kids were not comfortable coming out in school and for good reason. Probably the roughest experience I had was when I was about fifteen. Unbeknownst to me another student at school placed a book about being gay in my backpack. Because I hadn’t checked it out, as I exited the alarm went off. It was an incredibly cruel act and I felt really humiliated. But besides this incident I really didn’t have much of a problem coming out because I was fortunate enough to grow up in Los Angeles. Even back then, in LA it was pretty hard to find a kid who grew up in a household where their mom wasn’t best friends with a gay decorator or their parents didn’t socialize with a gay couple. So, in retrospect overall I guess I had it quite easy. Aside from those couple of insecure kids who wanted to look cool at the library or a few other things which are so insignificant I can’t even remember, it all went pretty well. Thankfully, no one did anything absolutely awful to me or made me feel really badly.

Back at home my mom helped me to get through any tough moments. She would often remind me that the popular kids that tried to act cool but were really stupid and amount to failures as adults. Although it was probably the time of my life I felt the most self-conscious, the strength I had gained from my family’s unconditional love paid off in spades. So, I pushed past that experience and became all the more motivated to becoming a huge success. Channeling my grandmother Edith, I would be myself and never let anyone else hold me back. When I arrived at Beverly Hills High school, I quickly became very popular. I was no longer considered to be the student that was the outsider. Sure, they knew I was gay but it was a new set of kids and they didn’t have to pretend like they didn’t like me because of all those years that I was considered unpopular.

Although I wasn’t originally popular and other rude students clearly didn’t understand me, after a period of time, I actually enjoyed coming out and felt it was cool. Because I had such a naturally confident and positive view of myself, in many respects I even began to enjoy all the attention. It became very empowering to feel invincible and not give a damn. You know, I might be different from most people when they say what’s it feel like to be on television. I always say the same thing and I actually feel like I’ve been on television my entire life. Now I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but I’ve always felt like I was in the spotlight. Maybe I thought it was a good entertainer in my own life. And I know I am because I know the people enjoy watching me on television. But even when I was a kid I felt that way and some people got it and some people didn’t.

Back when I was growing up it was uncomfortable to accept somebody who was different. Had I grown-up fifteen years later, I think kids would’ve been a lot more accepting. But in many ways today kids are still basically the same. They all start out insecure and many need to make fun of others because they don’t want to feel excluded or unpopular. If a kid comes out now it’s like, “OK that’s great so let’s talk about what’s on the news this morning.” Well, at least in Los Angeles and New York or any other really liberal city it’s really not that big of a deal.

But while I can see that kids now are much more open and accepting of someone who is gay, I would tell someone that is struggling to come out that they should think about things longer term. Attitudes will eventually change and if not, the jerks of today will be the losers of tomorrow. Years ago my mom told me that and she was spot on. I also understand not everyone has had the good fortune of having the type of unconditionally accepting family like I have had. I don’t have a lot of patience for parents who are struggling at hearing the news that their child is gay. They should take a moment and consider how ridiculous they’re being and how tough this is for THEIR KID! Most importantly, nothing will change this reality, so they have a choice. They can either make their child’s life content, even blissful or alternatively, hellish.

These days I spend my time with the love of my life, my husband Bobby, focused on my real estate business, traveling, studying design and collecting art. Although being gay is inconsequential to me or to others I care about, it certainly shaped the self-assured person I have become. I don’t care what people think about me and as a result, I am extremely and unself-consciously transparent. In fact, I’m so transparent, I even got a camera crew to follow me around and capture a part of my life that most people haven’t seen before. Head over to youtube.com/joshflagg and see me living like no one’s watching. (But I would love it if you were!) When you live your life this way, you feel like I do—with nothing to lose and so much to be gained.

 

 

Josh’s Bio: Josh Flagg is one of America’s most successful and sought after luxury real estate agents, having completed more than two billion dollars in residential real estate sales in the past 13 years.Along with his successful real estate career, Josh Flagg is one of the original stars of Bravo’s hit television show: Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles, which is in its 11th season. Recently, Josh has begun a new venture with a brand new YouTube show: Josh Flagg Vlogg, featuring the daily life of Josh Flagg including an inside look at his real estate business, relationship with his loved ones, hilarious antics, and the thrills of Beverly Hills.

 

 

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5 Responses to “Let’s Get One Thing Straight–I’m Not: Growing Up Gay in Beverly Hills By Josh Flagg”

  1. Idrive orlandoMarch 28, 2019 at 8:23 am #

    That’s a fantastic article thanks for sharing Josh

  2. Anita MadisonMarch 26, 2019 at 5:52 pm #

    I’m not gay but I grew up in Appalachia in the ‘50s where women were supposed to know their place. Thank goodness for Aunt Genevieve, like your grandmother, who said “let’s go to New York City; dress to the nines, eat at the best restaurants “…she taught me to be whoever I want to be but for sure travel the world and eat good food and drink good wine…I know my kids think I’m the best 78 year old woman they’ve ever seen

  3. Rhona KantrowitzMarch 25, 2019 at 9:15 pm #

    I think your attitude is fabulous considering where you came from! I thoroughly enjoy watching the show and your charismatic approach to real estate. I am a real estate agent so it really hits home. My gray also cane from Europe! Your the real deal!! You and Bobby make the perfect couple.

  4. C. MontgomeryMarch 25, 2019 at 5:16 pm #

    Appreciate that you embrace being your own person, live life outloud. You’re setting an example for others personally and professionally.
    One question. In this article you say you are an only child and I swear I recently heard you say on television that you have a sister. Sister, or no?

  5. MarionMarch 22, 2019 at 2:02 pm #

    Josh ,you are an inspiration. I am a person who doesn’t care what others think of me. You are what you think. I love the way you write. This sounds like you and I having a one on one conversation. If all books were written as eloquent and simple as your writing; I would read more books. I enjoy your website and your blunt attitude. No dancing around words but just simply being one’s self.

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