Jeff Perla: Behind The Travelin Bum
My relationship with Jeff Perla is filled with one-of-a-kind shenanigans that began on St. Patrick's Day in NYC 2018. I had been home visiting and our mutual bff, Vanessa Powell, invited me to a pre-game before going to a rooftop bar. The party was at Jeff’s apartment- and we instantly hit it off. Jeff runs an Instagram account, @TheTravelinBum, where he features the butts of gay men with their personal coming out stories in the caption. Jeff asked if he could feature me as the first transgender woman on the page and of course I was into it. The next day we put together a photoshoot and I was completely comfortable with him photographing me nude. Standing with my bare bum on his rooftop in Hell’s Kitchen for all the city, and eventually the insta-world to see, felt incredibly freeing.
Jeff stayed with me in June and due to his influencer status, got sponsored by LA Pride with VIP/Backstage passes along with many other goodies like weed gummies and joints from MedMen, rainbow Lokai bracelets, boner enhancers... the list goes on. Between dancing to Ariana Grande in the streets of WeHo to partying backstage at Pride, we never had a discussion about how his successful IG account came to be, or even how he came out himself...
CR: When did you first come across the term gay?
JP: “Maybe around second grade; there was always a pit in my stomach every time I heard the word because you never knew someone that was gay. It [being gay] was just something you didn’t want to be and when you heard ‘gay’ you associated it with something bad; nothing positive was ever associated with that word. My family is mad close and we have dinners every Sunday at my grandparents house; my older cousins would read my grandma’s magazines and somewhere in one of them was the topic of being gay and my cousin said she wanted to be gay and that she felt it would be cool someday. She basically came out three times starting in the 6th grade...but continued to have boyfriends. Anyway, watching my family’s reaction to her I realized they don’t give a fuck, which I thought was interesting.”
CR: When did you identify with being gay?
JP: “I knew my whole life the potential of me being gay because I liked boys and thought guys were cute but I would ask myself if I was gay. When I was younger I thought I could choose to not be gay if I tried hard enough. I always avoided hooking up with girls because if I didn’t like it I didn’t want that to be my confirmation that I was... because I didn’t want to be gay I sort of blocked it out of my mind until college. Even after I came out, I never even used the term, ‘I’m gay’ until a year later because it was uncomfortable for me to talk about.”
CR: So what is your coming out story?
JP: “Well the first person I told was my friend Faz who is now my roomie in NYC. The night of my 21st birthday I went home with a guy from the bar while I was blacked out. It was kind of a scene also because he was a freshman and I was a senior and everyone was wondering what happened once we left… like if we did anything. Faz asked me straight up in the middle of grad class and I told her I thought the kid was cute and the timing of it felt right, so we started talking about the night and that was the end- that was it.
As great as that day was, the next day when everyone found out it was a shit show. I was crying and a mess and drove home two hours to Syracuse drunk to my parents home. I was on the couch just crying and drinking, and in my black out I told them what happened. I woke up in the morning and didn‘t remember telling them at all. My mom had the convo with me; my dad needed time to process what was occurring. She sat down and asked me if I liked the kid and I said I didn’t know because I had only met him once but that I thought he was cute- and they’ve been supportive ever since.”
CR: What was the process that led to you create @TheTravelinBum?
JP: “I was in college and I wasn’t out to anyone yet. I had a lot of naked photos of myself at Niagara Falls because me and my friends would dare each other to do dumb shit all the time- because there’s nothing else to do in Niagara Falls where I went to college, in case anyone wanted to know. When Instagram was becoming a thing I thought to myself that I’d make an anonymous page of my travels with my butt out and never showcase who I am and thought it’d be so funny. The first post got 1k likes and I was like, ‘Okay that’s cool’ and then somebody messaged me and said, ‘Hey can you feature my butt?’ I said, ‘Yea sure, why not?’ The account grew to 10k followers in three months and I thought, ‘What am I supposed to do with shit?’
People started messaging asking who I am and what I do and one guy who I talked to was not out either and said, ‘Why don’t you do a post on me and I’ll share a story about myself and we’ll see peoples’ reactions, but don’t tag me.’ After I thought I should start doing it once a week and feature gay people. I was hesitant to do it with every post because I didn’t know what people’s reactions would be. The account was made two years ago and I feel it was way less socially acceptable then, where now it’s talked about and in the media more like Queer Eye on Netflix. Maybe I think that because I’m in a place like New York, but that’s the jist of how it got started.”
CR: What brought you to the idea of featuring me as the first trans woman on your account?
JP: “I’ve honestly never interacted with someone the way we have. I’ve met and known transgender people but never spoken with them to that level where I could have a genuine conversation and ask questions I’ve always been curious about- So when I met you and we just started talking there was this level of comfortability and you were such an open book and made it easy to talk to about it and that made me more curious about your story and everything else about you and I felt like it was a good opportunity and the right person to share that type of story. The results were a hit or miss- a lot of people appreciated it but I’d say around 25% of comments weren’t the best; some guys didn’t want to see a female butt on my page. Overall though it was really good and had a positive message that people got out of it.”
CR: Where do you see the account going from here?
JP: “I would love to be the gay version of the show Catfish. The way I envision the TV show is I would travel to someone who reached out who wants to come out. I’d scope out the scene and see if it’s a good idea. If so I’d fly out there, spend a day getting to know the person, the next day getting to know whoever they’re about to come out to, and then the third day would be setting the scene and that person coming out. I would love to make this as big as possible. I think everyone has a story to share and you don’t know whose story will be relatable and help someone. I remember being a little kid and feeling unable to relate to others.”
CR: What’re you most passionate about and what’s your biggest aspiration? What are you working on/towards right now?
JP: “I know this sounds ridiculous but I think my passion is to be known and leave a positive impact on something; I’m not exactly sure what that something is, probably leaning towards LGBT people in the closet or being someone to talk to - it’s what everything pretty much turns into I think. I love clothes but I don’t work in fashion. I think my aspiration is mostly impacting the LGBT community by sharing our stories. I’m working towards expanding @TheTravelinBum. I love connecting with new people and hosting events; and by hosting as many events as possible, while working with other influencers, it gets my name out there. Pride is a different month in different places so most recently I’ve hosted Caribbean Pride and am doing Vegas Pride in October (the few days before he and I will finally reunite in LA). The more people you can connect with and touch around the world the better off you’d be I’d imagine.”
CR: What do you hope for your future, the future of our world, and the lasting impression you’d like to leave?
JP: “I want to leave a legacy I guess; something that showcases a platform, a community. I want to be known for living a fun life and showing you can be gay or straight it doesn’t really matter; you can live your best lives, chill with your family, travel, play with your friends; everyone wants amazing life experiences and whether you end up with a guy or girl it doesn’t matter and that shouldn’t hold you back from doing what you want to do.
I think that generally life for gay people is harder and it takes so much longer to be yourself... and that’s why (a majority of the time) life doesn’t happen for gay people as soon as it does for a straight person. Most straight people are getting life experiences like hooking up with people in high school at 15 or 16, where mine didn’t occur until after college and moving to NYC. There’s a tiny age gap difference between me and my friends who are getting married. Even though I don’t want that life right now, they all found themselves and their partners earlier because they knew who they were due to labels. I feel like gay people didn’t want to be gay in high school because they want to fit in and that holds you back. It would be dope to be in a place where you don’t need to say ‘coming out,’ or ‘gay,’ or label yourself.”
CR: Anything else you’d like to add?
JP: “Yea… FOLLOW ME!”
You can find scantily clad bum pics and entertaining IG stories on the account @TheTravelinBum, as well as his personal account, @jeffperlaa, which has even more debauchery, if you could imagine. He posts about three times a week on his personal account and four times a week on “the bum.” Once a week he’ll post his own derriere with a weekly wrap up of people he’s met, or sometimes he’ll throw himself in the photo of whoever he’s featuring the story of. You can also read my first interview with him on StyleCaster where I shared individual life changing Pride stories.
La Pride 2018 was an experience I’ll never forget and because of Jeff, one of my dreams of being featured by Vogue, came true. Although it wasn’t the front cover of the iconic printed magazine, it assured me that I’m getting closer and closer to the goals I’ve set for myself to accomplish. I published our weekend activities in the June Reflections piece for my personal blog.
What I’ve gained from having Jeff in my life is a sense of freedom to be as outgoing as possible while still being in a professional setting. Throughout Pride we seamlessly networked and let loose. We know our limits (for the most part) when in an environment that calls for us to behave while managing to be ourselves, and then we go beyond those limits when we’re amongst the right crowds. Finding that balance in life is so important, and Jeff has helped me achieve it. We share the same genuine desire to be in the public eye and use it as a platform for the better good of our community, with no shame. He understands the purpose of having a platform to make a difference, and being our true selves is our best talent. We have distinct personalities, and I very much so feel like he is my gay, male, counterpart in that sense. Jeff Perla is a prime example of owning your true self; he’s undeniably approachable, creative, fun, savvy, and unique.
Below are some of my favorite photos with him
Be confident, persistent, and thoughtful