Update: John Sotomayor announced on September 30, 2021, that Embrace Lifestyle Network now is called Embrace Media.
Story & Photos by LISA ANDERSON
“I have a revolving door history. As much as some people may respect me for my work, there are some people out there who are a little skeptical.
I’m an alcoholic. I’ve struggled with addiction for a good part of my life. It stems from early on and not believing in myself. Well, that’s changing because of all of this.” John Sotomayer points to printed issues of Embrace magazine scattered on the desk. “There’s still something there that holds me back. One of the key things I’m working on is identifying those factors, working through them, and then having a full recovery—which is a never-ending thing.”
John is the publisher and mastermind behind the LGBTQ+ magazine Embrace, which launched in May 2020. It’s a quarterly publication that has broken barriers, made history, and won numerous awards in its first year alone.
The magazine could have been “dead on arrival,” due to the shutdowns that occurred right before its premiere issue. However, with the hard work John had put into planning over the last year, financial aid programs, and the support from his contributors, the dream he had seven years ago came to fruition.
He began his career in legal services, working for a prestigious law firm in New York, but when John made the move to Ocala with his parents in 2005, he decided to become a freelance writer. This led to many open doors, including time at Ocala Magazine (OM) as a freelancer, associate editor, and executive editor.
It was during his tenure at OM that the right opportunity presented itself to publicly take a stand as a gay man in 2012. There was some trepidation with releasing the article that featured a photo of John with a rainbow on his hand, but when the series of articles was released, the support was astounding. “It was so well received, not a single negative letter.”
In fact, John and the magazine received over 3,000 emails and texts congratulating him on taking a stand. “I thought right then and there, if I ever have the opportunity to do my own magazine, I want it to be LGBTQ-based.”
As Embrace took shape in 2019, John knew he wanted it to be entirely inclusive. “There [are] too many barriers, too many walls separating people. The whole idea is not just diversity in terms of LGBTQ inclusion, but also allies. We wanted to see how the gay and straight communities work together. That’s why we chose the premier cover as the metal band, APEX. Two of the band members are gay, and two are straight. I thought they best represented what the mission of the magazine is all about.”
Through the magazine, John has found a passion for publishing in the LGBTQ+ genre and a purpose to giving back. “I found myself within this. Within all the different work I’ve done in the past to this point, I found what I think is my purpose and calling in life.”
“I had a very good start in my life. My parents were very supportive,” John begins his story about his alcohol addiction. “I had my first drink when I was at Cornell University at 16-years-old. My parents thought I was too young to go to college, but I wanted to go to the summer program.”
He attended the program at Cornell for two summers in 1984 and 1985, giving him an early introduction to the full college experience. When he attended college after his graduation in 1986, John was already well-versed in navigating the party life. “I had the idea in my head to work hard/play hard. Unfortunately, that came with consequences.”
The consequences included his employment and some financial difficulties, but for John, those were “minor problems.” In the light of day, he was living a life of privilege and not fully understanding the benefits he had. At night, he flipped the switch to party mode. “Most people can’t even tell I’m drunk. They’re surprised to learn later that I was that drunk. I go through blackout. I have no memory or recollection, because my brain is not recording, and I also get sleep-deprived. So, basically, a night out would mean two nights of recovery.”
In the beginning, he would feel the effects of the alcohol, such as getting “the spins,” but his body began to adapt. John took it as a sign to drink more. He couldn’t see he was doing his body a disservice, until his world came crashing down.
“The first obstacle was leaving law school without a plan. It’s the first time I ever walked home without a plan.”
John left school after his roommates searched his bedroom and found evidence he was gay. It was 1992. HIV was still considered the “gay disease,” and Ellen was five years away from her public reveal. His roommates’ discovery led to blackmail and gay-bashing. When the news made its way to fellow students’ ears, the anti-gay behavior continued. “I felt defeated, like I destroyed myself. That led to more spiraling out of control. It got to the point where I thought I was never going to get anywhere in life.”
That’s when he started dating a man who believed in him and set him on the path to recovery. While in rehab, John had an “aha” moment when was told, “You can always start over with a clean slate.” It was in this moment he first had the idea to become a writer, and it was with the strong support of friends and family that he made the transition of working as a paralegal to a freelance writer and “putting the free in freelance.”
John’s addiction has brought with it emotional pain, financial troubles, and medical problems, due to beatings he received over the years. “These are things I prefer people not to know, but if it helps somebody else with the struggle…” He pauses to collect his thoughts. “You don’t have to do that to yourself, anymore, and life would be so much better. Even if I never got any of this,” he says, gesturing to the magazines and the awards they’ve won, “life would be so much better without where I was [headed].
“I’m not out of the woods. I don’t want to present to the public that I’m a beacon, the guy you need to go to for this, but at least I’m sharing my story with where I’m at.”
Through his work on Embrace, John has learned to be adaptable and how supportive his community can be. “I think when people see something happening that is going to be a game-changer, they will let it happen. They want it to happen, I think. Don’t allow yourself to set your own boundaries; try to always go beyond them.”
The awards Embrace won this year are on a corner table, and John looks at them every night. He is grateful for everything he has achieved. “To me, it is still freakin’ unbelievable. Why me? I was literally down in the gutter before. If my parents hadn’t taken me back in, in New York, I would have been homeless. And I probably would have been gone by now. I was spared all of that.”
Looking ahead to the future for himself and the magazine, John hopes it will endure. “I see this as my legacy. I want to see this survive me.”
He also plans to share more of his personal journey in a book.
John and his team are working hard to expand the circulation and distribution of Embrace. This includes creating the Embrace Lifestyle Network to bring all their social media networks onto a website where there will be video and podcast content.
Social Media: @sotomayormedia
Coming Soon: embracelifestylenetwork.com