After being outed by my girlfriend and insulted my classmates and, I still dared to attend my high school reunion – and was surprised by their reaction when I came out as gay.
As a gay man of a certain age, I’ve seen the whole concept of Pride go through a huge metamorposis since I first came out as a terrified, 19-year-old college student. At the time, I had a girlfriend who was getting frustrated with our once-a-month sex life, and when she discovered that “craig” from my theater arts class was actually a little more than just my friend, she retaliated by telling my born-again Christian mother that I was gay.
Soon, I found myself back in Kentucky, seated opposite my stern mom at the kitchen table. With her Bible open in front of her, she was clearly a lady on a mission. After we covered most of Leviticus, I said the only thing I could think of. “I don’t know what to tell you, but maybe God gave you a gay son for reason,” I said. “Maybe you’re the one who’s got something to learn here.”
Purple with rage, Mama slowly closed her Bible, stood up and gave me a long, icy stare. “Well, I’ll tell you what I think,” she said bitterly. “The girls of your generation do not know how to fix themselves up.”
Truthfully, I never felt like there was anything wrong with being gay. It seemed so completely natural. Plus, it was hard to feel like a freak when there seemed to be so many of us around, from so many diverse backgrounds and walks of life. The real problem for gay students came when we were confronted with “haters” as we’ve come to call them — straight guys who felt like your existence somehow posed a threat to theirs. To them, intimidating, insulting or beating up on a “pansy” seemed like a form of sport.
However, as time went by, a lot of my fellow “pansies” ended up continuing our educations and – along with our equally discriminated-against lesbian sisters – going on to found thriving companies and organizations, work toward having our voices heard in politics, began breaking down barriers in the media. We overturned demeaning anti-gay ordinances, made powerful allies and heroically rose to the occasion when the AIDS crisis brutally devastated our ranks.
I had all of this history on my mind on the way to my twenty-fifth high-school reunion. I’d only had a handful of friends in high school and was praying that they’d show up. They didn’t.
Instead, I found myself standing inside the Fish & Game Club with a roomful of people I’d barely known 25 years ago. Deciding to make the best of it, I took the lead: re-introducing myself, shaking hands, and acting like I remembered stories that I had long since forgotten or else never experienced in the first place.
Standing at the punch bowl, I struck up a conversation with Marty, who’d been in my Algebra II class sophomore year. After we covered his career, wife and children, he asked me the big question. “So how about you?” Marty asked. “Married? Any kids?”
“No, Marty,” I replied. “I’m gay.”
Marty’s face lit up. He swatted me affectionately on the shoulder. “Wow – that’s great!” he said exctedly, as if I’d just told him I’d recently won the loot3ery. “My wife, she works down at The Limited, and there are a lot of gay guys down there. And they’re all just… great!”
When the subject of my homosexuality reared its head with a guy named Steve from my tenth grade English class, he shrugged. “Yeah, my sister-in-law is a lesbian. She and Sherri have been together for, like, ten years now.” Steve also noted that it was nice to have some relatives who enjoyed golf as much as he did.
Before long, I was the belle of the ball. People who previously would never have given me the time of day were lining up to have their pictures taken with me. As I drove away at the end of the evening, I couldn’t help but feel proud of how far we had all come.
I know we’re not out of the woods yet. We may have knocked down “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and secured federal marriage rights, but we still need to find ways to ensure safer school environments for our LGBTQ kids, so that no one needs to live in fear of being hassled for being a pansy.
I didn’t know what to expect when I went to my high school reunion. I certainly don’t always love the experience of coming out, whether it’s to co-workers, neighbors, family members or former classmates. But I know that if I don’t, ignorance wins. And that night, I was reminded that people can pleasantly surprise you if you let them.
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Last modified: October 21, 2019