I have been meaning to talk about this for a long time, but lacked the courage. It’s time to reclaim what was once mine.
I was fearless as a child. I am sure I gave my mother more than her share of anxiety attacks because I was always the kid who would swim out too far, jump into the deep end of the pool even before I was a really good swimmer, and dive off the high diving board just for kicks. I also drove my rather frugal father wild when we went out to eat in restaurants by zeroing in on and then demanding the most expensive and the most obscure (at least to a young kid) item on the menu. I recall one memorable dinner at which I ordered a whole steamed lobster (I was about seven and no bigger than a minute). When Dad tried to talk me out of it, Mom said “Let him have it; if he doesn’t like it, I’ll eat what he doesn’t.”
(P.S: She didn’t get any.)
That lack of fear, that sense of self-possession, took its very first hit the day I stepped foot in first grade. I don’t know if it actually happened that day, but by the end of the week I was the class faggot and thus began a nightmare that would peak in middle school.
I was both active and athletic, but I disliked team sports; I saw no reason to be competitive in that context and frankly, baseball bored me to death and I did not then and do not now understand the first thing about football. The fact that almost from Day One someone told me I “threw like a girl” did not help matters. Neither did the fact that I was a top student; my parents would have killed me (figuratively speaking of course) had I brought home anything less than a B.
Athletic I was, but violence was not something I could bring myself to. As the years passed and the kids got more sophisticated and the harassment and bullying more brutal, all I could do while at school was avoid the bullies as best I could; I had fantasies about killing the lot of them, but I only got into one real fistfight in all my years of school and THAT was between me and my best friend over some nonsense that to this day we cannot remember (yes, we are still friends after forty years) and we BOTH got suspended for that bit of shenanigans. My parents were less than thrilled; I ate standing up for about two days and so did my friend.
The only person besides me who suffered during these years was my brother. Just a year younger than I, he was of an even gentler nature than mine and to my deep and everlasting shame I took all the anger and aggression I couldn’t express towards my bullies out on him. At one and the same time, we were inseparable and when my mood got ugly I sometimes beat him mercilessly. Looking back, I may be making this worse than it was; it isn’t as though I ever drew blood or knocked him unconscious, but it wasn’t until we were both in high school and I went for him one day only to have him throw me across the room that we finally started to be real friends.
(Sadly, we aren’t speaking anymore, but it isn’t about my sexuality; I told him I was gay when I was nineteen and that did not stop him from sharing an apartment with me for five years after my parents left New York; about ten years ago I had a falling out with his wife and our relationship appears to be broken for reasons which I do not even know.)
The verbal teasing became more and more relentless, and that old saw about sticks and stones is pure bullshit: sometimes words hurt even more than a fist. There were plenty of fists, too; I am not now and never have been a good fighter and I was the kid bullies just LOVE to zero in on. Bullies are basically cowards and had I just once done a number on one of them like I used to give it to my brother I probably could have changed things for the better, but school increasingly became a trap. And don’t tell me about telling a teacher or the principal; that only got you retribution from the kid you ratted on and it looks as though THAT has not changed in forty years either.
But the final straw came in eighth grade. Middle school was by far the worst time of my life; the bullying and brutality kept getting worse and worse until one day in eighth grade. There was a fire drill, and the kid who sat behind me in homeroom was a particular nemesis of mine. That day, while we assembled on the street corner, he stepped in a pile of dog droppings. Other kids laughed, but I tried to pretend I had not seen it. It didn’t work: he started trying to shove me into stepping into it myself, and after several minutes of shoving and failing to move me, he did something even worse: he wiped his shoe on my pants. And when I went to the Assistant Principal and asked to be allowed to go home and change I was denied; I went to the Principal and got the same denial. I was not even allowed to call either of my parents; I had to walk around with dog shit on my clothes for the rest of the day.
My parents were so livid that they both took the next day off and barged into the Principal’s office and I am not sure of this but I think my Dad actually threatened him with something. Knowing Dad it could have been a good beating or a nasty lawsuit; Dad was almost never a violent man but I was his firstborn and he would have died for me and for my brother. When I finally came out to my parents at twenty-one, he was the one who accepted me. Mom kicked a bit but she eventually came around; at least there was no question of losing their love.
But eye digress. That degrading incident was my last day at that school; I had a full-out nervous breakdown and could not even approach the school building without having a panic attack. Fortunately the semester was more than half over, and I suppose the administration was looking out for their collective ass, but a couple months later they graduated me.
Going to high school should have changed things; due to a quirk in zoning I was the only student from my middle school to go to my high school; all the rest went to one of three others. So I started out knowing no one. But the first day the kid in front of me in homeroom asked me if I gave head and then implied that I didn’t know what it meant (I did), after which he proceeded to tell everybody within ear shot, “he gives head.”
Clearly I was still too fragile, because I left as soon as homeroom ended and never went back until the following September. During the year between those two Septembers I went through some really rigorous counseling and the Scott who went to school as a sophomore was a much different kid than the Scott of the previous year. The school was somewhat different, too: the nasty comments were much fewer, or perhaps I simply shrugged them off; for the first time, words could not hurt me and I was NEVER attacked physically. And in high school I excelled in most subjects, but in music and drama I was one of the stars and even the jocks had to respect the talent, and if they thought such talents were “faggy,” no one ever said anything like that.
As for me, I had always known I was different, and at fifteen I went to a cruising place I had heard of, seduced a guy who, looking back, must have been about twenty-five, and went home with him. I lost my virginity that day and also for the first time the words “I’m gay” went through my mind, though I was not yet ready to say them. I dated a couple of girls in high school, and even had sex on a regular basis with one of them, but I don’t know a gay man of my age who didn’t try sex with a girl at least once. Part of it was a need to prove I could actually do it; it was of course mixed up with my sense of masculinity. But it was mostly a desperate attempt to “go straight.” As I look back on those days, I am thankful that I never heard of the “ex-gay” movement until years later. At any rate I discovered all on my own that if it were possible to “pray away the gay” there wouldn’t be anyone left in the LGBT community. I prayed, I cried out to God, I wept more tears than my parents ever even knew. I did not want to be gay, and I even went so far as to get engaged to the girl I was then dating, but I think that was what did it: I saw myself as a self-loathing idiot who, if I followed through and actually married the girl, would create a mess that would eventually turn my world upside down, and worse, possibly ruin the life of an innocent bystander.
So I came out. First to my friends (not a single one of them was the least bit surprised and I didn’t lose any of them either), and a bit later, when I had met and fallen in love with my first husband, my parents. The one lesson I learned is that (speaking for myself at any rate) you go through life thinking you’re keeping this deep dark secret, but the only one you’re fooling is you, and you’re not even doing that as well as you think. Certainly you aren’t fooling anyone close to you (I don’t believe for one minute that parents who react with shock are being real with their kids; parents know, and if they don’t they have already failed their kids in more ways than anyone can count), and we all know you’re not fooling God; after all, as I soon came to understand, God made me the way I am so (S)He knew what I was “from my mother’s womb,” as the Bible says.
Being gay is not the ticket to hell the Fundies so desperately need to believe it is; more than anything else, they cannot survive in this world without having someone to feel superior to; without the mythical “other,” their whole worldview collapses and they will do, say, shriek, anything at all, not to have that happen (look at the WBC).
You know what hell is? The closet. The closet is a place of torment, both internal and external. So when I finally came out, I took a hatchet to it and chopped it up for firewood. And I never looked back. There are no words for the freedom.
My life since then has not been perfect; my first marriage ended up being something out of Edward Albee, and my serial promiscuity during the early years got me infected with HIV at a time in the epidemic when I should have known better. But what’s been good has been wonderful, including finally meeting the soul mate and best friend I had dreamed about since my earliest memories when I was nearly forty (our timing is not God’s timing, but God’s timing is always perfect). My life has been mostly good since I came out, but the last ten years have been the best years of my life.
It really does get better; for me it began to get better while I was still in high school, and by the time I was twenty-one I was completely out, comfortable in my skin, and I had learned not to give a good Goddamn about what anyone thought of me unless they were teaching me, learning from me, or employing me.