"How long have you known?" That's always the first question, isn't it? I guess I have the stereotypical response to it too. "As far back as I can remember." I've known in one way or another that I was different, that I was gay, ever since I was a little kid. I think the harder and probably the more important question is "When did I let myself know I was gay?" That didn't happen until my late teens when I was in college. Maybe I should start from the beginning though (and apologize for any long-windedness)...
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Not to brag, but I was always a smart child. I was always reading and studying and learning. I guess it shouldn't surprise me that, even as a youngster, I knew there was something different about me. This was something that made me look up the word 'homosexual' in the old Funk & Wagnell's encyclopedia set that my mother had bought me piece-by-piece in a local grocery store back in the 1970's. I read this entry over and over as time went on. Without any gay role models in my life and none on TV at the time, I was trying to figure out what was going on with me. The problem was that, no matter how much I read, I couldn't identify with any of what I read. Not only was it the 70's with its view of homosexuality somewhat skewed, but I was growing up on a farm with two conservative parents and a Roman Catholic upbringing. I can still remember my father referring to the few gay characters I ever saw on television with phrases like "the faggot." Even though the words hurt, these were never people I could associate with anyway. Therefore, no matter what I felt, I couldn't be gay (even if I did like looking at guys). On top of all this, I was an only child (I have three half-sisters, but they weren't part of my life at this time.) and was expected to be as perfect as possible, doing well in school and in life. I never had a girlfriend at all during high school and had only one date, which was a total bomb. I knew that guys were supposed to date girls so I vigorously pursued one girl, who it turns out had absolutely no interest in me. All this time I was still checking out the other guys in the locker room, but couldn't connect what I was feeling with the idea of love or dating. (One thing that probably didn't help was that the entirety of 'the talk' consisted of my parents asking, "Do you know about sex?" me saying, "Yes," and them replying, "OK." I didn't realize how little I actually did know, not that they would have had the answers I would have needed anyway.) I remember a couple guys in high school that through one act or another gave me or others the impression that they were gay. (I was doing theatre, so what do you expect?) I also remember avoiding these people, carrying the same negative stereotype others had and thinking I could not be like them. I was supposed to be perfect after all and you can't be gay and perfect, right?
I managed to graduate high school as the salutatorian. Not perfect, but close enough. Still no girlfriend and no clue as to what all these feelings meant. I was going to college and managed (with the help of my one half-sister, who was back in my life) to convince my parents to let me live on campus. My scholarships covered enough for them to afford it. I was on my own, meeting new people, doing what I wanted, and starting to learn a bit about myself. I got involved in campus activities, including the student government. At the end of my freshman year, my father had a heart attack. Although my father's three daughters were now part of the picture, they had their own families; it was just me and my mother now and the start of a whole new dynamic. That summer we sold the farm we lived on (something we had been trying to do for a while even before my father died) and moved into a new house just in time for me to move back into the dorms in Buffalo. This year went by fairly uneventful, although I did become friends with a couple gay people I met through other friends. The next summer I saw the movie "Biloxi Blues" with Matthew Broderick playing a character who kept a journal of everything that happened in his life. As my third year in college began, so did my first journal. A few weeks into the school year, I was hanging out with my roommate and two of his friends while we watched a couple of movies. It was a warm night and I remember his one friend taking his shirt off. I also remember finding him very attractive. I was writing about what I felt in my journal as we were watching the movies. It took me 19 years, but for once I had a way to express how I felt, even if it were just writing something only I would read. Just writing about my feelings terrified me. There was no way I could even consider writing to word 'gay' at this point. When I eventually did use the word 'gay' for the first time in my journal, my heart was racing so fast that it was ridiculous. Once it was written, there was no turning back.
During my fourth year of college and student government involvement, I was the chairperson of the committee that evaluated new organizations of campus for official recognition. In the spring semester, we had to deal with the appearance of a gay and lesbian organization on campus, and with a lack of anyone else willing to work with the group, the liaison job fell into my lap. As I worked with the group, I became friends with their organization's liaison. After a one-on-one morning meeting about recognition stuff, I decided I needed to finally talk to someone. As it happened, his car had broken down the night before and he was stuck on campus all day. We met for lunch and I came out to him, the first person I ever discussed this part of my life with. It was very freeing but in some ways left me even more confused because now I had to deal with everything in my life. I went through the next year and a half of college trying to work things out, only telling a few close friends about myself, still working out if I was gay or just bi. (I had a girlfriend for a while my last semester, which helped confuse the hell out of me. I cared about her a lot, but couldn't find myself sexually attracted to her. It took me a couple years to finally admit I was gay.)
I moved back to Lockport after college, and stayed where I was with the closet door opened just a crack. One weekend, my ex-girlfriend (but still a close friend) invited me along with a couple other friends to go see a drag show at a gay bar in Buffalo. I had only seen drag once before when a friend who was in a play I was in performed one night and a few of us went to watch him. That had also been my only experience with gay bars to this point. It was interesting seeing other gay people of all types there. My friends could only stay for the first show, but I hung out to see the second one and see what it was like there. (None of the people in the group knew about me at that time.) When I told another straight friend (who knew I was gay) that I had went to see the show, he told me he wanted to go see the show too. So, a few weeks later, we met there to see the drag show and he commented that when I was there, I seemed more comfortable with myself than he had seen me in a long time. Realizing this, I started going out to the club more often and started making friends in the gay community. Around this time I started becoming interested in a bisexual guy that I had known casually. We started hanging out more. My mother didn't like him from the start and asked a couple times what was going on with him and me. I told her we were just friends, but as we got closer, I told him that I wouldn't lie if my mother asked me about the two of us again. Just after Thanksgiving, he had come up to visit. I drove him home and came back to my house to set-up the Christmas tree with my mother. When I got home, she had it almost finished and I could tell she was upset about something. Once again, she broached the subject of my friend and me and I told her the truth and that I was gay. Needless to say, she did not take it well and started crying. She blamed him for me being gay and the fact that shoe wouldn't have any actual grandkids now and talked of "curing" me. (I wasn't sick. There was nothing to cure.) She told me he was no longer allowed in her house. Within the next couple weeks, the guy decided he wanted to be with a girl instead and we parted ways anyway. As time went on and I became more comfortable with myself, the topic of my sexuality went to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". Since I have moved out, my mother and I are closer than ever. I'm totally out now, but I haven't discussed being gay with my mother in years. Although some things she says tells me that she still remembers that I'm gay, sometimes I think she still wants to forget. She is supportive of everything she knows of in my life, but I have yet to be able to tell her of the work I did on GayBuffalo Online as editor of Buffalo Outlook Magazine, work I'm very proud of. I would love to be able to show that to her. I'm hoping someday maybe she will be able to accept my friends and I as who we truly are. I'm just glad that I reached a point where I can.
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