Thursday, June 15, 2006

What If?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Left To My Own Devices - Part One

I am a lucky guy. I have heard far too many gruesome “coming out” stories where good people lost family, friends, jobs and homes because they told someone about their capacity to fall in love with someone with similar anatomy. Stories of people who suffered through years of self-denial, self-hatred, fear, violence and loneliness – unbearable loneliness. I’ve also heard tales of immense courage, determination and strength with a healthy dose of humor.

Gay folks don’t just share coming out stories, we share the experience of the process of coming out – a process of accepting, constructing and articulating a Gay identity in a heterosexual world. Most coming out stories start with “I always knew I was different” and then proceed into a personal and revealing life history. We use our coming out stories as catalysts for developing a relationship of acquaintance into a friendship or more. Coming out stories provide us with a way of nearly instantly relating to each other through shared experience.

I always knew I was different. I always knew that I would grow up to like boys in a different way than I liked girls – though at the time I thought boys were dumb and I wanted nothing to do with their mob sports and general rowdiness. I preferred solitary magical expeditions in the woods spying on deer and foxes, or sitting on the basement steps traveling to foreign lands and meeting historical people through an old set of encyclopedias. It wasn’t that I preferred the solitary part. It was more that I preferred not feeling like an awkward outsider.

In second grade, Dennis Giel called me a faggot. I wasn’t totally sure what that meant, but I knew I felt ashamed deep inside. I knew by the way the other kids laughed, that faggot wasn’t a good thing, and that it applied to me. In third grade, I stumbled upon a 60 Minutes-style televising the burgeoning Gay Power movement in San Francisco. I remember a particularly indignant blonde, woolly-haired fellow in a ringer tee and striped tube socks telling the reporter that he was “proud to be a faggot.” I still remember the sense of relief that I felt, knowing that one day when I was grown up, I could move far, far away to San Francisco and be with the other faggots.

I spent my entire childhood hiding, and alone. That all changed in a single September evening, with a chance decision to attend a Junior Achievement meeting that had been promoted by my 10th grade English teacher. Erik, who sat in front of me, signed up too, and we decided to go together. Erik’s dad dropped us off outside, but we never made it in to the meeting, opting instead to walk around aimlessly for hours, and launch a lifelong friendship. He taught me how to smoke a cigarette, and we made plans for the weekend. Together, over the next few months, we learned how to smoke pot and shoplift, watched the Breakfast Club roughly 43 times, discovered the Smiths and New Order and stayed out really, really late on school nights. And, we came out to each other. Honestly, I don’t remember exactly how, but I know it was a quick evolution from, “hey, look, that guy’s clothes are cool” to “um, yeah, that guy’s hot.”

Erik had a bit of a head start on me, in the process. He, and a mutual friend of ours, Jody, had already come out to each other. The three of us devised a coded language and alphabet, for clandestine phone communications and the all important note-writing in class. At the beginning of 11th grade, we met Marla. She had a new wave haircut and a penchant for Joy Division and Sylvia Plath, which of course, was a big green light in our book. And she too was Gay.

The four of us waited it out together. We waited for the opportunity to escape the isolation of Gay teenagehood in exurbia. Unlike most Gay kids, we were lucky enough to have each other. Those years weren’t easy. But, without the hope that we were able to give each other, we very well might not have made it. I certainly am a lucky guy.

Erik and Cyrus - Class of 1988

Pick up a brochure about the sun
Learn to ignore what the photographer saw
I was always told that you should join a club
Stick with the gang, if you want to belong

I was a lonely boy, no strength, no joy
In a world of my own at the back of the garden
I didn't want to compete, or play out on the street
For in a secret life I was a round head general

I could leave you, say goodbye
Or I could love you, if I try
And I could
And left to my own devices, I probably would
Left to my own devices, I probably would
Oh, I would

I was faced with a choice at a difficult age
Would I write a book? Or should I take to the stage?
But in the back of my head I heard distant feet
Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat

"Left To My Own Devices" - Pet Shop Boys