Posted by: Cobb County Liberal | June 27, 2009

On the fortieth anniversary of Stonewall…

Some angry queens 13 years before my birth have had such an impact on my life.  I didn’t really know what Stonewalll was till early on in college, but I knew the effects before I had ever heard of the term.

Without Stonewall, I might not be here today.  The huge stigma of being gay might have done me in when in high school, and even if I had made it out of high school I certainly would not be the same person as I am today.

I grew up in South Georgia, in a single-mom household.  My dad died when I was 10, and my memories of him are pretty hazy.  As so many of us can say, I knew I was different.  But didn’t know how.  I was not brought up in any sort of church, although my family is conservative to the bone.  That is, everyone except my generation.

I had by no means an easy time coming to terms with being gay.  I finally realized it when I was in the 7th grade – around 1994.  I started exploring the gay side of me online through chatrooms on good old Prodigy.  I was getting called gay a lot, and I didn’t really know what that meant.  So being the good geek I am, I went and found the answer.  I was terrified when I first started going to those chatrooms, and told the people I was chatting with, other teens (so they said but who really knows), not to call me gay.  I was there just exploring.

I soon learned the lingo, where I met my first “lol” – I originally thought it was some sort of virtual pong game – and then learned the gay lingo.  I learned different terms for what I was already discovering about myself and for myself.  I even saw a couple of pictures, which really clued me in.  By the time I went into high school, I was an avid reader of the Nifty archive and learning more and more each day. I became a regular in the IRC chatrooms, and even had an online crush.

I was slowly coming to terms with it, and around my sophomore year I could start to accept that I was the “g” word.  Ellen came out to a huge controversy, and I thought it was awesome.  I was sure to watch that night’s episode.  Then the next day I had a substitute in French class.  The guy went on and on, saying how evil Ellen was, and how everyone who watched it was now dirty and going to end up gay.  Lovely.  (My French teacher, upon hearing this, got him fired and he never worked at my school again.)  The closet door, open for so brief of a time, was slammed shut.

I was starting to break out of my shell and started having a group of friends.  Then.  Then Matt Shepard happened just as I was starting my junior year.  This was one of the defining moments in my life.  The closet door immediately slammed shut and had some padlocks put on.  Then someone in Alabama was beaten to a pulp because he was gay too, pretty soon afterwards.  I wanted to cry, and I did so in my bedroom, but my pillow was the only one who seemed to understand.  The only gay people were Ellen, Matt Shepard, and people online who didn’t live anywhere close to me.

It was one of the darker times of my life around then.  But a seed was planted in that despair, and I first began to think about coming out to my friends.

I ended up starting the spring semester of my Junior year in high school.  I was crushing hard on this guy in my math class.  I wrote him this longwinded two-page note full of teenage emo angst.  The first page was going on about how I had something to tell him and I didn’t want him to freak out.  The second page started with “Well, I’m gay.  And I’ve got a crush on you.”  I never *gave* him the note, but writing it out proved to be the crack in the closet door.  I carried that note everywhere I went.  Eventually I gathered the courage to tell my best friend at the time.  I called her and too freaked out to speak, and ended up telling her online.  It was easier online…I didn’t have to face their emotions.  She said she was ok with it, she who I found out told people who had told other people, and that was the end of that friendship.

I told another online, then finally gathered the courage to tell someone over the phone.  My voice cracked over the phone as I called myself gay for the first time outloud.

I slowly told other friends, and no one freaked out to me…all by giving them that note. Some were a little apprehensive including G, a guy I crushed hard on who was a member of the religious right, but never said anything directly to me about it.

Flash forward to the summer after my senior year.  I had just graduated, and even come out to that French teacher mentioned before.  During my final exam private oral interview, I used the feminine form when talking about love.  She smiled and said, in French, she was surprised as she thought I like guys.  My eyes bugged out, bushed, but nodded.  She stood up and gave me a hug.

I had a part time job, and when I came home from work I saw my mom on the couch crying.  I immediately asked, “Who died?”  What came after was the most awkward conversation of my life.  My mom had gone on the computer in my room, and found some, well, it’s hard to explain away a picture of a naked fireman.  She was in hysterics, saying how it’s just a phase, it’s just a phase.  Made me say the words.  Told me I didn’t want to be one of those people and die from AIDS.  Just a lovely conversation.  The next day she told me, “it’s just a phase” and then never said anything about it.  To this day, she’s still happily in denial, although her attitudes have gotten more liberal.  [She told off an elderly coworker for saying I should not have been marching in the AIDS walk because “everyone who gets it deserves it.”  I’ve never been as proud of my mom when she told me the story a few days later.]

I ran from the house crying, luckily having plans to see a movie with friends.  I was sobbing in the parking lot that night of some cheap movie theater in South Georgia, when G, the conservative friend, saw me and asked what’s wrong.  Boy was he in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I couldn’t stop crying, and he eventually calmed me down, and to his credit, comforted me.  (Not in the way I wish, mind you 🙂

College was a whole new world.  I went up to Georgia Tech, and for the first time in my life, met actual gay people.  Who had jobs.  Who had *good* jobs I wanted some day – advisors of student organizations, professors, etc.  I took a deep breath, and decided to join the gay student organization (At the time, Gay and Lesbian Alliance.)  I met my best friend, still to this day, there.  One of the members went out of her way to show me about the Gay side of Atlanta – took me to Outwrite books, where I bought a Madonna CD, and even to a couple of 18 and up clubs.  Unbelievable.  I had a severely homophobic roommate who eventually moved out, but for the first time in my life I felt truly free to be free.

Since college I’ve had to close the closet door once again. I’m out at my UU church and amongst my friends, but not at work.  I’ve got a firm separation of gay and work life happening right now.  I work for a conservative company in a conservative part of Atlanta.  I could easily be fired for being gay.  It took me three years to come out to one person in the company, who I had been friends with for two of those years, and he was weireded out by it.  I’m since out to about five coworkers, mostly due to a post-Milk binge.  But not to my bosses.  I can’t imagine that happening anytime soon.

But life is better for me.  I had a boyfriend (for the first time) – well, kinda.  There was never a label that seemed to fit.  I’m quite content now in my single gayhood.  I don’t go to bars often or clubbing, like, ever, but I know I can if I so choose.  And I know that’s because of a group of rowdy queens 40 years ago tonight.  So to those named and unnamed heroes of forty years ago, this late-20’s Starbucks drinking corporate queen thanks you from the bottom of his heart, of his soul.

Because without you, there would have been no Lawrence decision.  There would be no marriage debate.  There would have been no outcry over Matt Shepard.  There would be no gay role models for a teenager in South Georgia.  And heck, there might not be me.



  1. […] This post was Twitted by ruphillips […]

  2. power to the people, buddy!


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