With all of us sitting in a circle, in little plastic desks, in my old high school, there was a room full of young, springy attentive eyes, like all of the questions had all already been asked years ago and everyone was still waiting, with bated breath, for answers.
One of the two teachers that have (bravely and not without backlash) volunteered to watch over this club said, “Well, why don’t we start out by introducing ourselves.” I told them who I was and that I went to this school 40,000 years ago. They giggled. Marie introduced herself. And as the students went around saying their names and what grade they were in it was remarkable how easy it was to remember myself then- so unpolished and so young.
Two of the girls were blushing madly and couldn’t actually make eye contact with me while telling me their names. I remember that feeling too- how anything lesbian-ish at all would just set my chest on fire and make my already awkward existence even more awkward. Like the first time I heard that song, “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” on the radio. I remember the moment exactly:
I was getting ready for school, adding mad amounts of Aqua Net hairspray to my long, long blond hair when this new song started playing on the radio. The song was good, I like it. And then, all of a sudden, Sophie B. Hawkins ever so stealthily slipped in this line, “I lay by the ocean making love to her with visions clear…” And I froze. I think my heart might have stopped and I know I stopped breathing. I absolutely could not believe what she just said! I was frozen like a statue of myself. I looked in the mirror, unable to move- I looked like the statue of liberty, holding a hairspray bottle over my head like a torch. And as accidental as that last reference was, hearing that line in that song woke up a deep, dark place in me that I didn’t even know about, and set something inside of me free. Something in me, in who I was, started to move, and I felt really, really alive… and terrified, in a good way. And now that I think about it, it might have been the first time I felt totally out of control of my body’s reaction to feeling sexual. I couldn’t not feel, let alone stop, that sharp electric ripple that whipped down through my spine and physically forced me to curl forward and wrap my arms around that weirdly-good nausea feeling that had gone off like a bomb in my tummy (that I would feel for the second time ever, kissing Marie for the first time later that same year.)
Ok, back to the meeting: There are ten or eleven students, a teacher, a guidance counselor, Marie and me (sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.) After we all introduced ourselves, one boy, who I instantly adored, immediately raised his hand with a subtle swoosh while simultaneously asking me, “Ok, seriously, I need to know. Do you think your life has changed much since high school or not really so much?”
Marie and I both laughed a little. I responded, “Um, yes. I would say my life has changed very, very much since I went to this school.
A girl raised her hand and asked Marie how she knew me. We both knew this girl was really asking, “Why is this straight woman here?” Marie said, well, like I said, I am married to a man and have two kids now, right? But in high school I was dating jesse. She was my girlfriend for a long time actually, 4 or 5 years and the first person I was in love with.” And womp. Every. Single. Jaw. Fell. It was great. This was exactly why I wanted Marie to come with me.
“You mean, you were both gay in high school?!? Together!?!” A different girl asked, still unable to make eye contact. Marie nodded and explained that no one knew of course. “No one!” She said, “It was too dangerous. Can you imagine falling in love for the first time, or even having a really big crush on someone and not being able to tell anyone! Not your mom, your friends, no one.” Most heads shook side to side while a few kids made it obvious that, yes, indeed they do know how that feels.
The same boy that I totally adore raised his hand and said, “Here’s the deal. I’m Mexican, duh! And my mom knows I’m gay but I haven’t told my dad yet. And my mom always says that it makes her sad that I’m, you know, gay or whatever, cause she doesn’t want people to make my life hard. She says if I tell people I’m gay I’ll lose friends or not get jobs or get to live where I want to or whatever. She says that being gay or whatever is just going to be way hard. What do you think, jesse? Is it totally way hard? Does that stuff really happen?”
I had already decided, before this meeting, that I was only here to support these awesome kids, not to teach them really. They can teach each other but maybe I can help guide things a little. They already know a lot, they are very self aware and this is their club, their experience. But most likely they don’t have the language for a lot of things yet, that they might be thinking or trying to say, that I could help with. Like the question my sweet, fabulous boy just asked- there’s some internalized homophobia in there, right? And I don’t need to teach them vocabulary (yet!) or how to spell it, but just help them see what they already know a bit clearer. And, I had also decided that although I didn’t want to scare them, I was most certainly not going to lie – about anything.
So, I looked my fabulous favorite boy right in the eyes and said, “Well, let’s just be honest here, you worry about all of that too, right? I mean, your mom didn’t invent that worry – you think about that too and it’s freakin’ stressful, right?!” He and a few others nodded dramatically. And instantly his entire body language changed. I hadn’t said much of anything yet but all of a sudden his eyes softened and he just looked relaxed. And I realized right then, more than anything, that just by being there, just by sitting in this room with these kids, I was validating them. All of them. All of it. Not just their experiences or their confusion or fears or sexual identities – but all of it. I was proof that what they were going through was really, really hard and most importantly, that it was all very real.
I smiled at all of their sweet, attentive faces and took a deep breath. “So, here’s the deal. Here’s the truth. I have no idea how your life is going to go. But for me, in my life, I have lost friends after they found out I was gay. I have lost a job after I came out. And I know there are a few apartments I tried to rent and didn’t get because my roommate for a one bedroom was another girl. I know all of this for a fact.” And now I really had their attention. I was the adult that was telling them the truth and they were ready for whatever I had to say.
I took another deep breath and saw that even the two teachers were frozen, paying a sort of attention that I am not use to and I continued, “But here is what else I know for sure: I don’t have any place in my life for people that don’t want me. Yes, I have been surprised by a friend’s reaction and it totally hurt my feelings, a lot. But if someone doesn’t want to spend their time with me, for whatever reason – that is a big loss for them and what can I do about it anyway? I’m certainly not going to try and talk someone into liking me. And I will definitely meet other new people, the world is HUGE, let me tell you – it’s freaking HUGE- and I’ll make new friends, all of my life, and they’ll like all of me. My real friends celebrate and cherish who I am, all of me, because that is what friends do and I deserve that!.. And why would I want to rent a home that doesn’t want me in it? You know how many places there are to live?! I will find one that wants me. I always have. And I would NEVER EVER want to work for a job that doesn’t get how fabulous I am. I am totally fabulous and I deserve to work for a place that totally gets that”… at which point my sweet boy interrupts with a snap, “You are fierce, girl. So fierce!”
I laughed and continued, “So, here’s the deal, your mom might be totally right, about all of it or maybe none of it, we can’t know. She doesn’t know, she just obviously loves you a lot and wants the world to be good to you. But we also can’t live in this constant state of fear of rejection either or we’ll never get anywhere, right? I mean, you might not get a job because you’re Mexican or I might not get it because I’m a girl, or maybe they won’t like something else about us. There are a million different reasons that the world will come up with to come down on us and make things hard and being gay is totally up for grabs that way. So? What do you do about that?”
It took them a second to realize I was asking them a question. “Seriously, what do YOU do about that? What have you done? What can you do? You certainly wouldn’t be in this club if you weren’t trying to do something about that.”
The other blushed-girl started to mumble, “I think it’s just about exposure. Like, if you’ve never met a gay person then maybe you’re afraid of them or something- but I don’t know why. They’re just people too. It’s totally weird that people say such stupid stuff about people when they don’t even know.”
My brain was screaming, “AAAAAAH! You totally get it! You are right on top of the entire philosophy and structure of the perpetuation of discrimination!” My mouth smiled big, which made her blush ever harder, and I said, “I think it’s about exposure too, like getting information before you decide on something. I think you are totally right.”
And we talked about that for a while. We talked about a lot of things. These kids are on it, they are so so ready to do good work. They decided they want to start a “That’s so gay” campaign, where they would do something about stopping that expression from being used so often in a discriminatory way at school. We also talked about t-shirts for the club, that one girl suggested should all be different colors of the rainbow. They told me what it was like to go to this school now and how there was a lesbian couple who had applesauce flung on them while holding hands in the hallway. They didn’t know who Mathew Sheppard was, so Marie told them that story. They also didn’t know Ellen was ever not out. So, then we talked about coming out and what that had been like for different folks. We talked about a lot and my heart was swooning the whole way through.
As the meeting started to wrap up the students asked, in an adorable, desperate, whiny, puppy way, if I would, “Please, please, pleeeeease come to another meeting soooooon!.” And I was flattered and said that of course I would.
I also said, “Before you all leave, I just want you guys to be totally sure, in case you weren’t or were wondering at all, that you are totally incredible and you have changed the whole entire world by starting this club. I mean, the whole entire world is a different and better place, in a huge way, just because of you guys. You made my life better even before we met today, just by starting this club. And you will never know exactly how many people you make feel better, how many lives you help, but I promise you it is way more than even the highest number you could possibly come up with and it will only continue to get bigger. It is an absolute privilege to have met you all today and to have been invited to this meeting. You are all my personal heroes and I am so impressed with all of you, for who you all are. So, thank you, very much.” To which my favorite fabulous boy flippantly said, “You too girl.”
And as they all started to leave to catch the last school bus, my favorite, fabulous boy was leaving the room when he so perfectly put the gay icing on the gay cake, “And, jesse… girl, you got yourself some goooood hair, by the way. Seriously. Fierce.”
(Looking for the line? Go to 3:18)