Monday, May 16, 2011

I’m ok, you’re ok

This spring marks the 25th anniversary of my graduation from high school.  At the time it was an important event and the 57 other students in my class were important to me.  We lived in a small town without a major highway or freeway, which means that we were somewhat isolated.  Tourism and fishing were the primary industries.  The smallness was great in that activities at the high school were well attended and supported by the community. It was a bummer in that only in the summer did we have an influx of people and thus our diversity was limited.

This coastal fishing community was a homogenous society of lower income and at the most mildly middleclass white families.   By white, I mean WHITE.  Our diversity consisted of two families of mixed racial diversity.   There were a few Hispanic families, but no acknowledgement existed that culturally they might have different customs than the rest of us. 

In addition to our racial uniformity, we also had an unfortunate lack of experience with people of different sexual orientation.  We threw the term ‘gay’ around like an insult.  “That is sooo gay!”  “Those pants are are so gay.”  We didn’t know we knew anyone who was gay and thus how could we know that using that word in that way was hurtful?

There is a lot of dialog currently about bullying and efforts to reduce the suffering of gay and lesbian teens who often feel ostracized by their peers.   The folks leading this effort are heroes in my opinion.  But I can’t help but wonder what it was like for the kids I went to school with who knew they were gay and didn’t feel that they could say anything?  Were they hiding in plain sight?  Behind closed doors were they coming out to each other, or did they have to leave town to finally live and love the people they wanted?

As an adult in the era of Facebook, I have been communicating with some of the gay ‘kids’ I went to school with.  I struggle a bit with how to I let them know that I shouldn’t be painted with the same paintbrush as the small town folk from 25 years ago.   It is easy when someone is living their life as a happy openly gay person – similar to how I’m living as a happy, openly straight person.  At that point my ‘acceptance or opinion’ is a non-issue.  Just reconnecting with them and checking in as friends is all that is necessary. 

It’s the folks who seem to be hedging their status a bit as if I were going to judge them that I wish I knew how to handle.  I simply interact with these folks without the ‘gay’ thing being a topic of discussion until it is, but when it feels like the person is holding back part of themselves then I get paranoid that they think I’m judging them.
I’m not sure if this is a paranoia that others share or if it is my chronic need to be liked.  Truth be told, a person’s sexual orientation shouldn’t matter in any way, but just as I’m proud of my family and how happy I am I want my friends to be proud of theirs too.  Many people celebrated with me when I found whatshisface and we got married and then had this cute kid, similarly I want to celebrate the happiness of all my friends. 

I suppose that I need to shake off the embarrassment of having had a limited exposure when I was a kid and accept that I’ve grown in my experiences and it is who I am today that matters and I hope that speaks well of my character.    

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