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Bethany

July 2000

On the morning of May 24th, I crossed "being outed in the local paper" off my to-do list. On the front page of the Springfield "Union-News" was an article on the gay and lesbian issues panel I'd been a part of the night before. It read about halfway down: "Two students... Bethany Kimball, a senior, and Jen [taking her last name out so she doesn't smack me], a junior, described how they told their families that they are gay and how they received support and acceptance from them." Then they went on to my mother, who was another member of the panel, and quoted her. After that, they talked about and quoted the other speakers: the mayor of Springfield's liaison to the gay community who talked about being out at work, a gay teacher who's also a parent, the president of Springfield's PFLAG, a local Unitarian minister (straight) who spoke for the religious community in town, and our town's only lesbian police officer.

I liked the article in the Journal Register much better. It was a good deal longer, more detailed, and definitely over all gave a better reflection of the evening. But that's just me. It also showed how much my town has improved in just three years. My friend Jen, the first out student in our school, had to deal with name-calling and harassment when she came out during her freshman year. As another friend of ours said once, she really did pave the way for gay kids in our town.

So, Jen and I have been outed on the front page of the local paper. I don't know how she dealt with it at school, because I very simply wasn't there at the time of the article; I'd already started exams and didn't hang around much afterward. But I have dealt with the other side of my family: my other grandparents. My grandmother reads the entire paper, every day. We went over to visit them the day after. Not a single mention of it. My lesbianism doesn't exist for them. Of course, my other grandfather already knew- I told him because I did worry about him possibly reading it in the paper and didn't want him to hear about it like that. There weren't any conservative types at the panel, so it wasn't a story like "Riot at Library" or anything like that, but it was in the paper.

It was strange, standing up in front of a room full of people and saying, "Hi, I'm gay." It's not like straight people get up and affirm their sexuality around complete strangers. But all in all it was a good experience. It was weird, because almost all my friends were there. And then I was talking about coming out to them, and how supportive they were.

One friend of mine got into two fights (before and after) with her mother over her attendance at the panel. She fought back tears as she got up at the question and answer part of the panel and said how she'd gotten into a fight over possibly being labeled as gay because she wanted to go. Every time I'm at some school function where her parents are there, I try and avoid her when she's with them, just so I won't get her possibly into trouble. She's my friend, I'm not out to "convert" her or anything, and I have so many very straight friends that I don't think anyone would be stupid enough to call everyone I hang around with gay. The rest of my friends' parents- I don't actually know if my being friends with their kids is a problem. I've certainly never been kicked out of anyone's house or been treated rudely. It just hurts, to know that who I am can get my friends in trouble with their parents. I have a feeling that's a problem I'll face for the rest of my life, or for as long as my friends actually care what their parents think of their friends.

Of course, back to my extended family and the thousands of other people who now know I'm gay. I shouldn't have to come out anymore, now that theoretically large chunks of Western Massachusetts know about me. The family reunion this year should be interesting. Thank all the gods we're holding it at my cousin and her partner's house- it's definitely safe turf there. Of course, now I'm dying to drop the bomb on my grandmother that I'm not Christian. Somehow I think that would cause just as much fuss in my very Roman Catholic family. Back up in Quebec, I had some relative (that died and I never even met) that was a MONK for goddess' sake! But whatever. My family has dealt with its gay members pretty well for the past nine or so years, ever since there's been an openly gay member of the family.

I'm going to college in the fall, and jeez, more coming out. Can't I just plaster a note on my forehead and save some trouble?

****

Going to college means graduating from high school. Been there, done that. Graduation was a totally surreal experience. I wasn't just sitting there: I sang with my fellow chorus types, played a jazz tune, read a poem. But still. I was sitting between a random classmate and a friend, and in the front row. I looked out at the audience and couldn't believe it was actually happening. Years of praying for that day to come, and when it did, I didn't want it. After so much of high school being very simply sucky, I finally enjoyed my senior year. And I dread leaving some of my friends behind. But life doesn't give you choices like that, so I'm moving on.

The poem I read was basically for my friends, thanking them for their support and friendship over the past eight years. It was weird, but I didn't cry during the actual ceremony. I have a rule about crying in public, so none of my friends had EVER seen me with tears in my eyes. But after doing the whole receiving line thing, and talking with my friends, hugging them, saying goodbye and a few seeya laters, I went back into the auditorium to get my flute.

It was a very, very empty room that greeted me. No audience in the seats, no band in the pit. All our chairs, beneath our "CLASS Of 2000" sign, were just sitting there. And then it struck me. High school was over. Gone, done with, kaput. Tears started running down my face, and for the first time in my life, I was proud to be crying. Because it meant that I had survived, with a smile on my face the last day not because I was finally escaping, but because I was glad to have known the people in my class, honored to have known my friends. My mom said, a couple weeks later, at the dinner following my grandmother's funeral (or was it my folks' surprise 25th anniversary party? I forget) that she has faith in the future only because she has looked at my friends and classmates, seen their caring, and kindness, and basic human decency.

****

My dad's final parting advice before he left me at college orientation? (UMASS-Amherst, honors program, in case anyone cares or is going to be there in the fall. Write if you are, I don't want to have to go to the Stonewall Center to meet queer folk.) He said don't knock your roommate over the head with your sexual preference. In other words, no introduction of "Hi, I'm gay." He didn't want me to be Miz Obviously A Dyke (though he would never use those words). Nor did he want me to be the closet.

Far from it, I told only one person of my homosexuality during my one full and two partial days at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. It was my roommate, and her reaction was, yeah, my best friend's a lesbian. I met some exceedingly nice, and seemingly open-minded people, but essentially I was back in the closet at orientation because it simply isn't as easy to say "hi, I'm gay" as it should be. And even I, who was completely out senior year, was silent. I don't even want to think about what it was like for the still closeted kids, who maybe thought that by going to a major huge university they might finally meet some "other queers", because most of the kids I met were from small, small towns (and when I say that, I mean small, we have 9000 people total if that). I tried, a couple of times, to build a conversation to the point of me coming out to a couple of others I thought would be receptive, but each time I chickened out. I'm still cursing myself for a fool and a coward.

But all in all, orientation was a lot of fun. I met other Commonwealth College (what they call the honors program, for some reason) people, other pre-English majors, and random neat folk. I spent time talking about totally random subjects and laughing at funny stories or humorous advice our student counselors gave us. I even was audience to a hilarious discussion of "General Hospital" one day at lunch. I signed up for classes and housing, saw one future classmate get up and belch for a talent, played random games, and took a survey about how open-minded I am (for a small town white girl I want to add).

Yet I'm still cursing myself for a coward. I know how important it is to have peers out- high school and my friend Jen taught me that. Maybe other gay kids were just waiting for someone to be first out of the closet... Maybe some were and I was just out of the loop like always... But I have a plan for September. To save working "it" into conversation. I bought a pin at our local gay bookshop, "Pride & Joy", up in Northampton: "I'M GAY don't worry, it's not contagious". First or second day there, it's going on my shirt.

****

Bethany Kimball (yes, now you know my last name, oh joy, oh rapture!) just graduated high school, and will be turning 18 in early July. Yes, she's a Cancer. She is proud that she'll be able to vote, as well as buy porn, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. Oh, the bliss of adulthood. Reach her at k41632@yahoo.com or by shouting "BETH!" really really loudly while hanging around UMASS-Amherst in the fall (no classes before 11:15, thank gods!).


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