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Tommy Tabatowski

January 2001

"Queer Benedict Arnold"

When I came out at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school, I felt as though I was trading one strange uncomfortable place for another. In my small Ohio town, there were very few openly Queer adults, let alone people my age. Forget support groups, all I had was the Internet and a strong problem with pretending that I was somebody else. I soon became militantly anti-closet; firmly believing that homophobia creates the closet while the closet allows homophobia to flourish. Tired of being expected to just shut up and accept what oppressive straightism told me, I was determined to do my part in challenging and destroying it.

Within a year, I was out to everyone I knew and most people I didn't know. I was the quintessential political gay youth: proud, loud, and totally unapologetic. The fact that my closeted friends would choose to live a lie and allow our enemies to just walk all over us completely failed to make sense to me. I loved being out, and aggressive Queerness soon became my religion. I was a dedicated fighter, quick to shoot my mouth off at anyone I heard make even a vaguely homophobic remark, even quicker to harass closeted people for allowing straights to think that they ruled the world.

If I could help just one straight person see that homophobia was wrong or show one Queer kid that it was possible to be open and honest without losing everything, then my mission would have been a success. The methods I used were extreme, but I think they worked. A few people told me they worked, anyway. That was all I needed to hear. I made a vow to myself to never back down, to keep struggling until there was no more closet and homophobia went the way of racism. It was a vow I could not keep.

When I moved to California after graduation, I found my world entirely upside-down. There I was, thousand of miles away from my very supportive family and my wonderful friends that I had come to rely on for the strength to be myself. I moved into a very small, very macho, very hetero community, and for the first time since junior high, I was afraid to admit that I liked boys. I no longer had my friends and family around as a safety net. I had to live with these people, and if they judged my harshly on account of my sexuality, I would have to live with that as well. It was a risk I was not willing to take.

Suddenly, I was digging up the psychological bricks and mortar that I had buried years ago. I built myself a new closet, but in my haste, I made it far less stable than the first one. I now had past that was constantly threatening to expose the truth.

Back in the closet, I must remember not to talk about the guys I've dated, the movies I love, the magazines and books I read, the pride festivals, the gay clubs, and everything that was once such a big part of my life. When my new friends talk about beautiful women, I have to try my hardest not to just sit there with a blank look on my face. I have to pay attention to the way I talk, walk and act - any wrong move will betray my secret.

I'm starting to remember why we use the closet metaphor in the first place. This is a dark, cold, unbelievably lonely place. I have no one to relate to, no one to really confide in. I live with the constant fear that I may accidentally leave the door open and someone will see what I am and instantly stop liking me for it.

So what? Didn't I learn anything the first time? The only people who will hate me for being different are the ones who see their reflections in me. They are the people who need the most help. I used to say that homophobia was a social disease, capable of being cured. The only way to cure it is to always act out against it. Why, then, am I hiding?

I put myself back into the closet because I am a hypocrite and a coward. Because part of me still thinks that it is shameful to be something other than "the norm". That makes me right in line with the heterosexist culture that I used to challenge, and for that, I am deeply sorry.

I apologize to everyone who fought so hard in the past for Queer people, since I turned away and ran when my turn came. I apologize to everyone I was quick to condemn for not having the courage to come out, as I have walked in your shoes and understand why it is so difficult. Most of all, I sincerely apologize to all of you who have stepped out, because I don't think that I have the strength to stand with you, even though I know better.

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Tommy Tabatowski is eighteen years old, a resident and student at a Zen Buddhist training center in southern California, and he is currently on his way out for the second time. He enjoys any and all feedback, and can be reached via e-mail (tariq@ee.net) or on ICQ (24380831).


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