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Cameron Dowling

February 2001

Hello, all you folks out there! Well, this is my first contribution to Oasis, so I guess I’ll introduce myself and tell my story here this month. I’m sure everyone else will be nattering on about Valentine’s Day and the wonderful Cupid holiday of love, so maybe this will be a welcome break for you readers. So let’s get started, shall we?

My name is Cameron, and hey… I’m gay! (Probably not a surprise to any of you readers out there, I’m sure!) Anyway, I’m also a devoted Christian, which most people I’ve met anyway seem to think is impossible to be at the same time. Hey… I even thought it was impossible to be both for most of my life, which is why I repressed myself so deep into my closet that it was nearly impossible for me to come out. I grew up in a small town in Central Alberta, a very small town. Essentially it’s a bubble, with conservative ideas that have ruled for ages – there’s seven churches there, and two private Christian schools. It was awful for me growing up in a small town like that, because I realized early on that I liked guys a LOT more than I liked girls. My parents also had me enrolled in the Christian school system, so anything I heard about gays was not too flattering. I think it’s safe to say that I grew up believing that gays were about three steps short of the Antichrist, if you can understand what I mean. Well, I was never a popular kid; I was the smart one, the quiet one, the one that at noon-hour and recess would go off to a quiet corner of the playground and hope to be left alone. It never happened. The older kids would always seek me out and push me around, bully me, and call me names like “faggot” “queer” “homo” and other stuff like that. At the time, I doubt those guys even really knew what those names meant, other than that they were insults. They hurt me a lot, though, because I was aware of my feelings at that time and trying to deny them, and to be called a fag only seemed to reinforce that I was a heinous, horrible sinner.

That was junior high. Now in high school, things changed. It was still a Christian school, but I had a lot of protection because it was a very small school, still getting off the ground, and only 150 students attended it. The teachers all knew me, and all respected me, and they wouldn’t stand for any taunting going on. I flourished in high school, unlike a lot of other gay students. I was still in the closet, though – I was in DEEP. I began denying to myself that I was even gay at all (a really stupid thing to do, since I’d perk up whenever a real hot guy walked past but I wouldn’t even notice a girl at all) and I convinced myself that it was a phase, I was straight now. In my heart I knew the lie I was telling myself. Yet in high school I also met one of my best friends, Amanda, who was a big support through what I was going through. Although she never knew I was gay, just having her around helped me increase my social skills and become a better person, and I got a social circle for the first time. I have to thank her for that. By the time I graduated as valedictorian, I was almost completely different from the mistrustful guy that entered high school. That posed problems, though. I felt as though a myth had grown up around me – the myth of Perfect Cam, is what I always called it. I felt people looked at me and saw the class valedictorian, the guy with a good family life, a good set of friends, a guy who was respected by all his teachers, who’d made public profession of faith in his church, and everything else that was part of my closet, not part of ME. I even had some parents of my classmates come up to me and tell me that they wished their sons or daughters were more like me! Yet this myth beat down on me almost every day, because I felt that if they knew the true me, the part of me that was gay, than they wouldn’t even bother associating with me. I’d be cast aside, gossiped about, looked at funny. It felt like they were in love with a stone statue and not a real person.

So one day I planned to kill myself. I was gay, nobody knew, and if they did, I might as well not live. I had everything ready, the plan all set down – I would overdose on pills and that’s how I’d go. Yet just before I tried it, I realized that I couldn’t do it. I loved life too much. It was a gift I had from my God, and to throw it away, whatever the circumstances, seemed like such a waste to me. For the first time, I felt like I could see all that clearly, and because of that, I didn’t carry through, a decision I have never regretted since.

That doesn’t mean I left the closet though, oh no! I was still conservatized by that small town environment and all the views I’d constantly been enforced with. (My peers essentially loved trucks, guns, and workin’ the fields in the summer… just to give you an idea of the area.) It was time for college, and I was getting the hell out of Dodge. I came up here to Edmonton and enrolled in my university, and I made even more incredible friends. I was introduced to Ethan, who with Amanda quickly became my two best friends. There were others, too – I had an amazing social circle here! Another thing happened, too – since I was in a liberal arts university, I began to be exposed to viewpoints other than what I’d always been told, views that I had to work out myself. It was challenging and difficult and lots of the time I wanted to cling to what I’d always believed, but I was able to see that a lot of the time, what I’d always been taught was wrong. I began to wonder if other things I’d always been taught, like the stereotypes, the beliefs, and the hatred for gays, was wrong, too…. Over the first two years, Amanda constantly tried to set me up with her friends, making situations really awkward, since I really couldn’t explain why I didn’t want to go out with them. So I met this girl named Erin who was very similar to me, and yet lived far enough away that I didn’t have to see her all that often. She was interested in me; for the sake of appearances and keeping Amanda away, I started dating her. Erin became a great friend of mine, but there was always tension between us – no duh, huh? Then Ethan and Amanda got engaged (no, Ethan also didn’t secretly turn out to be gay, either!), and that hit like a hammer blow, since from that point on they almost paid no attention to me. Erin then announced that she was coming up for the summer to live in Edmonton, so that we could be together. I was also struggling with not being able to deny my homosexuality any more; it was just getting too strong to ignore. My world was unraveling, so I let it. I didn’t do assignments, I ignored papers, I skipped classes all the time. The only good thing about that time was that Ethan asked me to be groomsman at his wedding, a wish of mine since I was old enough to know what a wedding was.

Summer hit, and I moved in with a bunch of friends into a house right near the college. Amanda and Ethan were preoccupied with each other, and Erin came over. I didn’t know what to do now that she was over ALL the time… so I acted like a jerk, hoping to turn her off. She got mad at me and confronted me over it, but she didn’t loose interest, so I stopped. I was getting nervous and panicky. I’d see a hot guy in the grocery store and find myself dreaming about him, and then denying those fantasies and enforcing the fact that I was straight to myself. I would NOT admit to myself that I was gay. Finally, towards the end of the summer, I was watching TV, and I saw a young gay guy like myself talking about his experiences and thoughts about being gay, and they echoed mine. Entirely. I froze. It was like he was reading my mind. For the thirty seconds he spoke, I didn’t breathe, and I could hear the blood running through my ears. It was like a lightning bolt had hit me in the chest and forced me to wake up to reality. When he was done, I just leaned back in my chair, and with utter entire clarity, I acknowledged to myself out loud for the very first time that yes – I was gay. But I didn’t want it to just end there. I knew if I didn’t tell someone, then I’d probably just deny it again. So I wrote a letter to one of my housemates, Eric, telling him the entire truth. I handed him the letter when he got home from work, said, “Read this. It’s important,” and then moved to my room and shut the door. I was SO nervous – I can remember sitting at my computer and trying to occupy my mind by playing Minesweeper, but all that was running through my head was “How long can it take someone to read a frickin’ five-page letter?!” Finally I heard a quiet knock on my door. I croaked out a “Come in!” and then Eric entered, handing back the papers. “I kind of suspected,” he said. “But it’s all right with me.” I felt so relieved! Finally… it was out and so was I.

Then I slowly started telling my friends, one-by-one. Most of them were shocked, but some weren’t. Some didn’t know how to take it. My parents were especially an issue; my mom was upset and confused, but they both made it clear that whatever happened, they still loved me and were proud of me. I never told Erin, though, because I was scared at what her reaction might be. I really enjoyed her friendship, but I knew if I was in the same situation, I’d probably be steaming mad. It turned out I really had no choice, because Eric had over the summer started developing feelings for her, and saw this as his chance. So when he moved at her, he told her about me to get her to stop feeling for me and see him as the real catch – and she blew up. I have only ever heard from her once since that day, in a letter that made me cry. She said that she wasn’t sure she could ever forgive me for what I did to her, and until she could, she wouldn’t ever communicate with me again. I don’t care what those people say – the common phrase “If they can’t see you as a friend now, they were never true friends to begin with” is total crap. Erin was an excellent friend. She didn’t stop being my friend because I was gay, but because I hurt her. I miss her laughs dearly. Eric’s betrayal hurt like a knife wound.

Then came another blow to my coming out. Two of my housemates called me to a meeting and told me that the entire house had met and decided that it was best for all concerned if I moved out of the house by the end of December last year. Why? Because I was gay, and after thinking about it for awhile, several of them decided they couldn’t accept living in the same house with a gay guy. This hurt even more, because the two who called me in to tell me this were two of my closest friends from my circle in high school. I wanted to scream, to tell them off, to break down – but I didn’t. I nodded, went upstairs, took the phone, and called Mom. And then I cried to her, even though she’d never been supportive of my sexuality. It hurt so horribly to have some of the people I trusted the most turn on me not because of anything I’d done, just because of who I was. That hurt more than Erin’s letter, and I cried for hours alone in my room.

At this point, I still hadn’t told Ethan or Amanda. Ethan was very homophobic, so I was scared to tell him, and Amanda’s father is my home church’s pastor. Yet one day Ethan came to visit while I was looking for a place to live, and the situation arose as to why I was moving, and I had to tell him. I was so scared. He could tell Amanda, and she could tell her father, and he could have me kicked out of the church. Most of all, though, I was scared he wouldn’t want me as his groomsman anymore. Somehow I managed to fumble through the “I have something to tell you and I don’t know how you’re going to react” opening bit, and then there was a long serious silence before I managed to choke out “I’m gay.” The silence returned, and I didn’t know what to think. What was going through my best friend’s head? What was he thinking? Then Ethan looked at me, and caught my eyes firmly, and said, “Cameron, all I can say is that I still want you to be my groomsman.” I almost cried when he said that – it was like he was reading my mind. In that one sentence, Ethan managed to reaffirm our friendship, allay my fears, and prove to me that I was still important enough to him for him to want me up there with him on the most important day of his life.

Amanda was similar. She’d dragged me out on a walk one evening, just to hang out with me, and as we walked she kept laughing and talking. I was tied up in all different knots, of course. Then she saw, in the middle of the street, a pathetic daffodil that had maybe three petals remaining and must have been run over a hundred times. She picked it up, and under a streetlight presented it to me, saying, “This is a Friendship Flower. I give it to you as an affirmation that we will always be friends, no matter what, until we’re old, 85, and in a nursing home together.” I took it, looked at her, and then said, “Well, in that case I have something to tell you. I’m gay.” She said nothing, so I kept talking, telling her basically everything that I’ve just written here. Then I heard sniffling. I looked up to see her crying, and I asked why. “I’m crying for you,” she said. “That must have been so horrible for you. And it’s not going to be easy for you in the future, either. You’re going to have to face a lot more pain and intolerance just for who you are.” So I hugged her, tight. The two of us hugged under that streetlight for a very long time.

After that, I moved out of my house, and into an apartment with a good friend of mine, Liz, who from the beginning had always supported me, having had gay friends before me. (You’ll probably hear a lot about her in upcoming contributions; living with someone tends to increase the amount of stuff you can write about them). Her roommate was leaving her because she saw Liz as being a “bad Christian,” so things worked out perfectly for me. I began to receive a lot of support from people who knew what was going on in my life, and since then, for every friend I’ve lost, I’ve gained two more back. My mom is much more supportive now, and I’ve discovered my dad always has been. Things with Erin aren’t so hot, and I never talk with my old housemates any more. Maybe I’ll forgive them someday. Maybe. I’d need an apology, first, though. I’ve also started going to a gay youth group and meeting other gay youth and am working at breaking out of the stereotypes and mindsets that growing up in that small town programmed into me. I feel freer, happier, and I’m proud to be who I am, dammit!

Well, there’s my story. Hopefully someone out there finds it interesting or helpful. In the next months I’ll try to tackle contemplative issues or something, but I wanted to introduce myself to all you Oasis readers first.

Ciao for now,

Cam

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Cameron Dowling is a 20-year old English major at a Christian university in Edmonton, Alberta, where he reads a lot of classic books and writes a lot of pretty papers on those books. He also has a keen interest in Psychology, because he hopes someday to be able to learn enough about the way people think to manipulate them to his own nefarious ends. He loves to hear from anyone and everyone who would actually take the time to email him, so if you want to get in touch, write him at camerondowling@hotmail.com and he’ll be all giddy – and possibly even write back.


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