I was outed in high school and didn't even know it.
That's not the funny part.
This story begins in Jonesboro, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta about 30 miles south of the city. From the start of my junior year up to early November of that same year, my school twice made national news for drug problems and racial problems. I was so concerned with surviving in the over-crowded school that I was in danger of failing my junior year of high school.
When I told my parents about my fears, before report cards came out, they said I could either finish out my junior year there and then move to Massachusetts when Dad was assigned there at the end of the year (Dad was in the army then), or I could transfer to a private school in Vermont where my grandfather was a trustee. I chose to transfer.
The funny part is that it was a very small private school in a very small town in Vermont. Yet I thought I could hide from this population what I had hidden everywhere else I had gone to school since I first understood my own secret at eight years old-- that I was gay.
The new school was, and still is, nestled in a quiet little town where the population doubles whenever school is in session and all three hundred and twenty five people who either work at or attend the school are present. As the newest addition to the student body (population of 212 students), I was known around campus as the new guy before I ever arrived. To my further surprise was that my arrival was being anticipated by the wrestling team. The first day of practice I was assigned a wrestling partner, with whom I would be practicing all season long. I was instantly and immediately smitten with both his warmth and his physical beauty. Within moments I was charmed. No... more than that... I was swept away.
Jim (not his real name) was taller than I, blond haired and blue eyed and very well formed of body. He had a very easy, warm smile, and his first hello told me I could trust him.
Jim and I quickly became very good friends. We were not constant companions, but we always practiced together. Jim insisted on practicing together on Sundays, which were sacred to us students as our only day off from classes at the Academy. But there was so much I could learn from Jim, though, that I agreed. So every Sunday, from one in the afternoon until three or four, we went to the wrestling room, just the two of us, and we practiced.
For six Sundays I hid from Jim my attraction for him. But the seventh Sunday would reveal me to him.
We were practicing a fireman's carry, which involves placing the leading hand on your partner's butt from between his legs, entering from the front. The one throwing kneels for the set-up of the throw, and the one being thrown stands. So Dan was showing me how he did it, and how where he placed his hand specifically once through his opponent's legs could determine the force and direction of the throw. He stopped mid-sentence when he and I realized at the same time that I had become aroused by his close contact. I blushed and tried to pull away, but he would not let me. Jim held me there, his hand on the back of my right leg, my right arm held extended over his head and held their by his hand. He looked into my eyes and smiled with sweet understanding as he whispered, "It's okay. I'm gay, too." I felt as if the earth were spinning too fast. "And I like you, too."
He was holding my head in his lap when I regained consciousness, whispering my name and stroking my brow with his thumb.
We became boyfriends that day. Neither one of us came out of the closet, though. We just weren't ready. But rumors started a week later that I was gay. I vehemently denied the charge and, I thought, won.
Jim and I fell in love. He was my soul mate in every possible sense. I wanted to spend my life with him. We promised to stay boyfriends when we went to college.
After we graduated Jim went to college in Colorado, I went in New Hampshire. We did not see each other for a year. though we talked on the phone all the time. With our freshman year behind us, Jim returned home to Connecticut, and I was home in New Hampshire. We both worked that summer, but were able to make plans to secretly see each other over a weekend. Jim made reservations at a local hotel in town and was ready to drive up to see me. We even talked about probably having him meet my parents, and I decided that I would take that even to come out and tell the truth about me and Jim to my parents. I was finally ready to come out.
Ten days before we were to reunite the phone rang at my home. It was Jim's sister, the only person in the world who knew about us. "Is this John?" she asked.
"This is he," I said, recognizing her voice. I felt suddenly cold.
A chatterbox, she was uncharacteristically quiet. "It's about Jim," she said. I was silent. "He won't be coming to see you," she said, sobbing. Understanding dawned for me, but I could not show my emotion, for my mother was standing right there and still did not even know that Jim existed. "He died yesterday in a car accident."
My world shattered in that moment.
"Okay. Thanks," I said.
"You can't talk?" she asked.
"I'll be on time, Gino," I replied. leading my mother to believe I was talking to my boss at work. She hung up, and I hung up.
"I need to go for a walk," I said as I left the house. I did not come back for four hours.
I retreated as far back into the closet as possible. I wanted to stop being gay. I never wanted to fall in love like that again... ever. I could not stand the heartache.
Eighteen months later I married my best friend, thinking I would change. I would make myself heterosexual. Eight years and three children later I accepted defeat. I came out of the closet, blowing the doors off their hinges. I came out at work first and built a strong support base that way. Then I came out to my mom.
It was coming out to my mother that I found out she had, in the far recesses of her mind, suspected for years. When I asked why, she told me how at soccer games my senior year she overheard my classmates and teammates referring to me as "that fag", "the fag", and "queer boy". Later that summer, after separating from my wife, I talked to a few old classmates. I came out to them as we talked. They all said the same thing. "I knew that when we were in school. Everyone knew. We just couldn't figure out who your boy friend was."
You're probably asking by now, "Where's the funny part?" Here it is: even though everyone knew I was gay, no one spoke of it with me, and no one could figure out who my boy friend was.
When I told them that my boyfriend had been a star football player and wrestler at our school, they were stunned but accepting.
I had been outed at school, but until recently, I never knew.