Profiles in Courage

By Jeff Walsh, November 1995

Sara Webb, 17, of Atlanta, Georgia

The thought of having sex with a guy turns Sara Webb's stomach.

"The first serious boyfriend I had wanted to have intercourse," the 17-year-old Atlanta resident recalls. "I threw up on him. I was repulsed by it."

Webb doesn't have a problem with guys, though, just sex with guys. "To this day, guys, I find, are my best friends," she says. "I love them to death as friends and I'm emotionally attracted to guys, but if anything physical ever happens, I'm just repulsed."

Her then-boyfriend wrote off the experience as Webb just being sick. She recalls him saying: "You're not looking so good."

"I was fine until you did that," she recalls thinking. "I felt so bad. I was so embarrassed."

The experience made it harder for Webb to purge thoughts that she was a lesbian. "That was a big hint right there, a big slap in the face," she says.

'I'm going to marry her'

Webb recalls an attraction to women as early as the sixth grade, when she had a "huge crush" on her best friend. "I never told her and to this day I have not told her," Webb says. "We still keep in touch and everything, even though she moved away, but I still haven't told her. She knows I'm gay, but I just never told her I'm in love with her, because I'm chicken."

Despite her attraction for girls, she tried dating guys, and that same year had her first opposite-sex kiss. She was under-whelmed. "I was just like 'Okay, guys, you all told me this is some big 'Wow!' Where is it? Did I not do something right or what? What's going on?,'" She says. Her friends just figured she was weird, and wrote it off, she says. Webb took some time off wondering about her feelings and had a long distance relationship with a guy for three years, but the feelings never went away.

"I pondered the idea of being gay for a long time," Webb says. "I was 14 and I was pretty sure I was gay." At 15, a good friend at camp told Webb she was a lesbian. "I was like, 'Well she told me, I might as well tell her,'" Webb recalls.

"I had never admitted it openly to myself," Webb says. "I was in denial for a long time. I knew that's what I was, but I was like maybe if I just ignored it, it would go away." When her friend told her she was lesbian, it made it easier for Webb. "I knew that I wasn't alone," Webb says. "It was okay that I wasn't the only one."

Webb was upset earlier in her life when she was told by a boy that she couldn't have a girlfriend. "I'm sure he thought I was just being a dork," she says. Webb recalls the conversation they had after a girl walked by them:

Webb: Well, do you think she's pretty?

Boy: Yeah.

Webb: Well, I do too, and I'm going to marry her.

Boy: Wait?! You can't. You're a girl. And girls can't marry girls.

Webb: Why not?

Boy: It doesn't work that way.

Webb: Well, that's stupid.

At 15, Webb told two of her best friends she was bisexual. "It went over pretty well," she recalls. "This year I came out and said 'Guys, you know how in tenth grade I told you I was bisexual? That was just a bunch of junk. I'm really a lesbian, completely.' And they were like, 'Oh okay, like we don't know that already, duh. Next subject."

'You like girls? Don't you?'

Webb's parents always knew Sara was different. "The word 'tomboy' has been permanently engraved on my forehead," she says. "It's been there since day one, and I think it will always remain." To gauge her parents' reaction, Webb started mentioning her lesbian friend from camp and seeing how her parents reacted. Her mother got the hint, and brought it up while they were driving in the car one day.

"She looks over at this guy in the car next to us and said, 'Ooh, he's cute,'" Webb says. "I completely had no clue as to what she was talking about. I wasn't even paying attention and didn't even see the guy. So I was like 'Yeah, whatever.'"

"You like girls, don't you?" she recalls her mother asking. "I felt like a ten ton truck had just hit me," Webb says. She recalls the conversation that followed:

Webb: What?

Mom: It's okay if you do.

Webb: Excuse me, next subject.

Mom: We've never talked about this.

Webb: I don't want to talk about this.

Mom: It's okay if you like girls.

Webb: Excuse me? It's okay? You're more accepting about this than I am. Something's wrong here.

"My mom was very cool about it, very supportive," Webb says. "I expected my mother, coming from a very conservative family and background, would pretty much flip her lid, but she didn't." Webb's mother did something else unexpected -- she didn't tell her husband.

"I figured that she had told my dad, because she tells him absolutely everything, except for this one little thing," Webb says. "She didn't tell him I was gay and one night, later that Spring, we were all sitting down to dinner and we were talking about malpractice suits, and I was like "Sue because your kid's gay!

"My poor father about choked on his dinner," she says. "I was like 'Oh my goodness.' I was so mortified, I was like 'I can't believe you didn't tell him. You tell him everything and you don't tell him this. How could you do that?'

"My dad was like, 'Why are you so upset? It's okay. I love you no matter what. The fact that you're a lesbian doesn't change anything. It doesn't make anything different,'" she recalls. "I was like 'Are you sure?' And he said 'Yes, I still love you.'

"They're both very supportive," Webb says. "They're very involved members of P-FLAG here in Atlanta, and my mom is very involved in the support group that I attend. She made the banner for the gay pride parade and everything.

"It's nice to have parents that are cool," Webb says.

'Is that your lesbian pride shirt?'

Webb was accepted at home, but school was a different story.

"School has not been a friendly place, but it's a lot better than it used to be," Webb says. Her sophomore year, there were no problems because only two friends knew, and they kept it a secret. In her junior year, she started coming out. Webb says it was assumed she was a lesbian at school because she liked The Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge and k.d. lang. She was also athletic and had short hair.

"I didn't have a boyfriend, so they were just like 'Oh, she's gay,'" Webb says. "So, several students gave me a bunch of junk about it."

Webb was confronted about her sexuality on the bus coming back from a cross country meet. At the time, she was wearing a Nike shirt that read "Did you ever wish you were a boy?" on the front, and "Yeah, but I got over it" across the back. One girl approached her about the shirt, and Webb relates the conversation that ensued.

Girl: Is that your lesbian pride shirt?

Webb: Excuse me?

Girl: Sara, have you ever participated in lesbian activities?

Webb: Even if I had I wouldn't tell you, and I don't think what goes on behind closed doors in my house is any of your business. I don't ask about what you do in your life, I don't expect you to ask me about mine. Nor am I going to answer it.

Girl: Oh, so you are.

Webb says the "awkward situation" of being outed to the whole cross country team started off a chain of harassment at school. She had her car keyed, threatening notes appeared on her car and in her locker, and she was harassed while walking down the halls between classes with shouts of "Get the hell out of here, dyke. We don't like your kind here," Webb recalls. Webb drew the line when four guys approached her after a soccer game in a parking lot. She recalls the conversation:

Homophobes: We know what you are, and we don't like your kind. Do you know what we do to your kind?

Webb: I don't really care, you know. Leave me alone. Good-bye.

Homophobes: We hurt people like you and we want you to get the hell out of our school.

Webb decided the harassment was going too far, and something needed to be done. "They were basically threatening my life, saying if you don't get out or you don't change, that's the end of you," Webb says. "So, I freaked and drove home at 90 miles per hour, cried through my whole 10-minute shower and then went downstairs, sat my parents down and basically told them everything that had happened, because I hadn't told them anything."

Webb's parents were "irate," called the principal and read him the riot act. They told him this couldn't happen anymore. Webb wrote down a list of the incidents, who was involved and gave the list to school officials.

"All of the students were confronted with their parents present and put on probation," Webb says. "If any incident happened again, they would be severely reprimanded for it. That just put a stop to everything."

Last year, Webb went to the prom with a friend and didn't have any trouble at all, save for a few whispers. This school year has been virtually trouble-free.

"I've had a couple of comments this year, but nothing big," Webb says. "My girlfriend gets it more than I do."

"You're pathetic. Go away!"

Webb and her girlfriend both go to the same private school of about 150 students. They normally keep a low profile, but this year, they decided to do something special for National Coming Out Day. Throughout the school, they put up little note cards with information about famous queers and facts about gay history. Webb said she was amazed to see her fellow students stopping to read them. It even got people talking about gay issues, she said. Since her outing, several students have also come to her with questions about how she knew and such.

For National Coming Out Day, Webb and her girlfriend also ditched their low profile for the day.

"We were like, 'Who cares, screw the world,'" Webb said. "We ran across the front lawn of the school and through the halls holding hands. People were like 'Oh my God, they've lost it.' They were like, 'You don't have to flaunt it. We all know.'"

Webb says she and her girlfriend seem to have different rules than everyone else in school. "If we touch each other at all in any way, shape or form in school and faculty know about it, they're irate," Webb says. "What about that freshman couple making out in the hall? You don't say anything to them."

Webb's relationship had a rocky beginning, because when it started it was very one-sided. "Last year, she was madly in love with me, and I was like 'Go away. I'm dating someone else. I can't stand you,'" Webb recalls. "It was honestly an obsessive crush she had on me. She worshipped me, and I told her 'You're pathetic, go away.'"

Over the summer, Webb's girlfriend accepted being a lesbian more and they got together before school began for the semester. "We ended up spending a lot of time together, and our relationship just built and built and built," Webb says.

Eventually, her girlfriend needed reassurance about their relationship. Were they still just-friends, or were they now more? Webb recalls the conversation:

Girlfriend: Can I ask you something? What's up between us? Are we friends or more than that?

Webb: What do you think?

Girlfriend: I don't know.

Webb: Well, what do you want.

Girlfriend: I want us to be more than friends.

Webb: Well, there you have it.

Girlfriend: It's that easy?

Webb: It seems it's become more than friends considering what we've done. I don't think friends would do that. I wouldn't do that with my friends. So, therefore, we are more than friends.

Girlfriend: Oh, I get it.

Webb says their relationship is just like any normal relationship, except for society's interference at times. "We see heterosexual couples all over each other at the mall, and we're just like, 'I want to do that but I can't. It's not fair. I want to hold your hand in public, but I can't,'" Webb says.

Gain and pain

Webb will be featured on "Children's Dignity Project," an upcoming ABC primetime show. Some of her extended family still doesn't know she's gay, but she has no plans to tell them about the show. If they see it, they see it, she says.

Webb's grandmother is one relative she will never tell she's gay.

"My grandmother despises homosexuals, and completely knocks them every time she's here," Webb says. "There's a lot of tension when she's here in the house. We don't get a long to start with, so that makes things a lot more difficult. She constantly bashing homosexuals when she's here, and I'm just gritting my teeth not saying anything.

"Most of the time, I go to my room, slam my door and let her know I think her opinions stink," Webb says. "She met some of my friends over Christmas. And she said: 'That one girl, is she a lesbian? She's trouble.'

Webb defended her friend, but her grandmother said: "Well, you shouldn't be hanging out with that type of trash."

Webb doesn't know what would change if her grandmother knew, but for now every visit from her grandmother is painful.

"You're knocking me at the same time, Grandma."

The author, Jeff Walsh, may be contacted at jeff@oasismag.com.
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