Accepting the Old, Looking for the New

By Derik Cowan
February 1996

When I was in elementary school, one of my best friends was in the Brownies, and I remember her spending a lot of time singing this one particular song:

"Make new friends, but keep the old
One is silver, the other gold"

It always struck me as a rather cheesy sort of song, but at the same time it held a lot of poignancy for a young Navy brat who kept losing friends to the whim of the government which felt like transferring this or that person to this or that ship.

When my dad retired, my life finally seemed to settle down. I made it through high school without needing to change schools, and graduated with top honors. Even the change from home to college was easy, for home was only two hours away, a place that I could go for breaks, or even that weekend that I just needed to get away. I made many friends my first year in college. I was involved in a Christian music group, I made friends in my dorm, and as I began to come out, I started making friends with other lesbian, bisexual, and gay students as well as with many of their straight ally friends.

I always figured that when I came out to my parents, I would lose most if not all of my friends from church and high school, but I didn't realize that being thrown out of my house would cause such a huge realignment of my friendships at college as well. I certainly wasn't all that surprised when I lost my Christian friends, although I had hoped they would be more understanding than my parents and their hyper-fundamentalist friends.

What surprised me were the number of people I considered really close friends my freshman year who, after finding out that I was thrown out of my house by my parents, distanced themselves from me. In the end, only one of my friends from freshman year really stood by me, and has remained my closest friend.

Having lost everyone and everything that I thought made up my life, I found myself reaching out for a new community, which I found in two places. The first was in the LBGA at Amherst. I hadn't been very involved in LBG politics at Amherst my freshman year, and while I had gone to a couple of meetings, I hadn't made a lot of good friends in the LBGA itself. I began going to meetings and getting involved in organizing activities, and soon had a group of friends to talk to when I was down, to party with, or to go out with for coffee or whatever when I needed to get away.

The other place was here in cyberspace. I began spending a lot of time on Usenet, specifically in the group soc.motss. At the time, Soc.support.youth.gay-lesbian-bi hadn't yet been formed, and I needed to find a place where I could be accepted for who I was. After being told in one of the alt. groups that my parents were perfectly correct for throwing me out of their home, I decided to try soc.motss. It has become one of the stabilizing factors in my life over the past year or so, and it was through soc.motss that I met my current boyfriend.

It wasn't until fairly recently that I began remembering the part of the song about keeping the old. The first reminder came when one of my teachers from high school wrote me after finding my homepage. She was highly supportive and promised to help me out in any way possible. Then, at the beginning of the school year, a friend from high school wrote me, again after seeing my homepage, coming out to me in the letter.

The two of us started hanging out, and have discovered all sorts of similar interests which we didn't realized we had in high school. But I suppose the most important thing that's happened occurred over this holiday. I went to visit my dad's family, where I got to see my new cousin, visit with my uncles and aunts, and even briefly see my parents.

Seeing my parents was rather odd after a year and a half. I caught my first glimpse of them when they came through the door and went to hang their coats up. My mom caught sight of me first, and turned the other way to end up crying in my aunt's arms. My dad came in to give me a handshake and a big hug, and then sent me after my mother. I only had an hour with them, and then I had to go back to where I was staying, so we only got to briefly catch each other up on the news in our lives, and then I left them with Prayers for Bobby to read and a request that they write me when they had finished the book.

There are other people with whom I would like to get back in contact. There's my friend who in eighth grade when he was leaving for Nebraska told me that he had thought for a couple of years that I was gay. There's my friend from church who I used to make out with in his car when we were out simply to shock people in other cars. And there's the friend I spent all my high school years simultaneously lusting after and creating lists of people to ask out. I don't know if I'll ever see them again, but I hope so.

Derik K. Cowan, 20, is a full-time student at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he is studying Theater, Dance, and English. He can be reached online at dkcowan@amhux4.amherst.edu.
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