"Time to Take a Stand"by Gene Bixler
Author's Note: For the second month in a row, I've chosen to write about a personal issue, to recount an event that happened in my life. I hope it doesn't bore you, and beyond that, I hope it helps. This is a story of rising strength but ultimate weakness and the eventual regret that resulted from it.
Let me start with a little bit of background information so you can understand where I'm coming from here. The city I live in has a population of around 60,000 people and is rather conservative by nature. My father, to whom I am not out, is rather influential in this city and knows a lot of people. For that reason, it's been a tight-rope walk to keep the truth about myself from him. And, of course as those of you who've read my articles from the beginning know, I'm an Eagle Scout, and my father's very involved in the Scouting program, making this duplicity even more difficult.
I've known I was gay since I was in the 6th grade. I first began to notice it when this guy named Shaun moved to our area and came in to my English class. Wow. Anyway, my thoughts were always of him, but I never said a word to him about it. I mean, that would have been foolish. I lived in total solitude as far as my sexuality was concerned until my Freshman year of High School when I tracked down a guy in Dallas about whom an article had appeared in the Dallas Morning News. We talked over the phone off and on for about a year but never met in person. Neither of us had a car.
Well, during my Sophomore year, I went through my "No, I swear I'm not gay" stage, so I cut off communication with this guy. I mean, I was active in scouts; I already had earned my Eagle by then, my half-brother was living with us and was very homophobic and my father was beginning to wonder; I had to be straight. So, I got a girlfriend. We stayed together for all of about two months. It was at the very end of this relationship that I discovered IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and began to change my whole outlook on the way things were.
I began to get less scared of myself and of my feelings as a result of the support I found on IRC. I admit, even knowing I was gay and knowing I didn't fit the stereotypes, until I had exposure to the people on IRC, I believed those stereotypes were true. But by the summer of 1994, the end of my Sophomore year, I was much more comfortable with the community and actually allowed myself to get close to someone. That someone, however, took advantage of me one night while I was on four different drugs because of my recent tonsillectomy. That night, he took me a little further than I wanted to go, and though I didn't blame him -- It was my fault that I went to his house -- I was sent right back into solitude.
I didn't confide in anyone about what happened because, as I said, it really was my fault. But I allowed my resulting depression to get stronger and stronger as the months went by until, finally, on October 6, 1994, I sought the only escape left to me. I took enough Valium and codeine that night to kill a small horse and woke up the next morning rather ill - but alive. I won't take you through the rest of my Junior year merely because it has nothing to do with what this is all about, except to say that I didn't come out to a soul here until March of 1995, when I came out to my former girlfriend-turned best friend. Now, a year later, I'm a totally different person.
There are very few people at my school who don't know about me. It's basically common knowledge that I'm gay, and though I get an occasional look and a periodic cruel comment, people are basically okay with it. However, this had brought up an interesting point. It's my senior year in High School. Prom. Do I go or not? If I go, do I take a guy or not? As I said in the header of this article, this is partly a story of rising strength. I felt that after six years of dealing with this issue, I was ready to take that final step, so I announced that I would be taking a guy to prom. (There are three guys that offered to go to prom with me, and any of them would have been a wonderful date.)
Suddenly, I had a lot of "friends" here in Lewisville that were "concerned" about my decision to do such a thing. They told me that they were concerned about what could happen to me if I took a guy to prom; they told me many people would be uncomfortable with it and it could cause problems. (Of course, they wouldn't be uncomfortable with it, and it wouldn't cause problems for them.) In no time at all, I went from "certain" to "confused", so I went to my debate coach for advice. She, as usual, had words of wisdom for me, "There will be a time for you to take your stand," she said, "but this isn't it."
She was afraid that if I did something like that, then any accomplishments I may achieve or have achieved would always be overshadowed. I wouldn't be the 1994 State Student Congress Champion, or an attorney for the 1996 State Champion Mock Trial Team, I'd be "the guy that took a guy to prom." I had to make a choice. I decided it would be best for me if I took this stand now but that it would be best for the school for me to conform to the normal standards just a little bit longer.
Well, John Stuart Mill's theory of utilitarianism always made sense to me. "For an action to be justified, it must achieve the greatest possible good for the greatest number of people." I was in the minority in this one, so I opted to forget what I wanted in favor of what the majority wanted. My prom was April 13th, and I wasn't there. I'd spent six years of my life getting comfortable enough with myself to do something just like that, but in the end, I didn't do it. I allowed myself to be talked out of it. I had the opportunity to stand up and be counted, but I let that opportunity pass me by. Did I turn my back on the gay community? I don't know. But did I turn my back on myself? Absolutely. Whatever growth I have achieved has been set back by my refusal to take that step when I knew it was time to do so.
But, there's a lesson in all of this. (You knew this was coming. I couldn't sit here and write all that without being able to turn this in to one of my typical articles.) What happened in my case was simple. I was battling against the socially accepted norm, and the socially accepted norm won. Now, that's not always bad. Like my debate coach always says, "You have to choose your battles very carefully." (You get the idea that my debate coach is a wise person?) However, as she also said, "There will be a time to take your stand..." and no one knows when that time is but you.
If you're reading this and you haven't come all the way out or you haven't taken that one big step, like going to prom or whatever, here's my advice to you. When the time comes for you to do it, you will know it. Don't let anyone in the gay community push you into it or anyone in the straight community push you out of it. The bottom line is that you must do what's right for you because no one else will. "There will be a time for you to take your stand..." and when that time for you does come, I hope you will take it.