by Bill Baumgardt

You may have read my first story in the March issue of Oasis.

Well, I wanted to go a little deeper into the realm of reality of me as a gay teenager...prior to my coming out in August of 1993.

The 1990's are and were what came to be known later as the gay nineties... Gays are and were popping up everywhere. I even had a friend of a friend who way gay, that I met at a party (about the only one I went to in high school). But, I could never be friends with him...he spread a vicious rumor about me having to do with an obscene comment I supposedly made about a girl. I never made the comment, but it gave me a bad impression of gay folks. It almost got nasty.

Anyway, I remember the misery. I had a lot of personal problems. Peer abuse, dealing with a divorce, heterosexism eating away at my inner self because of others, and friends who were two-faced.

What did I characterize myself as? A heterosexual person with bisexual tendencies because I was so messed up. I was actually dumb enough to think that my gayness would go away if I got help for the other problems.

Because that was what my friend Tracy said (not her real name) about her friend Inga (not her real name). Inga was a bisexual with many mental problems. And because of mine and Tracy's homophobia, that is what we thought...(Well, Inga DID come onto Tracy many times, in an obscene manner, and Tracy is about THE MOST STRAIGHT person I know. A Kinsey zero.) Plus, high school treated it as if it was an unpardonable thing...as if you were so bad, all you deserved to be made fun of unmercifully. Eventually it makes a person think that they deserve it. That THEY are the reason for the torture.

I never fit in, basically. I was always the "Levi's and a tee-shirt" type. And from somewhere in the High School hierarchy. insults were passed down about everyone. You got lumped into categories. "Nerd, fatso, guido, faggot, preppy, tart," ... you name it, it was there.

The insults were non-stop. Because not only was I a closet case, or perceived to be, but I was not open about it so they could have fun with it!

The word fag was used loosely. It was a proper insult for someone a person did not like. A disempowering one, at that. The school administration was afraid to deal with such issues with gay students...for fear of parents and of course, as usual, "religious" groups screaming at them about "promoting" homosexuality -- as it seemed. And if a student was suspended for it, they just laughed it off anyway.

Well, eventually, I said 'This is bullshit. I am going to get some information as to see about my own sexuality.' And finally, I just said, "there is nothing wrong with me, regarding sexuality, I am just QUEER." One of THEM, the average run of the mill person who just happens to be gay! Not a militant, drag queen, or leather freak you see splashed on the news and always treated with disdain. Yes, that's it.

"God knows how I will ever be able to come out, when I cannot even say the word gay without getting nervous, but I will." Yes, God was a big part of my life at the time. I never tossed religion in the trash like my other homophobic peers had already done. No sir, religion was all I had.

And, it proved to be a great help, no thanks to the intolerant fund-raising rhetoric from the tele-evangelists. They rely on internalized homophobia to their work for them.

I have learned how it is to be different. Not a part of the white, heterosexual, Christian majority we have in America. Although I never ever condoned racism or religious persecution, by being openly gay (or at least out to myself) it has made me realize this: yes, you are different from many of your neighbors, you may have a few more hurdles to jump, but you can make it, if you try.

It is never as awful as it seems. You need to take off the mask, stand up, and stop your fears. You will not live a life in the closet, having anonymous encounters, ending up with AIDS, dead by age 23. (I completely in the midst of my awfulizing, forgot about safer sex!)

Now, I sit here, and reflect on what I once was...and will never be again. I say thank you to those two guys I saw kiss in the Philadelphia train station...for making me realize that I could come back from a business trip and have my partner waiting there for me with open arms, to the founder of OLGA for having a good place to find friends at -- not some seedy bar in a trashy town full of degenerates, and to my parents and friends for accepting me as I am, and for all the fun we have now that I am able to be my true self....in their company. And to the gay activists who fought tooth and nail to make it a better world for me and others.

And, most of all, to (my) God, who was there all the time to provide unconditional love and solace throughout it all.

Now, I am out, proud, and moving forward. Being myself...at peace with myself in a hostile world.

Bill can be reached online at sntr@csionline.com.
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