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Rob Bourke

January 1998

All is quiet on New Year's Day.

It's New Year's 1998 and this year I'm actually enjoying peace of mind. Not my usual way of wel-coming the New Year. What I want to know is who invented those damn Resolutions anyway? They have caused me a lot of grief over the years! I have no idea what my first New Year's Resolution was. Probably something silly like "I re-solve not eat so much candy", or perhaps "I resolve to wash my hands before dinner every day whether they need it or not." What-ever that first pledge was, it was certainly something designed to improve my character in my par-ents' eyes. The first Resolution I remember making was at the age of twelve. It was indeed designed to improve my character in my par-ents' eyes. It was also the first Resolution to make New Year's seem like much more serious busi-ness to me. I Resolved to stop be-ing gay.

Towards the end of my sixth grade year I figured out why I'd al-ways felt somehow apart from the other guys. One of my friends told me that he thought a particular girl in school was "fine". Within weeks all of the guys were talking about the chicks they liked! It just wasn't happening for me. The girls were just girls to me, not much different from the guys. Except I'd often no-tice I was looking at some of the cuter guys -- some of whom I didn't even know well, but suddenly I wanted to know better. In sex edu-cation class that spring, the movie narrator explained that my feelings for girls would soon change. I hoped so, but somehow I felt I'd al-ready missed that boat. When my sixth grade year ended, I was par-ticularly crushed because I wouldn't get to see the most beautiful boy in the world (or at least in my class) for the entire three months of sum-mer break. When I noticed that fact was bothering me, and when I re-alized how cute I thought he was, I figured out I was gay. "Oh, great," I thought, "I'm twelve years old, about to start the big new school where boys and girls go to dances together, and I like boys. There's no way I can ever tell anyone about this. Everyone at school would kill me, if Mom and Dad don't kill me first."

It was a strange summer -- the di-vide between elementary school and Jr. High. I was suspended somewhere between a child's view of the world, centered firmly on right now, and the greater view of time and space that comes with age. I spent a lot of time romping through the forest with my best friend, Mark, and the rest of the time at the pool practicing with my swim team. There was a long fam-ily vacation, marking my first visit to the strange and alien land of the East Coast. I guess I spent the en-tire summer shocked about sud-denly finding myself gay. I sort of ignored it, hoping it might go away. What I supposed to do anyway? Sometimes I would have dreams about Mark, or some other boy I knew. I enjoyed the dreams, but tried not to think about them too much. No one would understand. Well, maybe Mark might, but the risk would be way too high to mention it to him.

Jr. High. Dances. Skating parties. New friends from different ele-mentary schools. Amazing stuff, but the first change I noticed was that I couldn't walk to school any-more. I had to ride the bus. I had to put up with a lot of big kids har-assing me, calling me `faggot', and wanting to know who my gay buddy was. One morning the bus was pulling into the school lot. I'd almost made it through my daily twenty minutes of silent endurance when one of the big kids turned to his friend and said, "I wonder if he really is gay?" The friend shrugged, the whole thing suddenly becoming too personal to be fun, and got ready to leave the bus. I got up to leave, satisfied they didn't really know the truth no matter how much they said about it every day. I felt like a spy, in deep cover behind en-emy lines. They suspected me, but they couldn't get my secret identity out of me.

Sean could, however. He was in my English class, but I'd never seen him before that fall. He went to a different elementary school. On the first day I walked into class and saw him, I knew I had to be his friend. I picked a desk next to him. Sean was tall, and blond. He had a strange way of talking, there was something different about him, but I'd never felt so powerful a connec-tion to another person. Mark wan-dered in a few minutes later be-cause he took a different bus than I did and sat near us, but it was al-most as if he wasn't there. Sean and I were so wrapped up in getting to know each other. By October Sean and I were getting harassed about being boyfriends. We weren't -- I was incredibly paranoid about that. Sean was just a friend. A friend who, when we were at the school roller skating party, told me he'd take me to the ice skating rink be-cause they let two boys skate to-gether there. He was a friend who, when at the school dance I com-plained that I had no clue about dancing, took me aside and danced with me for half an hour so I would know how.

One Saturday in December I con-vinced myself to invite Sean to spend the night, and maybe my parents would take us to the ice rink to skate that day. He came over, and we got to go ice-skating. That weekend was an epiphany. He was a good ice skater and skated backwards, while towing me along by both hands. It felt electric when I put my mittens into his! There was no doubt in my mind, at that point, that I was gay. Sean spent the night at my house that night, and I couldn't move my sleeping bag close enough to his. We even talked about love, expressing love for eve-ryone in the world. Carefully not excluding present company, but even more carefully and obviously including it. After talking with into the small hours of the night, he fell asleep. I secretly gave him a kiss on the cheek, put my hand in his, and drifted off to sleep, in love for the first time, and quite well aware of it.

This nice story does not have a happy ending. I was a few months away from my thirteenth birthday and badly smitten with puppy love. The trouble was that everyone seemed to notice, except our par-ents, and we got a lot of grief at school for it. My parents, devout Catholics, could never understand my crush either if they found out about it. They wouldn't be any help. They'd only punish me. I knew I had to stop being gay right then and there or forever accept the humilia-tion of my peers and the wrath of my parents.

So that brings me back to a sad New Year's Eve when a closeted twelve-year-old resolved to kill off his gay personality once and for all. It was a very poor choice. I still re-gret the terrible things I did to my friends. I stopped having anything to do with Sean, or my former best friend Mark. I never even explained to them why. I can't believe I ever did something so mean. I hurt them both very much by just suddenly ditching them. I just cut them off completely, and didn't even defend them in later years when talk about the two of them being an item came up. I guess I never really knew for a fact about either of them, we never said it to each other back then. But I knew anyway, long before I'd ever heard the word gaydar. If I ever see Sean or Mark again, I hope they can forgive me for my horrible mistake, and for how I treated them.

From my thirteenth New Year's Eve on, I resolved to be straight, no matter what the cost. The cost turned out to be very high. Right off I cruelly hurt my two best friends. In return, I got to live the straight life for a while. I made it the rest of the way through Jr. High and High School without having to be harassed on the bus every day! I didn't have to spend my money dating! I didn't have to go to the prom! I didn't even have to have any kind of social life at all! Well, I was too busy with homework and swimming anyway. That, and dis-covering Pink Floyd's Wall album. Alone. But paying the price of my Resolution didn't end there.

Each new year that passed after that, I resolved again to deny my identity. It eventually caused me a lot of problems. The troubles of wasting a decade in the closet would fill another column. (In fact, they probably will do just that.) Each year it was harder and more damaging to Resolve to be straight. Then, finally, I realized I had to ac-cept my orientation and just get over it. The mental cost of not be-ing gay was higher than the social cost of accepting my orientation and dealing with it. So I made yet another stressful New Year's Resolution in 1994 - to come out. My 1997 New Year's Resolution was the toughest of them all, I re-solved to come out to my parents. I'm proud to say that I completed my goal for 1997, and I think I did OK. But that too, will be the topic of a later column.

So here I am, starting a New Year again. This time, all is quiet. The secrets and the hiding are over. I'm making only one more New Year's Resolution for 1998: I Resolve not to make anymore New Year's Resolutions. They're trivial yet dangerous, and can even ruin a large portion of your life. This year I'm going to get on with the New Year on my own terms. I hope you readers do to.

Happy New Year,

Rob

bourke@mbay.net
http://www.mbay.net/~bourke


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