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Dallas Long

February 1998

New Year's Day. I considered calling my boyfriend at his home in Tennessee to wish him a happy new year. The sunlight streaming through my bedroom window distracted me. I found myself staring at the house across the street. An elderly recluse had lived there for nearly twenty years. Fearing to venture outside, the woman had allowed her home to fall to pieces around her. She died suddenly this spring, and a young man from New York had bought the house and fixed it up. It's the most astonishing change this neighborhood has seen in years.

I am astonished by the changes in my own life this year. I'm not one for making new year's resolutions, but a moment for personal reflection seemed appropriate, since my sexuality was at the forefront of my concerns last year. What progress had I made towards accepting myself? The answer came quickly: a lot!

This time last year, I connected to the Internet and discovered Oasis. I spent hours reading each issue with such amazement that there were indeed young people out there just like me. I submitted my first column, and it was really the first time I had admitted to myself that I liked men and probably always would. Little did I imagine that a scant twelve months later, I would be resting in the embrace of my first boyfriend and enjoying a new sense of honesty with my closest friends.

The resources I found on the Internet provided me with answers to questions about myself that I had sought to understand for years. The friends I made through e-mail -- both gay and straight -- helped me accept myself. Writing for Oasis and listening to the people who responded to my columns assigned meaning to the confusion, fear, and ambivalence I felt towards my sexuality. I didn't want to hide anymore.

Hesitantly, I came out to a friend in Ireland, with whom I communicate quite frequently. My sexuality mattered little to him, which genuinely surprised me. I fully expected him to stop writing to me. He didn't stop. He continued to write as often as before, and he was surprisingly supportive of me. I found strength in his words of encouragement. The whole world would not hate me if I came out. No pointing fingers and frightened glances and derisive jeers. No burning pyres in the town square.

One by one, I came out to my friends, through accident or design. This Thanksgiving break, I confided my sexuality to the last of my friends. For better or for worse, all my closest friends are now privy to my sexuality. And they all still love me.

This year brought with it a shift in my career interests and a re-awakening of my passion for politics and law. A natural gift for counseling my peers led me to choose psychology as a major. The prospect of spending six more years in school in order to become a therapist disenchanted me, however. I considered law school, but I was reluctant to abandon the "helping profession." Yet a weekend spent visiting a friend at an ivy league university confirmed my decision to apply to law school in earnest. I was forced to spend time in a bar chatting with a suitemate of my friend. This guy bragged about harassing his roommate, whom he suspected of being gay, so badly that the kid withdrew from the university only a few weeks into the semester. He threatened the kid face to face, and incited other men in the dormitory to vandalize the kid's property and leave anti-gay slurs on his answering machine. I was enraged that someone could be so cruel. No wonder gay people commit suicide at horrifying rates! I realized that more advocates are needed in the legal community to protect the rights of people like that poor kid who was harassed out of an education and probably right into therapy. Suits should be filed against people who commit such harassment and also against the institutions which allow such abominable behavior.

I wrote about my reason to pursue law as a career in my personal statements to law schools. My sexuality could be inferred from my writing, and I felt no anxiety about this. Three of my professors wanted to read my statement, so I let them. They were surprised at this bold inclusion of such a controversial issue in a field as reportedly conservative as law. This might be a foolish move on my part -- my application could be rejected by a prejudiced committee. But by this time, I had realized that I am proud of who I am. The opinions of strangers mean less and less to me now.

Definitely the most important event of the year was meeting my first boyfriend. We met on the Internet, and we agreed to have dinner together one night since he happens to attend a college near my own. The night went beautifully, and we spent hours talking about everything under the sun. The shops closed, and we kept on talking, just wandering the streets until the middle of the night. We became boyfriends only a few weeks later. The night we shared our first kiss was fabulous!

Charles is 19, two years younger than me, but often I feel like the younger one. He came out to his family and friends when he was 16, organized his high school's first glb club, and had a couple of boyfriends. He's from Tennessee, but he has considerably more knowledge of the gay community in St. Louis than me. Everything like that is so new to me... I'm still getting used to how I feel about things. Yet I couldn't be happier! While our experiences growing up gay are worlds apart, we have so many interests in common. He is everything I want in a boyfriend.

Late at night, when I'm lying in his arms in his dorm room, I'll simply look up at him and smile. He laughs and says, "What? What are you thinking?" Contentment and amusement wash across my face. "Nothing, Charles, nothing at all." ...sigh ... For the first time in my life, I'm not *thinking*, I'm not *analyzing*, I'm not *intellectualizing*... I'm just *being*. And right now, I'm being happy.

dallasj@iname.com


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