Abby Gaskins

June 1998

Pride Not Prejudice

I'd heard all the stories, opinions, and arguments, yet I never thought I'd have my own. The topic: homosexuality. It's like a horrible car accident; you don't think about it or the consequences until it's happened.

I can still remember the first time I encountered the word "gay." In elementary school, there was an epidemic of pseudo-homophobia; the mere implication that one was gay caused fear among others, even though a majority of students had no real idea what that meant. The one common manifestation of this hatred was the daily ritual of pulling "fag-tags" (the cloth loops found on the back of Oxford shirts). The belief was that having one of these loops on one's shirt was a sure sign of homosexuality, whatever that was. I always wondered what "fag" meant and why it was so bad, yet I blindly participated in this grade school tradition, never thinking that I might one day have a much better and more personal definition of this mysterious word.

Fast-forward four years, to the seventh grade. At this point, many things had changed; I had new friends, a new dog, a new, short hairstyle, and finally, I had a vague meaning of the word "gay": when two men want to have sex with each other and people hate them for it. Honestly, that's what I recognized it to mean; soon, I was to have a small taste of this hatred.

The boy's name was Jeffery Wells; and, to this day, I think of what he did to me each time I see his face. He's a grade above me; in seventh grade, I looked up to every eighth grader, hoping for a complement, a word of advice, anything to let me know I was accepted. Well, whenever I would pass Mr. Wells in the hallways, he would whistle the same song in my direction; it happened so often that I began to expect to hear the tune at the sight of the boy. However, I never knew what song it was, until I heard it on the radio: "Constant Craving" by k.d. lang. k.d. lang? Where had I heard that before? Then I began to realize the seemingly horrible implications of the song. k.d. lang was gay. It was that bad word again! I didn't want to be called gay! Thoughts and questions started to fill my head. Why did Jeff think I was gay? Was it my wardrobe: jeans, t-shirts, and baseball caps? Was it because I played baseball? Was he right? Did these things make me gay? I didn't think I was, so why had he whistled that song? I thought about the incident all the way home, and later that evening, sobbed myself to sleep.

The adolescent mind is an amazing machine; I had practically forgotten the event by the next morning, and didn't recall it until the beginning of my ninth grade year. I won't give the person's name, but I developed a crush on a teacher ... a female teacher. At first I tried convincing myself that everyone felt the way I did about this woman; but, it began to dawn on me that I in fact was alone. This realization scared the shit out of me, and I began, as I had done years before, to question whether these feelings were true, and if so, what I would do with them. Time passed very quickly that year and I'll never forget my first real crush; however, I again started to put these feelings aside, and I wouldn't recall them until the end of my sophomore year in high school, when my life changed completely.

To make a long story short, I found a new infatuation in May, 1997, and this time, I got to act on my feelings. I fast became friends with the girl, and we went to movies, dinners, and amusement parks together. For her, we were two friends going out; for me, these excursions were dates. It was at this point when the old questions of my past were once again brought up, and were finally answered. My conclusion, to quote actress Ellen DeGeneres, was, "Yep, I'm gay."

So finally, I'm fine with what I commonly refer to as "The Gay Thing." However, the next step was to get my family and friends fine with it as well. I did what any resourceful teen of the 90's would do: surf the Internet. After looking through article after article, I finally came across someone else's coming out story. In it, I read that having someone else confront you first makes coming out to them much easier. So, I starting throwing out clues left and right; most significantly, I made and wore a rainbow ring and necklace. I figured it wouldn't be too long before my friends were practically walking in Pride marches. Well, it took a bit longer than that.

I went to my friend Sheara's house for a birthday party one day in June. We were bored, just listening to the radio, so I began to rifle through her CD collection. One disc in particular caught my eye: Swamp Ophelia by Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, better known as the Indigo Girls. "Indigo Girls?" I thought. "Aren't they gay?" Thinking I might get some insight into lesbianism, I quickly asked Sheara if I could borrow the CD. That was one of the best decisions I've ever made. On the way home, I put the CD in, and started listening. Nothing struck me as being absolutely amazing ... until I got to track 3, "Language or the Kiss." As the lines "I'm made mute by the virtue of decision," and "I've known that I might reap the praise of strangers and end up on my own" filled my ears, I began to cry, realizing that if I wanted to be who I truly was, I'd risk losing everyone that was important to me.

The words of the song never have come true in my life, but then again, I'm only 17; I've got quite a while to be shunned and hated. But I digress...

I kept at the clues, trying to tell my parents my deep secret. Within 2 months of my borrowing of Sheara's CD, I had the Girls' entire collection, and was playing them constantly, knowing full well that my parents were aware of Amy and Emily's sexual orientation.

Finally, after almost 3 months of hinting, my family got it. I came home from work, and my mom said (I'll never forget her exact words), "So, tell me about this 'gay' thing." We talked a bit about how she would be "as OK with it as [she] could be" and was mostly concerned about how my friends would react. My friends' reactions were the least of my worries; not only did I expect them to be perfectly fine with this new situation, but they weren't the ones feeding and housing me. In addition to voicing this concern, my mother also claimed that my dad would have a much harder time dealing, since he is a convert from Southern Baptist to Catholic (same old bigotry, but with a bigger church and communion wine). Nowadays, my parents are much cooler with their gay daughter, but it's going to be awhile before they allow a rainbow sticker on their car.

However, this is not where my story ends; this is where it begins. "Coming out" is not a one-time affair. With every new acquaintance I make, I've got to go through this over and over. I want to say that it's not fair and ask why people don't have to make sure that others know they're straight, but as many wise people have stated, "Life's not fair. Get used to it." However, I can use what I consider to be a wonderful part of myself to help people get over their hang-ups. If others see and get to know me simply as "Abs, that funny girl who's in the band," then it shouldn't matter that I'm gay. And hopefully, they'll remember me next time they hear about the faggot that was dishonorably discharged from the Navy, the queer that was beaten by a group of rednecks, or the dyke that had to quit teaching after 20 years.

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