It seems that summer is over. The sun is still shedding that warm yellow summer light and the grass is still green under foot, but school has gone from being a small dark speck in the distance to a looming Catholic nun now towering over us, impatiently scowling and tapping her ruler into the palm of her hand with metronomic menace. Ok, well maybe it's not quite that bad, but the return to school does mark the end of a period in everyone's life. For me, this summer was hot, humid, and hostile. It began in the thick sticky heat of Savannah in May, when Reggie White was busy telling the masses how homosexuals were sick, and then when Pat Robertson was threatening the state of Florida with God's wrath should they continue celebrating gay pride. Now, back in the only slightly less uncomfortable August weather in Michigan, we've seen Trent Lott laughing on TV and explaining how homosexuality is simply an addictive behavior like alcoholism or kleptomania. We've also watched the Religious Right and the HRC battle it out in the <I>New York Times</I> and <I>USA Today</I> with ads that invite homosexuals to seek help for their affliction and ads that assure homosexuals that there's really nothing wrong with them.
For whatever reason, this summer has been a time of the most publicly vocal opposition to homosexuality that I've ever seen. It's also been accompanied by political moves, like the Republican bill sent through Congress that would have reversed Clinton's executive order and allowed the U.S. government the freedom to discriminate against queers. "Freedom to marry" and "defensive marriage" bills have been emerging in places like Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont along with accompanying discriminatory campaigns. With the liberal politicians running and screaming down the decks of their own personal <I>Titanic</I> with the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, the political climate this summer seems to have been conquered by the Christian Coalition. And I've watched it all from here in a relatively suburban community in the thumb area of Michigan.
For the past three months, I've been living back in the community I was raised in, a community that doesn't have an open queer population. I've been surrounded by straight friends who, while extremely accepting and supportive, are still straight, with heterosexual relationships. I've also been working full time in a Builder's Square, a store similar to HQ or Home Depot where they deal in all manners of home improvement and building supplies. Queers aren't likely to be found amongst the roofing nails and PVC pipe of such a store, a place filled with an uncomfortable level of faggot jokes as well as power tools, light fixtures, and 17 by 22 inch brown onyx scratch-resistant vanity sinks. There're no queer hangouts here, no queer-friendly stores or restaurants. The most you'll find is the gay and lesbian shelf in Barnes & Noble. After living and breathing in this claustrophobically closed-minded environment all day, I get to come home, plop down on the couch with the folks, and watch a woman on Nightline tell me that gays are sick and morally wrong and need to change their ways. It's like catching dolphins in tuna nets and then throwing them cinder blocks for good luck, and believe me that's a real downer.
Being bisexual rather than gay hasn't helped either because I can't be totally alienated. I can relate to and understand the heterosexuality (and heterosexism) that surrounds me. I'm no stranger to relationships with women. But when I start adapting to these surroundings, merging with their mindset in order to survive, then the queer bubbling inside of me feels left out and abandoned so it calls me up (collect) from the corner payphone and asks with a child-like teary-eyed voice when I'll be coming back. I slide back and forth along that Kinsey sexuality scale, balancing my real feelings with those my everyday life is pressing onto me. (Stuff that in your "nature vs. nurture" hole, Mr. Freud!) In a way, these people I work and play with are my best friends and my community, but yet not quite. Not really. There's always that "but" keeping me separated.
With no means of release, no group of friends (or even strangers) whose simple presence reassures me that it's ok to be queer, all this negativity eventually got to me. I felt myself withdrawing, watching my words again, biting my tongue when I would have otherwise spoken out. I didn't look up or flinch today when, sitting at the dirty folding table in the break room at work, John walked over and called Robert a faggot in front of me. I didn't get all up in arms when I read the opinion article in last week's paper explaining how gays are the cast-out children of God. And I didn't explain anything when my uninformed brother looked at the Newsweek headline about ex-gays and said "here Chuck, that's for you." The alienation and unacceptance quickly became commonplace, and became the normal emotional level I operated from.
And then there was the familiar confusion returning. There were times when I paused for a moment at the kitchen table and wondered if it was all true, if God really did hate fags and that my transgressions into homosexuality had been sins, temptations into the realm of the devil. There were times when I wondered if society was about to slide back into conservatism and gays would be denied all rights. Sometimes I even wondered if a new Nazi-like discrimination was possible in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Nobody was putting me down personally, people weren't stopping me on the street and beating it into me that I was an abomination, and the Good Year blimp wasn't hovering over my house spelling out "Die, Fag, Die!" on it's little digital message board or anything (although that would be kind of neat) -- but still, the atmosphere had changed in that 18 hour drive from Georgia to Michigan, and I'm not talking low pressure systems here, sister.
Then, while in the middle of this quagmire of emotion, I had a dream. No, not an "I've-solved-the-divide-by-zero-problem," or "I can change the world," Dr. Martin Luther King-type of dream. No, I was just floating around in that little psuedosleep compartment in my mind -- y'know, that lucid dreaming state -- one warm Saturday morning, catching up on the elusive Zs that I miss out on during the week, when I dreamt that I was down in Savannah again and my former boyfriend came to visit, dressed as a woman. I don't remember the intricacies of the dream exactly (although I think I was cooking chicken when he arrived...), but him dressed up in drag was the part I remembered. Not that that's necessarily out of the ordinary; he does in fact enjoy drag quite a bit. But with that single image, the whole concept of gender roles and the people behind them were suddenly reintroduced to me. I've never thought of him as a woman, but here he was looking like a gorgeous Filipino girl, but yet he was still a guy.
Now I'm not going to get all Freudian and try analyzing this vision too much. The grilled chicken sandwich isn't what's important (erase it from your notes, you won't be tested on it). What is important is that I woke up to the truth: that I loved a man, as a man but also as a person, without worrying about the labels and the turmoil that society insists are part and parcel of being queer. That idea shed some healing light on the stormy war that I was feeling right then and there between my queer nature and my hetero surroundings.
From then on, it seemed that this fear of being myself that I'd unconsciously acquired evaporated. My downfall had been getting too technical in my thinking, too bogged down in the hows and whys of my own identity. I had spent all this time analyzing and wondering about the nature of being queer and what the gay movement was doing to American society and the state of organized religion. I had explored the depths of the bible and examined the motivations of public officials looking to cauterize me. What I wasn't looking at during all this time were my own feelings -- I was missing the forest for the trees. Fact is, I look at some men and I feel attracted; it's a gut level reaction. I look at a picture of that same former boyfriend and remember how I felt (and, I admit, still do feel): I love him.
People can tell me what love is and try to pin down what I'm feeling, but I know that what I feel is love and that the attractions that I feel just feel right. What the Exodus project and all the other Christian groups that claim to cure homosexuals do is make people think too much, force them to make mental associations to deny what they basically and fundamentally are way down deep inside. I was building up those complicated thought processes myself, starting to wonder if outside forces were controlling me, rationalizing my feelings away, always second-guessing myself. But once I scalpeled all that away, it became absolutely clear. I couldn't doubt the feelings that I knew to be real.
So here I am to assure anyone else driving through these same potholes of doubt that the road ahead does smooth out. It hurts when seemingly limitless crowds of people are everywhere thrusting their signs into the air and demeaning you with the idea that you, by your very nature, are an unacceptable stain and that even God has turned his face from you. There's a paralyzing fear that comes with watching old men in suits on television vowing to discriminate against you and make your existence illegal by pulling out buzzwords like "special rights." But, like any successful propaganda machine, one of the purposes behind all this noise is to wear us down. It takes the wind out of our sails for those of us willing to stand up and fight this sanctified oppression. If they can take away our will to fight by depressing us and devouring our egos, then they'll have what they've been striving for all along.
Doubt is inevitable. We all doubt ourselves at some times in our lives. Emotions are hard buggers to wrangle down and understand, so they're not easy to hold up and call truth. Emotions can vacillate and change depending on the barometer reading outside. And these feelings can feel strange, uncomfortable and even overwhelming. They can feel alien or they can feel natural and not out of ordinary at all. What they really are is for you and you alone to find out. Don't let some guy with a cross or a sign tell you how to think and feel -- figure that out for yourself. The decisions that other people make for you will never make you happy. Only trial and error and acceptance of yourself can make you happy. Well, maybe that and Matt Damon.
Until then, don't lose hope.
Chuck is a 22-year-old bisexual and a Michigan native now entering his senior year in art college in Georgia, where he's only given crayons and magic markers for his own safety. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his website is at http://g-net.net/~bacchus/