I am walking toward our campus church where the year's first meeting of the Queer and Questioning Students (QQS) will soon begin. I am nervous because I don't know anyone, because I don't want anyone to see me, and because this will be the first time I actually can see gay people in person -- other than when I look in a mirror. I am hoping to make some new friends. Since my college is part of a five-college consortium, I'm hoping to meet some people from outside my school, the most conservative school by far. I hadn't realized this when I came here. Many people here call themselves moderate, but they also call Rush Limbaugh liberal. Homophobia is acceptable, and when a new gay club started, a member of the Republican Club tried to get in so he could blacklist the attendees. I have to get away from this on my campus. I hope that the QQS is going to be my lifeline to people who understand me.
I arrive early, and I see a girl with a buzz, with hair even shorter than mine. I have nothing to say and so I say nothing; she ignores me, returning the favor. We wait silently together, and soon others join us. I look around and realize that I know exactly nobody here. I'm also getting funny stares from some of the people. Puzzled, I look down at my shirt -- expecting some food on it, perhaps -- and suddenly realize that my shirt has my college's name on it: I suddenly realized that to most of these people this shirt radiates homophobia. I'm getting off to a bad start here.
Eventually people go inside and sit down in a circle. I sit down next to several girls. An old man with a bright red face sits between them and me; he begins to chat animatedly about the joys of being gay. "It's just so wonderful," he gushes. "Why, you can hug anybody and nobody cares." He now hugs each of the slightly uncomfortable girls. Now he gives me a hug. I am not an intimate person -- not even with my friends and family -- why is this old man hugging me?
I can feel my face harden into something that can be used to line a blast furnace. I attempt to thank him, but my voice sounds like something out of the aforementioned blast furnace. He then blithely instructs me to send the hug along. As I ignore the instructions, I look at this man and think, "He must be drunk. Nobody's face gets that kind of red without some alcohol. If this were a family reunion, this would be understandable, but here?"
The meeting is passing me by in a blur -- the drunkard is still next to me, and I can't focus on the meeting with him there. At one point I stand up, say my name, what college I attend (I am one of two people from my college), and maybe something else -- I can't think right now. Despite my irritation with the old man, I notice that the people are relaxed, comfortable. It's like a good family reunion; in fact, it is a family reunion.
All of us are different, and here we can be different without fear -- our difference makes us a family. Or rather, it makes most of us a family; I don't fit in yet. (I'm used to this feeling at family reunions at home, but today I want to be part of the family, as opposed to being forced into the family by accidents of fate.) Yet for me, my brief joy in finding this unique family is being tempered by the drunken hug-giver sitting next to me.
Eventually, this circle of damnation that Dante missed ends, and I go back to my dorm room. I am disappointed that this first meeting was wrecked, but I have one small victory -- I know where I can find people like me.