I visited my high school last week to talk to computer science classes. Returning for the first time in ten years brought back many good and bad memories, but I was preoccupied with one strong feeling and the memory of one distant weekend. What gave me enough determination to aim my car at a concrete wall doing ninety? And when I somehow escaped from that accident intact, how did I calmly move on to the next plan, enduring three hours of muscle spasms brought on by the strychnine before my family found me and called an ambulance? Such strength of purpose comes once in a lifetime if at all, and I wanted to remember why it came to me as a desire to die.
Senior year was a turning point. I had been unpopular for so long that I believed my personality was defective, that I wasn't meant to be liked. But suddenly I had drinking buddies and women wanted to date me. I should have been incredibly happy, but I found myself miserable. I started socializing normally, but I couldn't fit in. Dating women felt like going to the dentist while spending time with my drinking buddies felt wonderful. In short, I was a young gay person desparately trying to be a young nongay person and I couldn't accept my failure.
The memories came flooding back as I walked through the halls between classes. Someone behind me said, "He's acts so gay," and a chill came over me. Were they talking about me? I pretended not to hear, as I had done so many times before. Later I heard someone yell, "You fag." This time I did what I had never done before, I turned to look at the person. He was shouting at a friend. I heard similar remarks five more times that day, and I looked each time to find the remark meant for someone else. But when I was a senior, every gay remark reminded me of the struggle inside of me, so that every day was filled with pain.
Things went from depressing to bleak as I searched for books on gay issues in the school library, the town library, and two local bookstores. I found a few ancient books on homosexuality in the town library and nothing anywhere on AIDS. I argued with the manager of a "family bookstore." Don't gay people have families? Wouldn't all families be happier if their children had the information they need to avoid AIDS?
I was now vividly remembering what high school was like. To "save the children," the adults censored any mention of gay issues. Only jokes filtered through and those only reminded me of the intense hatred of gay people. I was dying in the darkness of that silence. Only luck saved me.
My memories of high school still stir up deep emotion, but now I try to channel that energy into more constructive acts. This week is Gay and Lesbian Awareness Week and I am making my annual plea for people to take the opportunity to discuss gay issues. We are all trained to be nervous about the subject, so it takes some effort.
The topic of homosexuality is stickier than any other topic. Everyone thinks, "If you talk about it, you must be one." That's why the fraternities never invite the Gay and Lesbian Speaker's Bureau to give presentations ("It would hurt the rush"). When nongay people discuss the issue they always end their comments with, "but don't get me wrong; I'm not gay."
Why is everyone so nervous? It's silly. A University is supposed to stimulate discussion of all topics. But so often young gay people are nervous about imposing on their nongay friends while their friends are nervous about seeming ignorant or insensitive, so neither group brings up the subject even though everyone wants to talk about it.
I hope we can all find the opportunity this week to break down the normal barriers. For those of you who are gay, talk about yourself with that friend you've been dying to open up to. For those of you who aren't, ask your gay friends those burning questions you've been too nervous to bring up. And everyone, take the opportunity to attend some of the fine GALA Week events. Only through informed discussion can we break the silence and save the gay children who are dying in the dark.