3+17+1997=10

3+17+1997=10 or “Relax a little; one of your most celebrated nervous tics will be your undoing.” -Frank O’Hara

This might mean nothing to anyone but me, but it felt important to share it. Today, St Patrick’s Day, 2007, marks the 10th anniversary of me coming out to my friends as gay. It has been quite a journey, but this is an account of what happened before. To understand the full extent of where I am, it is important to first understand where I was. This poem by Frank O’Hara expresses it in ways I couldn’t.

February

The scene is the same,
and though I try to imagine
plinking starry guitars,

and while I spend my
time listening to a foreign
contralto sing the truth,

the earth is everywhere,
brown and aching. At first
it seemed that this life

would be different: born
again in someone else’s
arms, after seasons of childhood

and error and defense.
I thought freshly and tried
to change the color of my

habit. New metrics would be
mine in this excess of
love! but I was a braggart

to hope so. My old hurts
kept attacking me at odd
moments, after too many

songs, on public conveyances,
in the blue light of bars. Ah!
I cried, do not blame me,

save your temper for the
others! and at the same instant
in the same breath cried,

break me! I dare you, for
which of us am I? you will
break yourself! And this

became only too true, the
worst of all possible vistas,
my lone dark land.

Frank O’Hara

That was me. It still is from time to time, wondering how my life is really different and hoping that I have really changed — grown. I was lost. I had desperately tried to force myself into someone I am not, agrily trying to “not be gay.”

The feeling that I was different started as early as 5 or 6. I didn’t know how, but I felt like there was something about me that wasn’t “normal.” What’s more, as a young child, I knew that there were things I needed to hide from my parents — things they wouldn’t understand. I don’t know how we come to these conclusions. My first crush on a boy happened in 4th grade, but I didn’t think much of it.

I remember a number of times during church activities, specifically Bible Bowl, when I would drift off into my own world of introspection, wondering how much love I would find in these people if they knew this awful truth about me. I pretended to have crushes, marking my papers with the most obvious name, hoping to be caught pining for one of my teammates. I quickly became outspoken over my disdain for the public education system’s willingness to teach homosexuality as acceptable. I was turning on myself and was only 14.

The one thing I took away from that part of my life was self-loathing. And I could have ended up with some great experiences and memories, but the pain of being something you don’t want to be was very difficult to deal with.

A couple years later, I found myself washing dishes daily at my first job. I had gotten in through a series of somewhat unusual events, but was enjoying it greatly. I had started to realize that I would have to face this part of myself. I couldn’t hide behind hatred any longer, but I was terrified at what that would mean.

The climate of the world for gays was very different in 1995 & 1996. From my teenaged perspective, it seemed like the dark ages. I didn’t want to indetify with them. There were no gay characters on television, no role models. If I were to accept being gay as who I actually am, I felt that I would be giving up; giving in to what I had been taught to believe is wrong. Furthermore, I was saying to the world that I accepted that I would have no place to fit in; no safe place to run to when life became too much.

Let me back up for just a second. I don’t actually remember my parents (or their parents) having ever spoken about the issue of homosexuality. I never had reason to believe they had thought about it at all. Neither do I recall any lessons in church concerning it. I remember lessons on love and compassion, but never about how wrong gays were. My lessons on this subject were from specific people, friends, who had “moral” objections to certain “lifestyle choices.” I didn’t want to be anything that would upset these people.

I was feeling rather exhausted about the whole issue and was no longer doing well in school. I spent my days worrying about turning into this pariah I didn’t want to be, all the while sitting in the car with my friends, or over at their house, a little removed from the group… from the situation. I was starting to feel like I was enormous, trapsing around people’s houses, hopind desperately to blend in and not be noticed, but failing. I started to discuss issues with my coworker and friend, hoping to find wisdom in her words. It turned out to not be so easy.

In June 1996, I made one of the weirdest mistakes of my life. I went on a class trip to France for 2 weeks. The teacher going with us was unable to attend at the last minute, due to a medical emergency, and I was left with a group of students, all a year older than me, who wouldn’t even talk to me or include me in their group… and the teacher wouldn’t be there. My 2 weeks in France would basically be on my own. And so they were. I befriended a few people from a group from Idaho, but basically did my own thing. As long as I was on the bus when I was supposed to be, nobody seemed to take much notice.

Everything was going great, until a rainy day in Paris. There wasn’t much we could go do that evening, but the guys I was sharing a room with went to hang out with the girls, so I was alone… with my thoughts… and having been in France for a few days, the newness having worn off, I was thinking about the same things that kept me sad and angry at home. That night I accepted it. I didn’t like it, but I realized that I couldn’t be anyone but who I am. The rest of the trip was very hard; I barely enjoyed myself. I would hang out with the bus driver, Kamal, or our tour guide, Arnaud, at almost every stop. I didn’t feel like I should be there anymore.

My biggest regret about that trip is not hiding my bitterness when I returned home. My family and friends were waiting at the gate to greet me; I was so happy to see them. But I was difficult and cranky and spoiled the mood for everyone.

I spent most of my senior year trying to convice people I was straight. But a huge weight had been lifted. The distraction that made the previous year so hard was gone, but I would eventually need to tell someone else.

Travis, one of my two best friends, had spent spring break in Mexico (I think), leaving myself and JD to spend a fun filled week of working more hours at our jobs. We did want to do something though, so we spent the week at my uncle’s cabin just outside of town. Travis returned that weekend and we all hung out on Sunday. I was a little down; Travis could tell. I drove home, talking to Travis on the CB (yes, it’s true) the entire way. He had followed me and pulled in behind me at my house. He and I talked about things. I wasn’t really ready to tell him everything, but I told him that I could never see myself marrying a woman and having kids with her. If felt like enough for that moment. He was very comforting, much more so than most friends. He told me that JD had asked if Travis thought I was gay. Travis laughed it off as a silly notion. I felt extremely exposed.

The next day was my favorite holiday of the year, St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t know why I love it, but I do. The first thing I did in my first class was to write a letter, expressing to both Travis & JD how I felt and about who I am. I told them of the many days, wanting to no longer live. I told them how painful it had been to let them down. And I told them that I am gay. I couldn’t face them, knowing that I was losing my two best friends.

I had an eye appointment and then work after school. I was almost finished at work when Travis & JD showed up. I tried to avoid them, but they seemed angry. I just walked out to the parking lot, letting them follow me. I intended to go home and forget the day had ever happened. But my car was missing. Defeated, I got into Travis’ car. We drove around a little; they told me they had gotten permission from my mom to keep me away all night. They told me that they didn’t care that I am gay, but they were angry that I had been so depressed and didn’t tell them.

Somehow, we ended up at Red Lobster, where they continued to assure me that they still loved me. It felt nice, but was painful at the same time. We drove around for a long time, talking (I was crying). I think I stayed at Travis’ that night. And that was it. It was done. I didn’t have to hide myself anymore. The last few months we lived in Stillwater were the happiest as a teenager that I can remember. Life had been so painful for me for so long.

A month later, Ellen Degeneres came out, bursting the doors wide open for gay men and women everywhere. It felt good to be a part of something from the begining. It still does.

I didn’t tell my family for a long time after this, but I will save that for another time. It deserves the same attention.

Today, I am very happy with who I am. It feels so good to be me and I am glad I came out when I did. I hope that there is a day when being gay doesn’t break children into secrecy. I hope that day comes soon.

St Patrick’s Moon

St Patrick’s moon shone
gently on us as we left
Texas, back to our lives.
The brief stays seem sad
and this was the last visit
with all of us single.

St Patrick’s moon shone
on the new baby — born
to make some forget
the tragedy its birthday
marked — the sadness of
this anniversary of death.

St Patrick’s moon shone
through the just-cracked blinds
on Laurisa’s face — the new
life growing within her body.
More family, more joy,
more love to make us forget.

St Patrick’s moon shone
through the rear window of
JD’s car onto my face as
I smiled. My life seems
to be getting closer to real.
I laughed a little because
life can be so wonderful.

Brian Fuchs (3.17.2003)

17 March 2007

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