High school seniors with legs flopped over the seats in front of us in the auditorium, waiting for one senior activity or meeting or another, friends I didn’t get talk to often and I caught up, sharing our after high school plans.
The next year, I was headed to Indiana University’s main campus in Bloomington. A hippy dippy school where farm girls like me went in conservative, Catholic, and scared to question anything mainstream, and came out liberal, Buddhist, and knowing everything should be questioned.
“You’re going there?!?!” My ‘friend’ asked. “Didn’t know you that place is full of gay people! It’s the gay capitol of the state,” she exclaimed.
I sat back in absolute horror.
Oh, you guessed it, not horror at what she said, but horror that it might be true.
I’d never met an openly gay person. Oh, I spotted one once at a school play, a former student and actor game back for the play and from a few rows over, my friends whispered about how he’d “come out” in college and we all threw him side way glances to get a good look at what exactly a gay person looked like.
But, was I headed off to a gay school? Was everyone thinking I was? Even thought it’s a large state school, less than ten people from my graduating class were going there. It wasn’t what people did. I was doing something different.
Because I’m not giving myself enough credit, I always knew I didn’t quite agree with the high school foolishness and urged to get out, but didn’t know how to or what that meant.
But, was my sometimes friend right? Was IU only full of gay students? And what would that mean exactly? Would I find any straight people there?
And, wait, I distinctly remember this thought, why was it so bad if gay people were there?
Sure, I’d heard over and over that this or that was “gay.” The phrase “that’s so gay” escaped my own mouth up until I went off to college. There was nothing wrong with saying that. I was never told it was bad by a classmate, teacher, or any community member. It was fine.
In short, I was a bully.
We all were.
Any time the phrase “that’s so gay” escaped my lips, it was potentially bullying an in the closet (no one at my school was out) classmate.
All the gossip about the gay student at the school play? Bullying. He saw those looks. And, I’m sure he overheard many of the whispers. It wasn’t right.
I wasn't ever the ring leader, but it doesn't matter. I didn't taunt, haunt, or speak badly to any gay student in my school. To my knowledge, there no openly gay students. But, I didn't stop it. I didn't stand up when I heard people talk and gossip. Since I went along with it, that makes me an active participant.
Fast forward to August 2000, I somehow survived freshman move-in day. I’d completely forgotten that I was headed off to a “gay school” and just started interacting with fellow students.
Turns out, IU isn’t just for homesexuals, but a beacon of diversity in the middle of a vanilla state.
I loooooooooved it!!! I loved going to parties and meeting people from all over the world. I loved meeting other Hoosiers and learning not even all of them were what I thought. And met many friends from the East coast and was in total awe of how cool they were. Classes were okay, but really, the dorms are where I learned the most that year.
And these people I met? Some of them were gay. But, I barely noticed. They were just my new classmates.
That’s when I stopped thinking of anyone gay as “the other.” I just met some gay friends.
Now, I always pause when I hear about people being unaccepting toward GLBTQ people. I don’t even understand. Don’t get why people would even make a big deal of it. They're people. Who the hell cares about their sexual preference? Why does that even matter.
I haven’t drug up those ugly memories from my own teenage and childhood years in a small town where to this day being gay is a “problem" in a long time.
And, I’m glad I did. Glad I wrote this post and had to go back there.
Not because I understand it any more. It’s absolutely ludicrous, faulty thinking to condone treating gay folks as anything other than people, individuals. Harassment, bullying, and any sort of unequal treatment need to stop, and that means that gay people should be able to get married, share insurance, and be able to hold hands in total comfort even down the streets of my tiny hometown.
Now that’s off my chest.
If I was your bully.
Even on accident.
Closing comments. #GayIsOk. Period. This is a non-negotiable.