My very first boyfriend (in second grade) turned out to be gay. Was this a sign of things to come? He came to my door on Valentines Day to deliver candy. We would remain friends throughout school. He was brilliant, handsome, funny and talented. All through high school he was bullied by the jocks and called racist names they associated with gay. I would try to go up and talk with him during this harassment to deflect the attention, but never had the true courage to defend him. After he starred in one of our high school plays and was a comedic success he earned their respect temporarily, and they left him alone. I breathed a sigh of relief on his behalf. In our small town area though, I wonder if he was ever truly accepted? I am sure there are still those who would call him names. Unfortunately his was a tragic ending, as he never could quite kick his drug addiction and despite a successful career and relationship with a man, his heart gave out literally.
Another guy in high school who set off my my gaydar and attracted the bullies invited me to his senior prom. Again, I tried to keep the jocks away by sitting next to him in classes and offering friendship. I was not interested in going to the prom with him, so I made up a whopper and told him my mother could not afford to buy a prom dress. His mother promptly offered to pay for the dress. I was trapped momentarily, but quickly thought my way out of it explaining that we were too proud to accept charity. I ended up going to something called the after prom party with a good girlfriend. My girlfriend and I spent hours plotting our escape from our small town area and dreaming of our future careers and college. The party had a tragic ending for me about which I will write in my next blog. I hope wherever my girlfriend ended up she is happy and successful, living out her dreams.
My next gay boyfriend came along soon after my first marriage ended. This time my gaydar did not go off, but it should have. Let’s see, he was considering the priesthood, and loved helping me plan our opera-themed party evenings. This involved watching an opera on PBS Great Performances and cooking a gourmet meal based on the composer’s country of origin. All that was missing was a feather boa– oh wait I think he wore that to one of our parties. He never tried to kiss me and finally when I tried to kiss him, he confessed. He was also from our small area, actually the larger more urban area of Cleveland, and was not comfortable being out and very worried about how his family was going to react. He was heir to a family business in which he had no interest, and was terrified of being forced into marriage; hence his idea of escaping into the priesthood.
Last but not least, in my late twenties I met a wonderful, and in my opinion very macho man for whom I fell head over heels. I had absolutely no intention of letting this happen, and had my guard up and thought my heart was well protected. I was unhappy in my current career path and focused on finding my way. I was not going to let falling in love interfere with that. However it did and I found myself gaga over him. When I told him I loved him, he told me that he loved me, but could never commit to a serious relationship or marriage with a woman. He had conflicting feelings about his sexuality. He had never been bullied but of course feared all the potential repercussions of living an openly gay lifestyle. I completely broke down. How could I have missed this? We tried to hang on for another year, but finally the relationship died a slow death. We were young, but my heart was still broken and took a while to heal.
My gay boyfriends’ fears were real. My good friend Jose´ who lost his battle with AIDS in the late eighties was openly gay, but rejected by his family. His sisters visited him once in the hospital but refused to take him home with them to Chicago to die. He died alone at 3 am in a Medicaid approved Nursing Home and the family did not claim the body.
The bullying that I watched in high school still continues today and is directed at those with the courage to come out openly at a young age. Numerous studies have shown that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth have a higher rate of suicide attempts than do heterosexual youth. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center synthesized these studies and estimated that between 30 and 40% of LGB youth, depending on age and sex groups, have attempted suicide.
Recently a mutual friend of my first boyfriend, still feeling the pain of his loss, asked me “Gay, I mean what does it matter [to others]?” Oh it mattered so much, and so did he.