I didn’t pay much attention to the four teenaged boys standing in front of me at Wendy’s until one of them started talking about someone who had been wearing a Miley Cyrus t-shirt and how he’d walked up to that person and said, “That’s so gay.”
At that, I paid attention. At that, I presumed the person wearing the t-shirt was male. At that, I wanted to speak up and say something to the teenager, but I didn’t know what to say or how to say it in a way that would get across my message and not make the young man shut down. Instead, I eavesdropped.
“What’d he say?” one of his friends asked.
“Nothing,” the young man answered. “He just walked away.”
And the conversation was dropped.
But as we continued to wait in line, I continued to think about how I could say something – how to tell this young man that what he’d said was so very, very wrong. And I wondered what I would say if an ABC News crew for “What Would You Do?” jumped out of the kitchen and asked me why I hadn’t done anything.
I wanted too but was too chicken would be a horrible answer.
Perhaps equally horrible would be I didn’t want to embarrass the guy … or I didn’t want his wrath on me … or …
“Hey, dude, that’s wrong. Don’t say that.”
Nope, that wouldn’t work.
“You know that by saying ‘that’s so gay’ you’re telling others that you’re gay and terrified of that.”
Nope, that wouldn’t work.
I wondered about pulling him aside and talking to him privately, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that either. I thought about writing him a note on a napkin and dropping it on their table as I walked by. And I could hear his buddies asking, “Hey, what’s that?” And I could see him sharing the note with them and hearing them giggle and whisper about me.
What do I care that four teenaged boys giggle and whisper about me? Apparently, I care a lot.
I watched the young man as they sat at their table eating and I sat at mine. The teenager was thin and wore a baby blue Kansas sweatshirt. I thought about all my married-to-women male Secret Sex Lives sources who told me they fantasized about having sex with men – an Army vet, a school principal, a rancher, and more.
I wanted to tell the young man that questioning one’s sexuality and sexual identification is normal, that fantasizing about having sex with the same gender is normal too, and that experimenting with the same sex is also part of life for many people.
I wanted to ask him to help me carry something heavy to my car so that I could chat privately with him and say, “Son, when I hear someone use a phrase like ‘that’s so gay,’ what I hear – and others often hear – is that you are in a phase of questioning your own sexuality and that’s okay. And if you discover that you’re gay, that’s okay too.”
I thought about a student I’d had when I’d taught marketing at Austin Community College in the early ’90s. He was one of my best students. He was popular and nice looking. He ran a successful fishing business. And he went to church every Sunday. But on Saturday nights, he told me, he went out and beat up gay men. He’d said that proudly. And I’d said nothing in return. Nothing.
* * *
In 2013, just around the time I heard that young man say “that’s so gay,” a gay friend of mine phoned and told me that he’d gotten beat up by a redneck who didn’t like gays, the police had been called, and my friend had had to get six stitches sewn in his forehead. My friend’s AIDS counselor wants my friend to press charges. My friend can’t decide if he will. He’s dealing with too many other things. After all, when one is battling AIDS, battling a redneck seems trivial.
But I do wish I understood why the redneck hates gays so much.
And I wonder why my A student hates gays so much.
Is it because he goes to church and because of that thinks homosexuality is a sin?
If that’s true, why didn’t he beat up himself too because his church teaches that premarital sex is a sin, too. And I know he had sex with women.
In fact, I’m confounded by people who insist that homosexuals not be allowed to teach their children when those same people have no problem with fornicators, adulterers, tax cheats, and gossips teaching their children. All of those are sins according to the Bible. So if you want to throw out the homosexuals, in my opinion, you’d better throw out the unmarried teachers who are having sex, the married teachers who are having sex with partners who aren’t their spouses, the teachers who don’t report their cash income to the IRS, and the teachers who gossip about their students … and each other.
* * *
I think about all the gossip I’ve heard about me for the past 37 years as people have insisted that I’m gay and in denial. To the few who’ve told me that to my face – most just gossiped to others about it, but their words made their way back to me – I laughed and said, “Thank you. Some of the nicest, smartest, most talented women I know are lesbians.”
So I guess I wish had interrupted those teens’ conversation and said to that young man, “Wow. I hope your friend said thank you for the compliment.”
If anyone ever compared me to Alice Walker, Gertrude Stein, Susan Sontag, Rita Mae Brown, Patricia Cornwell, or Fannie Flagg, I’d be honored. I’d even put on a Miley Cyrus t-shirt for that. Hell, let’s make it really gay. Give me an Armistead Maupin, Tennessee Williams, or Truman Capote t-shirt. Please, give me one. Seriously.
* * *
If you are interested in reading about others who are struggling with their sexuality and sexual identification, please read my memoir, Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality.