I grew up in the northeast suburbs of Indianapolis when it wasn’t the large city it is now. At that time, I lived in a neighborhood in the middle of cornfields. Sports were important and being good at them even more so. Basketball reigns in Indiana and I grew up pretending to like all sports, though I played none more than one season. I liked watching but normally because I liked the guys in their uniforms. Everyone in our neighborhood knew each other and went to school together all the way through high school, unless they were lucky enough to move away. I was somehow different so I had only a few friends; did I keep the distance to remain somewhat safe or did the others keep a distance so as not to be guilty by associating with me? I know for a fact it was both. New kids to our school were quickly warned not to associate with me. I didn’t know why, though. I didn’t know how I was different except that I could relate to girls more than boys. I felt sorry for the girls when they were picked on by the boys. The girls didn’t like it when I stuck up for them. I was in a no-win situation. I would say now that it felt as if I were a man without a country. Nowhere to go and no one to turn to. As a boy, I delivered the newspaper in our small neighborhood. A small band of local bullies would stop me on my bicycle and not let me go until I said I was a girl. I’d succumb so I could be free. They’d move on laughing. I’d move on crying.
I graduated high school and escaped those horrible surroundings. I was so happy to go off to college. I had not yet figured out who I was or acknowledged why I was different even though I had experimented with guys. I found the bathrooms on campus where a lot of cruising went on and always seemed to make my way there as often as possible. I was afraid to do anything though. That didn’t change until my senior year.
I had my first gay sexual encounter after my first year in college. I went to a local gay cruising area near my parents’ house. I drove down there a lot when I was in high school. I would have butterflies in my stomach and a great desire to stop and meet one of the many guys hanging out in their cars or standing outside them or walking into the woods. Fear kept me from doing anything. I was terrified my car would be recognized by someone in the community. My life would be ruined. This time I cared a little less and I stopped and hooked up with a very good looking guy. I enjoyed it but also struggled internally and declared I would never do it again. I would.
It wasn’t until I studied abroad while in college that I discovered myself. I was free from family and community influence. The detachment was liberating. I came back a changed person. I remember my mother telling me the summer I got back that she didn’t know me anymore. I told her I had always been this person but it took going abroad to discover it.
A long time has passed since that summer. I moved away quickly, not realizing how quickly until I came home one summer and found boxes of my things that they had collected together. Things that I didn’t remember ever having. It was as if I left fleeing the enemy or occupying forces and having to leave everything behind but the clothes on my back.
I keep my distance and do not go back to where I spent my youth. The pain keeps me away. Even as large as Indianapolis is now, I am amazed at how often I would run into people I know. I suppose having your family live in the same place for over 40 years and so many other families I grew up with having done the same, there is no escaping the past. I do so by living far away.