I’m From Pembroke, MA.

by john h.

I am cursed with two dueling character traits that very often test the limits of this gay seventeen-year-old. On one hand, I am very proud of who I am. I wake up in the morning and I am happy with the person I see in the mirror. Part of who I am is gay, and I wouldn’t change it if I could. But on the other hand, I have fairly developed social skills. I recognize that sometimes “going with the flow” is the best way to keep friends. The issue I so often have is when to stand up for gayness in an overwhelmingly straight world.

I guess I don’t fit into people’s expectations of what gay people are like. Straight people often expect their neighborhood gays to be “camp” or “fem”. And if you don’t fit the stereotypes people are expecting, I suppose most people you encounter in daily life just assume you’re straight. But that creates some challenges for a guy who’s happily gay.

When a casual acquaintance says something like, “How you managing with the girls?”, what do I say? My typical response is to smile, laugh, shrug, and move the conversation along as quickly as possible. Socially, that’s the easiest thing to do. But really, it kills me a little inside. I feel like I am giving in. I feel ashamed that I’m being dishonest about something that doesn’t warrant dishonesty. If I responded with “Oh, I’m gay”, the conversation is dead. A lot of straight people still find gayness awkward. But I think sometimes, I’d feel much better about myself by sacrificing the conversation instead of lying by omission about stuff like that.

When is truth worth awkwardness?

When someone who doesn’t know me well enough to know I’m gay drops a “Zac Effron is such a fag” or “that’s so gay”, what is the line before I should do something? What do I do when the line is crossed? Gentle reprimand? Punch in the nose? Cold shoulder? Making an issue out of something like that is very difficult considering how common it is in teenage vernacular. The person would tell me they intended no offense and I would be inclined to believe them. That doesn’t make it right.

When are principles worth friends?

Perhaps this wisdom comes with age, but at seventeen, this little dilemma eats away at me.

8 Comments:

  1. Way to articulate that conundrum so effectively. And you are lucky and strong to like seeing yourself in the mirror.

    As for what to say – sometimes swallowing yourself is the best option but most of the time, I find that being honest, if it does kill a conversation or two, ends up opening more doors than it closes.

    I have always responded to “that’s so gay” with “oh, so am I.” Which absolutely kills every conversation, but no one to whom I’ve said that has ever used a gay slur around me again.

    Good luck.

  2. As a very old gay man who works in a straight law firm, I have found it helpful to practice a number of responses to such homophobic comments. Some responses come immediately to mind, such as, in response to the girls, “The girls are easy for me, it’s the boys that I find hard to get.” That should stop him in his tract. Just remember to say it with a smile. Or, in response to Effron, you could say, “I only wish.” or “Only in my dreams.” And finally, in response to “That’s so gay,” one could say, “Yeah, isn’t if fabulous.” With a smile of course. My rule of thumb is, whenever someone says something negative, turn it around to the positive. My other rule of thumb is “practice makes perfect.”

  3. When is truth worth awkwardness? Easy, when it’s important. Some stranger that doesn’t know you probably isn’t.

    That being said, the idea of truth being a black and white dichotomy is something that will wear off with age. If you said “I don’t have a girlfriend at the moment” how would that not be the truth?

    You don’t have to advertise your orientation, it doesn’t matter what it is in most situations. If it doesn’t advantage you to disclose it, don’t. That’s not being dishonest, that’s being smart.

    Some people advocate an activist stance, whereby they aggressively challenge every instance of homophobia wherever and whenever they encounter it. That is their (and your) choice if they wish to police the language (and thereby attitudes). That is one way of dealing with the situation, but it isn’t the only way. I seriously doubt that Zac Effron spends any time worrying about being called a fag, he’s too busy working and counting his money (and probably partying with hookers and blow) – that, to me, says that the word ‘fag’ is a rather empty slur in that instance.

  4. I’ve got the same problems as you, being gay, but not “fem” has it’s challenges.

    I made the choice to be more active in “policing the language” as Stuart says, although it’s not always easy. A lot of my friends use “gay” and “fag” quite often, or at least they used to until I really started getting on their cases about it. It was hard to do it at first, someone would say “you’re so gay” to someone else and I’d respond with “hey, I really don’t appreciate that, try something else”. Initially they’d scoff and ignore me, but after a few weeks it started to sink in a little and I noticed that a lot of them hesitated before they said it, changed their minds and said something else.

    A few argued with me, saying it meant nothing and it wasn’t offensive. My usual retort is if they’d call someone a “nigger” or “chink”. Obviously they say they wouldn’t and I’d ask what the difference is, ultimately they gave in and started to change their ways.

    One of the hardest ones was when I confronted a particular friend. He wouldn’t back down and we actually got physical. Fortunately my willingness to fight over it probably showed him (and the few around us) how important this was to me and it really helped stop them using the terms.

    But that was my choice, it’s still hard to do, and moving on to college this year means I will have to make the decision again because I won’t have the same friends around me. I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do this time around, but I’m leaning towards continuing my crusade against homophobic language.

  5. i feel the same way at times when people ask me how the girls are i just try to move th conversation to a different subject …also odd thing is i live in Pembroke MA to and i go to Pembroke high school (freshmen)

  6. My sense of integrity didn’t allow me to rationalize away telling anything less than the truth so I had a lot of trouble finding that balance between standing up for myself and others like me and not getting myself into more trouble than I could handle. To make matters worse, I have never been particularly brave.

    One thing that helped me bel true to yourself was to form a great support network of friends that allowed me to be honest about who I was for long periods at the time. So surround yourself with a group of “gay positive” friends and let their support and validation make it easier for you to deal with the moments of dishonesty that so many of us are still forced to contend with.

  7. Great article. I live in Pembroke MA, as well. I’m 32 and still have the same problem you do. It’s a judgment call in every situation. Most of the time I still let it ride and just avoid the offending party. When I feel I need to take a stand, I do. Just remember your safely is the most important thing. Use your judgment. You’re a smart cookie. You’ll be fine.

  8. I’m from Pembroke too! I came out a year after high school. Jeff, I was a senior when you were a freshman. When I went to PHS, there weren’t that many out kids and I felt really alone (even though my best friend was gay).

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