Cloquet, Minnesota, was (and still is as far as I know) a rough redneck mill town with cliques and gangs and many problems.
I was the gay, geeky, nearly blind kid that was the easy target for bullies to prey on. School and the bus were pure torture day after day. In those days you were told by the school and society to toughen up or take it like a man, so I learned early on there was no use asking for any help from the bullies. I spent most of the day avoiding everyone and everything at school, often faking illnesses or writing my own excuses to get out of school. I didn’t bring books home as it was difficult to make it home without getting them tossed or stolen. The school didn’t care if I missed as long as I wasn’t getting in trouble like the bullies there were. Gays were so afraid to be found out back then because you were considered mentally ill if you were gay, so I tried my best to fit in and act as macho as I could. I practiced how I walked, talked, and acted. Overall it didn’t help much, but I played the game as best as I could.
I willingly moved in my senior year to another small school in a nearby town where my parents wanted to build a new home. I had left my place in hell and never wanted to look back.
Jobs were difficult to get in rural Minnesota as the mills were already cutting jobs, and other than menial jobs, opportunities were few and far between. I decided that enlisting in the Air Force was the one option I had to get away from there and have a decent job.
Life in the military was better in many ways, but before “don’t ask don’t tell” there was the daily fear of being outed and the constant fear of getting kicked out with a dishonorable discharge. Gay bars were routinely patrolled by the Air police, which allowed no opportunity for love or relationships. I ended up 30 years old never having dated, romance or even a gay friend. Life was lonely. I was so afraid of losing the only work I knew that I just conformed, but wondered if there was ever going to be someone for me.
A back injury at age 30 got me an early retirement from the Air Force, and about that time the internet was just starting and opened up the world for me. For the first time I met other gay people, learned that there really is no type of person in the gay community, and finally felt safe telling others like me that I was one too.
Looking back, I wonder what all the fear was for and why people just cannot accept and appreciate others for their unique differences, rather than using a bible, god or society norms to justify hating and hurting others.
I recently went back to that little mill town, saw some friends from there, and found out many of the bullies had drug, prison and poverty issues from the choices they made. I no longer hate that town or the people. After all, they gave me the strength to go out in the world and find a better place and become a better person than they were. I was finally free of the confines of society and religion and now only need to satisfy myself by being a good and decent gay person.