I’m From Fish Lake, IN.

by Jeremy Cauffman

State Satellite overhead image from Google Earth 2022

I grew up in Fish Lake, Indiana. Where the population never quite reached 800. What was once a summer destination for Chicagoans to flee from the sweltering heat during the 60’s was now a dying village during the early 80’s. You would think that being from such a small town that anyone displaying any gay characteristics would have it rough. Yet living in such a small town sheltered me from homophobia and the stigma of being gay. I was living in a bubble. I was who I was without hesitation. I remember as early as kindergarten having a crush on a set of twins that were in my class. When the other children would be drawing pictures of cats and big yellow suns I would draw pictures of me and the twins living in a castle high in the mountains with our hoard of Popple minions. When I would bring my masterpieces home my mother would proudly display them on the fridge. I would play secretary with my cousins and asked Santa every year for a Barbie because I was jealous of all the girls in the neighborhood that had one. Unfortunately Santa believed that dolls where for girls and fire trucks were for boys. Still none of that was strong enough to penetrate my bubble.

It wasn’t until 6th grade when I had to be bused into the city to attend middle school that I began to become aware that what I acknowledged as being normal was anything but what others considered to be normal. During Sex Education week my entire class was brought into the auditorium to watch a film about the differences between boys and girls, our changing bodies and a very rudimentary explanation of  sex and the consequence of not practicing safe sex. The consequences being unplanned pregnancies, being considered unclean in the eyes of God and STDs that involved an array of bodily discharges. Suddenly there was a male couple holding hands marching down the street with other men holding hands. What was this? I became very interested. Then it happened. A portion of the film was dedicated to AIDS, which at the time was still largely believed to be a disease that only gay men could contract. As I watched the men marching with picket signs pleading for help from this horrible disease a large number of the class began to chuckle. I believe that was the first time I can recall ever hearing the word fag. POP! My bubble had burst. There it was looking me right in the face. “I am gay.” I began to sweat as fear began filling every part of my body. I was so glad that the lights were dimmed otherwise everyone would have noticed that I was blushing in a panic that I would soon be outed, labeled and subsequently judged by my classmates. When the lights came back on I was no longer the same boy that had entered the room. I was now a boy who had to pretend to be someone I was not.

After a year of feeling as though I was living a lie I had finally had enough. I might not have been ready to tell the world, but I needed to tell someone. It was a Friday morning as I was walking to school with my best friend Melissa that I decided today was the day. I would tell Melissa that I am gay. If I couldn’t tell my best friend who could I tell? As we were walking Melissa could tell that something was up. She kept asking me “what is wrong, did I do something?” I explained to her that I had a secret I needed to tell her, but I would tell her after school. I figured that way if things didn’t go the way that I imagined, I wouldn’t have to face her again until Monday. Tuesday if I could convince my mother that I was sick. Something that I had become an expert at. For the remainder of the day Melissa kept trying to guess what it was. Are you moving? Are your parents getting a divorce? Did someone die? By 5th period English class I knew that when the time came there would be no way I would be able to find the courage to utter the words “I am gay.” Even to my best friend. I decided to write her a note and pass it off to her after class. At that point I only had band practice between me and the end of the school day. I pulled out a piece of paper from my trapper keeper and began to think of a way to finally come clean about my big secret. Not being one to sugarcoat things, even in the 7th grade, I simply wrote “I’m gay” in the middle of the paper. I began folding the note, sealing my fate with every fold. It was then that I caught the eye of my teacher. “Jeremy is that a note that you are writing? You know the rule, bring it to the front of the class and read it.” My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach. I thought I was going to pass out. I could just lie and pretend to read words that were not really there. Saving myself from the humiliation of the truth and the inevitable name calling from my fellow classmates. As I stood there staring at the class I realized that I was done lying. I was done pretending to be someone that I was not. It was time to stop living in fear. “I am gay!”

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