I’m From Johnson, NE.

by Tony Moran

State Satellite overhead image from Google Earth 2022

I just sucked in a breath and told her that I was gay. It wasn’t hard; she was a liberal spirit and also very intelligent and kind. I felt instantly changed. Something blazed within me, and I can still recall that powerful feeling to this day, like pulling a jewel from the earth and holding it up to the sun, where it radiates light and warmth. It’s been just over a year now since, and I can’t imagine sinking back into the coarse shadows of the closet.

Nebraska isn’t exactly a liberal state; well, it’s not a liberal state. And as you creep further and further away from the big city limits, conservative values seem to flourish. Suffice it to say that the small town of 300 people where I went to school didn’t have its own booming LGBT population. Gay people were rarities in Southeast Nebraska, like some colorful bird that flew in at odd times of the year.

Homosexuality was a topic of humor to most of the kids that I knew, and an excuse to call one another gay or faggot or some other term either jokingly or scathingly. There was no real discussion of it anywhere. Few people were kind with regards to their words on the subject, and so I grew into myself. My tactic to avoid emotional damage was to sever myself from the label, to watch from the sidelines as the disgust towards gay society grew, and to never stop the abuse. I didn’t really even think of myself as gay; I knew that I liked boys, but I never registered (or would admit to myself) that I was a “faggot” or “homo.” Coming out to myself at the age of 12 was difficult, terrifying even.

One person who would later grow to be one of my best friends once said to me in Math class, “I would just put every gay person on an island and kill them all. They’re just gross!” And I let that poison-tipped arrow fly by me and lodge itself somewhere in the back of my mind, where I would allow it to wound me slowly over time.

The hurts kept adding on, and they eventually hardened my courage like wood in fire, leading me to one day take a breath and just tell a friend. As per my M.O., I didn’t actually do it face-to-face, but through texting. To my delight, she was totally accepting. She didn’t even look at me differently the next day. We didn’t talk about it at first; I wasn’t quite ready for that yet.

Then I graduated high school and allowed the newfound feeling of freedom to flow freely within me. After the summer, the outings began in a flood. Within a week, my entire family knew (via Facebook, of course), and my high school friends who attended UNL with me. It was funny; my only real male friend was telling me to ask a girl out, because we were perfect for each other, and I’d told him, “You’re going to feel pretty stupid if you keep pursuing this.” And he did.

Now I’m out entirely. I’ve evolved from the little rainbow critter poking its head out from behind the closet door, to the out-and-proud college student that I am now.

I emailed my old high-school Psych/Sociology teacher asking to come talk to her class about homosexuality from a firsthand perspective, because she used to skip the chapter on sexuality and gender identity. She’s agreed to let me come and talk to her students next year!

If gay people really are like exotic birds, then I hope this opportunity will nudge people to look up and realize that we’re not a rarity; our flock is large and beautiful, and we’re always here, whether you think about it or not.

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