Today’s Video Story was collected on the 50-state Story Tour. Check out the blog where you can follow us on our adventure, and where you can learn a bit more about Stephen. If you haven’t submitted a story yet to IFD, or if you want to submit another one, I’d love to read and publish it. Write one up and send it in.
My name is Stephen Gross. I grew up in Keokuk, Iowa. A town of about 16,000 in the southeastern part of the state. And I now live in Des Moines. Growing up in a town that size, in the 50’s and 60’s was really difficult. Nobody, nobody ever called me faggot. Nobody ever mugged me or anything like that. But I was sure made fun of. I never knew another person who was gay in my high school. And we were the only Jews in town. So I was already an outcast. An outcast because of being different. I wasn’t an athlete. I was always heavy. And I was Jewish. I was in kindergarten the first time I was told that somebody couldn’t play with me because I was Jewish. And this was somebody who lived three houses away. Anyway, one of the big events that happened when I was in high school – I’d gone camping with two friends, one of whom had been a sexual playmate and the other who I knew was straight. We waited until we knew he was completely asleep, we thought. The other guy overheard it. And the next day we were at school, it was muttered behind my back all through the halls “deeper, deeper, harder, harder.” Which certainly didn’t encourage me to come out. Most of my life I had to be hidden for my job, for my own safety. Or at least I believed I needed to be hidden. I was afraid to go to a gay bar in town until the 80’s. I was in my late 30’s before I went to a gay bar. And I look at people your age, and younger, and it’s a completely different world you’ve grown up in. So much less harassment on the basis of sexuality, race, ethnicity, ethics. You are who you are and you can be.