“It Ripped My Heart Out” Choosing To Fit In Instead Of Interacting With Gay Friend

by Cameron Stiehl

My name is Cameron Stiehl and I’m from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’ll never forget the day that I found out that there was a difference. I was at a drama festival in Albuquerque where all the high schools gather–I was in high school–and all the high schools gather at this drama festival at the University of New Mexico, where I ended up going. And I fell in with a group of really fun kids that were all from different schools and they were just really unique. They were loud, they were fun, they were dancing, they were singing, it was like an episode of Fame, that’s a dated reference. And we started hanging out and after a day or two went by, one of the most fun, flamboyant members of the group came over to me and he said, “You know we’re family, right?” And I was a little confused and said, “What do you mean ‘family’?” He said, “We’re gay.” “Gay…okay…” He says, “That means I like boys, she likes girls, you know, we’re gay.” I said, “Oh. Okay.” I never really thought about it because I, when I grew up, I grew up with very open-minded people, very hippies, there were no terms thrown around, there was no “straight” there was no “gay” there was no “bisexual” there were anything anyone ever talked about, and because I found myself attracted to both genders, always had since I was like 6 since I first noticed it, I just assumed everyone was like that and I thought that was okay, no one ever questioned it, no one ever brought it up, so I never really thought about there being terms or any problems with it. But what Johnny explained to me then was that the reason they all hang out together was that the rest of the kids, the “straight” kids, didn’t really like them that much, or their lifestyles, their choices that much and then, whew, now I knew something about homophobia. And it was startling to me. I mean, how could the other kids, who were also cool and friends, how could they not like this amazing, dynamic, fun group of people who would like bust out a song in the middle of the UNM duck pond at a moment’s notice and just be having fun all the time and love who they loved. That just made no sense to me. So I knew a couple things right then. First, I knew that I would always have a family in the gay community and I fit in there, that made me feel good about the people that I chose to spend time with. And second, I knew that homosexuality was totally fine and that homophobia was bullshit. If you got to know these people, these wonderful people, how could you hate them? So I made a decision then that I would fight against it and fight for acceptance right there at the ripe old age of 14. Not that I always did a great job of it. I have one big regret from a few years later. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd, as you do sometimes when you’re kind of finding your way. And for some reason I just fell in with these people, I don’t know what it was, I was trying to be cool I guess. But I ran into Johnny when I was with these other thugs, these punks, and I saw Johnny and I was so happy to see him because I loved it, I loved him, he guided me, I loved him so much. But I knew that if the people I was with knew that he was gay that they–they were violently homophobic, not just homophobic but violently, so something could easily go wrong. There could be a fight or I could get shit for it, and so I blew him off. “Oh, hey, how’s it going?” And I kind of kept going. It ripped my heart out and I could see the look on his face too, we hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and I could see his face fall and I felt so bad but I knew what could happen and it just tore me up. And I never saw him again. It wasn’t long before I wasn’t hanging out with those assholes anymore either because I just had to make that choice. Like, what am I doing? What am I doing with those people? My family, my family needs me. And now, now that I’m living in San Francisco, I have that family now. I have the best family in the LGBT community, huge family here, they’re amazing and wonderful and dynamic and they do burst into song at a moment’s notice, and they’re wonderful, and all the allies too that are amazing and supportive and everything that I could ever want. I’m very lucky to have that back. And if I could reach out back through time and change that one moment where I could be at The Frontier Restaurant across from UNM again and find Johnny, I would stand up for him right then and there. And hopefully some day I’ll get the chance. — Cameron’s website is http://www.cameronstiehl.com/

Sharing your story can change someone's life. Interested in learning more?