Where It Began

You know, as a young teenage boy, I was about as homophobic as any young teenage boy is. Why? Oh, for all the usual reasons, including years of soaking up general anti-gay sentiment without even knowing or understanding it (for example, playing lots of games of “smear the queer” in elementary school), and of course having just hit puberty, being oversaturated by hormones, and thus being turned on by just about everything, and wondering oh my god what it meant that I found Boy George maybe a little cute. So yeah: Basic gay panic case at 14 years old. What can you do.

Getting over that took the usual things, like actually knowing gay people, learning the history of gays and lesbians, finding out that many of the people I admired culturally were gay or bisexual, sorting out my own sexuality to my satisfaction, and also coming to the conclusion that the lot of people who didn’t like gays and lesbians weren’t the sort of people I wanted to hang around with anyway. It took time, and I think I’m fortunate to come to the place where I am at the moment.

That said, and unlike most people, I can tell you exactly when the first time I actually thought about homophobia was, and the first time it seemed like nonsense to me. It was when I saw the video for “Smalltown Boy” by Bronski Beat on the video show of a local UHF channel.

In the video, if you haven’t watched it (and won’t watch it now), a young gay man (played by BB lead singer Jimmy Sommerville) visits a local gym, where a swimmer seems to come on to him, only to beat the crap out of him with a bunch of friends. Jimmy is taken home by the cops, and this is how his parents find out he’s gay. He decides to leave home, and his dad is still so upset that he can’t shake his own son’s hand goodbye. And off he goes.

I remember being 15 years old, watching the video, and feeling sad for the Jimmy Sommerville character, and also being aware enough to know that the video was almost certainly based on experience; if not Sommerville’s directly, than that of someone else in the band, or of someone they knew. I knew the band members were gay — there was a kid at school who got every issue of Smash Hits, so we were all caught up on all the Brit bands of the time — so it wasn’t hard to connect the dots. And when the dots were connected up, they seemed unfair.

I’m somewhat famous for noting that life isn’t fair (ask Athena, after she’s tried to use the “unfair” defense to get out of doing something), but at the same time, there’s a difference between the fact that the universe is inherently unfair on a cosmic level, and the fact that life is unfair because people are actively making it so. There’s not much one can do about the former, but the latter is fixable. What was going on with Jimmy Sommerville’s character in that video was unfair in the latter way. There was no reason he shouldn’t be loved by his family. There was no reason he ought not find love with someone else.

None of this hit me like a ton of bricks, I should say. I was 15, I wasn’t a brilliant critical thinker, and I had other things going on in my mind at the time (mostly involving a girl I had no chance of getting with; another story of messed-up sexuality entirely). But I can say the video and the song stuck in my head and I came back to both more than once, trying to figure out why they affected me as much as they did. I did figure it out, eventually.

Now, I like to think that without the video and song, I would have still ended up where I am on this particular subject; I suspect that sooner or later people do become who they are meant to be, no matter how they get there. But this takes nothing away from the fact this was the video and the song that got that ball rolling in my life. It does point to how music can be meaningful, and yes, change lives in its way.

I’m not the only one who thinks this of course, or even thinks this about this particular song and video. A couple of years ago Andrew Sullivan singled out “Smalltown Boy,” as a critical anthem for the gay community: “Even now, it chokes me up,” he said. “The video is a record of the beginnings of a revolution. You can feel it coming.” I don’t doubt he’s right that it mattered to any number of gay men, back in the day. For at least one other person, it mattered too.

60 thoughts on “Where It Began

  1. Also a strong memory for me. I was fortunate to have had my gay/none-gay sensibility worked out for me at an early age (English all-boy boarding schools will do that, yah know) and have never judged the people I knew by their sexuality. This video was one of the things that opened my eyes to just how inhuman humans can be.

  2. Human beings just SUCK!!

    I have loads of stories about the worst of humanity. I can’t stand people who are ignorant of differnces and who OPENLY make snide remarks.

    I’m bitter and angry lots of the time and have a hard time remembering that I am loved that that I dont need the worlds approval.

    I’m not gay/lesbien but live with a facial disfigurment that I can’t get away from and have to “face” it everyday and when people remmind me of it everyday.

    But alas I know I can come to blogs like this one of like-minded people who enjoy have a discussion about serious and silly thinks.

    which I have to say THANKS to John :)

    Finished “Old Man’s War” and I can’t wait to get my hands on “Ghost Birgades”… :)

  3. I remember exactly the moment I formed my opinion about gays: in tenth grade (first year of high school in my area), I was rather nerdish, and focused on biology. As a result, I spent a lot of lunchtimes talking with the biology teacher, who was quite willing to give me books outside of the official curriculum, and answer questions about them. After a couple of months of this, he told me, “I should tell you something, before you hear it from anyone else — I’m gay.” I remember being completely shocked by this for some period of time, and then deliberately thinking, “It doesn’t matter, does it?”

    And that’s been my attitude ever since.

  4. For me, it was of all things, Three’s Company. The way they made funny of his pretending to be gay. It struck me as wrong, deep down inside, even if I was too young to fully understand why, and I remember vowing never to make fun of gay people or have fun at their expense.

    And I’ve kept that vow going on thirty years now.

  5. For me it was sharing an apartment with a group of friends in college. One of them was a young lady named Elania. Getting to be friends with her and her GF Carol was an eye-opening experience. They were incredibly warm, sweet people. Whenever I have encountered homophobia since then, I just think of her and how she doesn’t deserve any of this hate.

    My biggest pet peeve is whenver ignorant people say, “That’s so gay!” to describe something bad. It just grates on me. I’m still not sure how to confront it without coming across as a too-PC asshat.

  6. Y’know, oddly enough, for me it was hearing kids call each other ‘faggot’ in elementary school.

    My thought process was something along the lines of:

    Faggot means a boy who would rather kiss other boys than girls, right? So, what’s it to you? You don’t have to kiss him if you don’t want. Shut up and go play tag, dummy.

    I attribute this to the idea that my brain’s default settings are libertarian. =p

  7. I can pin it down fairly well. Late in my sophomore year of college, a gay man saved my life.

    I’d grown up in southern Maine, and while there was knowledge of gays in the area (Ogunquit is and was known locally as a popular place for gays, which led to much giggling when tourists who would clearly be offended by the association wore Ogunquit T-shirts) I didn’t know any personally.

    Freshman year of college, in an online chat, a gay man commented that my description of myself was far too harsh, and I was more attractive than I claimed. I…can’t say I took it well. However, I didn’t scream and shout in revulsion, and occasionally talked to him over the course of the next year or so.

    Toward the end of sophomore year, after another failed relationship attempt blew up in my face, I was feeling lower than pond scum. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but in retrospect, I’m pretty sure I was heading in a suicidal direction. I logged in, and set my status to…something indicating that I was really feeling like nothing I did ever worked right.

    And this gay man saw it, and asked what was up, and after I said that I felt like I wasn’t useful to anyone, he said that I’d helped him out quite a bit when he was feeling down.

    And that was the guidance that I needed – that someone out there (other than Her) would miss me. Quite possibly, it saved my life.

  8. That chorus… is disturbing. “Run away, turn away….” But methinks it was meant to be… back when you and I were boys, that’s all we *could* do if we were “different”. Even if just being geeky was all the different we were.

    There are other ways in which I’m different from the average WASPs that I grew up with. But interestingly enough, it was having my best friend come out of the closet that started me on the path to finding and accepting those differences for myself.

    Thanks, Scalzi.

  9. You know, I’m younger than you, so I don’t have your worldly wisdom, but I was much the same way. In fact, it’s been rather difficult to weed out some of the phrases we used to say as kids (such as: “Oh, that’s so gay”, or “God, you’re gay” or similar sayings). I find myself still saying that first one from time to time.
    My mother is gay (she wasn’t when I was a kid, or at least she didn’t tell us she was), and I found that when she told me I just didn’t care, not in a bad way mind you, just that it didn’t matter to me. I think maybe it was the way I was raised, but I just sort of got used to the idea of there being gays around and stopped caring about it. They’re gay, so what?

    Yeah.

  10. My parents were huge Rocky Horror fans (I know; it means they’re very young, not me I’m afraid), and I grew up with the sound track and an eighth-generation video tape with Japanese subtitles. I knew what a transvestite was by the time I was five. And I liked Tim Curry. He was funny.

    So yeah, when my uncle came out when I was 12 and my parents were less than accepting, I was a little nonplussed. But he was still the same guy who took me for ice cream after we lost yet another soccer game and gave me my first summer job. I was looking forward to having a boyfriend–why shouldn’t he?

  11. Yeah, I remember seeing it on MTV, way back when, in the middle of the night when I was 20-odd, with a couple of good friends. After it finished, they had that look of, “Huh, I’m going to have to think about this one,” while I was just wrecked. I. Had. Just. Seen. My. Life. On. TV. Just as though it was as real as anyone else’s…

    (I was flunking out at that point, and I think that was the moment I decided I was gonna say to hell with it, and go be a Bronski Beat groupie. I was *pissed* when they broke up.)

  12. When I was a kid, I was most often the queer smeared during “smear the queer,” though I’m not gay. I always questioned sexuality, though (even if not mine), and my first crush on a person (my first ever crush was on Janet from the Muppets) was on Boy George. I thought he was a girl. Twisted Sister was all boys, so I figured Boy George was probably a chick.

    Despite that, I was never actually attracted to a guy. I was just small and quiet and unassuming, and most often found with a book in my hand, and I couldn’t play sports because my eyes don’t work right, and so I was the default “fag.” This didn’t change when I went to high school; I was made fun of for being on the swim team (I “just wanted to see guys in Speedos,” they said) and for . . . well, just about everything. I remember a specific afternoon in the cafeteria when I was sitting with a group of friends, and a guy pulled up a seat next to me, put his leg upon mine, pulled up his trouserleg, and asked if it “turned me on.”

    I was teased and taunted on a regular basis, every day. Got so bad I went home on my first day of school junior year and demanded to be transferred, refusing to go back.

    The irony that at least half of the guys who teased and taunted me have now come out and lead lives as uncloseted gay men does not elude me.

  13. Hi John,

    Sorry to be somewhat off-topic, but I’m putting together an online fandom and LJ-centered fundraiser auction to fight the “destroy marriages” amendment. When I get it set up (probably next week), may I hit you up to mention it here and maybe participate by offering something in the auction?

    And if not, I hope you’ll consider holding your own mini-auction right here. You’ve raised a lot of money doing that before.

    Apparently the evil Focus on the Family has donated an enormous amount of money for the “destroy marriages” amendment, and the “preserve marriages” people are scrambling to catch up.

    Thanks!

  14. I don’t know if there wasn’t any anti-gay sentiment in my elementary schools or if I was just oblivious. Probably the latter; I was definitely a bookish type and for me, the word “gay” meant the old-style “happy, blithe.”

    I do remember, in high school, encountering the fear that a gay person would actually check you out. Even at the time, I thought that assumed way too much about the attractiveness of the person who’s afraid. And that I didn’t much care if anyone checked me out… in fact, the idea was rather flattering than otherwise.

    The funniest part is I went off to college, developed a number of friendships with people of varying sexualities, and eventually ended up back in my hometown. I got a job and about two weeks in, the boss introduces his girlfriend to the group of new hires. After they left, one looked at another and said, “I thought he was gay.” I replied that he hadn’t set off my gaydar and got a lecture— from an eighteen-year-old who had never lived more than five miles from the place of her birth— about how gay folk were not always the stereotype that you saw portrayed, they could be different, she’d done a paper on it…

    I bit my tongue and refrained from mentioning the friends of mine who were in a three-person all male relationship. At least two of whom were widely assumed to be straight. I don’t think she would have appreciated the irony.

  15. I guess my awareness started with nothing to do with being gay at all. It had to do with a girl I knew in gradeschool who for reasons that now are very clear, was a compulsive liar. Everyone made fun of her all the time. One day she shows up with a broken leg with a cast and everybody started in on her. She was a pretty good friend of mine and I used to get in the way of the others a lot, but I remember that day thinking, man, when people get together to get nasty, they are really really really the worst. And she was devastated. I remember getting up and telling them all off and surprisingly enough, they left her alone after that–at least for awhile. And that’s what did it for me. I never wanted to be one of those people who attacked other people for being different or being weaker or for being anything at all. So as I grew up, the only thing I ever knew was that everybody had a right to be happy with who they were and who the fuck cares who they sleep with or what religion they worship or anything else? There’s plenty of evil in the world to fight without imagining new stuff.

  16. I grew up in conservative West Texas in a loving (but conservative) preacher’s family. In my family, taunting or deriding *anyone*, much less on the basis of race / sex / orientation, was never on the playlist.

    There were a couple of obviously gay guys in my high school class; on a personal level, my friends and I just dealt with them more or less like we would with anybody else, i.e. we were much more concerned with cliques, the girls we wanted to date, where we would go to college, what was for lunch, etc. When my parents ever heard anything about the gay guys in my class, their reactions were more of bemusement than anything else: raised eyebrows, expressions on the lines of “Huh? Well . . . ,” and that was about it.

    When I got to the University of Texas, there was an openly gay guy on my dorm floor. His roommate never seemed to care, and the main group of guys who steered the culture of that floor (this included me) never said “boo” about it. We made it pretty clear that we didn’t want to hear anybody else say “boo” about it, either. Frank was in our honors program, clearly a brilliant guy, witty, knew all our other friends, etc. — so what difference did it make who he dated?

    From that point on, I’ve always held the view of “Who the heck cares who you sleep with?” My own transition to this view was so gradual — nothing like your experience watching Bronski Beat, John — that it’s been hard, over the years, for me even to grasp how others can hold so much hatred in their hearts on this matter.

  17. I knew I liked both boys and girls as early as age 9, and came out to a girl I liked at age 13. So it would have been a bit hypocritical to gay bash others when I was bi, or at least bicurious from a young age. I also had an aunt who had lived with her female “friend” for years, and it was obvious they were a couple. So I guess that was a positive influence.

  18. Its interesting how pervasive anti-gay feelings are that I can grow up with a gay uncle and be, well, gay, and still have weird assuptions about what being gay is. Specifically, I remember using words like faggot and gay when I was quite young (9 or 10) without knowing what they really meant, and without ever thinking they related to my uncle, who I really rather like. Once I realised what they meant, and that the words applied to ME, well then, ignorance and/or intolerance became very easy to let go of lol.

    And thanks, John, and the other people in this thread, for being self-reflective enough to actually think about this sort of thing. I find a lot of the negative reactions I get (which honestly isn’t much, I’ve grown up in live-and-let-live cities with cool bunches of friends and work colleagues) are from people who just haven’t thought about the issue and react from visceral dislike that’s been ingrained one way or another. I’m actually quite good friends with a few people who were initially freaked out by the gay thing – they just had to think through their own prejudices.

  19. Wait. Lemme get this straight (NPI) you actually though Boy George was cute?

    I’ve never seen the video before and I never really thought much about gays one way or another other than to say “What are you queer” in an adolescent kinda way when I was an adolescent.

    But when I was much older than an adolescent one of our crew was treated in precisely the same way by his parents when he told them he was gay. Of course, he had told us previously and we mostly shrugged. The majority of us didn’t like girls much either even though we weren’t gay so we could sympathize.

    But we were all extremely upset about the way his family treated him. We were in Arizona at the time and after this, he quickly moved to San Francisco and flamed out (in a Gay way, that is). He kept in touch for a while and we went to see visit him once, but there wasn’t much we could relate to in his new life.

    I get a Christmas card from him once in a while.

  20. When I was about 4 or 5 my mother introduced us to her friend name Bill. Bill wore flamboyant shirts, wore a pearl earring, spoke with a lisp and was probably one of the best patisserie chefs I have ever met.

    Bill was family. I never questioned this or wondered why Bill was regarded differently by other people — especially the people in Memphis, TN. I learned how to cook from Bill. I used to spend hours in the kitchen watching him bake and prep and cook food — until finally one day he handed me the ingredients and utensils and said, “Give it a go!”

    When I turned about 9-10 I remember seeing Bill shortly after a surgery — he had a tube inserted into his arm for dialysis. Bill was dying from kidney failure. The dialysis treatments seemed to be working to reduce his blood level toxicity for the moment.

    We moved overseas when I was 12 and shortly after I learned that Bill had passed away. His kidneys had finally failed — a result of him having contracted HIV/AIDS in the late 70s early 80s.

    When my mother told me why he had passed away it suddenly had occured to me that Bill was gay. Very gay — he filled all the stereotypes that one would imagine about a gay man of that era.

    “You didn’t know?”

    It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. Bill was just Bill to me. He was family. It took me about a day to figure out my stand and feelings on this but in the end I realized that if it didn’t matter to me at the time … what should it matter that I knew Bill was gay now?

    Bill was just people.

  21. Frank:

    “you actually thought Boy George was cute?”

    Back in the day? Sure. I didn’t have pictures of him on the wall, but yeah, he had his moments and his angles.

  22. SMD @10 My mother is gay …

    My mother’s name is Gay, which caused all kinds of amusement at school.

    I’ve never seen the video to that song (although I’ve heard it for as long as I can remember). I’m thinking his Dad can’t shake his hand because his son (who just yesterday was a baby) has turned out to be this strange unknown thing. If he’d (for example) unexpectedly joined the army or was going to a CND camp his Dad might disapprove, but accept it. Today, I’d hope, it would be less strange and unknown and so more acceptable (Those we love might do things we disapprove of, but we accept their choices and still love them).

  23. I was raised to see people as people and anything beyond that didn’t matter.

    However, I know precisely when one of my good friends had that moment.

    During college we hanging out and somehow the subject of homosexuality came up and my friend said, “if a guy ever hit on me I’d PUNCH him.”

    “Why?” I asked.

    “Because I wouldn’t want to go out with him!” my friend said, someone disgruntled with me.

    “Would you punch an ugly girl who asked you out?”

    “NO!”

    “So what’s the difference? If someone asks you out and you don’t like ‘em, why can’t you say no and move on?”

    He looked at me kinda funny and the subject was dropped.

    That was the last homophobic thing I ever heard him say, and within a couple years he actually became friends with a co-worker who was gay, and would laugh when the gay guys we worked with jokingly flirted with him.

    He just needed shaken out of his rural redneck mentality.

    Best part was that our attitude actually helped other co-workers change their attitudes, and I got to see a bunch of redneck guys ask serious questions and have their own ideas challenged, and change from hostility to become friendly (IN A TOTALLY MANLY WAY!) with someone they once hated on general principles.

    I figure if I’ve done one good thing in the world, that was it, and I’m glad about it.

  24. My parents had friends, Peter & Bruce, whom they’d have over for dinner from when I was an early age (they both sang in a chorus my dad conducted). It eventually dawned on me they were gay; I’m not really sure when. 14, maybe? I know that at the age of 15, I was trying to beat back the repeal of an anti-discrimination ordinance (thank you, former governor Angus King, for doing the right thing). The repeal passed, unfortunately.

  25. As far as I can remember, I never had an anti-gay prejudice. It’s not that I don’t have any: golfers, France, people who decorate with macrame, … . Somehow, I missed the gay one, though.

    I used to think that the point of Three’s Company was how stupid they all were for thinking that was what a gay man was like. (I spent a lot of time thinking people on TV were stupid.) It took me embarassingly long to think that the people who made the show probably did think so. And then even longer to realize that a good number of the people involved in making the show probably were gay or worked with gay people and so really knew better. How sad and sick is that?

  26. I can’t recall when I came to the conclusion that homophobia was a bad thing I wanted no part of, but I know exactly when it became a real thing to me, as opposed to an intellectual abstract.

    It was the last day of my senior year of high school, the last exam, and we were all full of the satisfaction of getting through things and the sort of half-admitted-to knowledge that this might be the last some of us would ever see each other.

    One of the few friends I’d had the whole four years I was there came up to me as we were packing things up. Time for goodbyes, though he seemed a bit more anxious than usual.

    “Hey.”

    “Hey.”

    “I wanna tell you something.”

    “Yeah?”

    “I’m gay.” He paused. “Is that okay?”

    That last sentence, that ‘is that okay’, it broke my heart.

    I had no words. I hugged him.

  27. Very eloquent, John.

    Their other big hit was with the 2nd singer. “Hit That Perfect Beat Boy.” Also a gay anthem in its way.

    I remember the song and video vividly. Not sure if it affected me in the same way. I suspect it took me gong to a performing arts college and a fiancee’s gay father to make me rethink my attitude about other sexualities.

    John, what prompted you to post this today? Pride Day? Mermaid Day?

  28. I knew I was gay since I new there were feelings one could have for someone sexually, but what got me to come out was, sadly, Steven Carrington on “Dynasty.”

    Mom never wore giant shoulder pads, though.

  29. I dunno, I never really thought about it when I was growing up.

    I had gay friends in college, and had fun eying the guys with one guy in particular. But it never really kinda came home to me until I had a couple of women come on to me–and my reaction wasn’t homophobic, it was more just “sorry, not interested.” I don’t swing that way but it was okay with me however they swung.

    My family’s pretty homophobic, though. Fundies, though. For me, I’m fundiephobic.

  30. I was kind of cluelessly anti-gay as an early teen too, partly out of ignorance, partly because I’d been picked on a lot and internalized it, and it made it easier to be a fat pimply loser if I could tell myself that at least I wasn’t a fat pimply gay loser.

    I don’t recall now what made me start to re-evaluate things, but by the time I went to college I’d switched to being ostentatiously open-minded about sexuality, in a “some of my best friends…” kind of way, convinced that I didn’t have a homophobic bone in my body and looking down my nose at those who did, while still remaining an ignorant putz.

    But I do remember the experience that completed my transformation. I was 20, and my then-girlfriend-now-wife had taken me out to a sort of talent show for the local gay community called “A Gay Evening in May”, and I was oh-so-struttingly-proud of myself for being the sort of awesomely self-confident dude who could go to a show like that and still be totally comfortable in his sexuality. (Do you hear me?! Totally comfortable!!)

    Well, during intermission, I bumped into a guy I worked with, waved at him, opened my mouth, and just barely stopped myself from saying “Hi, Richard, how’s it going, I’m not gay!

    And that was eye-opening. I spent a little time pondering the impulse behind that, and realized I was a long way from finished excising my own homophobia. As a bit of personal penance, I promised myself that from then on I’d let people think whatever they liked about my orientation; if someone thought I was gay, I was going to be fine with that and do nothing to correct them. Whereupon I began to really think for the first time about what it’s like to be a gay man in a homophobic society, and the courage it took to come out of the closet into a world full of bigots–not to mention merely ignorant schmucks like me. That’s when I finally began to understand.

  31. I grew up kind of sheltered (and then again, kind of not sheltered) so I didn’t know that gay relationships existed.

    I first learned about that the summer before my first year of college, reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, in particular Doll’s House.

    To me, it was a little odd, but made sense. And then it just made sense.

    And I really didn’t understand all the homophobia I saw later on. I guess I still don’t.

    Personally I’d like to be able to bat for either team, as it were. I’ve had crushes on guys and gals. I’m just not good enough for either. :)

  32. Amusingly, I briefly met Jimmy Sommerville a while back. He was leaving a hotel during a UK tour – just as the UK SF Eastercon contingent arrived. He was going out the hotel door as my pals and I went in.
    It was me (standard balding-beardy-bear-fanboy), my then-girlfriend Lucy (tiny, elfin, part-inspiration for Gaiman’s Delerium in Sandman and dressed much like her) and Teddy.
    I should explain about Teddy…
    VERY tall, slim, very pretty boy. Dressed in bright pink and purple skintight spandex plus fun fur. And stiletto boots.

    From the look on Jimmy’s face, I think we boggled him just a bit. (No, he did not try to pull Teddy. Or me, for that matter.)

    I still think him a brave guy for what he did in his career. And a helluva set of pipes on him.

    My Gay Moment? Kind of realising the boy-on-boy scenes in the Anne Rice Sleeping Beauty SM-porn fantasies got me hot. And just thinking judging people like that was unfair since a kid.

    These days I’m functionally straight, living with two bi women and a son who thinks homophobes are just idiots.
    Could be worse.

  33. You know, I realized I didn’t really follow through with my previous comment, because though I’d never cared about other people’s sexualities, and so there was never a point where I had to think it was okay for other people to be gay, there was a moment where I realized it’d be okay if I were gay. Because I’d been taunted and such earlier, I had an adverse reaction to the accusation, until I got to college and one of my roommates told me he was bisexual. It was the first time I stopped and considered, “You know, I could date a guy if I wanted to.” I didn’t, because I’m not attracted to guys beyond thinking any particular one is handsome or whathaveyou, but it was revelatory to realize I could.

    Also, given the self-reflective nature of this thread and the way we’re discussing stereotypes (which is awesome), I have to note that I see little difference between homophobia and this sentence from comment 25: “He just needed shaken out of his rural redneck mentality.”

    I grew up in suburbia not far from more rural areas. I have relatives who basically live on farms. Stereotyping that particular perception to either geography (rural) or class (redneck) [or both] is as much a fallacy as the idea that all gay men speak with a lisp.

  34. John – absolutely. Ditto. Rinse and Repeat. I’m so glad you are able to eloquently express what I felt when I heard that song. I cried, myself. And thanks for the reminder – your post took me straight back to that intense moment when those lyrics hit me.

    I have an 18 yr old son, who’s father is gay and in a happy gay relationship. My son, is so different from my father’s generation, and even some in my generation. It’s astonishing the gains that have been made in a seriously short time. Still a ways to go, but…my son makes me proud with his attitude and openness.

    Somehow, I was raised to just accept people for who they are, by homophobic, racist, bigots. To their credit (fwiw), my parents never tried to push their attitudes on to me when I was younger. :-) Can’t say I’m returning the favour now I’m older though.

  35. I can’t say that I ever had a defining moment. I was something of a conservative in my teenage years, but I always had an “ehhh, I dunno” feeling whenever anything anti-gay came up. I knew enough about not fitting in to not want to wish it on anyone else.

    The nearest thing I had to an epiphany, I suppose, was attending a Sunday School service a few years ago, at a church I had never attended before. And it just so happened that the lesson that morning could be summarized as “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”. I kid you not, the person leading the group said that exact phrase. I was immediately unhappy to be there, but I stayed for the rest of the hour. Only after I left did I really start to feel bad about not having left immediately (or maybe even starting a debate, and wouldn’t that have been fun).

    The best part, though, was relating this story to someone I’d known for a few months . . . who was then relieved to be able to tell me that they were gay.

  36. Will, sometimes the descriptor fits.

    The area my friend grew up was white white white Gods Guns and Guts rural West Virginia.

    In areas like that anything different is bad. This is a place where when going to a local festival with my friend, his brother, and my grandmother, when we drove to find close parking, the guardsmen working the gate looked in the car at me driving and my grandmother sitting in the front seat and said , “any women that can make their men ride in the back seat get in for free” and waved us in.

    Doesn’t mean all rural rednecks are closed minded. (Some of my best friends are rural rednecks!) Unfortunately, that is par for the course in that area.

    From what most of my friends tell me, there is little worse than growing up gay in rural West Virginia.

  37. And sometimes the weak-wristed, lisp-tongued, HIV-having descriptor of gay men fits, too, Michelle. Doesn’t mean all gay men are like that (some of my best friends are gay!), but unfortunately, it is, in some places, par for the course.

    I’m just pointing out that you seemed to be challenging one stereotype while perpetuating another.

  38. I didn’t know any gay people growing up (as far as I knew at the time) but since I had no reason to be homophobic–I wasn’t exposed to anti-gay rhetoric or machismo or anything–I wasn’t. My first direct encounter with homophobia wasn’t until senior year of high school, when my (straight) friend’s parents wouldn’t let him take a part in the school play that they interpreted as gay. That got a hell of a rant out of me…

    It might have helped that I was what I would eventually call bi. Took until senior year of college to decide on that label, though.

  39. My apologies if that’s what it sounded like Will.

    If anything I was trying to explain how someone would grow up thinking such things were okay. Perhaps to excuse him for his earlier thoughts and behavior–because he is one of my best friends after all, and we like to present those we love in the best possible light, and it’s hard to do that when you’re taking about people being complete and utter homophobes.

    You are correct that not all rural rednecks are racist homophones. But it is unfortunate that when I was growing up, the vast majority were, and those that were not were often dead silent on the subject so as you couldn’t tell the difference.

    I love my state, but that doesn’t mean I’m blind to it’s faults.

  40. I was picked on because of size and bookishness, and while I was called faggot, I always understood that it wasn’t because those kids thought I was gay, but because it was a way for them to dehumanize me. And I bought it.

    On day, when I was about 12, these two kids beat the hell out of another kid because they thought he was gay. I remembering watching it, incapable of acting for fear of being perceived as gay for helping the gay kid. Only, I knew the kid wasn’t gay. I was bothered about it for days–ashamed of myself for the self-preservation–but more so about the cruelty inflicted on this kid based on nothing more than a perception and what I perceived–even then–as fear. I remained closeted for years, but I stopped believing I was evil and sick. And then I took a train to college and came out and, more importantly, became myself.

    When that video came out, it was painful and resonant. Reading that Andrew Sullivan still gets choke up hearing it, made ME choke up, remembering.

    We’ve come a long way–both gay and straight–but there’s still too many kids out there that still have this stuff happening to them.

  41. I’ve watched the video again a couple of times. There are a lot of movies that cover pretty much the same ground and yet don’t have as much emotional content as the video. It is so focussed and personal that it manages to capture a broad truth.

  42. I could almost write word for word what you did, John. I remember going out and buying the single very soon after seeing the video, and I half-remember being afraid I’d have to utter disclaimers like mad if I bumped into somebody I knew with *that* particular 45 in hand. “No, no, no–I just like the SONG!”

    My attitude has gone from that to wishing that more men were gay so as to free up more straight women. Pfft–they’d *still* probably turn up their noses anyway.

    Two questions:

    1) What would you consider to be a good replacement for the word ‘homophobic’, which has always irked me as it’s etymologically unsound?

    2) Is there a page that lays out the html codes for WordPress? I’m jealous of everybody else’s ability to use italics!

  43. My own experience in this regard gets placed at the feet of a gay friend of my stepmom’s.

    He was the first person to have The Talk with me, when I was eleven (alas, after school and voracious reading on all subjects had spelt out the basic facts).

    After the dots were connected for me (preference is, and always has been, something to which I’m blind until hit over the head) I was horrified… but I certainly wasn’t scarred. More to the point, the older I became the more it made sense, especially since my mother’s family are from reflexively Roman Catholic stock.

    If you’re a kid having The Talk, isn’t it appropriate to have it with someone who’s had to sort out its details twice?

  44. My hope as a parent using the rather open teaching style we use around things like sexual indentity, creative thought, and gender concepts, we can spare our kids from some of those unhealthy lessons. You can only do so much, some things are just unfair, other we can work against. If we can pass that lesson on to our kids, nieces, kids we know, we’ll do a lot of good.

  45. Thanks for this John, it’s like coming out stories that let everyone play: just as poignant, more inclusive, and generally pretty encouraging.

  46. So,since you’ve spent time in the Chicago area,was the video show in question JBTV on channel 26?

    Trevor,proud product of the Chicago suburbs

  47. Trevor:

    Nope. It was either channel 50 or 56, broadcasting out of Orange County in California.

  48. I have possibly the most ironic answer to this one: Orson Scott Card’s Songmaster. Even Mercedes Lackey arrived later in that part of my mental landscape.

    No. Really. (It’s about halfway down.)

    Which is why OSC’s well-known vitriolic screed from a few years ago pained me immensely. Because his writing was one of the first things that jolted me from the views I was raised with. His characters were the first gay people I had a chance to know. Granted they were fictional, but as I said in my journal entry a few years back, it’s far better to have learnt on fictional characters than to lose friendships and hurt real friends over a stupid belief system.

  49. Cartoon Coyote–try “homomissia” (sp?) I had a psychologist point that out as an alternative, and he gave the entymological explanation which I’ve since forgotten.

    My best friend in middle school was a guy who loved to dance, act, sing, and put on dramas with Disney figurines and sets. If he didn’t grow up gay, I’d be surprised as heck, but back then I didn’t even know the word or the concept. I didn’t have a clue, really, until college, when I went to music school and we had a speech class where one of the tenors in the Opera program talked about being gay and being HIV-positive. Then one of my lesbian sax player friends tricked me into playing a gig for a gay band–not telling me it was a gay band. It was something that slowly dawned on me as the concert went along. I didn’t really get the whole concept until I read Mercedes Lackey’s books, then I got stuck on it. And later I figured out I liked girls better than guys myself. Slow process, but, hey, I’m here and happy to be here, especially in California.

    And thanks for putting up that song; I’d never heard it before.

  50. thank you so much for this
    amazing post
    i experienced all kinds of homophobia
    well before i knew i was gay
    and i recall when my best friend admitted to me she was bi-sexual
    i had a 24 hour long attack of
    now i can’t be her friend anymore
    of course because it frightened what was inside of me
    thankfully i got over it and that same year
    had my first affair with a woman
    but the experience made me understand
    the jocks at school who were so frightened of their own feelings they had to beat up
    boys they felt were feminine
    it did not make me forgive those jocks
    just understand the fear comes from
    one self doubt of ones own sexuality

    ultimately we are all the same
    and one day
    maybe
    i hope
    we will all know it

  51. Wow. I still can’t stomach the amount of hate people spread around. I was raised in a very modest, old fashioned Christian household. AND WE DID NOT HATE no matter who the person was. It was a rule. Hate wasn’t okay in any form. You could be as uncomfortable as ever around every kind of person imaginable, but your comfort didn’t matter– how you treated another person–PERSON– mattered. Because love mattered.

    I was taught that the word gay meant happy, (and it still bothers/confuses me that now it means something else because it can be used in a mean way towards someone who does not deserve to be treated badly); and the word faggot is a pile of sticks or if you’re a Brit, a cigarette. Using those words any other way was complete ignorance and it just wasn’t accepted. Agreeing or disagreeing with anyone’s lifestyle or behavior or how they felt or didn’t feel inside their own body was never the issue for us. So treating people badly for any reason was also unacceptable. Loving people, no matter their differences, their needs, and what not–was what mattered–and what still matters. Love is the reason we exist at all.

    I know it’s just my two cents, but I can’t abide hate towards anyone for their partner choices, lifestyle, physical needs/desire/drive, the way they feel their body is made to love intimately someone of the same sex, etc. This has nothing to do with fairness in my opinion, and everything to do with decency. I’m going to go a little extreme here, so don’t get upset….You don’t have to agree– with me, or with anyone else….you don’t even have to like people’s choices or the choices they make–OR even if they feel they were made “different” from the norm. (what is normal, anyway?) But to hate someone over it? What a waste/missed opportunity for a possible friendship, learning experience, moment of peace, offering of love ….the list goes on an on…

    Hash tag it. Mean it. Live it. Hate is unnecessary for a life worth living. Love takes strength, making courageous heroes out of modern man.

  52. Replacement video link: http://youtube.com/watch?v=fBSek9qTQhA

    For myself I guess I’m young enough that, even growing up in a fairly traditional/conservative community, I can’t remember ever seeing homophobia as anything other than needlessly hateful. Also the fact that I was “different” in a other ways that have led to many others being bullied or abused and yet was accepted for who I was probably helped me to internalize a generalized version of that acceptance as well.

  53. I don’t remember when I knew it didn’t matter but I have figured out a couple of the key reasons why. One, I’m a Christian, in the ‘all people are worth the same’ way. Two, science fiction books. I was very framed by the idea that humankind has so much more in common than it does different, even if that only is acted on when we are under threat from some completely external force. The idea of letting go of defining things by difference to the point of being able to interact in a universal community of some kind? Well, that was even more intriguing. I couldn’t see any difference as being worthy of making a distinction of a person’s value. The differences are there, acknowledging them is fine, but determining someone’s value or worth based on those things? I just couldn’t, can’t, see that.
    So as you are someone who contributes to the world of science fiction…thanks!

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