I’ll Have a Second Cup!
I must have driven past the building about twenty-five times in my parents’ Pontiac Sunbird. It was 1986, I was listening to a cassette tape of Elton John’s The Fox over and over because “Elton’s Song” was emblematic of my high school years. (A gay teen’s crush on an older classmate, replete with all the heartbreak and confusion.)
I was in college, out to myself, but to no one else. I decided many months earlier that I couldn’t deny who I was. There was no way I could spend my life in the closet. I wasn’t brave enough to venture into any gay clubs. The internet (as we know it today) was still years away. I had to rely on ads in the Rochester, New York, gay newspaper The Empty Closet to try figure out a way to meet other gay people.
I found it. A gay coffeehouse on Monroe Avenue. The ad stated it was a welcoming place. Conversation, games, a reading room. I felt I could handle this. Still, it took me forever to build up my nerve.
Finally, I parked, blocks away from the building. I got out of the car, took a deep breath, and headed toward the staircase that led up to the entrance. I envisioned the entire world watching me, wagging a finger. But with sweaty palms, I opened the door and walked in.
What did I find? A group of about twenty men. Men you would find anywhere. At a mall. At a restaurant. At a play, or a dinner party, or just out on the street walking. Some smiled, others said hello, and a few were so engrossed in a card game they hadn’t even noticed I walked in.
I headed to the reading room to get a second wind, when someone came over to introduce himself. To this day, we’re best friends. As a matter of fact, many of my friends today are the ones I first met at that coffeehouse.
It was a first step. A first major step. After that, the entire coming out process began to fall into place. It wasn’t all sunshine and happy songs, but it wasn’t nearly the disaster I always feared.
That gay coffeehouse on Monroe Avenue was a small, three-room space in an old brick building, but I will always be thankful it existed. And a humorous footnote: I don’t ever remember coffee being served there. But they offered up something much more important: friendship and support.
Greetings, salutations, Guten Tag, bonjour!
(Okay, that was my attempt to “sing” the opposite of “So Long, Farewell” from the “Sound of Music.” Ah, well, I tried.)
Yes, I loved that movie when I was a kid. Did that make me stand out in school? Yeah, just a little.
I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out how exactly I was going to approach this topic. My thoughts kept taking me back to high school, which for me was pretty rough going. Bullying has been in the public consciousness lately, which is important. The “kids will be kids” mentality doesn’t quite tread water the way it used to. There’s still a long way to go, but at least it’s not brushed under the rug the way it was for me. A lot of people call bullying harmless. But there’s a wide gap between teasing and bullying. To this day I still suffer the effects of those daily verbal and physical taunts: self-esteem issues, social anxieties, etc.
I know the topic is homophobia, so why am I talking about bullying? Well, homophobia is really a form of bullying. It’s a way to communicate to someone that they’re not normal, that they don’t fit into society, that they should change who they are. It’s traumatic for a lot of people, dealing with these hurtful and hateful attitudes from other people. I think more so than anyone it’s hardest on gay youth. I remember so vividly how difficult it was to feel okay about myself. It took a long time, a lot of stubbornness, a lot of resolve, and thankfully–in my case–a strong and loving family.
Some kids and young adults may have an easier path than I had. Then again, generations older than me had it even more difficult than I did. Still, it’s not a smooth path. And the most heart-breaking thing for me to hear about is someone taking his or her life because life just seems so dark and hopeless, because the bullying doesn’t let up, and/or because the person’s family rejects him or her.
That’s why I wanted to focus on two hugely important organizations.
The Trevor Project
The It Gets Better Campaign
I want to help spread the word that there are places and people that gay youth can turn to for help and support.
Society still has a long way to go, but I’m amazed that in my lifetime I’ve gone from Anita Bryant to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. And from the uproar over Tony Randall’s perceived gay character on “Love, Sidney” to popularity of “Glee.” And that when a celebrity or politician makes a bullheaded, hurtful comment, there’s justifiable outrage from an ever-growing segment of the population.
Thanks for stopping by, and help spread the word about these two great organizations– The Trevor Project and the It Gets Better Campaign.
Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a free copy of my novel, Tinseltown. I’ll put all the names in a stylish hat, and draw a winner on Sunday, May 20th. I’ll contact the winner via e-mail!
Responses to “Hop Against Homophobia”
Second, this is an early post but I just wanted to say “Thank You” for letting me be included in your Hop Against Homophobia. I am afraid I am not a talent m/m fiction writer like yourself but I am an avid reader of it.
I guess I do not fit into any category really since I write non-fiction for an adult studio.http://shadowsterling.blogspot.com/2012/04/studio-i-write-for.html
But this is a cause I feel strongly about and I wanted to let you know I appreciate the opportunity to be included.
Thanks for this honest post, Barry. The pat response ‘kids will be kids’ sets my teeth on edge. Kids only act like that when they think they can get away with it and dismissing harmful bullying behaviour as high jinks or teasing only allows the bullies to believe that they aren’t doing anything wrong. Society needs to stand up for this, and it starts at home and in schools. It’s up to the adults to show the kids how to behave so it’s a shame that many adults don’t behave much better. Thankfully you had a great support network in your family. I’m glad for that.
Don’t put me in the draw, I’ve already read (and enjoyed) Tinseltown .
May 17th, 2012 at 8:20 pm
Supporting kids is such an important element and you’re right that bullying is a huge part of homophobia for kids.
I’ve read so many heartfelt posts today, and just want to hug everyone and try to ease some of the pain. Sadly, kids learn homophobia and bullying from the people they should be able to look up to.
May 18th, 2012 at 10:56 am
Well the kids will grow up and if they don’t learn that it’s wrong what they are saying/doing, what will they do as grown ups, when they can do much more harm?
Support for kids is very important so thanks for highlighting. Sorry to hear of your school experiences, i’m just heading into high school territory with my eldest and am always conscious of wanting to find out more of any incidents but not wanting to come over as too ‘much’ and stopping the flow of information
Other kids can be horrible. I dealt with a lot of “mean girls” in grade school, and it’s still affected my ability to trust other women as friends. And that was just garden-variety teasing because I was geeky and a little overweight. My heart goes out to kids who have to deal with violence and homophobia on top of that–that has to be terrifying.
May 19th, 2012 at 5:15 am
I showed a bunch of these post to the teens in my family to show them how hurt some “innocent” remarks are to many others. I get so annoyed when my nephew says “you’re so gay”. ERRRR drove me crazy. I know he didn’t mean anything by it but it is so wrong to use that as a saying. I think that these post have helped. Thank you all for sharing with us!
I am in total agreement that homophobic behaviour is bullying. In fact I say as much in my own post for the hop. Those two causes are great ones and I am in fact supporting It Gets Better on my own blog this weekend. I was torn between those two projects and one other. They are very worthy and hopefully helping more and more gay youth through the troubled teenage years.
May 19th, 2012 at 8:06 pm
Thanks for participating for this wonderful cause of awareness…I teach high schoolers and this is a topic that we discuss at length. I just want them to be aware and know that they have the power to change the world!
Already have Tinseltown and loved it… I am just stopping by to say thank you for participating.
I made a realization just now that I still have over 150 blogs to read before tonight, and I’ll never make it at this rate – especially since my ex decided to drop the kids off super early – so I’m leaving a quick thank you for taking part and please enter me into your contest (call me greedy, but I am a lover of books!). Then I’m reading the blogs at my lazure – without the time limit – and leaving decent replies. I love reading these blogs. Each and every entry is amazing.
Thanks for participating in the HOP.
May 20th, 2012 at 3:19 pm
Thanks for participating in the blog hop!
May 20th, 2012 at 8:23 pm
There is nothing harmless about bullying no matter what the bullying is about. High school destroyed my self-esteem, and I didn’t start out with alot to begin with. It took me years to finally get any back and I can still struggle with it to this day.
May 20th, 2012 at 11:54 pm
Thanks for participating in this hop. I’m enjoying all the great blog posts.
Thanks again to all of you for stopping by and leaving a comment!
And congrats to Gigi! You’ve won a copy of Tinseltown.
HEIDI CULLINAN – THE SEVENTH VEIL
KATE MCMURRAY – THE BOY NEXT DOOR
ROWAN SPEEDWELL – KINDRED HEARTS
EDEN WINTERS – SETTLING THE SCORE
VIOLET SUMMERS – SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT
CLARE LONDON – CHOICE FROM BACKLIST
ANGELIA SPARROW – HOWL AT THE MISTLETOE
TD MCKINNEY & TERRY WYLIS – PORTRAIT OF A KISS
LYNN LORENZ – ROUGAROUX SOCIAL CLUB
ANGELIA SPARROW – SWIMMING THROUGH THE NET
KIERNAN KELLY – A WEAPON OF OPPORTUNITY
AMANDA YOUNG – PRECIOUS ACHE
EM LYNLEY – THIEF OF HEARTS
GayRomLit is a retreat for readers and writers of GLBT romance. A gathering place to hang out with people who read the same books you do. Get to know your favorite authors in a comfortable setting, ask all those burning questions about the books you love, and meet online friends at a one of a kind retreat.
We specifically chose the word retreat, which by definition is a place of safety – a refuge for those in attendance. Unlike your more traditional Lit-conferences the GayRomLit weekend will be centered on celebrating the fiction we all love and highlighting the authors and publishers who continue to support the genre.
New Orleans is the location for the 2011 GayRomLit Retreat. Please join us October 13 – 16 for the first of what we hope to be an annual event.