It was autumn of 1986 and I was a freshman in college. When my parents dropped me off at school for that first semester I promised myself that I would be true to who I was and not deny to anyone that asked that I was a gay man. It was fairly easy to exercise the gaydar, I went to school for Music Education. There were a good number of “us” at that school.
We were sitting around the student union, a bunch of us aspiring musicians, talking about life in some sort of collegy way when a friend of mine, Tracy from Long Island, asked how I referred to myself as a gay man. Did I prefer to be called “gay” or “homosexual”?
Now, I’ve known I was “different” since second grade. I was OK with the word gay, but I never really liked it, probably because of the stereotypes we’d see in the 1970s and mid 1980s: men running around screaming, doing hair, painting nails, that sort of thing. While my pilot light probably burned higher than it should have at that point of my life, in my head I had negative connotations to the word “gay”. I’d been called worse, much worse, in my high school years. So when Tracy asked how I thought of myself, I replied honestly: “I’m homosexual”.
“That sounds so scientific”, she replied.
“Well, it is scientific. I’m attracted to the same sex so that makes me homosexual.”
“Do you go to gay bars?”, she asked.
“I never have. And no, I’ve never been with anyone.”
I was such a partier in college.
Naturally I’ve used the term ‘gay’ to label myself lots of times in my life, and I really don’t know why I responded with “homosexual” back in the autumn of 1986, other than an internal fear of the word ‘gay’. The AIDS epidemic was really ramped up at the time and being gay made me uncomfortable, I guess.
The younger generation, and many of my own generation, have embraced the word ‘queer’. As a kid I heard that word a lot, almost always directed at me. I could never understand why a couple of other classmates, who pinged my budding radar at the time (and confirmed at a later age) didn’t garner the attention of being called queer as they walked through the halls of the Junior-Senior High School, but as I said before, my pilot light was bright. Later in life I couldn’t embrace the word ‘queer’. I struggled with that; too many bad memories about the use of the word.
Tonight, as Earl and I waited for the train to take us a couple stops up so we could find a restaurant for dinner, I said to him, “You know, I’m queer.”
Earl looked at me in surprise.
“I’ve always been queer. I am a queer man.”
In the back of my head, a memory of my girlfriend from high school playing “Johnny Are You Queer?” by Josie Cotton on the record player echoed in my head.
“I’m different. I have my own thing going on. Most of it is because I’m a gay, but even in the gay community I’m rather queer.
“One of my New Year’s resolutions is to embrace the word ‘queer’ because it’s the truth. I’m going to be 50 years old this year, why should I care what people think?”
So, there you have it. Johnny is a queer boy after all.