The desks were arranged in a circle. This was a way for the teacher to foster an open dialog between the students in my junior year Ethics class. Being part of the accelerated Social Studies program gave me the opportunity to take the Ethics class. The other choice was an Introduction to Psychology class, but there was not enough interest in Psychology from my fellow students, so we all had to take Ethics.
I don’t remember how the class conversation steered toward basically evaluating one another and their odds of being successful in life, but that’s where we were at that moment.
30 out of 41 minutes left before the bell, and I was the first one that came up for conversation.
“John will never totally fit into society because of his mannerisms.”
“John will never be able to be President, or even the leader of a company, because of the way he is and the potential for blackmail.”
“The only thing that John could really do to be successful is pursue his talent in music, but then again, he couldn’t really teach in a school district because parents wouldn’t let him near their kids.”
These were things that were being said that morning in Room 113. The teacher let the students speak their piece, none of them were hostile. There were no raised voices. They were speaking with all the confidence of a 16 or 17 year old and there was an eerie calm about the conversation. No one jumped to my defense or point of view, not even the one other student in the class that I was sure was in the same “situation” as me (we kissed after school a year or so later).
I fought back tears. Nothing tears flowed from my eyes until after the bell rang. I remained silent. The teacher countered the conversation with a progressive point of view, but the words of my fellow students, sank, stayed and locked into place. Because I was a young gay adult, I shouldn’t set my hopes and dreams to lofty places. I was destined to do what society expected of gay men, and one of those things was to be artsy and teach others how to be artsy, as long as we maintained a huge distance between ourselves and those we would teach. The discussion had mentioned remaining in the closet. Perhaps that’s what I would do too.
But that just wasn’t me.
A lot of the words that locked into place that morning stayed locked into place for nearly three decades. I put artificial restrictions on what I could achieve because I didn’t think that’s what gay men were suppose to do (join the military, build roads, fly airplanes, be a leader). I know those words were wrong and while some may have been malicious, the other words were the result of naivete. I know better today. I can do anything because I am who I am. I shan’t break into song here.
I have no regrets, but I wish I had figured it all out many years ago.