Not long ago my sister and I were talking about the emergence of high school Gay Straight Alliances. My sister was impressed with these clubs and commented “There was nothing like that when we were in school”.
“Sure there was,” I quipped. “It was called drama club.”
I’m not gay, but I was fat, nerdy, punk styled and unpopular, any and all of which got me bullied and teased in class, in choir, in band, in Brownies, in the playground, in sports teams, in gym, in intramurals, at dances and at parties. I was NEVER bullied in drama club. Drama club, back in the early 80s, was a haven for weird and bewildered misfits like myself. I hope that not much has changed.
Lots of my old drama club friends are now Facebook friends, though we are spread all over the world. Lots of them are gay or lesbian. But here’s the thing: officially, when we went to high school together, I didn’t know.
Despite the very true observation that there is not much diversity in YA literature, there are quite a few LGBT YA characters out there. I have recently read TILT by Ellen Hopkins wherein one of the main POVs is a gay teen. Yesterday I finished THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU AND ME by Madeleine George which is about a very out lesbian girl and her very closeted girlfriend. A few weeks ago I read ANDY SQUARED by Jennifer Lavoie about a teen boy falling in love and coming out. There’s an out gay character in THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky. There’s a lesbian minor character in GOTH GIRL RISING by Barry Lyga.
I really enjoyed all these books but my enjoyment was slightly bittersweet. I have never been a homophobe. My father was an actor and a drama professor for pity’s sake. I suspected my high school friends were gay – some of them anyway. Some others who came out after high school had been the target of my unrequited crushes. Just recently I spotted an old crush on Facebook and thought to myself “I wonder why I never hooked up with him…oh.” Yep. His Facebook profile made it clear he is gay. Maybe he didn’t know in grade nine and ten. Maybe he knew and didn’t want to tell me. That makes me feel a little sad.
I understand it can be pretty hard for a gay teenager. In YA books there is often a sympathetic and non-judgmental friend who makes coming out, or falling in love for the first time, or just being gay in an intolerant world a bit easier. I just wish I could have been that for my gay friends. I wish they had told me. For some of them I would not have been surprised. For some of them I might have been a little heartbroken, but I would have gotten over it. Either way I could have been that person who never wavered in friendship. I could have been their confidant. Already in grade nine I had several gay adult males as friends (my father’s students, or my older sisters’ friends). I was a teenage fag hag way before it was cool.
One night I got roaring drunk with one of these high school boys at his parents’ house. We were 16 or 17. We talked about music and school and life and it was one of the most fun nights of my life. At the end of the night we walked across a dark field to go and spy on a jock we both detested (ah, high school). Halfway across the park we stopped and French kissed. I’m not sure why we did. Drunkenness maybe. I liked him, but not that way. I was pretty sure he didn’t like me that way either. The kiss was a toothy slobbery disaster. We were mortified for about five minutes, then we forgot all about it. We stayed friends. One of my best friends later took him to prom.
Anyway, we lost touch until Facebook reconnected us. And, yeah, he’s gay. So here’s what I’m wondering. Did he want to tell me that night? And why didn’t he? And what could I have done to make him feel more safe with me? To make him know that I was his friend no matter what.
I guess what I’m saying is that it’s important to let your friends know if your heart is a judgment free zone. Maybe I didn’t make that clear back in high school. I want to make it clear now.