Monday, October 17, 2016

Remembering a different life...

The following is a updated repost of  one of the first blog entries I ever wrote, back in  October, 2006.   
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I was bouncing around the web a couple of weeks back and stumbled on zabasearch.com. It is a site than helps you locate addresses of people. So out of curiosity I typed in the name of my best friend from High School. Sure enough a result for his name came up. Not sure if it was the right person rather than call, I sent a note with my business card attached saying, if this was who I thought it was, to please write back.

A couple of weeks went by... and I forgot about it. I honestly didn't expect to hear anything back. Then the other day I got an email and it was indeed from him. It is an interesting experience in a way. I really have not heard from him since I attended his wedding. At the time I really envied him. He was marrying a wonderful gal and starting to build a life. They now have a five year old son with a daughter on the way due in December. He said it was amazing to hear from me couldn't wait to hear all about what I have been doing over the past few years.

I will confess, I have mixed feelings about that.

For the most part, I have not kept in touch with anyone from my High School days. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed High School, had great friends and good memories. Yet it really was a whole different life. Like many LGBT kids in the mid to late 80's I was closeted and terrified of coming out. On some level every day had some undercurrent of fear of my "secret" being discovered. The ultimate put-down was to say something was "gay" or to be called a "fag". You saw the kids who were even slightly effeminate or "different" getting tormented on a daily basis.

So you kept your mouth shut and your eyes closed. When you watched those 80's brat-pack movies, while your friends oggled Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy, you didnt admit to anyone, not even to yourself that you thought Rob Lowe and Emilo Estavez were really hot.

Add to that, the media was full of stories of this new "gay disease" called AIDS, and the Reagan and first Bush Administrations were not interested in getting any information about it out to the public. So like a lot of gay kids I didn't know what to think. Could I get AIDS by coming out? By even holding hands or kissing a guy? Was it really God's way of getting rid of homosexuals? The fear you felt was this huge cloud that hung over you every day. You really did wonder if you were destined to be miserable and alone for your entire life.

And of course at time I thought I was the ONLY gay kid on earth. Now I know that there were in fact more than a few. Even at my own school. But at the time, the sense of isolation was overwhelming. But then, time moved on. I left and in many ways never looked back.

I moved to Europe, studied there, came back to WI and went to college, after graduation worked, traveled back to Europe, then even moved to Asia. Eventually, I came back to the US and settled in Chicago, and then I came out.

Like many people, for me coming out was a frightening and painful process of self-discovery and acceptance. I think back on the fear I felt in those days and it seems like I am watching a movie of someone else's life. A life that I would not ever want to revisit. Yet in truth it was MY issue, not my friends. They had no way of knowing what I felt. The whole traditional High School experience of the first date, first dance , first kiss, first umm... "whatever", while a given for everyone else, was just not possible for a lesbian or Gay kid in South Central Wisconsin in the 1980's. Or at least not for me.

Many Gays and Lesbians who should be my age never lived to see today. The statistics on suicide for LGBT youth in the 1980's and 90's will give you nightmares. I am so amazingly fortunate to have the family that I do. My parents are the two most incredible, supportive and amazing people in the whole world. Coming out to them while scary as hell, was truly the end of an old life and the beginning of a new much brighter and happier one.

( Just in case I haven't told you - Thanks Mom & Dad.)

I marvel at many of today's LGBT kids with "Gay Straight Alliances" and alternative proms. When I read about kids taking their same sex partner to a high school dance, I can only smile and be amazed at how, at least in some places how far we have come. Though certainly for thousands of LGBT youth in America the reality has not changed from the one I knew .

Over the years I didn't stay in touch with people back from "back home". One wedding, an occasional Christmas Card was pretty much the limit of my contact , and even that soon stopped. Someone recently asked me why I didn't keep in touch with people from those days, and honestly I didn't really have a good answer. Hence my card to my friend.

I know what you are wondering. Will I tell my old friend (s) that I am gay? Will I open up my life now to those people from my life "then"? Does it even matter?

Honestly? I don't know. I'll keep you posted...
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FLASH FORWARD  Ten years...  October 11, 2016

It is worth noting,  the friend I wrote about  in  2006 , like so many other  amazing friends from my life  have shown me  in words and deeds  what I have always suspected,  my friends are in general, a lot wiser than I am.   As  I mark today's  National Coming Out Day there are straight allies in my life who  I still cannot thank enough,  

From the friend who answered that  letter in 2006,  and reminded me  why were friends in the first place, and  still today  reminds me to laugh at life  more than  30 years on.  Then there is  the Lawyer in Dallas who challenged my own  stereotypes of how I thought friends  would react to my coming out,  and instead ended up teaching me invaluable lessons about  acceptance and true friendship, traveling half way around the world to surprise me at my wedding.

There is the couple in Georgia whose friendship has literally spanned two oceans and three decades, who always knew, didn't care, and have always loved me for who I am.  The Career Air Force officer and his wife in Germany, who I had the honour of being a Groomsmen at their wedding, and years later are still sharing their adventures with me. To the School Teacher from Boston, who lived a remarkable  life of  always seeking the best in people, taught me to do the same  and  whose passing has left me  missing him every day.   All these amazing people, along with so many others I am blessed to call my friends.

And as always, my incredible family who just by being themselves  encouraged me,  and gave me strength  to just .... be myself.

And yes,  to those who,  for reasons political,  social,  and religious  felt they could not  continue our friendship,  I thank you as well.  Not because  I don't miss you,  for believe, me,  I  do miss you , every day. Yet  I owe you my thanks for  showing me that the choice to live authentically does not come without cost, and therefore must not, ever be taken for granted.  

Lastly,  to my amazing husband  Eric.   Who without even trying,  provides me with  living proof every day  that taking those steps to come out of the closet were by far, the best ones I have ever made.

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