Growing Up Gay — Finding acceptance among peers is tough enough when you’re in middle school regardless of your sexual orientation. But it’s beginning to get a little easier for some kids, and Benoit Denizet-Lewis portrays some teens in middle school in Middle America who are finding their way.
Austin didn’t know what to wear to his first gay dance last spring. It was bad enough that the gangly 13-year-old from Sand Springs, Okla., had to go without his boyfriend at the time, a 14-year-old star athlete at another middle school, but there were also laundry issues. “I don’t have any clean clothes!” he complained to me by text message, his favored method of communication.
When I met up with him an hour later, he had weathered his wardrobe crisis (he was in jeans and a beige T-shirt with musical instruments on it) but was still a nervous wreck. “I’m kind of scared,” he confessed. “Who am I going to talk to? I wish my boyfriend could come.” But his boyfriend couldn’t find anyone to give him a ride nor, Austin explained, could his boyfriend ask his father for one. “His dad would give him up for adoption if he knew he was gay,” Austin told me. “I’m serious. He has the strictest, scariest dad ever. He has to date girls and act all tough so that people won’t suspect.”
Austin doesn’t have to play “the pretend game,” as he calls it, anymore. At his middle school, he has come out to his close friends, who have been supportive. A few of his female friends responded that they were bisexual. “Half the girls I know are bisexual,” he said. He hadn’t planned on coming out to his mom yet, but she found out a week before the dance. “I told my cousin, my cousin told this other girl, she told her mother, her mother told my mom and then my mom told me,” Austin explained. “The only person who really has a problem with it is my older sister, who keeps saying: ‘It’s just a phase! It’s just a phase!’ ”
Middle school was even worse last year for another boy named Austin, who lives in a small town in Michigan. A tall, heavyset 15-year-old now in his first year of high school, Austin said his eighth-grade classmates regularly called him the “gay freak.” They groped themselves in front of him. Not a day went by when someone didn’t call him a “fag,” sometimes with teachers present. And at a football game last fall, several classmates forced him off the bleachers because it wasn’t “the queer section.”
“I would have preferred that he not come out in school, but he wanted to be honest — he wanted to be true to himself,” Austin’s mother, Nadia, told me. “So I took a job as the lunch lady at school because I felt like I needed to be his bodyguard. It seems like I spent the entire year in the principal’s office trying to get them to protect my son. But they would say things like, ‘Well, what did he do to provoke them?’ We live in a very conservative area with very vocal parents, and I believe the school didn’t want to be seen as going out of their way at all to protect a gay student.”
The school’s principal would not comment specifically about Austin, but he insisted that the school “does not tolerate harassment and bullying of any kind.” He did concede that teachers don’t react to anti-gay language as consistently as he would like, which is something I also heard from a counselor at Kera’s school. “We have veteran teachers who have been teaching for 25 years, and some just see the language as so imbedded in the language of middle-schoolers that it’s essentially unchangeable,” she said. “Others are afraid to address the language because they feel like it would mean talking about sexuality, which they aren’t comfortable doing in a middle school setting.”
Austin [in Michigan] eventually ended up telling his parents he was bisexual, which he knew was a lie (he wasn’t attracted to girls) but which he hoped would lessen the blow. But the plan backfired. “My mom said something like: ‘What does that mean, you’re bisexual? Do you just wake up in the morning and willy-nilly decide what you’re going to be that day? Straight yesterday, bi today, gay tomorrow?’ ” Austin recalled. “For the next two months my parents tried to convince me that I couldn’t know what I was. But I knew I was different in second grade — I just didn’t really put a name to it until I was 11. My parents said, ‘How do you know what your sexuality is if you haven’t had any sexual experiences?’ I was like, ‘Should I go and have one and then report back?’ ”
Let’s be real here. There will always be bullies and intolerance in middle school, and there will always be kids who do not get the support of parents, teachers, and friends for the way they express themselves when they are learning who they are. But the idea of growing acceptance, even if it is in fits and starts, is light years beyond what some kids went through growing up that lead to abuse and suicide. And some kids are learning to take it in stride.
Continued below the fold.
Being Nice to Tom DeLay — Leonard Pitts, Jr. gives the Dancing with the Stars star props for getting out on the floor.
In the first place, DeLay’s debut performance last week — he danced to the old frat party standard, Wild Thing — was alarmingly un-terrible. If, that is, you discount the unfortunate moment where the camera zeroed in as he gave his backside a rather emphatic wiggle. The sight of Tom DeLay shaking his booty was profoundly disturbing on so many levels that I momentarily considered taking an ice cream scoop to my eyeballs. But other than that, he was stunningly not-awful.
The other reason I can’t pile up on DeLay is that it would be the height of hypocrisy. I have seldom spoken of this in so public a forum, but you see, your correspondent is one of many Americans afflicted with a crippling disease.
I have Rhythm Impairment, compounded by a bad case of Granite Hips. This is also known as Elaine Benes Syndrome, after the Seinfeld episode where Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character did a dance that was likened to ”a full body dry heave set to music.” I am to dancing what Roseanne is to singing and Donald Duck to motivational speeches. I am as graceful as a refrigerator falling down a flight of stairs.
Some years ago, I confessed all this while speaking before a room full of elementary school kids. They responded with the tender compassion that is unique to children, chanting ”Dance! Dance! Dance!” in a mounting tone of command. I felt not unlike a man standing on a high ledge with the crowd below yelling, ”Jump! Jump! Jump!”
A braver man would have at least tried to bust a move. Me, I waited them out, then went back to my Career Day presentation.
So who am I to make fun of Tom DeLay, this archest of conservatives throwing his body around a dance floor with liberal abandon? I couldn’t do what he’s doing if you put a gun to a puppy’s head, if you promised it would bring world peace, if you gave me Taraji P. Henson’s phone number scribbled on the back of a billion dollar bill.
He is, yes, as forward-thinking as a tyrannosaur — and about as warm and cuddly. But in shaking his 62-year-old backside before an audience of millions, Tom DeLay struck a blow for every Elaine Benes that ever was, one that made you want to stand and shout, ”Yes I can!” As one of the rhythmically impaired, I’m here to tell you: It was a brave and inspiring sight.
And I hope to Heaven I never see it again.
I don’t question the sincerity of Cameron’s efforts to rescue us from Darwinism and eternal damnation. But why try to scare people into believing in God? Isn’t fear the opposite of faith? Couldn’t a group that calls itself “Living Waters” make a stronger case for Christ by handing out free bottles of water or loaves of bread on campus?
And if you want to challenge students to thoughtfully consider the cases for Evolution and Creation, as Cameron claims in the video, why not hand out free copies of Darwin’s unadulterated book and the Bible?
At the very least, and to be fair, give them Darwin’s book with your intro and the Bible with an intro written by Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens.
Doonesbury — Talk about force.