Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Why I Voted for Obama Today

I found out I was gay during a sunny weekend afternoon in my early teenage years. I was watching the women’s final at Wimbledon and it will come as no surprise to most of you that Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were duking it out for the cup. I had been a tennis fan for what is a long time at that age… about a year. I was infatuated with it, watching as much of it as I could, buying tennis magazine subscriptions with my allowance and even reading Martina’s autobiography.

That sunny weekend afternoon, as I sat on the couch absorbed in the Wimbledon final, my mother briefly stopped her chores to watch with me and at some point she mentioned to me that Martina was gay.

And that was when I knew it. My light bulb flared brightly… it was as if the clouds has parted and the sun’s rays shined brightly enough to cut through the fog.

I was gay, too. I finally had a little understanding. This was why I always felt so different. This was why I wasn’t interested in all the boys like my other girlfriends were. This was why I’d rather have my nose stuck in a book reading about fairy tale lands rather than hang out with the gaggle of girls and whisper about who was the cutest boy in our class.

It wasn’t much to go on and I had much, much more understanding to find in the years to come but for a brief moment on that early weekend afternoon, I at last had a name for it.

It should have been a happy moment and for me, it was. But even at that age I knew instinctually that this wasn’t “normal”. Being different in my town and in my school wasn’t hip like it is now. You wore the clothes everyone else wore and you went to the places everyone else went and you said the things everyone else said. Being different wasn’t a good thing when I was growing up.

So I kept it to myself for a long time. I read anything I could get my hands on, lurking quietly in the “Gay and Lesbian” section of Bookstop. I recall even today how agonizing it was to take a book from that section to the cashier. I would actually break out in a sweat and my stomach would knot up as I wondered if they would call my mom or grandma over to approve my “questionable choice” in reading material.

I discovered Rita Mae Brown and read everything I could get my hands on. I watched every movie I could watch that had anything remotely to do with being gay… “Personal Best” comes to mind. All this I tried to do quietly and in secret. I wanted… needed, craved… information about who I was but I also wanted to be “normal” like everyone else. There was a battle raging inside of me and no one to talk to about it.

In high school I developed a huge crush on [Barbara Callaway]. She was the Homecoming Queen, head cheerleader, MVP in volleyball. She was beautiful and smart and popular. Think back to your first big high school crush. Remember the raging hormones? The agonizing emotions? The all-consuming obsession of it all? I experienced all of that, too… I thought I was in love. Yet for me it was different. It wasn’t as if I could walk up to Barbara and ask her to the next football game. It wasn’t like we could ever DATE like normal people. My feelings for Barbara were wrong, I kept thinking, and I shouldn’t be having them. I couldn’t give in to these emotions and I fought them. I became angry and would lash out at teachers, at my family. I had no outlet, no one to turn to.

And finally, one day, I could no longer keep it all inside. I told a friend of mine, Melinda and Melinda eventually told Barbara and my world came crashing down around me. I recall one afternoon after school… I went into my mother and my step-father’s bedroom, took out his hand gun from the wardrobe where he kept it and stared straight down the barrel of the gun. I didn’t know if the gun was loaded but I wanted to know if I was capable of killing myself if things got too bad at school. I actually wrote about it in my journalism class when we had to write a descriptive paragraph. I wrote my paragraph about looking down the barrel of a gun.

Eventually I learned to seek out those who were more accepting of me. Unfortunately those people tended to be unhealthy for me in every other way. I quit school, left home and became embroiled in a world of alcohol and drugs for many years.

I often wonder how different my life might have been had I been free to be myself. If I had been able to freely talk about being gay. If I had not been so terrified of being different. I think I wouldn’t have been so angry. I think I would have stayed in school, at the very least. Perhaps I would have gone to college. Perhaps I wouldn’t have tried so hard to get out of the small town I grew up in. Perhaps I would not have felt so isolated, so fucking alone. I sometimes wonder at the fact that I’m still alive. Or not in prison.

These days I am comfortable with who I am. I have learned to accept myself and my differences and even appreciate it on some levels. But even now, I sometimes find myself in a situation where being myself doesn’t seem to be an option. I never felt comfortable coming out at Oil & Gas-R-Us and I was miserable there. Even in this day and age in America, I am unable to be myself without fear of reprisal in many places and situations.

Because of this I have always had a natural affinity to minorities, to the underdogs of the country. Because of this I will not vote Republican because Republicans want to keep it this way. Because of this I sometimes find myself hurt and angry at friends and family who vote for the party that thinks it’s ok to grow up the way I grew up. I tell myself that mine is not the only issue and I should not judge them.

But I do. I do judge them. I love them anyway, but it still hurts.

I want kids like me to grow up in a better atmosphere. I want them to have someone to talk to. I want them feel free to be who they are. I want them to be able to understand, talk it out with someone, accept and move on to more important things like college, career, family. I don’t want them to search for acceptance in bars.

I want America to be their country, too.

This is why I voted for Obama today.