National Coming Out Day founders Rob Eichberg, Ph.D. and Jean O’Leary encouraged all people, of all sexual orientations, to “take your next step” in living openly and powerfully on October 11th.
Today, it seems especially fitting that Esse Diem begins a five-part presentation of John Warren’s submission to the Essays on a West Virginia Childhood project.
John is a long-time friend of mine. We first met as very young children when our families were in the same Presbyterian Church in Charleston, and we later found each other again in junior high and high school. He was always incredibly intelligent, compassionate and insanely funny. One of those people you just know in your heart you will always adore and respect, he took my breath away when he told me he wanted to write about growing up gay in West Virginia.
John told me that this process of putting his experiences down in writing was not always easy but definitely valuable. When I read his story, it immediately was clear to me that the essay has the potential to help others as well, both those who are homosexual as well as those who need to understand more about diversity and compassion. I hope you will enjoy this week of John’s writing, and that you share it with others.
Growing Up Blind (part 1)
Although I was not born in West Virginia, I grew up there, and for the first eighteen years of my life, it was the only place I thought of as home. I had a pretty normal childhood, but things got a bit confusing for me when I hit puberty. I eventually realized that I was gay, but it took me a long time to admit it to myself and even longer to admit it to others. In fact, I spent a large portion of my teen years wondering if homosexuality was a real thing or just some kind of urban legend.
I have been an obsessive journal-keeper for most of my life. I have filled more than forty notebooks with dutiful records of the day-to-day minutia of my life. Reading old journals is fun, but it can also be painful and embarrassing. Every once in awhile there’s a meaningful reflection or significant insight, but there’s a lot of useless crap, too. (Did you know that in Super 102’s “Battle of the Bands” on March 25, 1985, “Celebrate Youth” by Rick Springfield defeated Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues”?) I wish I had recorded more deep inner thoughts and not so much about which TV shows I watched that day.
My incessant journaling is probably a byproduct of being a serious introvert and also being a bit of a geek. I did well in school, but I was always a tad behind my classmates in my understanding of the workings of personal relationships. In elementary school I had a simplistic view of morality that was probably most strongly influenced by Spider-Man comic books. I was always kind of clueless about gender roles and I was never discouraged from having stuffed animals or listening to ABBA.
During sixth grade I hit puberty and it rapidly became clear that my older brother and the other boys in my class had an interest in girls that I didn’t share. I instinctively knew that this was a bad thing and something to keep hidden. There was an effeminate guy in my class who got picked on a lot, and I know that some people thought he was “gay.” Personally, I didn’t believe it. He was one of the best artists in our class and a nice guy, and I wasn’t convinced that there were really such things as gay people anyway. “Gay” and “queer” were just words that bullies used when they were picking on someone who was different. There were certainly no adults in my world who were openly gay, and I had never heard a teacher say anything about the existence of gay people.
I never considered asking my parents about it; even if they had been open to discussing that kind of thing (which they didn’t seem to be), I don’t know if I could have even put the question into words at that age.
Tomorrow, part 2 of Growing Up Blind – Junior High.
Image credit: John Warren