Author’s Note: This post is an honest recollection of what I saw and now see about my discovery of and friendship with a gay man. There is no political correctness, because that hinders real communication and conversations. I hope this piece is enlightening, but more importantly does justice to my friend, who changed my life forever.
Gay People In America
Not very long ago, gay people were not accepted in the manner or enthusiasm they are now. Which means America had some changing to do. Some growing to do. Some soul searching to do. Admittedly… I was one of the many individuals in America whom needed to grow up.
Rhetoric of the Ignorant
I’ve always promised to be honest, so you have to know that growing up, I knew nothing about gay people. I only knew the words “Gay”, “Faggot”, and “Fag”, as slang curse words. People in Texas seemed to have advanced degrees in cussing, bullying, and ignorance. I was one of those cursing bullies (and bullied), and ignorant people. (Sorry Texas, I’ve lived in four states, and parts of Texas are the most intolerant of places I have been)
Okay, simmer down people. I know I shouldn’t say those words, and I do not normally. But we are all adults here, and referring to it as the “F” word is childish and confusing. Too many people like using the other “F” word a lot, hence the confusion. I did use those mean words, like the other kids. I wanted to fit in… not be different… “Oh, the irony!” It was out of ignorance and immaturity that those words flew from my should-have-been-soapy-mouth. It was not until I had a friend whom was (still is) gay, I correlated peoples use of the word ‘retard’, which I despise, to peoples use of the word ‘faggot’, which I assume gay people despise. I have a handicap brother, and I still think ‘faggot’ is filled with more hate and abuse then ‘retard’.
You see, we are all smart, until we realize we have always been stupid.
I had a limited understanding of what it meant to be gay, and I honestly didn’t care. It was not something I ever felt the need to learn more about, or understand at a deeper level. I was just living my life, oblivious to anyone’s life journey but my own, gay, straight, or German. Crazy Germans…
Oblivious to Gay People
In high school I had a friend who I thought was a little flamboyant, but I just thought it was from being in choir and drama. Hahaha, I can see how I look really stupid right now, with such big clues as choir and drama, but that would make you a judger.
You filthy judger!
You see, I was a huge drama nerd myself. I lettered in drama before I lettered in basketball, and the fellas I played ball with all let me know about it. I did not associate drama with being gay, because I wasn’t gay. Not that all people acting in plays and musicals are gay, but there are quite a few in the Broadway scene that are gay. Then there are a few brilliant straight guys who realize how few straight men are actually on Broadway and what a plethora of too-busy-to-date-single-women there are, which they take full advantage. Anyways, it turns out my flamboyant high school friend really liked dudes… like a lot… like a lot a lot, and came out of the closet in college. The point is, I did not think about it, or care about who was gay and who wasn’t.
That leads me to a friend of mine that changed my life forever.
I bar-tended at a little college bar, slinging drinks and pushing shots. He bar-tended at the bar next door, across the tiny stinky alley where dumpsters, drunks, and no-one-is-looking-pee-squatters all hung out. Our bars had the distinct odors of soured beer, stale cigarettes, ghost fumes of Rumpleminze 151, over chemicaled bathrooms which hid the trace of vomit, and the plain ole dirty scum smell. It was divine!
As a bartender, the glamour and glory of working on the busy nights meant you had at least one ‘day bar’ shift a week. It was on these painfully slow days you found some of the best friends of your life, or at least the most entertaining.
My eventual friend, would come in often to get some food, and drink a Lonestar beer. For those of you who do not know what Lonestar beer is, it’s a Texas thing (hint: the name) and the bottle caps have a picture riddle on it. They’re quite entertaining. The beer was terrible, even though the loyal drinkers of it say otherwise. We met because of boredom and food. Every bartender eventually gets tired of their own bar’s food, and they venture out to quickly grab some food from another joint, while their cook illegal watches the bar. (Wo)Man, those cooks really hoped beyond hope they could pour one glorious drink to a patron while we were gone. The pride that swelled from their one accomplishment of a drink was always entertaining. If y’all don’t know about the bar industry in a small college town, bartenders are like rockstars, and every person would kill to get a shot at nighttime glory! Especially cooks!
Sorry, this is not about bar-tending, so let’s get back on track. My, at this point, friend Danny would come in and hangout after his shift, and we would just shoot the shit. We would talk all things manly; sports, fighting, drinking, and girls. Now I wouldn’t say Danny was AS bad as the forty-year-old virgin when trying to describe lady parts, but it slowly became evident that he had no clue what he was talking about. After I figured out his lack of knowledge on women, I had to decide if he just didn’t have enough game to pick a woman up, or if he had religious reasons and wanted to fit in with the bar talk,
He was like the manliest dude I knew. His beard game was strong. He drank motor oil in the form of Lonestar swill! He ate disgustingly awesome fatty man food.
He just wasn’t… you know… gay.
There was no way. He didn’t have a lisp, or hang out with an entourage of girls. He didn’t hit on straight guys (that I know of, lol). He was just my friend. A burly, manly, beer drinking, cussing, bar-tending friend of mine… he wasn’t gay.
It’s not that him being gay scared me, or made me insecure in anyway, but he just seemed so… not gay. Sadly, I only knew of stereotypes, which is so ignorant, because they are never all encompassing and Danny was case and point.
Once I had a hunch that he was gay, I kept the hunch to myself and watched him for a few weeks, or days, I don’t remember. I listened to the way he spoke, and I listened to what he wasn’t saying. He never talked about who he was dating, or who he was trying to hook up with. He spoke of trivial stuff, all of the time. Like he did not want me or anyone else to know anything about him.
I had made up my mind.
Danny was definitely gay!
It was the only thing which explained the smidgen of his personality that was not authentic. Normally, he was a very honest and open guy about everything. He was definitely hiding something. I was too scared to confront him at the time. I wasn’t even sure if it was my place to confront him.
More time passed, and I started feeling sad for him. Danny was hiding who he was out of fear. Another person I knew who was in a personal prison, but this one was of society’s doing, not his own.
My sadness then turned to anger. “Come on man, stop lying to me! Stop hiding. I don’t give a crap if you like dudes, but stop lying to me.” Was the conversation I would have in my head.
The anger eventually passed and when I finally gathered my own courage, I sat next to him and said, “Stop hiding bro, I know.” You can guess what came next, “you know what?” and I returned fire with, “I know.” (At least I think that’s how it went 8 years ago)
You could see the fear and anxiety that usually paralyzed him, slowly fade as he realized he was free. That day, my friend Danny came out of the closet, at least to his friends at the bar. I am sure others knew, but his straight friends did not. It’s hard to remember whether there was more excitement and loudness in the conversations that afternoon, or if it all just went back to normal.
Either way, freedom exploded in Danny’s soul.
The next few weeks were so awesome to see. He was like a kid riding their bike for the first time without training wheels. He was finally himself. There was a learning curve for both of us. Like he had to learn not to give me too much information, because I definitely did not want to hear about all the sex he was having. I had to remember to try my hardest to be a friend and listen to some of it, because it would be no different than me talking about a girl.
I was really proud of him, and more importantly I was overjoyed that he was free and happy.
He never said it, but he had to be terrified of losing his friends when they found out he was gay. He had to be relieved that we still loved him, and that his being gay did not stop us from telling him how bad he sucked at golden tee. He also was a good sport about a few gay jokes, but ours were nothing compared to his (seriously Danny, some have scarred me for life). He was still a dude, still our friend, and nothing had changed except a few gender words. Example: “I went out with this
girl guy last night”, but that was really it.
I don’t know what I expected with having a gay friend, but I expected something.
The honest truth about having a gay friend, is that the sexual preference identifying word “gay” was not relevant in anyway. The only reason I even used (notice past tense) the phrase, “gay friend”, is because I was an ignorant idiot. Part of me must have been afraid to be identified as gay myself, so by saying “my gay friend”, I was clearly pointing out that I was not gay.
I really wish I would have been wise enough to just say, “my friend”. To those whom knew Danny, I would tell stories using his name. To those who didn’t know Danny, I would say “my gay friend” on occasion. Sometimes I did it to show my awesome, non-judgmental, new age hipness in having a gay friend. Other times, I haven’t the slightest guess at my reason for such terminology. I am sure a few Freudian’s out there, have a guess or two.
Now when I speak of Danny, he is just my friend. He’s actually more than that, he is my brother. I would lay my life down to save his, and he would do the same for me, without question. Our sexuality is not important in regards to our friendship.
We’ve been there for each other in very difficult times. We’ve laughed considerably, and cried heavily together. For some reason to which neither of us can explain adequately, we have a bond that is incredibly deep, as if our paths were always destine to cross. He affected my life so profoundly, and I affected his.
Sense the statue of limitations has passed, I can now say that he even broke the law to help save me from being arrested. Some nice young fella threw a brick through our bar window after being thrown out for bad behavior. I then proceeded to find him in that tiny alley, and with a nice right hook, the friendly young fella fell to the concrete. Somehow, someway… he broke his leg with that punch to the face… yep, I am that strong!! Danny, like a true champ, erased the video evidence of the alley fight for me… after he watched it a few times, lol. The young fella couldn’t remember who knocked him out, even as I tried to help him and the officer the next day… hahaha. (Man, I have done some growing up!)
Again, I cannot explain why we became such great friends, but I will give it a shot. I think my personal fear of being thought of as a homophobic jerk, caused me to do everything in my power to appear the complete opposite. Well not the complete opposite, because I still liked women. I tried my hardest to not think about him being gay. I tried my hardest to be the best friend I could, so he would know for sure that his sexuality had no baring on our friendship. I tried harder than I have ever tried to be a good friend, a good listener, and empathetic. Admittedly, at first it was to appear not to be homophobic, but quickly it was because Danny was an incredible guy. I also learned that I wasn’t homophobic. Go figure! Having questions is very normal. I learned that disagreements are okay. The truth is, my fears pushed me to open up and fully love Danny in a way all friends should love one another, deeply. I cannot tell you why Danny feels so connected to me, because that is his own riddle to solve. Maybe it’s more elegant, refined, and simplistic than mine. Or maybe it’s a shot in the dark like mine.
Update: ” I’m not 100% sure you realize the impact you had on my way of thinking, JB. You were my first straight guy friend that knew everything about me. And you didn’t care. After our joined revelations I realized that there are straight guys out there who don’t care what you do behind closed doors as long as you’re happy. You are the one that helped me come out of my shell and know that there’s nothing wrong with me and I am able to live an open and honest life.You are my brother. They say that you can’t pick you family but whoever came up with that is dead wrong. We may not be bound by blood but our bond is much stronger than that. We chose to be brothers.” ~Danny
We do not get to talk as much as we would like nowadays. He is in Texas, and I am in Ohio. I do miss him often. I wish we could have a beer together and end the night with our inevitably deep conversation which always led to new knowledge and growth of our character. I wish I could meet his partner, and they could meet my wife. I wish my daughter knew Danny as Uncle Danny, because he is one of the best family men I know.
Danny is my brother, and will always be my brother.
I am not his “straight friend”, and he is not my “gay friend”. We are just friends, living life and relying on friendships like ours to get through this life.
The moral of the story is; when we label someone to help identify them, it hurts our ability to get to know them for who they are and not what they are. Being straight or gay is not an identity, it’s a sexual preference. Who we are is defined by our character, not any other societal separator. Judgement is not mine to give, only love is.
Comments are welcome and appreciated. Don’t forget to check me out on Facebook, or Follow me on WordPress. Thanks!