Each Sunday, I’m working my way through my experiences with race. I’ll share stories and memories from throughout my life. I know I’ll encounter moments of growth that I wish I could relive. I’ll also have to think back on choices that I wish I could remake. Come join me each week. It’s also Day 7 of the Slice of Life challenge.
Some Sundays I reflect on my upbringing and its effect on my attitudes towards race, culture and gender. Others, I think on turning points in my racial autobiography. And some Sundays, it’s..harder.
This is one of those Sundays, where I’m left with more questions than answers.
Growing up, especially in high school, there was racism and homophobia all around me. I certainly was around a whole host of offensive comments, jokes and gestures. I’m certainly guilty of laughing and playing along. So…how on earth did I let myself not notice the effect it had on those around me?
I could have been so much better.
I wish I could have been better.
I wish the times could have been better.
I especially wonder about the homophobia our world was steeped in.
I think about now, with my sons in high school and college, with so much more openness about identity. I wonder how different high school would have been, had it been now.
I can think of at least a dozen or so kids I hung out with who are now “out” in one way or another. We’d spent Saturday nights together, relaxed in the student lounge in off periods, chatted for hours on the phone – heck, I even went out and to dances with some.
I remember in particular one late-night call with a guy friend of mine. He was struggling, nearly crying, confessing to me that he had a great weight on his shoulders, that he was carrying around something that he wanted, wished he could tell me, but he couldn’t. He told me that if he said it, he didn’t know what would happen, or what he would do.
Forty-five minutes passed. An hour. At the time, I thought maybe he had been contemplating suicide. So very long I spent on the phone, trying to convince him that whatever he could say to me was OK. That I was his friend, and I could support him no matter what. He even got close a few times before breaking down again and saying he couldn’t tell me.
Turns out, he’s gay.
He just couldn’t come out.
It’s hard not to put modern sensibilities on that conversation. How on earth did that possibility not come to me? Why wouldn’t I have figured that out? What would have happened if I just asked him, point blank?
I could completely blame myself for my blindness. But the truth is, at the time I was in high school, NOBODY was talking about it. At least, nobody straight. My guess is that some folks were out to one another, but that they intensely guarded the circle in the name of self-preservation.
Now, I wonder. How different would high school have been if my friends were allowed to live full, open lives as teenagers? If they had been able to talk openly about their latest crushes, or go to dances with who they actually liked, or just simply…be themselves?
I’ll never know.
I can spend my life wistful, wondering.
Or I can support the people in my life…now.