My Best Friend

by Victor Thomas

Chapter 16

At my school, anyone suspected of being gay was treated mercilessly. I remembered only too well a boy named Trent from seventh grade. He was a really nice boy, but he was delicate, thin and pale, and his voice had a really high pitch. He was cute, but kind of looked like a girl. Some of the guys slapped a 'queer' label on him and made his life a living hell. He couldn't go anywhere without someone calling him names like 'prissy' and 'cock sucker,' right to his face. Well, not all guys. I never did. I'd never treat anyone like that. I never knew if Trent was even gay. True, he had a high voice and looked kind of feminine, but I knew better than anyone how stupid all the stereotypes were. Hell, I was gay and I was nothing like that. The way he talked and the way he looked had no more to do with whether or not he was gay than what he liked on his pizza.

I guess it didn't matter if he was gay or not. All the guys just assumed he was and treated him like a piece of shit. I couldn't believe that anyone would treat another human being like that. Somehow, he toughed it out and finished the school year. I hadn't seen him since then. I guess his family moved or something. I didn't blame him for not coming back.

Our whole community was down on homosexuals. At the same time everyone was ragging on Trent, my social studies teacher put up this poster that had pictures of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Errol Flynn, Walt Whitman, and other famous figures, even contemporary artists like Elton John. At the bottom was a message that read, 'sexual orientation does not determine a person's ability to make a mark, let alone make history.' I always liked that poster. It made me feel good about myself. I had a pretty good self-image anyway, but knowing that guys like Michelangelo were gay made me feel like I was in pretty good company. I was no art buff, and his paintings weren't my kind of thing, but that dude kicked ass when he painted! A lot of famous people were gay; most people didn't know about it.

Anyway, this local bitch named Ms. Newman, who happened to be my friend Robert's mother, started throwing a fit about that poster when Robert's older brother, Mitch, told her about it. She raised a big stink to get it removed. She even had the gall to say that her problem with the poster had nothing to do with homosexuals; she just didn't think it had any 'educational value.' Bullshit! If that poster hadn't been about gays, she wouldn't have given a damn. There was a poster right next to it with a cute little kitten on it that said 'have a nice day.' Where was the educational value of that? Why didn't the old bat get all shitty about that poster?

I slipped into the school board meeting just to see what everyone said about it. A bunch of people were all upset about it, including my own parents. More than one called it 'immoral.' One even said 'god made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.' Hearing that made me sick. It was unbelievable how nasty most of the people there were about it. Mr. Clancy, my social studies teacher tried to defend what he was doing, but those bastards just ignored him. It was clear they'd showed up with their minds made up about the whole thing.

Ms. Newman, forgetting her earlier comment, complained that the poster 'promoted the homosexual lifestyle.' Now how the hell did it do that? Everyone seemed to think that being gay was like some kind of club you could join. They acted like gays were out trying to recruit new members or something. What a crock of shit! I knew better than any of them that sexual orientation was no more a matter of choice than eye color, or height. I guess they all thought the poster was saying that if you wanted to paint like Michelangelo, you had to turn gay!

The Chouteau Advance , the local newspaper, did a story on the whole thing, which I have to admit was pretty objective. Whoever wrote that article was about the only one who was objective, however. Even some big national society got involved and denounced the poster. A civil liberties group stepped in on Mr. Clancy's side. What a big deal over a poster.

I think what struck me the most was the local preachers and church people that spoke out about the poster, and against homosexuality. Mind you, not all of them did. I don't want to stereotype church people as a bad lot, because some of them are really good, but those that were down on gays made me sick. I couldn't believe some of the stuff they said. They made it sound like all gays were just perverts and child molesters. The Faith Bible Church actually referred to homosexuals as 'the sons of satan' and the preacher did a sermon titled 'god hates gays.' He even put it outside the church on a sign! I simply couldn't believe it.

They acted like gays were some kind of freaks. All that really pissed me off. I was just starting to think that I might possibly be gay myself and I was none of those things they were saying. I wondered about the rules people who attended church were supposed to follow. What happened to doing unto others as you would have them do unto you? What happened to judge not that ye be not judged? What happened to love thy neighbor and all that? As far as I was concerned, those who said such awful things about gays weren't real Christians at all. In my eyes, they had abandoned their mission and betrayed the very ideas they spouted so readily. They were no less than hypocrites, using religion for their own personal agenda. Personally, if I was them, I wouldn't have been eager to explain my actions to god.

In the end, Mr. Clancy just took all his posters down. I know he felt kind of bad about it, but everyone was ragging on him about it all the time. There was such a fuss he couldn't even teach. His students were what was important to him, so he took the posters down so he could get back to teaching. I guess taking all of them down was his way of protesting. In the end, he ended up losing his job as a result of everything.

My mind was really wondering as it raced from one thing to another. But that whole incident, and the way all the guys treated Trent, really got to me. Those incidents taught me one lesson well; Chouteau Kansas was no place for gay people. Almost everyone I knew acted like all gays should be driven into the center of town and stoned.

With all that to fear, how could I possibly take a chance on Brian? If he wasn't the boy I thought he was, and narked me out, I was finished. I'd be just like Trent, Oliver or Shannon, only worse. Everyone wouldn't just guess I was gay; they'd know for sure! I wasn't the least bit ashamed of what I was. I saw no reason at all to be ashamed. But that wouldn't stop my classmates from making my life a living hell. I couldn't stand up to everyone!

I knew how illogical it was to even consider opening up to him, but my heart and soul cried out for him. What if he really was the one I'd been waiting on all my life? What if he felt the same way about me as I felt about him? How could I pass up what might be my only shot at true happiness?

Despite only having talked briefly to him twice, I had a strong feeling about him. There was no doubt about it, I think I'm falling for him. I know that might sound silly considering I barely even know the boy, but I just can't get the feeling out of my heart. I didn't feel like we were strangers at all. I felt as if I'd known him forever.

I wondered what he had thought when I ran away from him. He probably thought I was some kind of freak. I wondered where he was now, was he just standing there wondering where I was?

I closed my eyes. My heart was still pounding in my chest. I felt like I'd been out here for hours, but it had been just a few minutes. I was actually shaking. My stomach felt tight, and ached. I was so confused and tormented. I was on the verge of breaking into tears.

The possibilities that arose with Brian highlighted the inadequacies of my life. I had much, but I lacked even more. The loneliness, the utter isolation, the enveloping sadness, all this and more were brought to the surface to torment me for being different. How many times had I looked into the eyes of another boy, hoping to find someone like me, someone who could end my isolation? How many times had I been disappointed? How many times had I realized that my hopes were futile, yet again?

I didn't even have the solace of a friend to help me through my troubles. Sure, I had friends, but no one I could really open up to, not one that I felt would really understand, not even my best friend, Todd. I still loved him, but more and more I was starting to think that he might reject me if he found out. Nothing major, but a lot of little things here and there, the occasional putdowns of gays in general, and a couple of incidents in school involving other kids who may or may not even be gay. I wasn't willing to take a chance with him, not yet anyway. I didn't dare speak my mind with any of my friends. No one would have understood, no one could.

I thought about Brendan Barrett. I can't be positive, but part of me thinks he's probably like me, and that him and Robert are dating, or at least having sex. I don't dare ask him though, because I might be wrong and then he would go and tell everyone else.

I was alone with my pain, utterly, irrevocably alone. I was miserable.

I opened my eyes. The sun was starting to go down and it would be dark in another couple of hours. I walked back the way I had come, my mind filled with possibilities and dangers. It didn't seem to matter how long I thought, I never got any closer to an answer.

Everyone was gone when I got back in the park, but that was no surprise. I thought about just going home, but decided to go ahead and go to the cookout at Mark's place. I always had a good time there, and maybe I could forget about my troubles, at least for a few hours.

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