Sunday, April 8, 2007

Finally Got My Books!

I got my books Friday night and started reading...and have been reading all weekend. This is exactly what I needed, given that I've long lost motivation for school and school work (sarcasm).

This one book is amazing! It's called "Out & About Campus" by Kim Howard and Annie Stevens...good luck finding it! As I mentioned before, I spent $50 on this out-of-print book and all the other copies out there seem to cost nearly $100. I'm glad I did, but this is one of the last books on earth that needs to be out of print. There are about 28 stories of students (by the students) who came out at universities as GLBT and/or with HIV/AIDS, and they are all well-told.

I think this book should be required reading for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. These stories did a few things for me. They depicted the ups of coming out, and they depicted the downs of coming out. This was something I needed to read, as I have a tendency to forget or ignore that some people experience very bad things in relation to their sexual orientation simply because I don't. This is something I hate in black people, i.e. the black Republicans who act as if the rest of us exaggerate or are unreasonably stuck on race and racism just because they don't perceive their life experiences as having included racism and racial alienation. Although I still believe being black is a bigger hinderance in my life and in this nation than sexual orientation is (with the possible exception of being transgendered/transsexual), I will never forget these stories of students who wrote of experiencing alienation from nearly their entire campus, losing important positions on campus, having roommates move out of their shared dorm rooms to get away from them, being physically attacked and/or learning of other students on campus who were, etc.

They showed me that coming out can actually result in finding a support system if you don't have it when you do come out, which is one of the biggest reasons why I don't feel coming out is right for me right now or maybe ever. The thing about the people in this book who ended up with support was they came out in extremely public ways. The guy with AIDS became a campus celebrity of sorts because his story was in the school newspaper--not that he didn't already have support beforehand, because he did. Another student came out on a diversity panel while they were addressing the school. A third student came out to more people at her school by speaking on a panel, as well.

I wrote recently about this gay Asian male in one of my classes, and I also linked to Bernie's series interview about gay men in midlife on his blog, particularly one portion of the series that resulted in answers from some respondents that kind of bothered me. And I have written in several entries about a woman I've met whom I refer to as LA Girl. Well, a couple of the stories in the book turned a lightbulb on. When I read Conrad's first response in that portion of the series about feeling like closeted gays are afraid to be seen with out gays, a part of me just felt like that was ridiculous, if not completely obvious and, therefore, counterproductive. After all, I've never felt like that. Not only that, the thought had never, ever occurred to me to ignore other gay people because of what people might think about me, and I never really realized other people out there felt like that.

And then I read one story in particular in "Out & About Campus" where this guy wrote about being attracted to this guy at his school but not wanting to be seen with him or seen speaking to him, and he wrote about feeling that way about other gays on campus, as well. He was in a fraternity and didn't feel like he could associate with other gays because they'd out him or others would think he was gay. Fratboy had sex with the guy and then never spoke to him again. The guy, being very angry about how he was treated, told all his friends, and rumors started making their way around. One of Fratboy's friends, a lesbian, kept trying to ask him if he was gay, and he ignored her questioning. Finally, his lesbian friend told him to stop pretending, and he took steps towards coming out and started being seen with other gays.

Perhaps more than any other, that story really stood out to me. The Asian guy and LA Girl both know I'm gay. It has never crossed my mind to ignore them based on that, though it has crossed my mind that they would tell others--more so the guy than LA Girl. I am not concerned with their telling others, if they do, though I feel somewhat confident that the majority of gays--at least in this kind of environment--know that it's just not their place to tell other people's business. But as I mentioned one other time, I think it's humorous for people to wonder about me, partially because I feel as if it really should be obvious to them as well as to my family. I also think it's unrealistic for some people to know and not think others will learn of it.

I started to wonder if the Asian guy and LA Girl feel as if I do ignore them for these reasons. The only time I've spoken to the Asian guy is at the meeting for GLBT students of color, even though I see him class. We don't sit near each other in class, and I honestly don't consider him a friend or anywhere near it. I didn't feel as if we had much in common when we spoke to each other. One of my best friends at this school is in that class with me, and she is almost entirely the only person I speak to within that class environment. I've hardly thought of approaching or speaking to anyone else in that class, as people tend not to do--they develop cliques. I am probably the most cliquey person on earth simply because I don't feel comfortable with most people, so I stick very closely to the people I do feel comfortable with and ignore everyone else. But I can see how he'd think that I was purposely ignoring him. This has not crossed my mind all semester.

And then I had to ask myself if this could possibly have been yet another issue between LA Girl and me. After we had our disagreement about sexual orientation vs race, we made up--I thought. We finally met formally, despite the fact that we attend the same university, approximately four or five months after I first e-mailed her. They weren't exceptional meetings or anything, but we got together two times. She asked me to an event she was hosting, and I declined but expressed that I really wanted to hang out again. She said we would. We e-mailed a couple times after that, but I didn't ask her to meet up because I got the impression she was busy and we were about a month/month & a half away from classes ending, i.e. exams coming around the corner. I also knew she wasn't into e-mail and the internet the way I am, so I decided to write her less. I e-mailed her one time, though, and she didn't respond.

Before our disagreement, we e-mailed daily, on average--sometimes several times a day. She always wrote back. Sometimes, it seemed as if all we did all evening was send e-mails back and forth to each other immediately upon receiving them. After the disagreement, I would write her and she wouldn't write back the majority of the time. The disagreement changed our relationship dynamic a lot. It was in November, I believe. But it was the end of March, and I felt like she still wasn't over it because our friendship still wasn't back where it had been. I was really frustrated by this and was tired of doing something that was unnatural to me (initiating/pursuing a friendship) when, aside from her asking me to that one event, she wasn't reciprocating. So I decided I was done trying and that she would contact me if she wanted to talk to me. All summer, no e-mails from her. I didn't write her, either.

When we had our disagreement, I wrote some things about coming out. I recently tried to read over the e-mail I sent her, and I cringed. It was very ineloquent, and if I wanted to express my viewpoint I didn't do it in the right way at all. Essentially, with respect to coming out, I told her it was her fault if she experiences discrimination based on sexual orientation because we can choose whether or not to come out. That's not what I meant, but that's basically what I wrote. I had to stop reading the e-mail. It seemed as if it was written by a clueless straight person. I wouldn't at all doubt if some straight person had said the kinds of things I wrote to her, but I'm sure she never expected to get that from me. She probably thought of me as Conrad thought of the guy at work and was no longer interested in the "self-loathing closet case."

Given that we hadn't met at that point, either, and that there were two other times when we had set up meetings and somehow failed to meet...I could see how she might have gotten the idea that I didn't want to meet her because I didn't want to be seen with her, if that thought ever crossed her mind at all, or because of other issues surrounding my not being out. In fact, I got the distinct impression when we set up the meeting that was finally successful that she didn't really think I would show up. Her e-mail to me was a "I'm not a good e-mail buddy, but say hi if you see me around" kiss-off, and I took a chance and asked her if she wanted to hang out, thinking she'd say no because of the kiss-off, honestly, and because she didn't quite seem to forgive me. And she said yes. And I thought, " this a setup?" and "If I don't get myself to the correct location this time, she will absolutely never speak (write) to me again!"

By the way, there are gays I do speak to publicly. The only difference between the Asian guy and LA Girl, and the gays I do speak to around campus--well, two differences. The Asian guy and LA Girl are not in the law school, and they are not black. With the Asian guy, I can't say race doesn't make a difference. In that particular class, everyone is segregated, for the most part. I sit by black people, and I talk to my black friend. It's a prioritization of people (i.e. I will speak to you, but only if this person I like better isn't close by) and of identities (i.e. I will speak to black people, unless they aren't around). With LA Girl, I wrote about being curious about her interest in minorities, but I never cared that she was white until she started saying things that I didn't want to hear from a white person. Being in different programs was our biggest obstacle, though, because it made it harder for us to socialize with each other. With the Asian guy, the opportunity is there, I suppose, but I never think about it for reasons already mentioned.

After reading many of the stories in this book and thinking about all these things, I e-mailed the one leader from my coming out group that I clicked with a lot and asked if he wanted to get together sometime soon. We arranged a date, time and place. I've been trying to think of how to bring up these things in a short time period and how to really have a good conversation that will lead me to some answers. In a sense, I am hoping to be counseled, kind of like a therapy session or something like that, or to receive some good advice, but I also want to share some things I've learned and see what he says.