Progress can be a strange animal. Case in point: My niece’s gay boyfriend.
The first time my husband and I met Jim, we raised our eyebrows a bit and muttered, “Uh oh – we’ve got another TJ on our hands…”
(TJ is a friend and former coworker who was born and raised in the same small farming community where we now live. While he was growing up it definitely was not safe for him to be out. As soon as he was able – like so many before him – he ran away to the big city, came out, and was transformed from this tightly wound, fearful young man into a gregarious, fun, out and proud gay man.)
My niece’s Jim is intelligent, precocious and yes, slightly effeminate. As he was new to town, Clay and I immediately projected our own histories and worst fears, and worried that he would be bullied. We watched from afar as he has awkwardly dated a few girls, and were quite surprised when our niece started to think of him as more than just a friend.
Tonight she told me this story: A hypnotist came to school for entertainment purposes and put Jim under at the assembly, in front of the whole school. When asked what his girlfriend’s name was he said, “I don’t know.” The hypnotist told him to go ask her out on a date. Jim walked over to a cute boy and asked him out instead. The cute boy said no, and everyone laughed.
I was actually in pain hearing this. I immediately thought of the taunts and physical violence that would have resulted had this happened when I was in school.
“Let me get this straight – Jim asked a boy out on a date in front of the entire school?”
“Yeah, it was soooo funny. He told me after, ‘If it weren’t for you, I’d probably be gay. You wouldn’t believe all the man crushes I’ve had.’ ”
“He said that to you?!”
“Yeah, right in front of his father…”
“What did his father say?”
“Oh, he just laughed.”
At this point her uncle, who was in the room and was quietly listening to all this, expressed concern that she might be dating a gay man. She replied, “Oh really, I could care less. It’s no big deal. All the boys in our class act that way – you should see it. They put their arms around each other and stuff.”
(I assure you, I realize the myriad parental issues and opportunities for parent/child discussion raised by this conversation, but will not go into them here…)
But I will say this: This is the generation that will look at Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and just not get what all the fuss is about. “Just get over it, Grandpa” they’ll say, shaking their heads in disgust. The town I live in has less than one thousand residents, and is extremely conservative. The kids ride 4-wheelers, hunt, belong to FFA and show their livestock at the county fair. But nobody’s trying to beat Jim up – even after he asked a boy out in front of the entire school. In fact, they didn’t even think it was particularly strange.
Yes, I understand that Jim’s not out, and that having a girlfriend offers him certain protection. I know that real dangers still exist for him – that many locals will view him with disgust or contempt, if and when he ever does come out. But still, I bet not one single classmate (if and when Jim ever does come out) would even bat an eyelash if he told them he wanted to join the military.