Since I’ve told the beginning and the most recent part of this journey, I guess I need to go back and pick up the middle part that I skipped over.
There is a reason I skipped this part. I think of the years I’m going to speak of now as the “Lost Years.” These are the years when I was getting my act together so I could take it on the road and end up happily where I am now.
So, if I’m going to tell the whole story, I need to go back and pick these up…
I had never planned to go back to Danville after I left for College, but that’s not the way it turned out. I ended up back there for a few years in my 20’s and they were not good years.
My first 3 years away at W&L were wonderful. I met some great people and had a wonderful time. Some of the best years of my life.
But my Senior Year, things kind of came apart at the seams. First, I was struggling with being Gay and how that would affect my life. Then my father’s cancer returned and he was dying. It all got to be a bit much, so I left W&L and went back to Danville for about 5 years.
That is the one thing in my life I would choose to do over…
Almost all of my friends at W&L and Sweet Briar were a year ahead of me and were gone by my Senior year. My fraternity “brothers” seemed to pick up something was different and a little pack of them went after me. I had seen it happen before, to a good friend of mine, so I knew they were not going to let up. They were sharks who smelled blood in the water. Being different was not something that was well tolerated at W&L back then…
So I went back to Danville. Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire…
Danville was a great place to grow up. It’s probably still a good place to live if you are straight, white, upper middle class, have family there and don’t expect too much intellectual or cultural stimulation. But it’s also a place with a lot of rules.
The first one is that you live and die by “what will the neighbors think.” The second one, related to the first, is that you must keep up appearances and not deviate from what every one else thinks.
I never really gave a damn what the neighbors thought. And being Gay was definitely being different. You can’t truly come to terms with being Gay and keep up appearances.
I was in just about the worst place one could be, at least north of Mississippi.
I was also working in banking and they were wrapped really tightly. I’ll never forget being told by my VP that I needed to join the Sertoma Club. I looked at him like he had lost his mind. That was not the type of Club I was interested in…
So, after my Father died, I started plotting my exit strategy. The first step was to go back to W&L and finish what I started. To quote Maggie the Cat, “the charm of the defeated was not mine.” I went back to W&L in 1986, not knowing anyone, and finished my degree. It wasn’t any fun, but I made amazingly good grades since I had no social life.
Then I went back to Danville to figure out the next part of the exit strategy.
To say my Mother was not supportive is the understatement of the decade.
When I told her I was Gay, she was furious. She seemed to think I was doing it just to piss her off and make her look bad in front of her friends. It was always about her, first…
Then she said I wouldn’t be able to get a good job…that was true in Danville, but that was not where I planned to be…
Then, when the first two attempts to shove me back in the closet didn’t work, she moved on to the religious stuff, . She actually chased me around the house one night with a Bible screaming quotes from Leviticus. I finally just poured a drink and told her when she gave up her jewelry and shrimp cocktails, to get back to me on that.
Luckily, I never took my Mother seriously anyway. I was always much closer to my Grandmother and my Aunt, so she was mainly a minor annoyance.
But, as much as she hated the “Gay Thing”, she wouldn’t give me the cash to leave town. And I had spent all my money going back to W&L. So, it was back to the Bank, but I knew it was temporary.
These were the couple of years where I felt like I was trapped in a bad road company production of “The Glass Menagerie.” I was dealing with a crazy, faded Southern Belle who wanted to manipulate me into staying in town to do her bidding. I was playing Tom to her Amanda. And I was never a good actor.
It took some time, but with a little help from a friend, I got out again. For good, this time.
I had done some volunteer work on a political campaign and one of my friends landed a paying gig with a Senate race in Vermont. She called to say she had talked them into hiring me also.
My choice was Danville, with the Sertoma Club and my Mother terrorizing me or running off to Vermont and taking a chance. I packed really quickly…
I ended up working in Politics on Campaigns, doing fundraising and press, in different places for a couple of years. I had planned to eventually settle in DC, but one of my other “friends” sabotaged that by putting out the word I was Gay and black balling me with our mutual connections.
That turned out to be fine, too. It was all for the best in the long run.
I ended up in Greensboro. With a large, diverse corporation where it did not matter in the least that I was Gay. I worked my way up the ladder. I met Steve at an Art Auction fundraiser. We eventually moved in together, within 6 months of our first date, and have been happily together almost 14 years.
It all got so much better…
And it was all because I was Gay.
I truly think being Gay was the best gift I could have been given. It was hard to see that years ago in Danville and at W&L, but it was…
Being Gay made me think. It made me question everything. It made me walk away from an identity that was created for me and instead take the journey to find myself. It opened up my mind in ways I doubt it would ever have been opened if I had been a Straight Boy in Danville, Virginia or at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
Being Gay made me see the world from an entirely different perspective. I am so grateful for that….
Over the years since I left Danville, I’ve traveled the world. I’ve met and worked with people from many different countries and cultures. I’ve found we all have commonalities as people. I learned that we really all have much more in common than it may appear at first sight. I learned to get past judging at first sight. I broadened my mind and my horizons in ways that would never have happened if I had settled for the life I was raised to live in Danville, Virginia.
Washington and Lee University was another great gift. It was the precarious first step out. Until a couple of years ago, I had put my college years in a box and sealed them up. They were somewhere in the back of my mental closet for around 20 years.
That last, bad year in Lexington and those hard few months I had going back to W&L to finish my degree made me forget the first three wonderful years. I’m so glad I’ve got those good memories back again and have those good friends, from those early days, back in my life again. I have my good friend Carolyn to thank for that. She was the missing piece to the puzzle. I also have so many other W&L friends I’ve met along the way due to our common connection to the University. This was and is an integral part of my life for which I am most grateful.
I can even almost go back to Danville now without too much anger. Almost…
The great thing about growing older is what we learn and appreciate what we’ve learned.
I’ve learned that all the bad times are temporary. I just wish all the Gay kids who don’t see that could learn it sooner than I did. I wish they could learn to feel good about themselves and who they are sooner than I did. I wish they could get their act together sooner than I did.
But I made it. And if those kids would just stick it out, they would, too.
I’ve told this story in it’s completion. So far. I’ll move on to other subjects on this blog.
But the journey never ends as long as we are alive. Living and learning with an open mind is, to me, the secret for all of us. I’m so glad to see more and more people reaching the same conclusion.
I’m convinced: It will all just keep getting better…