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*Editor’s note:
To protect Stephen from possible
discrimination in the workplace, we have omitted his last
name from the story. Although we offered him complete
anonymity, he has asked that, at minimum, his first name is
published as being gay is not something he hides from.
the Hoot
Remember back to fourth grade. For many of us, it was a time of social
awareness. We began to pick up on popular culture, develop our social lives
and try our very best to fit in.
For Stephen*, fourth grade was a little different.
Instead of blending in with the crowd, he discovered something that would set
him apart. He discovered that he was gay.
“When I was in fourth grade, me and some friends would watch TV shows and
stuff like that together,” he said. “There was a gay character on TV and I
realized that I was like him.”
The show was “Undressed” on MTV.
“I didn’t necessarily understand what it was, I just knew that that was me and
it had a name,” he said.
Although he could not quite grasp the full meaning of his findings, the show
helped Stephen understand that he was not alone, despite feeling different
from his peers.
So Stephen would continue to live his life as normal. That is, until middle
school hit.
At that point he understood what being gay meant and he also knew that
people would start to take notice—which they did.
“It really wasn’t until all my friends started dating and I didn’t when I realized
that people would start realizing and that could be kind of a problem,” he said.
He was right. All of a sudden he was not being invited to parties, he was
losing friends, was called names and had even been shoved into a locker.
“It was hard,” he said. “I lost a lot of friends but I gained
new ones.”
Lucky for Stephen, high school was much better.
He became friends with one of the popular guys and, from then
on, everyone left him alone. He was finally able to just to be
himself, which included being openly gay.
He even came out to his parents during his freshman year.
“They didn’t take it very well,” he said. “They’re a lot better
about it now but they really didn’t understand. They grew up in a
time when it was considered wrong.”
However, Stephen continues to maintain a close relationship with
his parents.
“I’ve always been the same person,” he said. “They may not like it, but they
love me for who I am.”
Stephen also experienced his first relationship the summer after his junior
year in high school. It was a relationship that changed his life forever.
“It was the best thing of my life,” he said. “I finally got to react on feelings that
I had been feeling since I was in fourth grade ... It finally confirmed everything
I had been thinking and feeling. It just felt natural ...”
During his time in high school, Stephen also participated in gay rights
demonstrations in his community and was president of his high school’s
GSA club.
Things had fallen into place and his positive experiences continued when he
enrolled at William Woods University.
Stephen opted not to try to hide his sexuality and is glad to be able to say that
his experiences at WWU have been positive.
“I have always been exactly as I am,” he said. “I choose not to hide anything
about myself. If someone doesn’t like me, I don’t want them to not like or like
me for someone I’m pretending to be.”
Now, he looks forward to a world change where gays will be treated as exactly
what they are—normal.
“I want to not be singled out and be normal, your normal, everyday person,”
he said.
And though Stephen believes that our generation will make change for the
better, he finds himself frustrated with the fact that people even have
to argue about gay’ rights.
“For the United States to be what it says it is ... that all men
are created equal and we are a democracy seems kind of
hypocritical right now,” he said.
Nonetheless, to get through, Stephen lives by a
philosophy written down by none other than
Dr. Seuss.
“Be who you are and say what you feel,
because those who mind don’t matter,
and those who matter don’t mind.”