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Rainbows and Rednecks

By ?

Let's face it...growing up in rural Arkansas provides enough opportunity for any average kid to enjoy humiliating experiences guaranteed to haunt you later. My story is no different in many ways, however the added wrinkle of being gay has made for some rather memorable moments despite my best efforts to forget them.

Our family business was a cattle ranch south of Hot Springs. My duties were to mend barbed wire fences, bale and haul hay in the summer, bush-hog, feed the cows in the winter, and perform "scientific" experiments on the crawdads. Okay, so maybe the last duty was more recreational in hindsight.

I enjoyed going to school, and band was entertaining. Some of my deepest questions were close to being answered- How high could I launch an egg filled tennis ball container using a simple steam pressurized piston? If I were to dip a tuba mouthpiece in liquid nitrogen, would it fit into a trumpet before it warmed back up? About that time, I discovered the TRS-80 and a computer geek was born.

I noticed that most of the guys had started dating girls. I programmed games and was in band. That is a double strike in most rule books. What's more, I noticed how the guys were filling out and some weaklings were just not getting along with the new athletic crowd. They were picked on and made fun of. Their masculinity was repeatedly challenged and their fate eventually pronounced...faggots.

One thing saved me from their wrath. I was Baptist, so I couldn't be gay. Mom played piano at our Southern Baptist Church and everything. We had a strong youth program, and the rest of the congregation was radically conservative. The preacher taught us to love everyone- the homeless, the hungry, the bankrupt, the orphaned, and the shut-ins. In the same breath he pronounced a death sentence on fornicators, adulterers, liars, thieves, the unrepentant, and the heretics. I had very little opportunity to fornicate or adulterate, so I was safe.

My senior year, I got to know a jock classmate that took an interest in me. I told myself it was because I could translate chemistry into something he could understand. However, one weekend he decided to reward me with some pilfered beer while his parents were out. We got very friendly in the pool and one thing led to another, then something else, and finally lots of things.

Fast forward four months. I have to go to engineering school. Great. I considered three hours of driving to be a safe distance from my parents, but certainly too far from my boyfriend. I come back every weekend, give mom my laundry and sneak off to a run down apartment he keeps on waiter's tips. I tell him about fraternity parties and coming out to a few frat brothers who were cool. He was jealous.

Just when I was making a graceful exit from the closet, I get a message on my answering machine. "?Honey, this is your mother. Call home tonight." She usually leaves a simple message about a bounced check or to do budget groceries this week. This message had more weight than I was expecting. I pick up the phone. "Hey, how was work?" I ask. "Fine," she says. "I see," I edge in.

Taking a deep breath, she lays out a picture I could hardly take in. It was a chain reaction of people talking to people who knew other people that had kids in my college and other people that went to my church and somehow she pieced together that I was "homusectshul." She wasn't even pronouncing it right. Time to sit down.

When we got our bearings, it was simply that she was not the first to know my secret. She was upset at being asked to refute a rumor in the church congregation. When she got defensive, they wanted back the Cross pen and King James Bible they gave me for graduation. She promptly retired as the church pianist. My brother and sister were just fine, but dad?s family was pretty rough and tumble. We only told a few aunts and had them hold the reins on the rowdy menfolk.

When the family dust settled, very little had changed. The family never did have a clue about what to do with a smart boy who won?t farm. That was enough paradox to deal with.

I continued with college, dating theater majors and choir boys. I don?t recommend letting fraternity brothers set you up with guys unless you dig artistic angst. Also, save visiting professors that are willing to "negotiate" until you need two paragraphs of drivel about Walt Whitman transformed into an "A" at the end of the semester. I am no push over, but I can be had.

Back home, I was one of the original activists. I have stood on the front steps of our state capitol in a coat and tie to tell the world that I was gay in a heartfelt and moving speech, only to be left on the editing room floor in favor of the one guy in the audience with a leather jacket and eyebrow piercings. I still don?t know that guy.

I organized poetry readings and film series. I folded newsletters and bulk mailed. I finally grew impatient since nothing was working. During this, my long term relationship taught me that relationships are very similar for everyone. But, many nuances of a same-sex household are easily missed. Leaving the seat up is just fine, yet we fight over money. Men already understand what goes on in a fellow male brain, so if you have a lousy day fishing you can still end up getting lucky if scaring the fish isn?t a factor. That is still good sportsmanship.

Today, I enjoy being out at work and us doing things as a social couple. The world around us in Arkansas is many strides better because of brave television shows, movies, and the understanding they fostered. We continue to have dreams of full careers and a tastefully decorated urban apartment overlooking the lake in Chicago.

My sense of humor about our situation has matured over the years, and I have given up many prejudices I had of straight people. I am no longer afraid to say they deserve tastefully decorated suburban homes.

Unfortunately, my gay friends still erupt with laughter at such paradox. We still have a ways to go.