Friday, September 25, 2009
NYT - Coming Out in Middle School
by Benoit Denizet, via the New York Times
(Check out his site/blog -also the title of his fantastic book- America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life)
Austin didn’t know what to wear to his first gay dance last spring. It was bad enough that the gangly 13-year-old from Sand Springs, Okla., had to go without his boyfriend at the time, a 14-year-old star athlete at another middle school, but there were also laundry issues. “I don’t have any clean clothes!” he complained to me by text message, his favored method of communication.
When I met up with him an hour later, he had weathered his wardrobe crisis (he was in jeans and a beige T-shirt with musical instruments on it) but was still a nervous wreck. “I’m kind of scared,” he confessed. “Who am I going to talk to? I wish my boyfriend could come.” But his boyfriend couldn’t find anyone to give him a ride nor, Austin explained, could his boyfriend ask his father for one. “His dad would give him up for adoption if he knew he was gay,” Austin told me. “I’m serious. He has the strictest, scariest dad ever. He has to date girls and act all tough so that people won’t suspect.”
Austin doesn’t have to play “the pretend game,” as he calls it, anymore. At his middle school, he has come out to his close friends, who have been supportive. A few of his female friends responded that they were bisexual. “Half the girls I know are bisexual,” he said. He hadn’t planned on coming out to his mom yet, but she found out a week before the dance. “I told my cousin, my cousin told this other girl, she told her mother, her mother told my mom and then my mom told me,” Austin explained. “The only person who really has a problem with it is my older sister, who keeps saying: ‘It’s just a phase! It’s just a phase!’ ”
Austin’s mom was on vacation in another state during my visit to Oklahoma, so a family friend drove him to the weekly youth dance at the Openarms Youth Project in Tulsa, which is housed in a white cement-block building next to a redbrick Baptist church on the east side of town. We arrived unfashionably on time, and Austin tried to park himself on a couch in a corner but was whisked away by Ben, a 16-year-old Openarms regular, who gave him an impromptu tour and introduced him to his mom, who works the concession area most weeks.
Openarms is practically overrun with supportive moms. While Austin and Ben were on the patio, a 14-year-old named Nick arrived with his mom. Nick came out to her when he was 12 but had yet to go on a date or even kiss a boy, which prompted his younger sister to opine that maybe he wasn’t actually gay. “She said, ‘Maybe you’re bisexual,’ ” Nick told me. “But I don’t have to have sex with a girl to know I’m not interested.”
Ninety minutes after we arrived, Openarms was packed with about 130 teenagers who had come from all corners of the state. Some danced to the Lady Gaga song “Poker Face,” others battled one another in pool or foosball and a handful of young couples held hands on the outdoor patio. In one corner, a short, perky eighth-grade girl kissed her ninth-grade girlfriend of one year. I asked them where they met. “In church,” they told me. Not far from them, a 14-year-old named Misti — who came out to classmates at her middle school when she was 12 and weathered anti-gay harassment and bullying, including having food thrown at her in the cafeteria — sat on a wooden bench and cuddled with a new girlfriend.
Austin had practically forgotten about his boyfriend. Instead, he was confessing to me — mostly by text message, though we were standing next to each other — his crush on Laddie, a 16-year-old who had just moved to Tulsa from a small town in Texas. Like Austin, Laddie was attending the dance for the first time, but he came off as much more comfortable in his skin and had a handful of admirers on the patio. Laddie told them that he came out in eighth grade and that the announcement sent shock waves through his Texas school.
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