Two Decades of Decadence:
Note: There has been some robust discussions taking place on the Facebook page from my high school graduating class and it has brought back some rather unpleasant memories. One of my classmates recounted the bullying he endured in high school and many thoughts I believed gone came back to the forefront. I was a writer for the Midwest Ursine, a now defunct online journal for the Great Lakes area which focused on Bear and Leather culture. I wrote the article in the spring of 2002, several months prior to the reunion and three years before we had kids. This is the edited version of the article from 2002.
The letter came in the mail, and my hands nervously opened the envelope. I could not believe what I was holding. Was the awful reality of what I was about to read true? Could it be that it had finally come to pass? Was I really ready to read this horrible news enclosed? The answers came back as a resounding yes... I was being invited to my 20th class reunion. Was I really that old?
Could it be that 20 years have slipped by since I glided across the stage in the field house of Whitmer High School (home of the Panthers), eagerly accepting my diploma, and condemning my school’s choice of maize and blue? Really now, we were in Ohio... shouldn’t we be scarlet and gray? Yes, the reality that I was now two decades out of high school came at me full force. I brought up this fact to one of my classes at the college where I teach, and one of my students asked what year I graduated (obviously not a math major) and I replied “1982”, and she perkily responded, “Wow... that was the year I was born!”
I plan on flunking her.
Many memories came flooding back; including the image of my smiling face in the 1982 Oracle yearbook (we will not discuss the hair or the glasses please). I was full of optimism and eager to get the hell out of high school. I went to a rather large urban school in Toledo, Ohio, so the horror stories that some of my friends who went to small rural schools shared with me were news to me. We didn’t have a Gay/Straight Group at our high school, we had a Thespians Club, does that count? We mockingly called it the F.F.A. of Whitmer, “Future Faggots of America” as the membership had quite a few gay members. My friends and I ran a small collective of homos and their supporters. We hung out together and shared our lives with each other.
AIDS was still out of the picture at this time, and our future seemed bright. If you were eighteen, you could get in to the bars in Toledo, and we did with gusto, diving into gay culture and all that it offered with abandon. Whenever I hear Blondie’s “Rapture” I am taken back to the Scaramouche Bar and all the glitz and pseudo-eighties glamour it offered. “Rapture” was the first song I ever heard in a gay bar, and it changed my life. I realized that there was a world of music out there that didn’t involve guitars and long hair, but rather whipped the listener into an orgasmic frenzy of movement and sound. Our parents didn’t understand, nor did we really. We were fledgling homos, testing the waters of what was ahead. We shared stories of new boyfriends, crushes, and the latest music in the clubs. 12” singles were all the rage at the time, and we snatched them up at Boogie Records or the Shed whenever we could. While our friends were jamming to the J. Giles Band and whatever else was playing on FM 104, we were bopping about the house to the sounds of YAZ and ABC. Sylvester was our hero, and Donna Summers was our unofficial Diva.
In 1996, my partner and I traveled to Washington to view the Names Project AIDS Quilt, and the awful reality of AIDS hit home. I passed a block of names, and realized that this was my unofficial high school reunion. Six of the eight names were guys I grew up with or went to school with. It was all I could do to stand up right. I had moved out of Toledo several years prior to the visit to the quilt, and had lost touch with many of my friends. Through the tears, I choked out, “so, this is what you have been doing since high school.” We didn’t know about AIDS when we graduated, herpes was our biggest worry, so we played, and played without a care. It became obvious that our ignorance had a price.
But on to the reunion...
A high school friend contacted me via email once I registered at the reunion’s website, and we began an email discussion, talking about all that we had been through. She had been friends with many of my friends, some of whom were closeted in high school, but were now out and gay. She shared this fact with her mom, and her mom quipped “well, that’s probably how you remained a virgin through high school!”
Yep, us homos are good for something!
I began searching the website for who was coming and what they were up to now that we were adults and out in the “real world”. I was glad to see that my high school crush from the football team would be there, as well as his best friend in high school. Many adolescent fantasies were played out in my head, as I imagined what they did with each other when they weren’t practicing football, practicing misogyny, or beating up freshmen in the halls. Alas, my dreams of them being gay were dashed once again, as their bios mentioned that they were happily married (no, not to each other...) and planned on bringing their wives to the reunion. My biggest question was how would they look?
Would they have the lean, athletic bodies that so entranced me in high school? How would they look now that they were officially middle aged? I remember going in to an appliance shop with my folks on a visit back to Toledo... and found that one of the clerks was one of the football players from my class. He had always caught my eye, as he had a sexy mustache and appeared to be rather hairy, even in high school. But as we waited for our order to come down the chute at the store, I realized that the guy of my high school fantasies was now an overweight sales clerk who was balding and eagerly munching his power lunch: a bag of chips and a Big Gulp.
Reality hit once again.
I have gone through many changes in the past two decades myself, and I have many painful pictures that document every bad hair style and wacky eyewear choice. Now my workouts have a new meaning... I want to look good come the reunion, and I want to show the class that I have made it. I have risen above all the crap that was high school... the names, the taunts, and the harassment. I have become someone; someone many thought would never materialize. I remember my mom asking me a question shortly after I came out to her and my father, “what do you have to live for if you are gay? There is nothing out there but pain and disappointment.” It seems that these are universal problems, and ones that are not exclusive to the gay community. Yes, there has been pain, and yes, there have been disappointments... but I have survived, and I have become a better person because of that, and I can’t wait to share that with my classmates.