I was 16 years old the first time a friend came out to me. He was the college roommate of my high-school boyfriend. Like many 14-year-old girls, I had a maturity more on par with, say, a 17-year-old boy, so I dated a senior when I was a freshman. He and I managed to stay together even after he set off for college, which was a minor miracle for a number of reasons, the main one being that he was capable of tolerating a lot of my shit.
One weekend, my junior year of high school, I managed to weave a believable and satisfying enough story to my parents that got me out from under their watchful gaze for a period of time long enough to drive up to my boyfriend's college, attend a kegger at his apartment, spend the night doing god-knows-what on his waterbed, and return home the next day. The parental units were none the wiser. And that's when Kevin told me, in a drunken, blurry conversation on my boyfriend's said waterbed.
Up until Kevin came out to me, I'd never met A Gay. Or so I thought, in that naïve way that teenagers who think they've seen it all really haven't seen shit. Like most kids, I'd spent my middle school and junior high years calling people "a fag" when they did something stupid. My mother, a scorching liberal, would glare at me when I did so, and correct me using the term of the time: "alternative lifestyle." I have a memory, extremely vivid, of watching MTV once with my dad, and Elton John's "I'm Still Standing" came on, which featured dozens of scantily-clad, bemuscled young twinks prancing around in unison. I remember my dad watching for a while before wryly turning to me and saying "Looks like old Elton's enjoying 'an alternative lifestyle' these days." (This was long before he officially came out.)
Point being, when Kevin came out to me, I instinctively knew that being freaked out by his sexuality would be uncool. To stop being friends with someone because they were gay was wrong. It wasn't even a question for me. Why should I care where he put his dick as long as he was a good person and a good friend? I thank my parents for instilling that value in me. That right there is parenting at its finest: teaching your child to judge someone based on merits that really matter---kindness, compassion, caring---and not on merits that had nothing to do with a person's character.
A couple of years after that, when I was in my freshman year of college, my best friend came to visit me. One drunken night in my dorm room, he, too, spilled the beans that he'd been keeping a huge secret from everyone. I remember that moment just as vividly, in spite of the fact that the room was spinning as it happened. We were both sitting in my dorm room on an old trunk of mine, just home from a frat party, drinking drinks we in no way needed at that point in the night, and he started stammering and saying he had something to tell me. Up until that moment, I had nary a clue that the guy I'd experienced most of my pivotal teen moments with was gay, but as we sat there in my dimly lit dorm room, and I watched his discomfort, it suddenly hit me like a lightning bolt. I saved him the trouble of having to say the words. "You're gay." I blurted out, pretty matter of factly. His shoulders slumped and he let out a giant sigh "Yes."
Once again, my mother proved to be ahead of her time. After Paul left to go back home, I immediately called her and said "Oh my god, Mom! Paul's gay!" To which she replied "Duh." I screamed into the phone "You knew?!?! Well why didn't you tell ME?!?!" "Because," my gentle and wise mother said into the phone, "it wasn't my news to tell."
Well shit, after that, it was a free for all. Every gay guy within a 400-mile radius seemed to make a pilgrimage to come out to me in the years that followed. By the time I'd graduated from college and moved back to Houston, I don't think I had a friend that was straight or female. Wherever I went, it was me and my Gaggle of Gays.
My early post-college years, I threw myself into volunteering for PFLAG and for the AIDS Foundation of Houston. I spent nearly every night with my friends in gay bars, and before long, I was a bona fide fag hag. I don’t know what the kids are calling this concept these days, but back then, a woman who spent most of her time with gay men and took on their mannerisms was called a "fag hag" or, perhaps a little more generously, "a fruit fly." And I was their poster child. I could bob my head and draw out a "guuuuurrrrrlllll" with the best of them.
Now during this time, I was straight. If anything, I identified as queer. Being queer doesn't necessarily mean sleeping with the gender the same as yours. It's more of a sensibility you carry around with you, a sense not only that you are gay-friendly and support equal rights for gay people, but also that you live your life outside of the mainstream---that you seek out the outsiders and the weirdos as your compadres. Post-college is when you're still very much trying to figure out who you are and what your adult life will look like and, consciously or unconsciously, I had decided that I wanted to surround myself with flamboyant, fun, dramatic people who are, in some form or another, outsiders.
But at some point, I decided that spending all that time in gay bars wasn't doing much to further my cause of getting laid. So when I extricated myself from my long-term relationship and got fired from my job in one 24-hour period, I decided it was time for a big change: I decided to move to San Francisco.
The Gaggle squealed: "You wanna stop being a fag hag and you're moving to SAN FRANCISCO?!?! BWAHAHAHAHA!" To be fair, they made a good point. But I was determined to move to the city by the bay and NOT only hang out with gay men. I joked that I was no longer accepting new gays in my life.
And I mostly avoided being a fag hag from that point forward. Coming from Houston, where the community tended to be more insular out of necessity, I was pleasantly surprised that people here cared less about sexual orientation. Being gay was such a non-issue that you didn't define your circle based on who your friends were boinking.
Still, it was a persona that has never left me entirely. I often joke that I must emit a pheromone that smells like cock because sometimes I will literally just be walking down Castro Street by myself, and gay men will be walking toward me and suddenly scream "Oh my god girl, you're FAAAAAAABULOUS!" and start fawning over me for no apparent reason. I know that sounds like I'm tooting my own horn, but ask my friends: they've seen that shit happen with their own damn eyes.
You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. One night, my above-mentioned friend Kevin (who now also lives in SF) and I were out at a bar in the Castro with a straight, female friend of ours who only knew me from my days in California, not the Texas me. Kevin was explaining to her how I'd been this huge fag hag back in Texas; she was flabbergasted. She said she couldn't see it. As we were leaving, they both went to the bathroom, and I went outside to smoke a cigarette. In the span of the four or five minutes they were still in the bar, I'd struck up a conversation outside with two random gay guys. By the time Kevin and my friend emerged, they walked up on me leaning against the building, coolly smoking a cigarette as each of the men firmly held each of my breasts in their hands and were fondling them as I boredly let them. It certainly wasn't the first time this had happened to me (gay men love boobies too, it turns out), so I was nonplussed. Kevin turned to my friend and said "SEE?!? WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!"
What I didn't realize, all the way back in 1986 when Kevin was first coming out to me, is that I was about to begin a lifelong journey that would result in me knowing and spending time with some of the wittiest, funniest, most outlandish people on the planet. And it suited my personality and augmented it. *I* became wittier, funnier, and more outlandish through the company I kept. And I became more open-minded, not only toward gay people, but also toward other groups of people who'd been marginalized or who were considered "outsiders" by the mainstream. It made me more empathetic toward people who didn't fit in because they had such different outlooks on life than I did. I became a more tolerant, accepting human being as a result of spending time with people other than straight, college-educated, white people.
And, honestly, it made me much more willing to give love with a girl a whirl when the opportunity presented itself. I'd never considered myself gay, much less bisexual, when I was growing up. I very much liked sleeping with men…like a lot. I still would, if not for the fact that my wife considers that a big no-no. ("If it wasn't in the vows, you can't change the rules now!") But a dozen or so years ago, when I was being courted by my lesbian roommate, whom I liked very much and, yeah, kinda in that way, my thoughts weren't as much "ewwwww eating pussy?!" but more of "I like THIS person…genitals seem such a stupid thing on which to base a long-term relationship if you're crazy about a person and see a future with her."
Don't get me wrong---it was still a huge leap for me---the sex part---but it was one I gave myself the permission to take instead of spending countless hours angsting over it. That I lived in a city that was queer-friendly, had incredible parents who would love me no matter what , and that I'd spent nearly a lifetime around interesting and funny gay friends, certainly made it that much easier to see myself with her, don't get me wrong. I was definitely in the right place at the right time in history to pull it off.
It turns out I didn't have a future with that particular girl, thankfully. But through her, I met my wife. And I never would have found the person I want to grow old with had I not been willing to take that initial leap of faith. Do I miss sleeping with dudes? Sometimes. But this is a person with whom I've found an incredible compatibility, connection, and joy. Considering most of us spend our adult lives seeking someone we'll still want to talk to when we're 70, I count myself among most fortunate to have found her. Why on earth would it matter what she has between her legs if we've made a lifelong, unbreakable connection? Isn't THAT what life is supposed to be all about? Making connections?
Anyway, I'm digressing into human sexuality, and that's an entirely different kind of flying altogether. Point being, I have incredible, wonderful, funny, smart, compassionate friends. Most of the oldest and dearest of those friends happen to be gay, and those friends helped shaped me into the person I am today. They taught me how to be sharp-tongued, quick-thinking, witty, kind, open-minded, sarcastic, compassionate and, yes, even bitchy. And for all of it, I feel incredibly thankful. It started me on a very interesting journey in my life.
Unfortunately, they didn't teach me how to dress myself. I'm still a mess in that department.