SBS 301 Cultural Diversity         Fall 2001        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Melissa Potter
Can I come out now?

“Melissa, I want to tell you something that I have been wanting to tell someone for a very long time.  Not until now, though, have I felt any comfort level in telling anyone,” Dan stated very serious-like.

Curious and concerned with what I was about to hear, I asked, “Whatever you want to talk about, I am here to listen.”

“I know you are.  That is what I love about you.  Melissa… I’m gay,” Dan said quite bluntly.

My initial response was “Wow”, but it wasn’t because I was uneasy with the idea that someone could be gay.  I just couldn’t believe that he had the courage to tell me about his sexuality especially since I couldn’t find the courage to tell anyone that I was a lesbian.  I didn’t know the words to follow his statement of “I’m gay”, but reassured Dan that his ‘coming-out’ wasn’t going to change our friendship or my feelings toward him.
Throughout high school, I never had many friends.  I was very quiet, less popular, and kept-to-myself.  My involvement in high school encompassed getting up to go to school, getting good grades, keeping my nose clean, and going home to do my homework.  The more popular students, however, were involved in extra-curricular activities such as clubs, sports, band and/or drama.

In my memory, the ‘popular’ crowd was usually associated with GAP and GUESS brand name clothes and carried out the preppy and snotty attitude that they were better than everyone else was.  Although there were few accepted in the ‘popular’ crowd, they definitely had a strong following from those who yearned to be “in”.  Dan was part of the yearning-to-be-popular group although he was fairly active in various clubs.  On the other side of the hallway were the more culturally mixed group of students.  The predominant style for this side consisted of baggy jeans and Jersey style shirts with a street-smart attitude.  Unglamorous jeans and T-shirts represented the third group of students, which is where I fit.  We were best known as being the fillers to the scene.  Not many people knew who we were or cared.

During my senior year in high school, I met Dan, a junior, through a mutual friend.  He was a very sweet, charming and attractive person with many appealing qualities.  Dan was part of the chorus club along with the drama club and many of the extra-curricular clubs.  I was introduced to Dan from my good friend, Gabby.  I believe we were introduced as a favor to Gabby.  You see Gabby really liked him, like many of the other girls in school, and she prompted me to play middle-man especially during those awkward times of passing notes to one another and finding out what Dan was doing after school.  The funny thing was that although many girls, including Gabby, expressed an interest in Dan, he didn’t seem to show any mutual interest back.  This initially struck me as odd, but I didn’t ponder on the idea.  I just figured that the right girl hadn’t crossed his path and he was waiting for the moment she did.

Dan and I quickly became good friends.  We had many things in common such as coming from a military family, moving around a bit, similar taste in movies and music and love of writing.  We enjoyed one another’s company and would sometimes meet up at the library after school doing homework or researching something new and exciting.

“Do you have any plans after you get home from school?”  Dan asked me as we walked out of the library together.
Briefly thinking, I responded, “No.  I am just going to finish up my homework.  Why?”

“Oh.  I was just going to give you a call.  Will that be cool?”  Dan asked.

“Sure.  Give me a call about 6ish.  By then I should be done with my homework and dinner,” I said.

“Cool,” Dan stated.  With that, we both went on-board our different school buses with destination: home!

Ring!  Ring!  Ring!

“I got it,” I shouted as I rushed for the phone.

A familiar voice from the other end asked, “Melissa?  Hey.  What’s up?”

“Yeah it’s me doofus.  Nothing much.  What’s up with you?” I replied.

Dan and I continued chitchatting about everything and nothing at all.  Then out of the clear blue, Dan got very serious in his tone.  This was when he told me he was gay.

That evening, I lay in bed replaying our phone conversation and his courage to tell me something that sounded so simple yet was so difficult to do.  I kept thinking of how it would feel to relieve the burden I had of keeping my sexuality hidden inside of me and the lack of avenue to voice something so private.  I came from a strict Republican, Hispanic, Catholic and military household that would not accept this.  That fear and the fear of rejection held me back from the idea of ‘coming-out’.

 Things slowly took an interesting turn when Dan later informed me that he now wanted to start up a gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and straight alliance group for our high school.  Was I hearing him correctly?  Was he serious?  He had just recently told me that he was gay and now he wanted to start this controversial group in a predominately conservative high school community.  Initially, I was very fearful of him starting this new group for the selfish reason of others thinking that I could be “one of them”.  I didn’t want others to learn the truth about me and I thought others would judge me by my friendship with Dan.  However, after giving it some serious thought, I became supportive of his ideas and stood by him.

 Sadly, Dan went through countless discrimination incidents once it was revealed that he was gay.  Hateful words and hurtful notes were left on his locker and people quickly began to look down at him.  The group of ‘popular’ students who once welcomed him with open arms into their social gatherings quickly treated him differently the moment they learned who he was.  Watching his discomfort kept me from making the great leap of stepping out of the closet.

We, as a society, are still very far from complete tolerance and the equal rights for all, but we are making progress.  Education has become a strong tool in educating those less knowledgeable about the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender lifestyles as well as providing insight for those who are part of the alternative community.  Surprisingly enough, I am still pretty much in the same closet that I found myself in during my high school years.  Not many people know about my sexual orientation nor do I circle my life around it.  Another contribution that keeps me hush is my job.  Disclosure of my sexual identity could cost me my job.  I am not in a position in my life where I can afford to lose my job, but I also believe that remaining closeted is a small sacrifice for all the experience I have gathered and more to come.  I am a much stronger, independent and open-minded person because of this.  My sexuality is who I am, but not all that I am.  It is merely a part of the grand prize.

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