SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2005 Personal Memory Ethnographies
Dancing in the SpotlightThe air was heavy and thick from the fog machines firing off a few dances earlier. They were too dramatic of effect for the dance they were used for, but they gave the stage a lingering mysterious haze, much like a dream. My memory of what I learned that day is cloudy, and this added to its surreal ambiance. The curtains were heavy velvet and provided an imaginary wall, a safe enclosure where we dancers felt secluded and sectioned off from the commotion of the stage. The safety of the curtains surrounded us as we confided to each other personal information that in any other situation we would never reveal…
My closest memory of learning about adversity in my personal life stems from my junior year of high school. Robert was a long-time ‘school friend’ (the kind you socialize with outside of class but rarely outside of school) and in our junior year we took dance class together (yes, our school blessed us with the option to take dance as an elective course!) Robert was a tall, thin guy with a pierced tongue and flashy clothes with a personality that was big and fun and sweet. In middle school he socialized with a lot of the athletic guys, particularly the basketball team on which he played. I had not talked to Robert much between middle school and our junior year performance dance class, but I had listened to rumors from friends that Robert was homosexual. My best friend Erin had laughed when she heard the rumor saying that he used to like her in middle school and even asked her out. So, obviously I was curious as to what was the truth.
Homosexuality has never been a concerning issue for me when I was growing up because I was often sheltered from it. I initially adopted the attitude that it existed, but it was an awkward subject of conversation to be avoided when possible. My viewpoint has always been that free will gives people the right to live however they want- although the image of two people of the same sex kissing still makes me uncomfortable. I learned early on that fear of what is not understood causes hate and prejudice. So, whenever I come across someone of a different culture, ethnicity or lifestyle I opt to politely ask that person about themselves to obtain comfort in understanding instead of fear in speculation.
As the semester carried on, I listened to Robert occasionally talk about a boyfriend of his or a guy who he liked.
I don’t mind if people know I am gay, and I didn’t try to hide that part of my character then. One of my best friends, Ashley, was in dance with me and she always had my back if anyone talked bad about me.
I was glad that I did not have to pry into his personal life and ask him the tough question; rather he openly and honestly talked about his personal relationships just like one of the girls (no disrespect or pun intended). The acceptance of Robert’s homosexual preference throughout our dance class created a comfortable environment without tension. In fact, it was kind of fun having a boy who we girls didn’t care if he was changing with us in the dressing room.
During our dress rehearsal for the winter dance recital 2001, a group of us dancers circled around in the wings offstage and began chatting.
The background noise faded as we began to talk; now-and-again the speakers would interject with loud blasts of music and the raised voices of the techies screaming to one another lighting directions and music cues- periodically reminding us that we were at our dance rehearsal. My favorite dance of the show was a modern jazz that one of the other dancers choreographed. During the Thursday night rehearsal, the stage crew was having all kinds of issues with the sound, the lighting, timing…. Everything! I didn’t mind, though, because I wanted to check up with this guy I had been seeing. After I got off the phone, I joined the girls who were sitting in a circle off in the wings. I was so excited for my date that weekend and started talking to Ashley all about my plans.
I sat against the heavy velvet curtains and could feel the sequins digging into my leg from sitting cross-legged in my costume. Over the loud bursts of music, the sound of a song rewinding over the speakers and the techies yelling back and forth with Mr. Kenyon about sound and light cues, we somehow opened up to one another about our lives.
Just a few minutes into our conversation, one of the other girls, Britney butted in and asked me whom I was dating. Of course I was going to jump at the opportunity to brag about the hot guy I was seeing…. Who wouldn’t, he was gorgeous!
In the moments of flashing lights and a hazy glow, one of my friends asked Robert how he knew he was gay, to which he replied that ‘he just always knew.’
I had had a million conversations like this before and their questions didn’t surprise me.
He explained that he went through an awkward period in which he tried to act and feel ‘normal’ but he knew that was not him.
Our performance dance class held the Winter Fest 2001 Dance Show the first semester of my junior year. I was the only guy in the Performance dance group and coincidently I lived up to the stereotype of the homosexual male dancer.
That moment was cataclysmic and we all addressed questions about his homosexuality that we were all either to shy or scared to ask.
Well, as conversations go, we started talking about how I knew I was gay, how I ‘came out’ to my family, and so forth.
He told us that when he told his mom she told him that she already knew and that she was just waiting for him to feel comfortable enough sharing it with her.
I am kind of lucky in that sense that I am proud to be okay with who I am and have met many people who weren’t just curious, but okay with whom I am.
I thought to myself, ‘how weird! I never have had to worry about how I would tell my parents that I am heterosexual.’
Why did this momentary incident have such a lasting impression on my memory? I knew Robert prior to this moment. I knew he was an African American homosexual male who was a good dancer and made funny jokes and quips every now and again. I knew that he made other boys uncomfortable at times simply for whom he was, and that in turn seemed to make him uncomfortable… just a bit. When we were huddled in our circle to stage left in between the curtains, we embraced an ease to gab like old women. We felt comfortable facing our apprehensions of asking Robert questions that we had all been anxious to know. Questions such as; how did Robert know he was gay, when did he come out, did he like any boy, what did his friends think when they ‘caught on’? Because he answered them so freely, we felt comfortable and almost inclined to ask him more. I was slightly reserved in interjecting a comment or question- mostly I just leaned in and listened in a kind of awe. To me, homosexuality was still taboo- it was something I was aware of but felt I was not supposed to be knowledgeable about. I did not ridicule people who I knew were gay, but I didn’t always defend them when jokes were made stereotyping homosexuals. I think that because of this, because I was invited into the personal life, thoughts and feelings of a person who was homosexual and accepting of who they are, I was moved by the clarity and knowledge it gave me.
I know that high school was a defining period for my growth as a person. It was enlightening for me to acknowledge that someone I knew was seeking not only the approval of his peers as did the rest of us, but had to deal with gaining acceptance into society as well. This was real, not just a story of someone who was gay seen on television or read in a magazine, but a person I knew who happened to be homosexual. The reality of this incident is why I remember it so well all these years later.
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