SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2008        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Ben Daniel


In 1999, I began my college career at a very conservative private school in northeast Georgia.  It was there that I first began to really converse about issues impacting society, homosexuality included.  We were freshman, and our dialogue was understandably spirited and opinionated.  It was also expectedly biased. 

It was there that I met my friend Jordan.  My first impression of him was that he both looked and behaved rather effeminately.  At that time, however, I was naïve enough to believe that anyone at a Christian college must be a Christian, and within the realms of the faith-driven community, a homosexual believer was unfathomable.  I had been effectively brainwashed to believe that sexual preference could only be a choice, and a person could not be born gay.  So in my mind I just thought Jordan was a little different.  I never believed he was gay, even though some of our mutual friends tried to spread that rumor.

Jordan and I both left that school after only one year.  He joined the army.  I went back to work at a fast food joint.  Two years later, though, Jordan was out of the army and I was about to go in.  While I was waiting to ship out for basic training, I was living in the basement of my parents’ house in Atlanta, Georgia.  Jordan had come up from Florida for the weekend.  I had never considered myself homophobic, so it was not a big deal for me that we both crashed on my futon.  I wouldn’t make anyone sleep on that basement floor.

As old friends visiting are prone to do, we had stayed up long past midnight just talking and flipping channels, the pale glow of the television screen illuminating our faces.  It was all I could do to keep my eyes open, as Jordan blabbed on and on about whatever.  Masculine grunting passed for carrying my end of the conversation.  Looking back, I think he must have been warming up, because the conversation seemed pointless until he abruptly launched into a story that grabbed my full attention.

As I mentioned before, Jordan had recently served a brief stint in the military.  One night his roommate came home from a long night of partying.  Jordan slept through the entrance but was jolted from his slumber when his roommate began to administer oral sex.  Stunned, I asked him how he reacted.  He said it felt good, so he pretended to continue sleeping.  Suddenly, I was very aware that I was sharing a small bed with another man. 

I could always count on Ben to just listen to me.  Nothing I ever said seemed to shock him, as hard as I tried.  I hated people for not listening to me.  Anyway, I was telling him about some things that had happened to me in the army.  One thing I told him was a story about my roommate performing a sex act on me.  It wasn’t true.  I made it up.  Well, part of me wished it were true.  I’m not really sure how I feel.  I’m confused.  Nobody who’s supposed to love me ever has.  I guess I just wanted to know how unconditional Ben’s friendship was.  I was desperate for acceptance . . . or confirmation that I was a freak.  His reaction didn’t really help.

I vehemently expressed how I would have protested such a violation.  But he didn’t seem to get it.  A million thoughts began to race around my brain.  I wanted to bolt for the door, but it was my home.  Should I kick him out?  Trying to appear unshaken, I began to ask questions.  Within a matter of minutes, it became very clear to me that this was not just a tale of innocent experimentation.  It was a stretch for me to even hope for that much.  No, the truth was I now had my first gay friend. 

I could definitely sense his discomfort.  I could tell he was trying not to freak out, but he really sucked at hiding it.  That was predictable, I suppose.  Of course, Ben isn’t like me.  What was I thinking?  He made it very clear he didn’t think that was natural.  It’s what he didn’t do, though, that really shocked me.  He didn’t actually freak out on me.  He never told me that I was wrong or weird.  He didn’t even move away from me.  What was I supposed to do with that?  I hated him for it.  I hated him for always trying so damn hard to do the right thing.

When Jordan finally expressed that he actually was gay, I had a hard time not launching into “fix him” mode.  I was terrified for his soul.  He had professed belief in Jesus, and Christ-followers can’t be gay.  Or so I reasoned back then.  What I think really threw me off and was my foothold for intervention was that we had talked many times about girls - who we thought was attractive, whom we wanted to date, etc.  It never occurred to me that he might have been playing along just to maintain his cover.  My perception was that even if he thought he was gay, he had also expressed interest in girls, and that meant he was still on the fence.  If he was still undecided, then he could be swayed. 

It was not my intent to come out that weekend, but Ben had always treated me differently.  I remember, back in college, nobody proved their loyalty like he did.  I couldn’t trust anyone, but he really proved himself.  So it killed me that he didn’t know the whole story.  Part of me wanted to give his friendship the ultimate test.  The other part of me felt like I owed it to him.  But could I handle it if this changed everything between us? I don’t care about God like he does, though he doesn’t realize that.  I don’t want to be judged.  I know he’s fucking judging me!  This was a mistake.

We talked for a little while longer, but the conversation was strained.  The metallic groan of that cheap futon was like a third voice in the room.  Whenever we were both silent, the slightest movement would be rudely announced by the metal bed frame, and we would know the other was still there.  I also remember the thick dampness of the air in the basement.  It was always a pardonable characteristic until I started living down there.  Partnered with the musty odor of subterranean existence, the atmosphere seemed to cling to everything, defiling whatever it touched.  With the lights out, the mood was only enhanced . . . not creepy, just inescapable.  It is very possible that “thickness” was what made me most uncomfortable that night.  In any case, to this day I get a surge of discomfort whenever I encounter a similar atmosphere.  Eventually, the discomfort drove us to complete silence, but before I drifted off to sleep I had to confront the torrent of thoughts flooding my brain.

I knew that homosexual people are real, but I had never met one.  Had I?  I couldn’t fathom being attracted to another guy.  Boys like girls.  Men like women.  My reality had just been shattered.  Suddenly, I was second guessing every friend I’d ever had.  Did I really know them?  I felt violated.  It didn’t bother me that he was gay.  It bothered me that gender was no longer an indicator of sexuality.  It frustrated me to learn that I now lived in a world where I couldn’t make innocent assumptions, and if I did, I risked being accused of ignorance, intolerance or stereotyping.  I guess I felt a little bit betrayed, like his choice automatically put me at some sort of disadvantage.  And truthfully, I think I was just really mad at him for choosing to come out while we were sharing a bed in a dark basement. 

Now, looking back almost seven years later, I recognize that regardless of my “good” intentions, the real problem was that I had a core level misunderstanding of my friend, his experience, and homosexuality.  Tolerance wasn’t my problem.  It was ignorance.

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