Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Independence At Long Last

The United States will turn 237 years old tomorrow.

Typically, we celebrate with a picnic followed by some fireworks and the ritual slapping of mosquitoes as they try to get a nice sneaky dinner.  Most typically, it's a fun night for me to enjoy with family or friends.

I'm not sure when these rituals started, but I can remember enjoying the company of family and friends almost every July 4th since I was hatched nearly 38 years ago.  It's one of my favorite holidays because I am proud to be an American.  I got that from my family.  Since I can remember, I've been taught that the United States is a special place.  I firmly believe that.

This year, I think the Independence Day holiday will feel different.  Things have changed.

Please bear with me as I take you back in time.  If you don't like personal blog posts, please change the channel now.

I can't tell you the first time I thought about who I was inside.

I remember feeling different as a child, and I didn't deal with those feelings well.  I didn't understand why I felt what I felt, and I didn't understand why I was different.  For a while, I thought I wanted to die.

Yes, I contemplated suicide.  It seems so silly now that I would ever think of taking my own life, but I did.  I invented these elaborate ways that I was going to do it.  Some of them now, as I think of them, seem even sillier.  Thankfully, I had a caring support system around me and a no nonsense grandmother who knew that I really didn't want to die.  She knew that I was dealing with things on the inside even if she didn't know what they were.  Grandma would talk me through things and tell me stories and fix me bacon sandwiches.  She and my parents taught me coping skills.  Before I knew it, I didn't want to die any more.

I wanted to live.  My attention was diverted, and my parents let me do my thing.  They even helped me participate.  I played a lot of school as a kid teaching the finer points of reading, writing, and arithmetic to my countless stuffed animals.  I would read to them and sometimes I had to discipline them, too.  I know that it must have taken great strength from my parents to put up with a seven or eight-year-old to yell at a "classroom" of stuffed animals.  I've been teaching for a long time...even if my students were filled with stuffing.

My other love, radio, grew out of insomnia as a youngster.  Frustrated with a child that just would not sleep, my parents made me a deal that I could play the radio or watch TV at nights as long as I stayed in my room and remained quiet.  As usual, they knew me.  They knew that if I just stayed in bed that I would fall asleep. Eventually, it worked.  Radio became a very good friend to me at a young age.

It did not, however, quiet the many confused feelings that I had going on inside me.  When I was about 10 years old, I can remember laying on the floor while watching cartoons and just blurting out to my mother, "I think I'm gay."  Confronted with this information, my mother immediately tried to convince me that I was not.  I can remember her asking me where I got the idea.  Honestly, I can't remember.  I can't even remember if I knew what I was saying.

I do remember being a loner.  I wasn't the kind of loner that locked himself in his room all day and night.  I had friends, but I felt socially awkward.  I still do to a degree.  My elementary and junior high school days were filled with off-and-on bullying over this awkwardness.  There was nothing severe or anything.  It was just basically the name calling and things.  Having the last name Easter was not a really good thing to have in elementary school.  I thought others could sense that I was different.

One day, I got off the bus.  I was probably in the seventh-grade at the time.  I can remember that it seemed like a good idea to skip up the driveway.  My father saw me, and he explained to me that skipping probably wasn't the best thing to do for a 12-year-old, and that it wasn't what boys do.  He meant well.

I remember immersing myself in sports statistics at the time.  I became a huge sports fan.  The Colts had come to town in 1984, and I became a fan.  My room was decorated with football pictures, basketball posters, auto racing memorabilia and much more.  I collected football cards.

Then, I entered high school.  Thank God for high school.  I finally found a place where difference was not necessarily a bad thing, and I was able to find others like me.  I still had not dealt with the feelings I was having inside, but I was able to throw myself into being a student and doing well.

Ben Davis High School offered so many things for a teenager, and I found myself involved in many of those activities.  I really found myself in the journalism room.  I found myself on the radio station.  I found myself on the golf course.  It allowed me to be me, and it gave me some recognition for things I did well.  Relationship-wise, I was alone.  When I wasn't playing golf or at school, you could often find me in my room reading, playing video games, or watching television.

That's not to say that I didn't participate in high school social things.  I went to a few parties.  I went to prom.  I dated some in high school.  In fact, I dated some really nice young ladies who were sweet and kind.  I even had a girlfriend at one point, but I felt like I was someone just going through the motions on things.  When we would kiss, I would feel wrong.  I've had people tell me I seemed aloof and disconnected in high school.

In college, it didn't really get better.  My dad tried to set me up with a girl that attended Broad Ripple High School that he knew was a really good student and a nice girl.  We went on a few dates, but I didn't find things really sparking for me.

On another occasion, I remember going to a girl's dorm room on a date, watching Top Gun, and having the opportunity for my first true "experience"...if you know what I mean.  Most guys probably would have taken up the opportunity.  I literally ran away.  To this day, I can't tell you that girl's name, and if she's reading this...I'm sorry.  

It was about this time that the internet became a big thing, and I began chatting with people like me.  I found a guy who lived in San Francisco and that attended Cal-Berkeley.  We wrote back and forth online and via mail.  We exchanged pictures.  Later, I would find out my mom found those letters while cleaning my room one time.  She never mentioned anything about it.  It was my dad that told me.

My friend from California had made plans to come visit me at IU.  It was October of 1996, and he was coming in November.  We didn't have any logistical plans.  We just knew we had to meet each other.  Well, the meeting unraveled quickly, and the friendship did as well.  Even though it was a brief and not-so-normal relationship, for the first time, it was something that felt right to me.

I remember going into the restroom in my dorm room.  Via the mirror, I looked myself straight in the eye, and I struggled to get out the words, "I'm gay."

Finally, I said it.

Instantly, the weight left my shoulders.

All it took was for me to be honest with myself.  Now, it was time to be honest with the world.

I called my friend and my resident assistant for my floor, Sam Spicer.  I told Sam that I needed to talk to him about something important.  Sam had become probably my closest friend thanks to our mutual love for chicken wings and the X-Files.  I went to Sam's room.  I sat down, and I told him.  Sam was so supportive, and I appreciate that to this day.  I'm not sure if anyone came out to him or if anyone has come out to him since, but Sam's still my friend.  He always will be.

Next, I told my friend Jerry.  He was fine with it.  Then, I started telling my other friends.  They were all supportive.  I was still guarded with the information, but I began to realize that my true friends didn't feel any differently about me than they did before.  I dated a little, and suddenly the feelings of apprehension went away.  I felt normal.

It was two years before I had my first relationship.  That started in June of 1998.  I did a lot of things wrong. I made a lot of bad choices.  That relationship lasted until November of 2004.  No sense in going into detail here.  In fact, I'm probably boring you.

My point in sharing this tale is not to come out.  I've already done that.  My point is that for gay people, it's a process.  It's a process and a struggle for most of us as we try to fit in to what's expected of us rather than what's right or what's best for us.  

This Independence Day is special because the federal government now recognizes me for who I am.  With the decision in the DOMA case, the federal government is now saying loud and clear that gay people exist and aren't some square peg you can fit in a triangular hole.  The Supreme Court said loudly and clearly that our relationships and our families mean something and that they have the same status as other families.

We have a LONG way to go in this country, and the recent affronts to a woman's right to choose and the rights of minority voters signal that our fight is long from over. We must continue to stand together with our friends and allies and lock elbows and defend each other.

As freedom advances, we must continue to speak loudly and clearly when someone or something threatens the freedom of others.  We must be like that brave group of forefathers who put their lives on the line to bring forth this wonderful and imperfect union we know as the United States of America.

I love this country.  


IndyDem said...

Thanks for sharing, Jon!

IndyDem said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Jon!