In the 1980’s when I was emerging into my own sexuality, I might greet a friend by calling him fag, like, “What’s up fag?” Which was enough to get you a frog on the arm and a return shot of “nothing fag.” This was just adolescent business as usual in central Florida and probably every other community in America. Adolescent boys are nothing if not repugnant, ignorant, fetid assemblages of mucous and ill-intent. In the complex rules of middle school, boys whom one was not friends with were not fags, but homos, as in, “What’s up homo?” followed by slapping whatever the homo might be holding in his arms to the floor in the hall- books, Trapper-keepers, cartons of half-drunk chocolate milk, pink Hostess coconut snowballs. This might result in retaliative homo-calling (I’m not the homo, you’re the homo), pretty standard and unoriginal stuff between dullard tweens.
And thus the days did pass.
By the 1990’s I was here in Tallahassee, enrolled in a University, and working at a restaurant known as a refuge of employment for gay and otherwise outcast members of society who were turned away from more traditional venues of employment, such as everywhere. I remember the day I was hired, having spent dollars I could not afford on a cup of gazpacho served in an octagonal glass bowl that I slurped nervously watching the clock and wondering if I had been forgotten. After the tomato had crusted to the bowl and I had drank much more coffee than recommended, the owner sat down with me, looked at my application stacked with pancake house and Chinese restaurant experience, and she hired me. I worked there until I left town almost five years later. Gay was normal at Food Glorious Food. Normal and fiercely defended. When I get nostalgic about my college years, it is never school I think of, but pulling all-nighters making pita chips for a wedding party of 300, and taking my orders from a smart and exacting lesbian who indulged us boys our buffoonery and chided us towards sophistication.
I learned from the owner of that place, and my friends there, that it was not enough to refrain from persecuting gay people, but that an active role in the advocacy of their rights and protection was a moral obligation, and that choosing not to do so was persecution itself.
By the year 2000, I was working in a place that housed teenagers in crisis. Homeless, angry, scared, defiant runaways who came in every form, including the old familiar stinky, lumpy, fuzz on their teeth adolescent boy form. It turns out lots of kids end up in runaway shelters because they are gay, or to be more specific, gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, intersex, two-spirit, and every other sub-category of not straight and conformed to gender stereotypes.
But now I’m getting preachy, which is so boring.
I learned to protect these kids from other kids, my own staff, and themselves. Some were bright and resilient, capable, intrepid believers in themselves. Others spent their free time in their rooms scratching into their arms with safety pins, or trying to set themselves on fire with curling irons, which never worked and left an acrid burnt foil smell in the building for days.
I watched a young woman transcend her physical male body and become who she was in the confused and chaotic safety of our building. For me it was a logistical issue, which bathroom can she use and who can be her roommate? For others it was an ideological war to stop her at all costs.
She ran away to New York days before she turned 18 and got help from this place. Years later I met the woman who picked up where I left off, and we shared a cigarette outside a hotel in Portland, OR and hugged like proud parents.
Now I have friends who I still, after all I have learned, think of as my gay friends, which means I am not done growing yet, but there is still hope for me, because they are gracious and understanding with me, and far too patient with all of us.
Good piece, man. I will never forget the first time I called a guy a “big fag” only to realize he was actually gay. We both had a laugh about it, but I definitely curtailed that behavior.
This made me cry for real and love you even more. I hope that’s okay. Well, I don’t really care. It’s true.
Guess that you and I running in the same decades made this ring familiar with me. I remember the same name calling nonsense. In mid 19-eighty-something, my younger cousin called my uncle(not his dad), a fag for throwing him in the lake. I was just old enough to recognize the hurt in my uncle’s eyes, as he drunkenly exclaimed, that he couldn’t help who he was. It was like a light went off. I suppose I had seen the signs, but was too young/ignorant to recognize what I was seeing. That look in his face put a strong damper on my choice of name calling vocabulary.
My first job in Tallahasse included an openly Gay man. I once made an awful joke in his presence. I will never forget the dissapointment in his face. It changed me forever. He was an awesome influence on me.
Later I landed a gig with my band at C.P.A. became friends with the gay staff and customers during the hey day of that great bar. One day it hit me that I had never met a gay person I dind’t like. I am so grateful for the experience.
Thanks for this great piece. We all made those awful jokes, at least you did something about it. By proxy we all are better off.
Wait a minute…. FGF wasn’t a typical restaurant experience?
Slightly different than The Village Inn, less pies.
Amen. I had the privilege of housing (for no money) an incredible young student a few years ago during the summer. He asked if he could pitch a tent in my yard, and I told him he could, but it would be more comfortable for both of us if he took a spare bedroom, his own bathroom, half of the garage and shared kitchen privileges. It wasn’t long before I knew his story, one that broke my heart. He was born a girl but was always a guy. He knew it. His mom knew it. But his dad broke every bone in his body and tried to destroy his spirit. He figured it out alone, worked to save $$ for surgery and transgendered into the amazing young man I know. When I needed help loading a truck to move, he was there for me. And his happy ending is that he is marrying the love of his life, a beautiful woman who may (or may not) be a lesbian. Their relationship started that summer at my house, and they have made my life richer just because I know how brave and committed they are — and smart and determined to make it easier for others to do what was so hard for them.
For my post this morning, I’m sending people here. I hope that’s okay.
Human beings are cruel. It’s what sets us apart form all the other animals, our capacity for cruelty. That we can learn and transcend above our innate cruelty is our saving grace. Unfortunately, too many of us never do. When I was in high school in the late 60s I did not hate on gay people but neither did I defend them. Only knew of one boy anyway. When my daughter was in middle school in 1990, she championed the gay people in her school, verbally slapping down any hateful people. I was so proud of her.
I have enjoyed reading your comments on Ms Moon’s blog for quite a while now and just never made it here. I like what you say and how you say it.
I feel like we may know each other or have met before and I’ve always been curious as to your true identity! I lived in Tally most of my life, but am now in Cali.
Thanks for writing this, it rocks.
PS I also like that you used the word buffoonery!
Thanks Petit fleur! Send me a hello through my blog?
Wow I am floored! A great peace of writing you have here.
As an adolescent and teen, one of my friends had two dads. Our little bunch of crude skaters knew the deal, we didn’t care, we likely somewhat sympathized since there were few days we escaped ridicule and bullying ourselves. But it was clearly a different level of maliciousness they dealt with.
Looking back, my parents actively fought against hate. They did good- I should tell them.
Ms. Moon sent me here. I am so glad she did. Thank you for this. Thank you.
I,too, am an acolyte of Ms. Moon and am so glad to be here, reading this. Thank you. I look forward to coming here more often — your writing shines.
Ms. Moon is damn good company, and she has been so for a while now. Thanks for coming by everyone.
A great, inspiring word. Thanks Juancho & Mary Moon.
Thank you from an old lesbian in Seattle. You brought tears to my eyes.
My daughter is currently transitioning into a young man. My greatest fear is that the world will swallow my child. This post is a gracious reminder to me that there are loving people who are willing to accept and love all children. For the sake of humanity, and nothing else.
Thank you. From all mothers who worry about their babies.
Terrific post! I arrived here via Ms Moon — I left a longer comment on her post, but suffice to say that I really enjoyed this. You’re telling it like it is!
Always worth the read, insightful with spirit. things my wife and I say about who you are and what you do.