Before realizing the truth about himself, Tom Keiser had little idea what being gay meant, other than as an ineffective synonym for “happy.”
As the 1990s dawned, I was a five-year-old who liked to play with his little sister’s toys and was teased by his own special education classmates for being different. By decade’s end, I was still being teased, but most of it was along the lines of gay-bashing. My fellow kindergartners had little idea what they were saying, other than that it was easy to make fun of others. My teasing in high school, however, was a lot more complex.
I had little idea as to what being gay was growing up, other than being an ineffective synonym for “happy.” I was very bright but socially inept throughout my childhood, and so I made up for being an easy target of childhood bullies by watching mature programs such as “America’s Most Wanted,” and by taking up things and causes that seemed more mature, like “family values.” I was not wise enough to realize that family values are not only about protecting children, but loving them for who they are. Because of my ignorance, I was disliking people for being gay, while not acknowledging my own homosexual proclivities.
When Ellen Degeneres came out in 1997, I was as livid as a twelve-year-old could get. I felt betrayed because she was someone I admired and liked, but was living a life (I learned through my misreading of popular culture and religion) that seemed like an affront to my personal safety and well being.
I was so misinformed at the time. I had to be corrected in health class because I thought all gay people were HIV-positive. There were, like any high school, many boys and girls that would later come out as gay, lesbian, or bi, but the area I lived in was (and in some ways still is) one giant closet.
In eighth grade, a male classmate of mine “courted” me, making it look as if he was after me in a physical manner. I had no feelings toward him, other than annoyance, and he did not seem to be actually attracted to me, but it got to me. The furthest it ever went was when he “bumped” into me from behind in a hallway.
Eventually he either must’ve been admonished or got bored with it, but it still haunts me whenever I think of it. This incident (along with continued teasing) might be one reason why it took me until I was 20 to accept being gay.
While I was attracted in some way to men as early as five or six (I had crushes on Westley from The Princess Bride and Temple Of Doom-era Harrison Ford), I would continue to be oblivious until well into college. I could not get a girlfriend for the life of me, but I blamed my poor social skills for that. When I came out, people would snicker that I chose to be gay, lowering my standards after striking out so often with girls and women. I have struck out so often with guys at this point that this argument is moot. At least I am now striking out for the right team.
Going back to when Ellen was coming out, my best friend was an ally in disliking gays and lesbians. By the mid-2000s, he was a chaplain in the Army and emailed myself and others about the Westboro Baptist Church, and how upset he was that these people would spew hatred in the name of God. A few months later I finally accepted who I was, and upon reading his email, came out to him. He could not have been more appreciative and supportive, and my friend (who today is a pastor) was one of the first people I grew up with to accept me for who I am.
The 1990s were confusing times for a confused boy like myself, but I survived. I still wish I was more aware of the person I really was, and that there was a more LGBT-friendly environment where I grew up at that time. However, I look at where I am now and see how far I have come, and all the friends and family who love me, and not only accept but embrace my love for other men.
I can only hope, as nostalgia for the decade I grew up in increases, that we no longer embrace uninformed hatred of LGBT individuals, and focus on something that really needs to be revived, like POGs.
—Photo: Wikipedia Commons