I once read a quote from Cher where she said that her reaction to her daughter coming out to her as a lesbian was very un-Cher-like. It reminded me of a decision that I had made when I was a young teenager that if any of my friends ever told me they were gay, I would be totally cool and supportive of them.
After I graduated from high school, my best friend, Kent, and I bought seasons passes to Six Flags Over Texas. We used to drive through the back country roads from Burleson to Arlington to determine which seat provided the most exciting ride on each of the rollercoasters. One night as I pulled into Kent’s driveway to drop him off, he said he needed to talk to me, so I turned the engine off and gave him my full attention. When Kent told me he was gay, I thought he was joking. I thought all gay men lived in San Francisco and dressed like Freddie Mercury from Queen. Keep in mind that this was 1986, long before Will & Grace, and there weren’t many out celebrities.
Of course, my first reaction was denial. “Are you sure?” I asked. “I saw you make out with Jenni Sapp on her bedroom floor.”
““Yeah, I was trying to figure it out if I really was gay or not, although Jenni is a great kisser,” he said.
““When did you know?”
““I’ve always known I was different, but it wasn’t until I found out about gay people that I knew what I was.”
““Do you know any gay people?” I asked.
“Remember that guy J.D. I brought to the Rocky Horror Picture Show a few months ago?”
““We were dating.”
This threw me for a loop, because I thought Kent and I shared everything. “You were dating? And you didn’t tell me?”
““I was still trying to figure out if it was a phase.”
““No, I’m sure I’m gay.”
In a blink of an eye, I then recalled so many clues that should have been obvious to me that Kent was gay, maybe he had even be subconsciously trying to get the message across to me. I remembered once when I was over at his house and he said that he hand found a Playgirl in his sister’s bedroom. He tossed it over in my lap, and motioned for me to open it. I thumbed through it and saw what I expected to see: Playgirl was similar to Playboy, except that it had pictures of nude men instead of naked women, and no one ever talked about reading Playgirl for the articles. When I reached the end of the magazine, I handed it back to him. I looked at him, expecting some explanation as to why he asked me to peruse Playgirl, but he set it aside and changed the subject. I shrugged it off and figured that I was lucky enough to have a friend who was open-minded enough not to be self-conscious about looking through a Playgirl. In hindsight, I was embarrassed that I could have been so naive.
Suddenly, the car seemed very small. I couldn’t breathe. My head spun, and then fear flooded me and I went down that horrible, un-Cher-like road and asked THE QUESTION: “You’re not attracted to me, are you?”
Kent closed his eyes and sighed. “No, I’m not attracted to you.”
I relaxed. I rolled down my window. I inhaled the cool, night air … and then I found myself offended. “Why aren’t you attracted to me?” I asked. “What’s wrong with me?”
Kent let out a long, labored sigh, like an exhausted beach ball throwing itself onto a Ginsu knife. He explained that I was his best friend, therefore, it would be like incest to think of me in that way.
I mulled this over. I was both relieved and mortified, as I was reminded of how cool I had planned to be in this moment, if it had ever happened. Somehow, I felt I had disappointed both Kent and myself. Still, considering my age and lack of training, had I done so bad? I had been about as prepared to have my best friend come out to me as I had been to mediate a hostage crisis, yet I had done the best I could. It seemed that I needed to make amends for my rough start, so I relied on the one thing Kent and I had originally bonded over–an absurd sense of humor.
““Now that you’re gay, I hope that you’ll still be my friend,” I said. “But if you don’t feel comfortable with that, I’ll understand.”
Kent laughed. I laughed. If Cher had been there, I think she would have laughed and maybe sang “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.” I had no idea how Kent’s confession would change my life. It was like always expecting that I’d travel to Walla Walla, Washington, and then ending up in Pismo Beach. Kent would introduce me to many strange and interesting people. He’d teach me to two-step in a gay country & western bar. Most of all, I learned that no matter how different other people may seem to be from me, if you’re willing to be patient, you’ll soon see that we’re actually very much the same.