Thursday, September 30, 2010

It Gets Better.

ACT I: Trapped

Scene I:

In a rural Southern middle school, a few dozen twelve-year-olds assemble in the science room before school hours, having been promised refreshments if they attend. It is a cold morning in a school with open hallways, and the allure of hot chocolate and central heat is strong. After all the students have settled with their snacks, the adult leading the Bible study group begins his speech.

"Now boys, just because you can't get a girlfriend doesn't mean you turn around and go get a boyfriend."

A sudden bolt of discomfort shoots through a kid sitting near the front. She shifts uncomfortably in her seat, wanting desperately to leave the room now that she knows the agenda, but fearing that if she expresses her objection, people will think it is because she is gay.

Scene II:

It gets worse.

It is late summer. A 14-year-old makes a phone call to the boy she has recently broken up with. "Yeah, the thing is... I think I'm a lesbian now." She doesn't know he has another friend silently eavesdropping via three-way call.

A group of tough-looking girls approaches her when school starts. "Are you a lesbian?" they demand.

"No, of course not!" she stammers in a blind panic.

"Why did you tell Joey you were?"

"I didn't! I'm not!" She does the only thing she can think to do, and escapes to the band room - the only room that is open before class. The bullies are not in band and can't follow her. She refuses to spend her mornings anywhere but the band room for the rest of the year, and she cannot tell her friends why.

Months later, in the lunch line, a classmate squints at her. "Are you a lesbian?"

"No!" she blurts out defensively, startled by the question.

"Oh. Well I heard some girl Bonnie was a lesbian."

"Wasn't me."

Scene III:

It gets worse.

A bunch of teenage girls float happily in a swimming pool late at night, after an evening of movies, truth or dare, and mixing up every soda in the house to see what it tastes like. The end result is called a "Suicide."

One of them gives a melancholy glance at a pretty friend of hers. She is seized immediately by guilt for thinking "perverted" thoughts and breaking the sacred trust of sleepovers. No boys are allowed, after all, because they will do just that. She is a wolf in sheep's clothing, sneaking among the flock. She sighs.

Her friend asks what's wrong.

"Oh, nothing really. I've just been... confused about some stuff, I guess." She knows better than to elaborate any further, but deep down, she wishes someone would recognize this as code for I'm queer and terrified to tell you. Someone who would be sensitive enough to tell her it's okay, and that she's not going to Hell.

That won't happen tonight.

After the swim, she accidentally walks in on a friend changing out of her bathing suit, and catches a glimpse of her breasts. She is wracked with guilt, not only for embarrassing her friend, but also for being turned on. Her friend thinks she has been seen only by an innocent straight girl - not a secret pervert.

ACT II: Majority

Scene I:

It gets better.

By some miracle, she finds a group of friends online, from places not so Southern and not so rural, who think being gay is just fantastic. One friend comes out as bisexual and says he likes to dress in drag. Another comes out as gay. Both are accepted by the others with open arms. She's stuffed her own sexuality down and stopped thinking about it, but the longer she's around these friends, she begins to wonder...

Scene II:

It gets better.

An 18-year-old locks her car and glances around nervously, wondering if anyone will see where she is going. She swallows the knot in her throat and clomps up the wood steps to the queer youth center. A cheerful man greets her and talks with her about her plans to get a GED. He seems to genuinely care, even though he's never met her before.

Later that evening, feeling at home among her kind, she performs a ridiculous camped-up version of "Baby Got Back", along with a boy she didn't know before, in the talent show. As the song ends, the other youth shower them with fake paper money, emblazoned with the faces of the youth center staff.

Scene III:

It gets worse.

While her boyfriend of two years is away at work, she clicks on the TV, and is suddenly enamoured by a beautiful woman in a commercial. God dammit, she thinks to herself, I thought those feelings were gone. Her boyfriend's greatest fear is being left for another woman. She wants him to feel secure, so she simply refers to herself as straight. After all, she's with a man now, so what's the difference?

But there is a difference, and it's never going to be okay with him. She gazes at the woman on TV, then frowns.

I'm going to have to leave him, she thinks as she changes the channel. Just... not now.

Act III: Emergence

Scene I:

It gets better.

Feeling inspired by a friend's recent coming out and an impassioned speech by Harvey Fierstein on TV, she makes an announcement to all her friends via a somewhat flowery blog post on MySpace. Not one single person unfriends her or attempts to tear her down. The worst she will have to deal with is a few tokenizing friends-of-friends who expect her to make out with girls at parties - annoying, but not dangerous. Mostly she receives complete support.

She realizes it is only this way because she's spent years carefully sifting and weeding her group of friends until it contains only people who will respect who she is.

Scene II:

It gets better.

She stands in the kitchen, silent. Now, cries something deep inside her. Do it now.

Nuh uh, no way, says her mind, but her voice acts of its own volition.

"I think I might be gay", she stammers, seemingly out of nowhere.

Her quiet, conservative, Southern Baptist mother pauses for not even a moment before flinging her arms around her. "Oh honey, I thought you might be. It's okay! You can even still have kids if you really want! I mean, I'd rather you be gay than be out drinking or something!"

She grins, hugs her mom, and makes a mental note not to put any Smirnoff in the fridge.

Scene III:

It gets better.

She's not sure what to expect, walking into the unschooling conference for the first time. She wants desperately to be liked by these people, but she knows most of the people there will be straight couples with kids. She doesn't realize there will be families with two moms. She also doesn't realize one of those families runs the conference.

For the first time in her life, she is able to be freely and openly queer without a single worry about what anyone will say. All the friends she makes here will be people who know, people she doesn't have to fear losing later When They Find Her Out.

One of her new friends, proudly and unapologetically queer and transgender, balks when she makes clear that she cannot get any job, anywhere, if her employers know she is queer. Another friend, one of the lesbian moms running the conference, reminds her she cannot even adopt if she continues to live in Florida.

"Move up north," they both insist. "Massachusetts is so much better."

A year later, she's hopping a train in Boston, on her way to join some new friends for a queer-friendly board game night. A hand-beaded rainbow bracelet glimmers on her wrist, a gift from one of those gay internet friends of her teen years. She doesn't even think of hiding here.

She has found the friends who will love who she is. She has found the surroundings that make her feel free and safe.

It's better.


p.s. bohemian said...

"It's better."

great ending and great new beginning!

Whimsy said...

This may be my %110 favorite thing that you've written.

I love it. SO MUCH.

You're such a wonderful writer...

kelly said...

This was very inspiring to read. Thank you.