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The Oak Lawn Tales – I Respect You And Think Nothing Less Of You

Being in the closet keeps a big secret from the people who care about you. When I say big secret, I mean “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” big secret; something significant enough to feel like if someone heard it their perception of you would be altered forever. I think any gay man in the closet has to contend with the divide this creates with their public and private lives. In public they may be one of the boys, while in private they worry about what would happen to their house of cards if the wind ever blew.

One year into accepting myself as gay the chasm was beginning to form. I had two circles in my life: the gay circle where I was on a gay soccer team, volunteered at an ESL program, and lived down the street from the Oak Lawn strip, and the computer programmer who worked, went to the gym, and mysteriously never dated. I had one close friend, Jeff, who I wasn’t out to, and most of the other people I knew in Dallas were my co-workers. I wanted to join these halves of my life, but I feared if Jeff or my co-workers found out I was gay and couldn’t handle it, I’d lose them. I was at a very fragile period of accepting myself and I had no one I could turn to for help, so I decided I needed to start working on the bridge between my lives and if Dallas wasn’t the place to do it then I’d go somewhere that was.

That’s right. Road Trip.

I took a week off work and took a trip up to Lawrence, KS, where I had gone to school, because there were five close friends who still lived in the area that I wanted to come out to. Ruben was my next door neighbor my freshman year in the dorms. He was sharp, witty, and an acid tongue, which was a great counterpoint to my naive computer programmer. If you did something stupid he would be the first to tell you. but he also had a heart of gold. If you needed help he would be there for you, if it was help moving, a ride somewhere, or teaching me how to drive. He actually kidnapped me one day to take me to the DMV to force me to take the permit test; that’s the kind of friend he is. I stayed at his apartment for the duration of the trip, and the first night I decided I would tell him. I was on his couch and we’d been talking for a while after I’d first arrived, and I said “Ruben, I have to tell you that… that I’m…” and the word just wouldn’t come. “You’re gay?” Ruben completed my sentence for me. “My GOD man, spit it out!”

When I was a teaching assistant for the computer science Programming II course, Michael was in my first lab class I ever taught. On the first day, out of a fifteen student lab, I immediately recognized him as an incredible programmer. He was the one who learned about computers for fun, not for class. He could be a slacker and coasted by in the coursework, but he nailed every lab assignment. The next semester when I was allowed to have graders, he was one of the first students I asked. In getting to know him I learned he loved MST3K, which was something I always loved, and I would go to his apartment every so often to watch some of his old tapes. I wasn’t quite sure how Michael process the information that I was gay, mostly because the person Michael reminds me most of is Dr. Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. He was very supportive, and after I had returned to Dallas he wrote me a very nice email letting me know that he understood how hard it was for me to tell him.

The nineties experienced an independent film renaissance, but as a film student in the computer science program I had gotten used to not being able to talk to anyone in my classes about it. There was a quiet guy who always sat in the back of my computer architecture class that rode the same bus as I did, and one day on the ride home I struck up conversation. As it turned out Dave was more passionate about film than I was, with a taste for avant garde and David Lynch. From that point on we’d usually sit in the back of any class we were in, making fun of the professor or talking about any new film we’d seen.  When I told Dave we had a long talk after wards just about art, life, and other other things. It was good that things like being gay didn’t get in the way of the important things.

I took an acting course as an elective towards my film degree. Our thespian TA had us read Stanislavsky and try to find the truth of the scene, but really all I learned was do yoga before you act, learn your lines, and don’t trip over the furniture. There were two types of students in class: the beautiful people who had always dreamed of making it big someday and football players who needed an easy A. Then there was Elise, a fellow film student who stood out because she had no time for any of that bullshit. It was a one credit course, but a lifetime friendship. We met at Paradise Cafe for breakfast, and even though Elise should have been the last person I should have been afraid to tell, the word ‘gay’ still wouldn’t come out of my mouth. I think in the I whispered I was coming out of the closet. I think she told me she never suspected out the kindness of her heart, because even though every closeted gay person thinks they have done such a good job of constructing their facade, to a well trained outsider it’s pretty obvious the Emperor has kinky Speedo underwear.

I’d first met Matt when my sophomore roommate brought me to a physics study session for the physics lab final, a black box test. Matt said the test was going to be really easy, but I failed it, teaching me the valuable lesson that computer science majors should not listen to computer engineers as to what is ‘easy’ especially when it comes to the physical world. That summer I had planned to stay in town to work, but not owning a car I had to live close to my employment. Having never looked for an apartment complex in the past I had no idea what I was doing, so when I found a pre-furnished apartment close to work where three of the roommates would be total strangers I signed right away without any alarm bells going off. By pure luck two of the other three roommates were Matt and his dorm roommate, whom I will call Baldy O’Reilly both for his ties to the Student Republicans and because he was the only nineteen year old I knew with Rogaine shampoo. Over the course of that summer and the years following we’d become very good friends. I will admit Matt was the one person I was most afraid to tell. We still kept in touch fairly regularly via email, and I was afraid introducing something like this would alter what I considered a very good friendship. He had to work over the weekend, so I met him at the office where he was debugging a circuit board. In an awkward transition, I told him “and by the way, I’m gay,” and without even looking away from the board he said “I respect you and think nothing less of you.” It was the perfect response because it said what I had hoped to hear: he was okay with me and nothing had to change.

I went back to Dallas with a sense of peace that I hadn’t had in a long time because I had friends who were okay that I was gay. In the years that followed I’ve lost track of some of them, but others I’ve turned to time and again when I’ve been in trouble, and I’d be there for any of them.

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