To my knowledge, no one else in my high school had ever come out. We were a community of farmers and commuters in a conservative, mixed-race exurbia. It was the mid-1990s. True, we knew that gay people existed, and in theory, some of us (myself included) even supported gay marriage. We had Red Ribbon Week, sure. But all of this was a far cry from meeting an actual GAY person. While we suspected that our principal was a lesbian (she was), she had the good sense never to drop a word about her sexual orientation. A Gay/Straight Alliance didn't materialize for another decade and a half. I had never met someone with two mommies or two daddies. Heck, Ellen wasn't even out yet.
I didn't think much about Kevin. He was a drama guy, and I was more of a nerd/artist/debate kid. But I knew OF him--we all did. I don't know what the personal repercussions were like for him. I can't imagine they were mild. I imagine he lost friends over it, was socially excluded, was bullied. Maybe once or twice, he was quietly thanked or congratulated. I hope it wasn't all terrible for him, and I wish I had known myself better back then and had the courage to talk to him about it.
By the time I came out as a lesbian many years later, the world--or at least, MY world--was a different place. True, it was not particularly easy. I had some struggles. I lost some friends. And I continue to face mercifully sporadic unpleasantness in my everyday life (due, I daresay, more to gender nonconformity than sexual orientation, but I digress.) Kevin crossed my mind several times when I was coming out. I couldn't help feel that whatever I was going through, it had been ten times worse for him, a 17-year-old kid, all those years earlier. A few years ago, I friended Kevin on Facebook. I didn't even know if he would remember who I was. We hadn't really known each other, or even had many friends in common. But he was the first out person in my everyday life, and somehow, that meant something to me, and I wanted to see how he was doing. He accepted my request, but he's the kind of guy who has a zillion friends, so I assumed he still didn't know who I was.
Last week, mostly on a whim, I wrote Kevin a Facebook message along these lines: Hey Kevin. This is going to seem like a weird email from someone you probably don't even remember from high school. I was two years behind you and remember when you came out your senior year. You were the first person I knew personally who was out and proud. I've thought of you several times throughout the years in my own coming out journey. I know this is out of the blue, but I just felt compelled to tell you that your act of courage all those years ago made a difference.
He wrote back immediately: Yes, I do remember you. Thank you, that really means so much. I had no idea that I would touch and inspire by doing that. All I was trying to do was be who I was. And although hard, I am proud that I did it then. Glad I could help in your journey!! If you are ever in the area come by for a drink!!
Isn't that cool? It made my day brighter, and I bet my expression of gratitude after all these years made his day a little brighter, too. I only wondered why I hadn't done it earlier.
If you have a Kevin in your life--and I bet most of us do--why not track him or her down and say thanks?