The first out gay person I knew was a guy from high school named Kevin. Halfway through his senior year, which was my sophomore year, he came out, and it caused an enormous stir. Someone GAY? In OUR high school? (Actually, he came out as bisexual, but our collective shock was so great that we did not make such fine distinctions.)
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?