my relationship with my hometown is very, very weird these days.
for a long time in my trash and burn twenties i wanted to pretty much torch the place. what a shit little town, full of intolerant bigots. people who picketed the ground breaking of my dad’s agency with dead baby signs simply because it was a women’s health clinic. the bible verses on the highway. the long time friends in high school who decided to stop talking to me my junior year because i wasn’t godly enough, or something.
and then there was Jim.
i didn’t know Jim that well – he was a few years ahead of me in school. i watched him from a worshipful distance – he was a brilliant, brilliant painter, president of the portfolio club at school, and always, so authentically himself. he was also the only out gay kid in my high school.
in 1997, this was the kiss of death. i knew, dimly, that he was bullied, just as i was, though i imagine it was much worse than anything i ever suffered. he killed himself during my junior year. and i went to the memorial service with my friends, we were all 16 and 17, and i only remember three things: his artwork on display, both of my art teachers crying, and all of us gathered on the porch after the memorial service, half smiling, half laughing, both to relieve the tension and also because we couldn’t quite believe the absurdity of the situation, that we were gathered to memorialize someone who was 19, who was dead.
so. Jim has always been in the back of my mind as the largest reason that i hate Lebanon. but he’s also been on my mind because one of the kids in my teen class at the art center is gay. he’s out, he talks about the boys he’s dated and fucked (the latter much to my discomfort / consternation / amusement), he belongs to the GSA at his high school, and it’s all…okay. it’s no big deal. it’s who he is, and no one cares.
this makes me equal parts sad and happy. granted, he’s growing up outside of Philadelphia, which is far more liberal-minded than central Pennsylvania will ever be. but that this sort of thing happened in the space in 15 years is amazing. it makes me want to cry. i want to tell him how lucky he is, that he was born in 1995 and not 1978, into a time and place where he is accepted and celebrated for who he is and won’t feel so hated by his peers at school that he decides to end his life, like Jim did. he will grow up hopefully unencumbered by self-hatred, get married and have children, if he wants to. those things were unthinkable for Jim, or any other gay person, in 1997.
we’ve come so far. and so far to go.