My sixth grade Hebrew class was the first place in Jacksonville that I’d have my first head-on experience with homophobia. My older classmate Sara was thoughtful enough to inform me that I was a “Gay Boy”. She must have taken great stock in my personal life because she made sure it was known to everyone else in the small class of eight sixth and seventh graders. With great conviction Sara continued to refer to me as “Gay Boy” for the rest of that school year. Being that my name was Josh and not “Gay Boy”, I continually rejected this nickname that was technically an apt titling, though not necessarily actualized at this point.
Puberty had set in that previous summer and enhanced the prominence of my non-alpha male traits. This combined with my athletic ineptitude and poor male bonding abilities projected “gay” to my peers and classmates. Go figure.
I started my seventh grade year at a gifted middle school across town after my Jewish day school discontinued their middle school program. My new classmates must have been as equally observant as Sara (who also transferred to this public school) because they quickly offered up musings on my behavior as well as jokes on my behalf at every possible opportunity. Needless to say I didn’t have very many friends, sans for my best friend who is now coincidentally an activist lesbian. I grew quite callous over the next two years from the constant barrage of verbal and sometimes physical abuse that came my way.
I never told my parents about what went on at school. I was too proud, too ambivalent and ultimately too ashamed. It took me almost ten years to fully recover from the shame I had from these two formative years of my early life. Things improved in high school and I stumbled upon my own sexuality in my senior year. Only after many Madonna songs, Village Inn pie slices, nights of aimless driving and coffeehouse visits later had I come to a certain place of comfort with who I was.
When I visit home I still sometimes run into Sara around town. Our conversation is amicable and benevolent though I wonder if she feels any regret. The ill-will I once had for her is gone, though I’d be happy if I bumped into her wearing my deep v-neck tee shirt and mid-thigh shorts. The difference ten years makes is that now I would proudly own the moniker of “Gay Boy” – or at least “Gay Man”.