The jerk in the closet
It was always worst right after we moved. My father’s job in the oil fields resulted in me attending ten different elementary schools in four different states. And at each new school it was never long before some of the kids (and occasionally some of the teachers) were teasing, harassing, or outright bullying me for being a sissy, pussy, or fag. Most of the times those words were hurled around in the lower grades, no one was literally accusing me of homosexuality. All they meant was I didn’t act like a “normal” boy.
In middle school it was a bit different. For one thing, everyone’s hormones were going crazy. In elementary school most of the normal boys had thought girls were icky (and one of the ways I kept being abnormal was I always got along better with the girls than most of the boys), but suddenly those same boys were trying to find a girlfriend. And the insults changed. Now “pussy” was the nicest thing any of the other boys or male teachers called me.
It’s not that they ever caught me in flagrante delicto. Well, except one bully. Though “caught” isn’t the right word. But I’ll get back to him…
The upshot is that as a gay rural teen in the 1970s, survival meant trying very hard to blend in, and getting extremely good at finding guys who wouldn’t punch you in the face if you said or did the wrong thing. Not every one of the small number of guys I became friends with during those years were gay or bi. And of those friends, there is only one that I ever had any sort of relationship beyond friendship.
But that’s where the much maligned gaydar was honed. Being able to identify the guys like yourself meant the difference between finding a friend and getting beat up. When I say friend, it isn’t a euphemism. One of the reasons we were never caught in flagrante delicto is because there was almost never any delicto. With a few exceptions that I felt horrifically guilty and ashamed over, we never even admitted—even to each other—that we were attracted to other guys.
The flip side of learning to spot other non-conforming guys, was attempting to blend in. One of the things that “normal” boys did was to tease and harass any boy who showed any sign of being different. Just about every closeted boy, at one time or another, tried to deflect the negative attention from ourselves by directing it at someone else.
When I reached middle school, Dad had been promoted to a position where we didn’t have to move all the time, and that allowed us to move back to the tiny town where I’d been born. In seventh grade, the teasing, harassing, and bullying escalated a bit due mostly to the crazy hormones and the social expectations that guys would have girlfriends. In eighth grade, the bullying from one guy, I’m going to call him Mick, escalated significantly. He’s the one I wrote about before who dragged me into the middle of the lawn by my broken leg and held me upside-down while his buddies laughed at, spit on, and kicked me.
Then, in the fall of ninth grade, Mick cornered me alone in a storeroom behind the junior varsity showers after cross-country practice, and made a rather threatening demand. And that’s how Mick, the most homophobic and vicious bully I had known up to that point, one of the top athletes in my school, became the second guy I ever “fooled around” with. It was a devil’s bargain: I gave him what he wanted pretty much whenever he wanted it, and the bullying diminished. By no means did the bullying stop, it just became more like the general verbal teasing and harassment that he directed at normal guys.
As the year went on, I learned I wasn’t the only person who had such a thing (I can’t in all honesty describe it as either an arrangement or a relationship) going with Mick. While talking with one of the other guys involved, I was able to put together a timeline. In late sixth grade, when puberty hit, Mick had started more viciously teasing and bullying everyone. In seventh grade the worst of his attention was directed at the four or five of us who were least masculine and/or athletic. Sometime late in that school year, he got one of the frequent targets to start “playing around” in exchange for less harassment. Which meant more negative attention on the rest of us. During the summer between seventh and eighth grade, at basketball camp, he snared another one of the guys. By eighth grade there were only three of us taking the brunt of his most brutal treatment, which is why I was getting bullied so much more from him that year. Then in ninth grade he added me to his stable.
Not all the guys Mick targetted for the worst teasing were gay. And one other classmate I knew for a fact was gay he never singled out. Whether that was because Mick’s gaydar was a little off or some other factor, I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. We were all, including Mick, 13 and 14 years old while this was going on. In fact, Mick was about six months younger than I was. He was just physically bigger and more naturally athletic.
All of us were growing up in a deeply homophobic culture. We had no actual gay role models, at all. The only thing we knew about gay people was condemnation from church and derision from our teachers and coaches. Church taught that homosexuals were abominations, enslaved by the devil, and doomed to spend eternity in hell. Teachers taught us that homosexuals were mentally ill people who, if their illness went unchecked, would all turn into pedophiles and necrophileacs (it was in the sex ed textbook, I swear to god!) before dying alone and unloved. And the coaches taught us that homosexuals were completely worthless creatures—pure garbage that should be wiped out at any opportunity.
So, the fact that I couldn’t stop noticing which boys were cute, reinforced the idea, every single time I had that emotional reaction, that I was worthless, doomed to an eternity of hellfire, and totally unworthy of love. When the normal guys were talking about girls, and stealing copies of Playboy and Penthouse from their dads or older brothers, I kept noticing the handsome guys on TV or the hot jocks, and each time it was another nail in the coffin of my self esteem.
It didn’t matter that I loathed Mick as a person. His body (like the bodies of so many other guys) was what got my motor revving. And so a part of me enjoyed touching him and so forth, which made me hate myself even more. It fed right into all the negative messages I kept getting from family, church, and school. Having to do stuff with a guy I hated and feared— doing things that I fantasized about doing with someone who cared about me—seemed a fitting punishment. It was no better than what I deserved, right?
And he made sure, every time we were together, to remind me that I was the faggot. I was the detestable creature serving his needs. He was a real man, and I wasn’t.
So don’t let anyone tell you that a gay person can’t be homophobic. Mick certainly was, and so were the rest of us.
I don’t hold Mick solely responsible for what happened. I know he was getting all the same messages from society I was. He was clearly just as gay as I am, and the fact that he could spew so much venom and contempt at me meant that, deep inside, he was spewing even more at himself. I don’t know if he was ever physically beaten by his father to the point of broken bones while being called a c*cksucker, as I had been, but I am certain that his father was just as homophobic as mine was.
I don’t think it’s right to hold Mick at the age of 13, 14, and 15 fully culpable of his actions. He was a bully, and he wasn’t blameless, but he was also a victim of a virulently anti-gay society, and no one in their early teens is equipped to deal with that vitriol in a healthy way.
Things become a bit different once such a guy gets into his late twenties or mid-thirties, especially if one has been elected to Congress on a virulently anti-gay platform, again and again. If one has given speeches about why it is perfectly okay for employers to fire people because they suspect the person might be gay. Or called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban even domestic partnerships and civil unions for gay and lesbian citizens, let alone marriage equality. Or has blocked adding sexual orientation to hate crimes laws, and has argued against including protections for lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender children in anti-bullying programs.
When such a man in his mid-thirties claims to be straight, is very good looking and makes a six-figure income, but has never married, has never even been known to date women, and frequently has unmarried male roommates, well people begin to wonder. Remember, he’s said on many occasions that employers should be able to fire someone they only suspect might be gay. And then people come up with pictures of such a man exiting gay bars. And other people have pics and video of someone who appears to be him inside such gay bars flirting with other men. And a reporter claims to have caught the Congressman sharing a shower with the male roommate. And someone else notices that besides other anti-gay politicians, the only people he follows on twitter are young male athletes and models (many of them gay) who post lots of pictures of themselves on line. Then, when someone points this out, suddenly the Congressman unfollows all of those young men, and he locks down his Instagram account, which had been full of rather interesting pictures.
Well, I keep coming back to those speeches he made about why gay people shouldn’t be included in employment non-discrimination laws, and I have to ask, do we need any more proof than what’s been brought forward?Contrary to what several alleged journalists and pundits are saying, we queers aren’t the ones being homophobic by noticing all these very gay-ish features of his life. We’ve had years of practice looking for these sorts of signs, because it used to be necessary for our own survival. And now when we see so many of them in a man who has actively done everything in his power to strip gay people of civil rights, legal protections, and acceptance in society, and we think about the studies that have shown again and again that the most virulently anti-gay men experience involuntary arousal when shown pictures of male bodies and fail to show such a response to pictures of female bodies. We think back on our own experiences of knowing guys like Mick, my middle-school tormentor. We think about all the anti-gay politicians who have been caught with male prostitutes, or the anti-gay preachers who hire male prostitutes to accompany them on overseas trips then when caught claim they young men were hired to “lift their luggage.”
And then we think about those studies, the first one done by the Surgeon General under the first President Bush, that says that one third of teen suicides would be prevented if society was more accepting of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. And we think about all the wasted lives, all the tormented kids who didn’t survive to adulthood.
When I think of all those things, I realize that it doesn’t matter if Congressman Schock is a bigot in a closet, or just a bigot, the blood of those kids is on his hands. Yes, since I also grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist family in rural communities, I am quite sure that whether the Congressman is gay or not, his fashion choices and mannerisms made him the target of a lot of bullying.
But now that he’s an adult, he needs to stop being a bully himself. And mainstream journalists need to stop being prissy about the “private lives” of politicians who enact laws that invade the private lives of citizens. At the very least, they need to confront him on that one very glaring hypocrisy: he has argued that people can be fired if they even appear to be gay. So why should he be allowed to keep his job?