This year marks a decade that I have been out of high school. Through the grapevine, I hear the much ballyhooed high school reunion is looming.
I’m not quite sure how I feel about this.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate high school. My issues were way more personal than that. Like most teens, I struggled for an identity. I was new to the area, shy, and awkward. But these are not qualities one aspires to have when they want so desperately to be heard and seen. That’s all I really wanted: to be remembered. A trailblazer, if you will. So, with the same impact as a bird hitting a windshield, I busted out of the closet as a sophomore, quickly gaining the reputation of being that “funny, gay boy Rob”. I gave myself one rule to live by during those years: be as fun and ostentatious as you want, but never let people see you sweat, keep them on the surface.
While most of my class mates were agonizing over writing papers, dissecting fetal pigs, or brushing up on their Algebra, I was learning the fine art of the back handed compliment, cruising for boys, and making myself the center of attention. Now if I had had a final in any of these subjects, I would have been vale-fucking-dictorian. This bravado kept most of my peers in stitches, enabling me to surround myself with some pretty cool people, and best yet, kept the bullies at bay. I had created a persona that was so much stronger than I really was. I went from being a “Veronica” to being a “Heather”.
Being out was great for my social life, because being different was in during the nineties. Being young and flaunting and celebrating your sexuality so openly was like a Louis Vuitton hand bag. Oh so fashionable and trendy. I remember vividly my best girlfriend and I sitting at a table during lunch many a time mapping out how all of our loves lives interconnected, the boy on boy on girl on girl and back again sea of teen love and sex we were sailing in (this was eight years before The L-Word and their infamous The Chart, mind you, so we were pretty revolutionary, thank you). It was so exciting to be so daring and ahead of the curve. We’re we special, or what?
It’s hard for me now to look back on that time and not be critical. The passing years have given me a perspective that makes me regret many of the choices made back then. Sure, I thought I was doing myself a favor, protecting a fragile ego with such an over the top version of myself. But was the distraction and spectacle really worth it? My options and resources were limited at the time. We didn’t have the gay friendly groups kids fight for the right to have these days. Hell, I was the Gay Alliance in my school. But did I ever use my abilities for the better of others? Did I ever stop and think that someone might look up to me as a role model for being okay with being gay? No. I was too busy protecting and promoting my own self-interests. And as far as my personal relationships go, most of them were as superficial as I was pretending to be.
In the years since, I have remained close with three people from high school, and only because they had the sense to look beneath the carnival that was me and truly understand who I really am on the inside. And though I cherish them to this day, I am remorseful that I didn’t allow myself to have more real relationships with some of the other people from that part of my life. There was one girl in particular that I was very fond of. She even went to the prom with me. Even though everyone knew what the real deal was, we were trying to be coy, cute, and clever. She and I started becoming close, but the minute my veneer started to crumble; I walked away from her and her friendship. Same thing with another friend of mine. He was such a sweet, sensitive, good looking, and charming guy. He was such a great friend. My sexuality meant nothing to him. He genuinely liked me for me. I do believe I was in love with that boy. But I didn’t think I could afford to be so vulnerable, so open and honest, so again, I walked away. I walked away a lot in those days. It was so much easier being carefree and boisterous than to put your true feelings on the line.
Today I still consider myself funny, and yes I’m still kind of in your face about things, but now it comes from a healthier, more sincere place. My heart and feelings are bigger and more important now than my sexuality or my ego. I must confess thinking about my high school years raises the same fears and insecurities that got me into this mess in the first place. That’s why the thought of attending this reunion freaks me out.
How do you go about reconciling who you were then to who you are now? Do you make amends for questionable behavior, or do you chalk it up to youth and inexperience? Can Robby Morris in 2006 really compete with Rob Smith from 1996? Do I have to? Will my former peers embrace the idea that the boy who showed up for play rehearsal in full drag, that boy who lived to be provocative and trendy has grown up and become a more confident young man whose place in the world is a complete 180 from where it once was? Will they even care? How will I feel seeing that girl whose friendship I still long for but threw away so many years ago? Will she understand? Am I really going to be able to face seeing that sweet boy who I was in love with now that he’s married and living a life polar opposite of mine? Will ten years and a fresh perspective really matter when I am face to face with the people from my past? Will I or should I even care?
I don’t think I’m ready for this.
Give me another ten years and we’ll see.
Essential Download: "High School Confidential"
Artisit: Carole Pope
Available On: Queer As Folk
Originally published in the May 2006 issue of The Empty Closet, New York State’s Oldest Continuously-Published GLBT Newspaper, published since 1973 by the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley.