When I was in high school, some friends and I piled into my best friend Sam’s mom’s minivan and drove from Oak Park to Chicago. Unlike previous trips to go to a show at the Metro or have coffee at Scenes, this time we were headed to a meeting for LBGT and questioning teens. And we were lost.
We pulled over to a pay phone to call for directions to Horizons. The man who answered the call was very nice, and as I was getting ready to hang up, he asked for my zip code. I gave it to him and then promptly lost my shit. I jumped back into the van and gasped, “You guys!!! A gay man knows my zip code!”
Saying my zip code out loud (which looking back seems like the least personal bit of information ever) reminded me that we could run into people from school, a fear I expressed and that Sam squashed with his usual good sense and quick wit.
Me: What if we see people we know?!
Sam: Remember when you were a kid and your mom would make you go shopping at Venture*? And, like, seeing someone from school was the worst thing ever?”
Me: Uh huh.
Sam: It’s like that—they’re at Venture too! So fuck it, who cares?
I have been thinking about high school a lot lately. It seems like you hear a new story every week about a gay kid being bullied and committing suicide. And with every story I get more pissed and more sad and more grateful.
What’s amazing about my story isn’t that life got better, it’s that high school life was pretty good. As a teenager in a typical suburban public school, I had a group of gay/supportive/bi/questioning friends with whom to leave our zip code and find the gays.
I can’t say where I would have been without them. I don’t think I would have been as hopeless as the kids we hear about in the news, seemingly, every day. I had liberal parents (but what teenager wants to talk to them?), grew up in a pretty open-minded community and had the benefit of being a girl.
I don’t know what the answer is for the kids who are suffering today. I’m sure that It Gets Better and Give a Damn and the Trevor Project are making an impact, and I’m so glad they are getting lots of press. And the wearing purple yesterday thing was cool, but I don’t know. I guess I just feel like what mattered the most for me was spending every day with a supportive, loving, crazy group of people—and as much as I wish you could, you can’t duplicate that online.
*For those who didn’t grow up with Venture, it’s like K-Mart but even dorkier. For example, you might want a Cabbage Patch Kid. You could go to Venture for a Turnip Child instead.