In his book, Beyond Queer, Bruce Bawer includes a speech from 1994 that he gave to the Saint Johns Episcopal Cathedral in Denver, Colorado in an effort to help straight parishioners to better understand the issues surrounding homosexuality. In the essay, he recounts the story of a teenage boy standing alone at the magazine rack in a bookstore in New York City, a boy who timidly approaches and then in secret feverishly devours the contents of the New York Native. Bawer questions what he may have found and therefore thought of gay life in the early 90’s, and laments that he did not talk to this boy about the reality. Bawer notes that many gay readers responded strongly to this anecdote, and a few straight readers have protested that this was similar to when they read Playboy for the first time. Below is Bawer’s response to these critics about the terrible isolation felt by so many who grow up gay.
A straight kid is surrounded by images of what it means to be straight, surrounded by potential role models. His parents, his parents’ friends, the couples on TV shows and in movies, the relationships that are sung about on the radio and MTV, the family situations in the stories and books that he’s given to read in school. His inner sense of himself, or his sexual identity, is reflected all around him in a spectrum of images of which Playboy is only one extreme. For a gay kid, things are utterly different. It’s not easy to explain how different it is, and how it feels. To be a gay kid in most families is to grow up very confused. It’s to find an utter contradiction between your very powerful but unarticulated inner sense of who you are and the notions of who you are that are communicated to you by your parents and other people in your life and in fact by the whole world. It’s to look around and see all of these images of men and women sharing their lives together and being intimate, and to feel an utter lack of identification with those images. From infancy onward, your parents assume you’re straight. It’s expected that when you reach a certain age you’ll want to start dating someone of the opposite sex; everybody asks what kind of girl you like and if you have a girlfriend. And somehow, even if you haven’t figured it out yet and connected who you are with that funny word gay, it all feels wrong, as if somehow you’d been set down on the wrong planet.
For too many gay kids, there’s no one in their lives to make them feel right.