Meanwhile. . .
Austin didn’t know what to wear to his first gay dance last spring. It was bad enough that the gangly 13-year-old from Sand Springs, Okla., had to go without his boyfriend at the time, a 14-year-old star athlete at another middle school, but there were also laundry issues. “I don’t have any clean clothes!” he complained to me by text message, his favored method of communication.
When I met up with him an hour later, he had weathered his wardrobe crisis (he was in jeans and a beige T-shirt with musical instruments on it) but was still a nervous wreck. “I’m kind of scared,” he confessed. “Who am I going to talk to? I wish my boyfriend could come.” But his boyfriend couldn’t find anyone to give him a ride nor, Austin explained, could his boyfriend ask his father for one. “His dad would give him up for adoption if he knew he was gay,” Austin told me. “I’m serious. He has the strictest, scariest dad ever. He has to date girls and act all tough so that people won’t suspect.”
Austin doesn’t have to play “the pretend game,” as he calls it, anymore. At his middle school, he has come out to his close friends, who have been supportive. A few of his female friends responded that they were bisexual. “Half the girls I know are bisexual,” he said. He hadn’t planned on coming out to his mom yet, but she found out a week before the dance. “I told my cousin, my cousin told this other girl, she told her mother, her mother told my mom and then my mom told me,” Austin explained. “The only person who really has a problem with it is my older sister, who keeps saying: ‘It’s just a phase! It’s just a phase!’ ”
Ah Yes, it’s that old standard “Love is The Sweetest Thing But We Have No Bananas Today.” .
But seriously, the article is very very good. And lord knows a former NYT editor is rolling over in his grave because of its publication.
Back to Benoit —
“I heard similar accounts from those who work with gay youth all across the country. Though most adolescents who come out do so in high school, sex researchers and counselors say that middle-school students are increasingly coming out to friends or family or to an adult in school. Just how they’re faring in a world that wasn’t expecting them — and that isn’t so sure a 12-year-old can know if he’s gay — is a complicated question that defies simple geographical explanations. Though gay kids in the South and in rural areas tend to have a harder time than those on the coasts, I met gay youth who were doing well in socially conservative areas like Tulsa and others in progressive cities who were afraid to come out.”
Isn’t it odd that no one ever says to breeders “Are you sure ? Couldn’t it be just a phase?”
“As a response to anti-gay bullying and harassment, at least 120 middle schools across the country have formed gay-straight alliance (G.S.A.) groups, where gay and lesbian students — and their straight peers — meet to brainstorm strategies for making their campus safer. Other schools are letting students be part of the national Day of Silence each April (participants take a vow of silence for a day to symbolize the silencing effect of anti-gay harassment), which last year was held in memory of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old gay junior-high student in Oxnard, Calif., who was shot and killed at school by a 14-year-old classmate.
Both G.S.A.’s and the Day of Silence have been controversial in places, as some parents and faculty members object to what they see as the promotion of homosexuality in public schools and the “premature sexualization of the students,” as a lawyer for a school in central Florida that was fighting the creation of a G.S.A. put it. But there is a growing consensus among parents and middle-school educators that something needs to be done to curb anti-gay bullying, which a 2008 study at an all-male school by researchers at the University of Nebraska and Harvard Medical School found to be the most psychologically harmful type of bullying.
“I certainly don’t believe school districts should force a sexual agenda on the community,” says Finn Laursen, the executive director of the Christian Educators Association International, “but we can’t just put our heads in the sand and ignore the kind of harassment that’s going on.”
“If you have followed what Religious Right leaders have been saying about gay people for, oh, the past 30 years, you’d be stunned to learn that Religious Right leaders say the key to resisting the “homosexual extremist movement” is to stop being so nice and polite when it comes to the gays.
About 100 activists at the How to Take Back America conference attended the workshop on “How to Counter the Homosexual Extremist Movement.” Workshop speakers Matt Barber and Brian Camenker urged people to be loud rabble-rousers when opposing the teaching of tolerance or sex ed in public schools. They said not to worry about being nice or polite or liked, but to push God’s anti-gay agenda forcefully. “Christ wasn’t about being nice,” said Barber. Camenker bragged about having once sent two congregations to scream outside a targeted legislator’s home.”
And that’s not the worst of it.
Benoit continue —
In particular, openly gay youth who are perceived as conforming to adolescent gender norms are often fully integrated into their peer and school social circles. Girls who come out as bisexual but are still considered “feminine” are often immune from harassment, as are some gay boys, like Laddie, who come out but are still considered “masculine.” “Bisexual girls have it the easiest,” Austin told me in Oklahoma. “Most of the straight guys at school think that’s hot, so that can make the girl even more popular.”
Hear that Carrie?
I’m sure the lesbian pics will surface any day now.
“I was guilty of my share of that, too, the first time I met Kera — then a 12-year-old seventh grader — and her 13-year-old best friend, Justin, last spring in a city in New England. Kera had small, delicate features. Justin had freckles and braces. They seemed like kids. Yet there they were at a bookstore coffee shop after school, talking nonchalantly — when they weren’t giggling uncontrollably about one of their many inside jokes, that is — about their sexual identities. Kera said she was bisexual. Justin said he was gay. The effect was initially surreal to me, and before long I heard myself blurt out, “But you’re so young!”
My reaction surprised me. After all, I’d known on some level that I was gay when I was their age. If I were growing up today, it’s possible that I would feel emboldened enough to confide in my parents, or at least a close friend, that I was gay.”
Or make a video
“By far the most common usage of the word “gay” in middle schools is in the expression “that’s so gay,” a popular adolescent phrase that means that something is dumb or lame. The phrase has become so ubiquitous in the culture of the average middle school that even friends of gay students sometimes use it.”
Well that’s sure to change, cause today “That’s so gay” means you’re NPH–
But what about the parents?
Johnny said his mom has made it very clear that he’s not allowed to bring a boyfriend over to the house. “She’s like, ‘O.K., I accept you, but you better not bring any of those people around,’ ” he told me.
That’s one of about 50 “rejecting behaviors” identified by Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University, who has spent the last eight years studying the link between family acceptance or rejection of gay children and their mental health in early adulthood. (Ryan found that teenagers in “rejecting families” were significantly more likely to have attempted suicide, used drugs and engaged in unprotected sex than those who were raised in accepting families.)
Of course, many parents of middle-schoolers don’t want their child dating yet, no matter their sexual orientation. But several parents I spoke to conceded that it wasn’t always easy to fashion the same rules for their gay and straight kids. Their instinct was to tell their gay children to wait longer before they could date. Austin from Michigan said he could see the struggle playing out in his parents. “When I came out, they said I couldn’t date anyone until I was 18,” he said. “Then I think they realized that was ridiculous, so they changed it to 16.”
And on top of that there’s this —
“Even though this is a liberal area,” Alison explained, “it’s still hard to be gay at this school. Most people won’t even come to G.S.A. meetings because they don’t want people other than their close friends to know they’re gay or lesbians, even though straight people also come to meetings. I get called a lesbian all the time even though I’m not.” She continued, “People are totally paranoid.” She suggested that they “come up with some code words on the down low so we can tell you what’s up without anyone knowing what we’re saying!” (They settled on “paw” for gay and “woof” for bisexual.)
As we walked past the gym, a group of boys came rushing out. Justin pointed to a short, muscular eighth grader in a baseball cap. “Paw!” he said.
Alison looked surprised. “Isn’t he a woof?”
“No, he just thinks he’s a woof,” Justin said.
Amelia looked confused. “What does woof mean again?”
A minute later, they fixed their gaze on a boy sitting against a wall listening to his iPod. “Paw,” Alison told me. “I mean woof!”
“Yeah, he’ll make out with anyone,” Justin confirmed. “Totally bisexual.”
“No, he’s not!” Amelia said, apparently distraught by the news.
“Oh, stop getting all mad just ’cause you like him,” Alison told her. “Everyone knows he’s a woof.”
After pointing out a handful of girls who are “definitely woofs,” Alison turned to me and recalled a recent “lesbian moment” of hers. “I totally had the hots for this girl in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ ” she said with a giggle. “I was, like, ‘Whoa, I’m really attracted to you right now!’ ”
“Jesus was hot in that, too,” Justin offered.
Midway through our tour we were joined by Sayre, a handsome and soft-spoken 12-year-old. Sayre was one of the few students at the school who was out to everyone, which had earned him the respect of the G.S.A.’s dozen or so members. “I really admire him,” Justin told me as we walked. “I’ve only come out to my close friends, but Sayre doesn’t care what people think.”
I asked Sayre if he was interested in any boys at the school. “I like this one guy over there,” he said, pointing toward classmates playing soccer on a grass field, “but I think he’s straight, so that’s probably not going to happen.” A few minutes later, Sayre added that he was in no rush to start dating. “It’s not like I have a lot of options anyway,” he said, echoing what I would go on to hear from many gay middle-schoolers. “I like guys who are nice and caring and don’t act like jerks to everyone. But this is middle school, where guys think it’s funny to pick their nose and fart really loud and laugh.”
As we came to the end of our tour, we approached a handful of boys sitting in a circle on the pavement eating lunch. “Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof!” Justin said, barely able to contain himself. “They’re all woofs.” One boy heard him and turned to us. “What’s a woof?” he asked us.
“Never mind,” Justin said.
“I don’t think he’s really a woof,” Alison told me, referring to a boy in the circle. “I think he’s straight but just confused.”
“He’s not confused,” Justin assured her. “He’s confused,” he said, referring to another boy in the circle. “He doesn’t know what he is. He changes his mind a lot.”
I was certainly confused trying to keep track of it all, but Alison told me not to worry. “We can’t even keep up with who’s gay or bi and who’s into who, and we go to school here!” she said.
At least not without a scorecard.
Although Kurt Hummel is coming to terms with being gay, his essence lies more in his strong sense of identity and self-worth than his sexual orientation.
“When we started auditioning, I thought it was kind of ridiculous that we’re doing a musical about kids and expression and we don’t have the gay point of view,” Murphy said. “I thought it was important, but I would never want Chris to feel weird. More than the gay thing, he understood the thing about being an outsider because he felt that way in high school and I told him we’re going to tap into that.”
The witty, mature and self-possessed Colfer is not one to be at a loss for words. But even after production wrapped last month, he was still grappling with the notion that the man who invented the show he used to watch against his mother’s wishes has created a part for him that everyone, from TV critics to co-star Jane Lynch, is betting will break out.
“Everything that’s happened I can understand except for that part,” Colfer said. “That part is completely mind-blowing. Every time I think of it my eyes get wide and I just can’t believe it. It means the world to me because I want to do what Ryan [Murphy, creator of the show] does someday. For him to see me in him, I can’t even describe it.”
His admiration of Murphy aside, Colfer’s first response to learning that his character is gay was fear. He grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, in a small town where many people wear cowboy hats, farm and “no one has a sense of humor but they all drive trucks,” he said. On a recent visit home, Colfer noticed there were still many “Yes on 8” signs on lawns.
“At first, I was absolutely terrified because I’m from a very conservative anti-gay town,” Colfer said. “And then people started saying, ‘Wow, your character is a lot like how Ryan Murphy would be,’ and I didn’t know I was and that was good because that would also be terrifying. In the original script, they were leaning on him being overly flamboyant and I didn’t want to do that because it’s so overdone. So I made him more internal and superior.”
A graduate of Clovis East High School, Colfer was a three-time speech and debate champion, president of the writer’s club, and wrote and directed a musical spoof of “Sweeney Todd” called “Shirley Todd.” His closest friends in school were the “lunch room ladies” because he preferred to stay home to write than to go out with friends. He also took care of his 14-year-old sister, Hannah, who was born with a critical illness that has kept her in and out of hospitals all of her life.
“I was made fun of a lot in high school because of the way I sound and the way I was,” Colfer said. “I was a lone duck in a swan-filled pond who criticized everyone. So I think everyone might be going, ‘Oh, he’s playing the gay character. Figures.’ Just because that’s how they perceived me.”
Between the ages of nine and 14, Colfer performed in local plays four nights a week. Five years ago, he landed a Hollywood agent and began traveling eight hours roundtrip to Los Angeles for auditions with his mother. He tried out for about 30 roles before he was cast on “Glee.”
Karyn Colfer remembers watching her son in his first role, playing Snoopy, when he was 8, and “I saw a light go on in my son that has never turned off.”
“We had this child, Christopher, who was extremely gifted in all areas,” she added. “He was very smart academically. He was very mature for his age because of his sister’s illness. And this was his outlet. It was a way for him to have something that was his very own, and his father and I committed to making sure that he went after this.”
Now that the word is out in Clovis about Colfer’s big break, Karyn Colfer has heard from friends who have asked how she’ll feel if people watch “Glee” and assume that her son is gay.
“I always say, ‘What if he is?’ To put it bluntly, I don’t know if my son is gay or not,” she said. “It’s not a conversation we’ve had with him. But if it ever came out that he is, he would still have his dad and myself and our support and love in everything he does in life. That would not change. Ever. You can’t stop loving someone for his sexual orientation. He’s my kid! I’m completely comfortable with whoever Christopher wants to be.”
Translation: “HE’S GAY!!!!!!!!”
Can I get a “Well DUH!” ?
Make no mistake, what these kids are doing is impacting their elders. At least those with upper-class incomes and fabulous homes.
“After 10 years, two renovated homes, one canceled wedding and more hours in lighting stores than either of them cares to remember, Lawrence Jacobs and Steven Snapp finally got married.
A week later, on Sept. 6, they had 100 friends over to celebrate — and, in all honesty, to show off house No. 2. (Almost finished now, after five years of work.)
“There’s plenty of vanity involved here,” admits Snapp, 56. “That we’re not ashamed of.”
The two, who lob punch lines to each other’s jokes with comic timing that deserves a stage and spotlight, met in 1999 on that earliest of Internet dating sites: the AOL chat room.
Jacobs, who had a son from a marriage that ended in divorce in 1983 and a subsequent 13-year relationship with a man, had logged on with a screen name that included the word “cute” — “which was only a slight stretch,” the 60-year-old says.
“Well, it was a long time ago,” deadpans Snapp, who had just gotten out of a 21-year relationship with a man.
Snapp, a writer and creative director, was living in a house on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania at the time, having spent the previous two decades in New York City. Intrigued by their online chat — and without any pressing weekend plans — he hopped on a Friday afternoon train to visit Jacobs, a lawyer with a townhouse in Rockville. “
And a little middle-schoolchild shall lead them.
I think you can guess the song cue.