Don't Say Gay. Don't Say Anything. Not Ever.
I remember young love. I remember young lust. I remember young pain and young pleasure, when the moon was yellow as gold and my nerves were very close to the skin. Everything that didn't arouse me either hurt me, or made me laugh. I was young, flat-bellied, prime-y and rooster-ish.
Me and my buddies talked about girls who weren't women yet, and we lied about the things we'd done with those girls.
We paired off, girlfriend and boyfriend. They were like amateur marriages, those girlfriend-boyfriend relationships. We chest-thumped through courtship and learned about being together, about sex and fighting and cheating. Our breakups were miniature divorces, with custody fights over record albums.
And our mothers told us we'd find a better boyfriend next time, and our fathers told us not to tie ourselves down too early.
I think of those days as America tries to figure out what to tell kids about being gay.
And I think of those kids who went to school with me in the 1970s, in a town where the Bible drowned out a lot of conversation.
Those kids didn't get to hold hands in the high school hallways or kiss goodbye before they headed off to the next class. When those kids' mothers or fathers had "the talk" with them, "the talk" had nothing to do with what they wanted and needed. What did they do, just nod as though they needed to know how not to get a girl pregnant?
Certainly none of those boys could have told me about his crush on another boy, not the way I'd have told him about my crush on a girl. If I told him I liked the way Bonnie looked from behind, he knew damn well he couldn't tell me he felt the same way about Frank.
My fumbling and tumbling after girls was regarded by elders as amusing in its clumsiness, like watching a kitten try to climb the curtains. It's only danger was pregnancy, otherwise it was damn good practice for a lifetime on being man to a woman.
And they set up little events to help us practice. A junior high Valentine's Day dance. A prom. The older sisters let their younger sisters hold the baby. The older brothers told the younger brothers about French kissing. There was a homecoming king for every homecoming queen. It had to be, or the world slipped out of balance.
But the gay kids? They didn't get the prom picture. They didn't get to take their girlfriend home to meet the parents. They kept their heartache to themselves. They bled inward instead of outward.
Some we "suspected," and we had ugly names for them, while others hid it until they got older and left town.
But no matter how old they became or where they moved or how loud or proud they got, they never got to wear anyone's letter jacket. They were never king or queen of the prom. They never walked into chemistry class holding hands.
We stole years from them, the years when the nerves are close to the skin and the heart waits innocently for it's first scar.
What we're teaching kids about being gay now is a damn sight better than what we used to teach. Every year, more of them get the prom and the handholding and the sweetness and the crown at homecoming and the moon as yellow as gold.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion, and read features by Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, a collection of his best columns, is called "Devil's Elbow: Dancing in the Ashes of America." It is available in paperback from Amazon.com, and for Nook, Kindle, and iBooks.