Growing Up Gay In Bedford: Matt
By Matt Waldron, with Chuck Connell
The name-calling began in elementary school, because I was not interested in sports and enjoyed the arts. My peers took it as evidence I was gay, though I had just started questioning my sexuality. The most common words were “faggot” and “homo”, usually muttered softly as I passed someone in the hallway. School administrators did their best to discipline those who harmed or teased me, and I appreciated the support they provided. But no amount of discipline can change the hate some kids are fed at home.
I first started to realize I was gay around age 10, and started to come out definitively at age 12. At first, it wasn’t so much about being gay, as realizing I was different. I saw my male friends becoming interested in girls and I simply was not. Neither way struck me as better or worse, or right or wrong – just different. I understood that in order to have biological children someday I would need a woman, but I couldn't fathom myself being intimate with a woman the way my peers did.
I started to talk about being gay toward the end of eighth grade. A gradual process, it naturally started with my closest friends. As I became more comfortable in my own skin and with being gay, I stopped worrying about who knew. By the beginning of high school I had a close network of friends who were very supportive and refrained from judging me. Students who were not in my close personal group were not necessarily so accepting, however, as rumors spread regarding my sexual orientation.
Fortunately, by the beginning of high school, I was of a stature that generally kept physical abuse at bay. The Gay/Straight Alliance also increased awareness of homophobia and educated students about these issues. And my classmates matured a bit. I recall the week leading up to the statewide Gay/Straight Youth Pride day of 2000. To publicize the events, the state provided shirts and buttons to each participating school. A majority of the faculty and administration wore these, and I became truly aware of the support I had from the school's staff.
It is clear to me that the Bedford school system is committed to being a safe place for all students, particularly those who are bullied as I was. I never once encountered bias or discrimination on the part of the faculty or administration. One aspect of schooling I wish had been addressed differently, however, was the use of language in the classroom. While most teachers did their best to stop the use of discriminatory and bigoted language, there were some who turned a deaf ear to it. In talking to teachers, I found that they didn’t know how to respond, or didn’t feel it was their place to say anything.
Being gay, questioning, or perceived as gay in Bedford is definitely getting easier. I watched Bedford High School change from a rather homophobic student body to a place where same-sex couples could attend the proms. I cannot speak so well of the middle school however. Middle school years are a tough time, for everyone. Being perceived as gay makes it that much more difficult. It's a time where students are pressured to be like everyone else, and issues of sexual orientation highlight fundamental differences.
Today, I am “out” and live my life openly as a gay man. This was a gradual process, however, which has taken eight years and continues to this day. Overall, I feel the Bedford schools are a good and nurturing place, and my experience is proof.
I believe that parents should have the right to keep their children out of sexual education classes, for moral or religious reasons. But there is a price for this choice. I say to these parents: Take a look around. Middle school students are sexual creatures, whether or not you are ready to accept it. Bedford students are performing oral sex in the sixth grade and having full-fledged intercourse in eighth grade. Without sexual education, children will not know how to make safe and responsible sexual choices. A logical corollary to this is education in sexual orientation, to help kids who are questioning or gay understand they are not alone or deviant. It is important to keep in mind that a conversation in class about sexual orientation does not necessarily have to include detailed discussions about sexual activities.
Matt Waldron is a student at Bard College. Chuck Connell is a consultant and writer in Bedford, MA. This is the first in a series of articles about growing up gay in Bedford.
Published in the Bedford Minuteman newspaper on August 4, 2004. Copyright Herald Media Inc.