Growing Up Gay In Bedford: Part 2
By Anonymous, with Chuck Connell
I am a twenty-something woman and live in a large US city. During the late 1990s I lived in Bedford and attended high school there. I am also queer and have known this since I was about 14 years old. I didn't think much about being gay at that age; I was simply dating someone I really liked and I was happy. Considering I might be queer has never depressed me, made me sad, or caused me to loathe myself. That is a little too young-adult novel for me.
I am out to all of my friends, most of my family members (including my parents), and some former employers. My current employer may not be so understanding, however, so I am keeping this article anonymous.
I received an excellent education at Bedford High School. I did well academically, and enjoyed athletic and other extra-curricular activities. I have recently been awarded a prestigious fellowship, in part because of my achievements and interests at BHS. But I also look back at Bedford and say, "I will never go there again." Bedford did not hurt me; it did not inflict psychological pain that will take years to heal. It did, however, restrict me to the periphery of the community, and barred me from feeling truly welcome. My treatment in Bedford was similar to what some students from Hanscom AFB experience; they are not really from Bedford, so they are never fully accepted.
While I was attending BHS, I was involved with the group of people who were trying to start a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA), and in doing so we encountered some poor treatment by some school administrators. They put the GSA under the title "School Atmosphere Committee. This caused logistical problems as we tried to access some of the wonderful resources the Massachusetts Department of Education makes available to GSAs (money and subsidies), because our title made us look like an environmental organization. We worked to change that designation. The administration pushed back, and there were a few instances in which I think I was treated not only unfairly, but also inappropriately. It was a messy situation. I was 15 and Im sure I was a huge pain in the rear, but it is never acceptable for an adult to treat a 15-year-old badly especially one who is showing initiative to push for worthwhile change. And I was an honors student who never made any trouble.
I experienced occasional verbal harassment while I was a student at BHS, but this was more commonly directed at my male friends (gay or not). I recall being at a friend's house with a group of students, some of whom were queer. We were in the backyard at night, which was near the street. Two teenage boys rode by on bicycles yelling, "Faggots!" and throwing rocks or cans. Incidents like that happened fairly often. Male homosexuality is less socially acceptable than lesbianism. Lesbians are titillating and innocuous. Gay men are rejecting their sexual primacy and demonstrating to other men what could happen to them if they don't stay in their strictly prescribed sexual roles.
I think what the middle school did putting up a rainbow flag is brave and important. Parents do not like to think about their high-school children, let alone middle-school children, as having autonomous sexuality. But people have to remember that, like it or not, sexuality frames our communities. Societies are structured around marriages, births, and relationships in general. If we refuse our support for a certain sexual orientation, we deny those individuals their fundamental relationships, through which everyone finds access to the world.
When teenagers who are considering queer relationships do not feel welcome in Bedford, they like me and many other people I know will not reconsider their sexual choice. They will just look somewhere else for a community that accepts them. And then they will look back at Bedford not necessarily with disdain, but with detachment and the decision to never go back is not hard to make.
The primary author of this article wishes to remain anonymous. Chuck Connell is a consultant and writer in Bedford, MA. This is the second in a series of articles about growing up gay in Bedford.
Published in the Bedford Minuteman newspaper on August 11, 2004. Copyright Herald Media Inc.