Reprinted from November – December 1996
In seventh grade something happened which haunted me and led to many sleepless nights. I was walking down the street on a hot busy afternoon when a tall, blond boy walked by. Almost instinctively, I turned around and looked at his butt.
What just happened? I thought fearfully. What’s wrong with me? My heart started pounding as I broke into a cold sweat. From then on, every time I walked down the street, I kept my eyes straight ahead or on the ground. I never wanted my eyes to wander toward another guy.
There wasn’t a single soul in the entire galaxy who I could talk to about my fears. Girls, yeah, I could talk about them, and think about them, which I did all the time. Over and over. My eighth grade history teacher used to say that every eight seconds, guys think about sex. This is true. I was on overdrive. But sometimes, just occasionally, I would have a thought or two about two guys doing it. These thoughts revolted me, and I hated having them, but for some reason they would just pop right in there.
It was hard to forget about these annoying thoughts when all guys in junior high call each other "faggot." Besides, I had never had a girlfriend. The only time I had ever kissed a girl was when I played Truth or Dare or Spin the Bottle. My fears were heightened when I occasionally would sneak a peek at a guy out of the corner of my eye.
In ninth grade I experienced a huge relief. My older brother bought me a book called The Teenage Survival Book. One day I started reading this book when my eyes happened to stumble upon a small list on the lower left-hand side of a page: "Ten of the most unnecessary fears of teenage guys." Ranked number three was "the fear that you are a homosexual." As soon as I read that line I felt like a party was going on in my head. Thank God! I was not the only teenager in the world who has felt like this!
I started flipping almost frantically through the pages to read more about this fear, but to my dismay there was nothing else on the topic. I was still happy though. I hugged the book to my chest and let out a humongous sigh of relief. I realized that I wasn’t alone in my feelings and then it all started to click. Many guys call each other fags because they have the same fears I do.
I met this great girl
In tenth grade, I got my first girlfriend. It was cool, the kind of relationship that I had always wanted. I finally had someone that I could go places with and talk to on the phone late into the night.
It took me a while before I started to really trust her. My heart is a very sacred thing to me and I don’t give it out to just anybody. I didn’t give her much of a chance at first and I wanted to break up with her after the first few weeks. I had gone most of my life being unhappy and hurt by people I cared about, so this sudden change was unwelcome and scary. I think what kept me with her, at first, was the possibility that I might get laid. I know that sounds awful, but it’s true.
Despite my fears, I fell in love with her, and we had a strong relationship. Nine months later she dumped me and broke my heart, just as I had feared, but I learned so much from her that I don’t regret anything. She helped me stop trying to please everybody. And I felt more confident about my sexuality; my passing thoughts about guys didn’t make me feel like I was gay.
A scary incident happened in the weight room in my junior year. A guy was weightlifting without his shirt on. I looked at his chest and began to admire it. But this time I didn’t panic. I told myself that it is OK to admire how another guy looks, and it didn’t mean I was gay. I have heard guys talk about other guys and call them buff. That doesn’t mean they are gay either. They are just admiring them, the same way a girl can admire another girl.
I learned to respect gay men
I’m not perfect. I have some homophobia. Once in a frozen yogurt shop, two gay men started kissing and holding each other real tight. I tried my hardest to look down or away. It seemed so repulsive. I wondered why they couldn’t just do this privately.
But then I thought, why shouldn’t they kiss publicly? Heterosexual couples do it all the time. Maybe I just wasn’t used to seeing it. This is something that I and everyone else will just have to get over. Gays have the right to kiss any time and any where.
Another incident in eleventh grade also changed my views of gays. I was driving with a group of friends in West Hollywood one Saturday night. We saw two gay men holding hands. We drove up next to them and we all started yelling, "Hey faggots," "Hey queers." We drove off laughing and feeling pretty good about ourselves.
As we drove away, I looked back. They seemed hurt and confused by what we had just done. I was quiet, pondering what just took place. My friends’ laughter died down and they went to another topic, while I continued to think about the incident. I tried to picture myself in the gay men’s shoes. What if I was holding another man’s hand and a bunch of punk teenagers drove up and put me down like that? Instead of keeping our big mouths shut or maybe helping them out, we joined the long list of people before us who had put them down.
I remembered a gay man that I met at a volunteer center. He was nice and always treated me with respect. He even went out of his way to give me a one-month free pass to his gym. What if he had been one of the gay men that we yelled at? I would have felt horrible. What if those two guys were as nice as he was? After thinking about all this stuff, I felt really bad and didn’t say much for the rest of the night.
Teens should be free to discover their sexuality
Gays have always been portrayed to me as freaks or outcasts. Water polo players who wear Speedos and shave their legs; wrestlers who wear tights; soccer players; golfers; even baseball players—I’ve heard them all called fags. I’ve been called a fag just for crossing my legs the wrong way. One time some guys and I were watching TV. Suddenly one friend yelled, "Yuck, look how close you guys are sitting. You fags!" My friend and I sprang up from our seats and started yelling and running around in a circle shaking ourselves off, as if to brush off any gayness. Our other friend was laughing at us, calling us fags, and saying that we would make a cute couple. We charged at the mocker and started hitting him until he shut up. How humiliating and embarrassing, and over what? All we did was sit close to each other on the couch.
I know I’m straight, so it’s easier to deal with stuff like this. And it’s getting easier to see how wrong it is to hate people just because they’re gay. I think gays should be allowed to get married, just as they are allowed to work.
The thought of writing this article was hard at first. But I have never seen an article like this where a straight guy talks about his gay thoughts. Since I didn’t want to wait around for one, I decided to take the initiative and write it myself. It was also easier to write this article after realizing that other guys go through the same thing. Part of being a teenager is thinking about your sexuality. It’s natural that your mind will wander and explore weird and scary territory.
So don’t get freaked out by it!
Daniel Weintraub, who earned a degree in political science from the University of Washington, is working with Jewish and Arab youth in Ramle, Israel through a volunteer program called Project Otzma.