Tuesday, January 05, 2010

High School Reunion, or "Patrick is a Great Big 'Mo"

To steal a hilarious line from friend Marta, 'I have TOTALLY drunk the Facebook Kool Aid.'  Maybe I'm not playing any of the games, and my green patch is pretty neglected at this point (do they start taking rain forest acreage away if you drop the ball with that?) but I can easily lose hours, days at a time there if I'm not careful.  And as a freelancer I have to be my own cranky boss about time-wasting.  You know all those chores, errands and responsibilities you feel guilty for neglecting when you've been on the idiot box for too long? Well, now add to that list 1) get a job and 2) get a life, and you see why I should probably be a bit more rigorous than I have thus far been about the Facebook action. 

Huh, that sounds a little dirty, doesn't it.  Facebook action.  I may have just found the title for this baby. 

Okay, so I don't pretend to be a vampire, zombie or mafioso and if a response requires downloading another application, or, I don't know, more than three clicks of the mouse, I'm probably not going to do it.  Even so I can still spend hours on the site, and this is in addition to the serious blogging habit (both writing and reading) that I've had going on since about 2006.  I'm clocking a lot of time in front of the computer, and frankly I'm largely okay with that.  I'm having fun, and so far I am still remembering to eat, bathe, and look out the window from time to time. 

Facebook is the third social networking site I've joined, which is why I never expected it to be such a huge time-suck.  Back in the day I had a Friendster account (remember that?  ever heard of that?) then I joined Myspace.  At first I was just drawn to the novelty, then when I became single, the two sites did provide me with some dates, fairly nice ones in fact, with some notable exceptions.  Between the two of them though I had maybe 50 friends, actually probably fewer, because there was a healthy overlap between the two groups, and I would routinely accept 'friendings' from strangers because, well, hell, the networking thang was part of the point as far as I was concerned.  So yes, I probably spent more time on the sites than I thought was healthy (Friendster was especially geared for perusing the photos of strangers; at one point I wondered if 90% of the gay men on Friendster were too poor to afford shirts), but it rarely got out of control. 

Then along came Facebook; my friend and fellow Myspacer Adam invited me, saying that this site might not make one feel like one's age and IQ dropped precipitously just from signing on, so I thought I'd give it a look-see.  It seemed especially geared towards business networking at the time, and since the vast majority of my adult friendships are with fellow actors/theatre/film people, I figured this might be a useful tool, or at least a harmless one.  For that reason too, I initially accepted connections from strangers if they were in the business. 

Then, as we all know, Facebook exploded, and I get the impression it particularly caught on with people in my age group.  One of the weird thing about being an actor, your pool of 'co-workers' is always expanding.  People not in the biz often believe we're overly intense or adolescent when we claim to feel deep intimacy with someone we may have only worked with for three months.  It's sort of like the way you form life-long connections with someone you knew for a week of Summer camp, but of course that explanation isn't going to help alleviate the idea that artsy-fartsy types are immature.  So, whatever. 

Where was I going with this?  Oh, right, so my FB pool quickly began filling up with people all over the country who I had done a play with, or knew from one of the theatres, or maybe they had dated someone I knew at one of the theatres, etc.  I was also pretty free and easy with who I contacted; if I found someone I hadn't really known that well, but had always liked, I figured, what the hell, maybe we'll get to know each other better here.  I'd friend them, they usually said yes, it was all good.

Then my college friends and I began finding one another.  Because the college I went to is small, the list of people I-didn't-really-know-but-had-always-liked got even bigger, especially since as time goes on, the bond of a shared college experience seems to strengthen rather than weaken.  I was also much less shy about social contacts in my forties than I had been in my twenties.  Asking someone to be my friend didn't feel scary.  Putting it that way makes it a little ridiculous, but it isn't scary.  If someone ignored me, I never took it personally, assuming I even noticed at all. 

Then people from high school, even junior high began finding me.  This was unexpected, and pretty cool still, but it brought a whole new issue up for me.  See, I came out at the age of 19, while still in college.  Anyone who met me since 1985 knows I'm gay, or is exceptionally clueless.  High school, though, let alone junior high?  Very different story.  Richmond, Indiana is a fairly typical midwestern town: the majority of the population is conservative, probably Republican, a 'traditonal values' kind of place.  As a kid I had always been lumped in with the college crowd, because my dad taught there, and though Town/Gown relations are a bit warmer now, back then we were regularly ostracized as draft-dodging, yellow-bellied, pinko commie faggots.  I was being called a queer long before I-- or, I suspect, my tormentors-- really even knew what that meant.

Imagine my shock then, around age twelve, when I began to realize that I was, in fact, as gay as three red hats.  Those kids were right?  How did they know?  Well, I was a classic sissy, really.  I sucked at any sport that involved catching, kicking, dribbling, or interacting in any way with a ball.  I was good at art, and dumb enough not to hide it.  I preferred girls as friends, and loved playing Barbies, though I at least had the sense to hide THAT.  Oddly enough, being identified as a faculty brat may have given me some protective camoflage.  Many of my fellow brats (at least the guys) were being tarred with the same brush, so we and our supporters all regularly laughed about the accusation.  Naturally we didn't question the assertion that being gay was a BAD thing, but the support was still nice.  Kind of.  Around age 14 I stopped pretending to date girls, but I wouldn't say I was out. I'm sure plenty of people guessed, but they were sensitive enough not to dispell my delusion of passing. 

So, back to Facebook.  All the sudden, people who knew me back BEFORE I came out were contacting me.  Some of my high school friends did go on to become college friends as well, I imagine they spread the word at least among our mutual friends, but there were plenty of people contacting me on FB who might not know, and might, in fact, have a problem with it. I was not using FB as a dating site, so while a savvy person might look at my page and pick up on the fact that I was a big 'mo, it was never stated anywhere unequivocally, ie I didn't specify that I was looking to date men.  I wondered if that lack of glaring evidence might cause some people to feel misled.  It's still the case with many that if they can ignore the fact that someone is gay, they will and while that may work for them, I knew that eventually I'd post something that would be impossible to ignore.  I don't mind healthy debate, but if someone just doesn't approve, and isn't interested in discussing it, why not spare us both a whole lot of drama?  Life is too short, let's save the big battles for places where they actually matter, courtrooms and legislatures and such.  FB is still just a playpen, as far as I'm concerned. 

So, it seemed like the answer was seriously gaying up my FB page, right?  But as we've already established, there aren't a lot of ways to do that.  What could I do?  After changing my status to "seeking men" which frankly wasn't even true (still not using FB as a dating site), what were my options?  Scattering throw cushions about the place?  Covering it with glitter, or maybe putting up a disco ball?  Putting words like 'fabulous' in my profile page?  Posting a picture of myself in drag?  None of that is really me, though, and at some point trotting out stereotypes starts to insult people's intelligence in every direction, right?  My page is at the lowest privacy setting possible, so people can read and look at everything before they contact me, but that still doesn't guarantee they will pick up on the faggy stuff.  I suppose I could put something in that little side box that stays there permanently, but then we really have to wonder if maybe I'm devoting a WEE bit too much time and thought to this, no?  See above re: '2) get a life.'  

So far there have been no unpleasant confrontations.  Most of the time I let high school acquaintances approach me first, and I think that helps.  Casual perusal of the FB groups some of my friends have joined lets me know we definitely disagree on important issues involving politics, religion, war and sexuality,  but those are separate issues from the gay thing and so far they haven't stopped us from reconnecting, catching up on the last quarter of a century, and sharing friendly sentiments about our daily goings-on.  And I like that.  It's nice.

By funny coincidence, last week Mom handed me a copy of my high school yearbook (The Pierian) from 1984, the year I graduated.  I had never bothered to get one, sure I would never want to revisit that time in any way.  To the best of my memory, I never even glanced through one, though that seems hard to believe.  I spent some time looking at it yesterday afternoon, and it was great.  A hoot, really.  To be honest, it mostly feels like that all concerns some other person who has nothing to do with me; I have plenty of memories, but they rarely trigger much of an emotional response.  There were a couple of faces that caused me to think "oh, he was a pissant," but there were many more faces that triggered vague yet pleasant reactions.  "Oh, she was always nice,"... "he was hilarious,"... "wow, forgot about that guy," and so on.  In fact there was a funny subset of people whose faces would trigger a memory of some strong feeling, yet I couldn't remember if the feeling was good or bad.  What may have been an earth-shattering feeling/experience at the time had almost vanished from my memory since.  There's some sort of life lesson there, right?  Something about not taking myself too seriously, perhaps?

There were also the faces that made me sad, remembering how tormented they had been, perhaps inadvertantly making my life easier by giving the bullies more satisfying victims (actually I was never bullied in high school, and it only happened a couple of times before then.  I was very good at hiding).  There was the girl with the severe speech impediment and tendency to drool who probably wasn't mentally challenged, but always got treated like she was, and NOT in a good way: I mean, we're talking about teenagers, remember?  There was the incredibly geeky guy with the unfortunate surname who even I found annoying, yet his high spirits never seemed diminished by the torment he was subjected to.  And dear god, we all look so freakin' YOUNG.  Was there seriously a time when I felt like I had to avoid that guy's attention?  He looks like Howdy Doody, with feathered hair.

Don't worry, I'm not about to launch into a Hallmark moment about how Facebook has helped me heal the wounds of my youth.  I wouldn't say there was much to heal.  I've known for some time that most of the trouble I had back then was self-inflicted.  I've had a pretty good life; most of my hurdles have looked minor, silly even, once I've cleared them. I guess that's more often the case than not, for most of us. Bottom line, I'm having a great time reconnecting with people from back then, and finding that there may have been stronger ties all along than I realized.


Marta said...

well i for one am grateful to fb, because i would not have thee in my life without it. soon, my love. xox m

Java said...

Most of my Facebook friends are either gay or are straight advocates. I have recently friended one of my old childhood friends. I don't know if she looks around my FB page much, but if she does, she'll discover that I've changed a lot. She's ultra-religious. Went to church for a "watchnight" service on New Years Eve. I would have been there too, a few years ago. We haven't had any serious discussions in a couple of years. Time will tell...

You, my dear, are wonderful. Those who don't realize that are mistaken. And that's all I have to say about that.

Birdie said...

I had someone from high school ask to friend me on my "professional" FB page (which includes my maiden name), where I post my articles as an ally. I wrote back to her and told her about that page/part of my life and invited her to friend me also on my personal page. I never heard from her again. C'est la vie.

Introvert that I am, I have two friends with whom I keep in touch from high school. My circle is small but of very high quality; I'm glad you're among them.

Rev. AJB said...

I was on the RHS Speech Team as a freshman; which means I MIGHT be in that yearbook-let me know!

I have mine from my three years at RHS (our high school was a three year high school; Patrick's being the last class out before the transition.) Having freshmen follow us there did make my "newbie" sophomore transition much easier. My yearbooks are filled with an odd collection of wedding invites, obits of classmates who are gone, and other miscellaneous clippings.

I also look at some of the pictures and wonder why I let some of these people get under my skin. At my 10 year reunion, I actually walked up to one of the guys and basically said, "I don't know why, but we didn't like each other in high school." We got into a conversation and realized we had a lot in common. And yes, he is a Facebook friend!

And ultimately, having grown up as one of those conservative townies who thought Earlham was going to be the ruination of the civilized world (I'm cured now!) I'm glad to have developed a friendship with you! I am so glad to call you friend!

And what's wrong with a few (okay many) hours with a computer???

Pua; Bakin' and Tendin' Bar said...

My son and his girlfriend were having a talk about FB last night, which grew to include my daughter. They mentioned how FB was "supposed" to be a college student only social network. That being enrolled in a college was a requirement to join. I'm not sure I heard or felt some sort of dismay on their part that it, as you say, "exploded" to include...well, parents. It made me laugh a little considering THEY were the ones who invited me and I held off, digging my heels in for so long. I felt that FB might be the end of my blog family. That everyone would abandon their writing for FB. Also, as I've written before, I HATED high school. It was a nightmare for an "exotic-looking" poor, chubby, polynesian girl suddenly plopped into an all white high school with size 2, blue-eyed, bleach-blondes. However, some very wise blog family friends (Jess and Marc) reminded me that I have the power to "friend" or "ignore". And then, one of those FB miracles took place and a long, lost child found us. Now, I spend more time than I should on FB talking to him. I'm good with that.

Patrick..I SO love your writing (and you). I feel so happy and honored that you said "yes" to J&M and came to the house that day. Thanks for being so open and willing to taking that chance.