Go back in time

By PORTLAND PHOENIX STAFF  |  June 24, 2009

25 years ago

Smalltown boy

My parents divorced in 1974; I was 11 and the youngest of four children living in a small town in upstate New York. My father moved, with my two oldest siblings, to Portland, Maine, where I would visit on holidays and summer vacations. The only reason I call Maine home now is because I came out here.

I've been asked over the years when I knew I was gay; it's not an easy question to answer. In hindsight, I remember liking boys as early as age six, but I didn't know what "gay" was at that age. I had crushes on some of my male friends but it wasn't until I hit puberty that I realized that the urges I felt were sexual. When I wound up doing some "childhood experimenting" I still didn't realize that I was different; I thought all boys did the same thing.

It wasn't until middle school that I realized being different was wrong. I started to hear the words "queer" and "homo" used to hurt the weak or socially awkward. So, I turned inward and tried to keep to myself hoping no one would know I was having confusing thoughts about boys. Then in junior high, in the late '70s, I learned there were consequences for being different when my social studies teacher was fired for being gay. There was no scandal or inappropriate behavior — just a rumor that he was gay was enough to get rid of him.

I buried my desires and did the best I could to fit in; I joined clubs in school, I played sports, and I dated girls. In fact, in my senior year of high school, I wound up moving in with a woman a few years older than me. I can only imagine what my future would have been if not for my Christmas vacation trip to Maine to visit my family in 1981 at age 18.

My older brother, Jeffrey, was also visiting Maine from his home in New York City. One night he mentioned he was going out with some friends. I asked to tag along, knowing that I couldn't get into a bar unless I was with someone older; the drinking age at the time in New York was 18, but in Maine it was 19. After saying "no" to me a dozen times, he finally sat me down and told me he was going to a gay bar. This was how my brother came out to me.

When I said I didn't care, he finally agreed to let me join him. I had butterflies in my stomach trying to come to terms with having a gay brother, learning that there was a place where gay people go to hang out, and wondering if all those feelings I had stuffed would come bursting out. We went to the Underground and I was introduced to all of my brother's friends, the people he came out to when he was my age.

It was such an eye-opening experience that I moved to Maine once I graduated that summer and started making friends of my own at the Underground. For the first time in my life, I felt like being different wasn't such a bad thing after all. Though I might have thought about being gay before, it wasn't until I moved to Maine that I knew it was okay to be gay. Like the lyrics of the 1984 Bronski Beat song, "Smalltown Boy," I moved to Maine to find the answers I couldn't find at home. And to this day, many of my friends tease me about the fact that I moved from New York to Maine to come out — only because I didn't know there were gay bars anywhere else.

_David Swander Jacobs

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