The drive from Port Huron, Michigan to the small town of Clare is dark and chock full of dead deer. We were so hungry and ready for dinner by the time we were driving on that highway, even the dead deer looked strangely appetizing.
Fortunately, we had Ponderosa waiting for us. Seeing as how this was the north woods of Michigan in hunting season, we’d expected to encounter deer. What we hadn’t expected to encounter was a huge crowd of gay boys meeting us for Ponderosa buffet. Sure, we knew we’d be meeting up with Nick and “a friend or two,” but somehow – probably out of our prejudiced minds – we didn’t actually think that a bunch of happy, well-adjusted gay dudes would be living regular lives up here in Clare. Guess it goes to show you that young gay people really are everywhere.
Our preconceived notion of Clare as a place where it must be difficult to be young and gay was happily shattered into a billion pieces as we chatted over dinner at the Ponderosa. It’s so cool how this world is changing faster than we can even realize. Gay kids are an essential part of life everywhere in America, now. What an amazing thing to be able to say.
YGA: Tommy, who’s that on your shirt?
TOMMY: Alanis. She’s my hero. I love her.
JANELLE: He used to love Rainbow Brite more.
NICK: Janelle’s Tommy’s sister.
TOMMY: She’s str8. She likes everything we like.
JESSE: This is so wild, you guys, I feel like I’m on the Real World or something.
YGA: Tell us about Michigan a bit. We’re totally surprised to see you guys. We kinda didn’t expect there to be any real life gay boys in Clare.
NICK: There are a lot of us, actually. Some of us are from here, some are from Harrison.
TOMMY: We’re located right here in the heart of Michigan.
(he points to his palm. This is one of the most hilarious traditions in America. People from Michigan raise their hand and point to their city’s location. Do people from Italy point to their foot? Where do people from Florida point?)
NICK: Clare is the gateway to the north and Harrison is the playground of the north.
TOMMY: Harrison is the reason that Clare is the welfare capital of Michigan.
DEAN: Do you have any clue how many closeted guys there are here? On the football team, for example. In 8th grade I was seeing this guy who was on the football team his freshman year, he told me all these stories of how jocks do homo-type stuff in the locker room and what not. He’s closeted. There are a LOT of closeted people.
JESSE: I can understand that. They’re scared. Scared of rejection.
JOE: Jesse and I went to school together. It was a really small school.
YGA: How many people?
JOE: 52 people in our senior class.
JESSE: With 40 drop-outs!
YGA: But you’re both out.
JESSE: I’m out to friends, coworkers, family, even people I don’t want to know that I’m out I’m out to.
YGA: It’s just so hard to believe there’s so many out guys around here.
NICK: There’s lots more. These are just the guys we like. J
TOMMY: How’d you get your scar, Benjie?
YGA: Kayaking. How’d you get yours?
DEAN: Looking out the window at a cute guy?
TOMMY: My sister hit me on the head with a golf club.
NICK: She shoulda hit you harder.
TOMMY: I’m looking into getting it removed.
JOE: No way I think its cute.
NICK: Don’t get it removed. Tommy wants to be a model.
JOE: I didn’t know that.
TOMMY: Any time you need someone, let me know. Anyone out there! What I’m wearing right now, this is trashy dress.
NICK: You just called Alanis trashy.
YGA: So Nick, tell us about your project Beginning the Journey. It sounds really neat.
NICK: Beginning the Journey is an educational organization assisting schools, places of business, and civic grops in educating their members on the effects of hate and to cultivate an understanding and appreciation for human diversity. ( www.beginningthejourney.cjb.net )
YGA: That’s so cool.
NICK: Right now I’m setting up a presentation at Michigan State.
YGA: How’d you get into it?
NICK: I went to a conference of New Light Media where most of the people were teachers and superintendents. One of the workshops that interested me most was the training of trainers workshops. Judy Shepard (Matthew’s mother) was there. I met a lot of people who were teachers and gained all these skills. But I had no existing medium to take my skills and tools back to. I had all this material but no where to use it. That was sorta the birth of Beginning the Journey.
JANELLE: Nick’s gonna change the world.
YGA: How long do you think it’ll take?
JANELLE: I don’t know but he’ll do it.
NICK: I really want to be out there on the front lines, speaking to people, etc.
YGA: Have you researched how to become a non-profit?
NICK: Oh yea. I’ve attended many workshops. I have all the paperwork from the state incorporating body.
JOE: He’s got his shit together.
JESSE: Sounds very familiar we’re learning in class. I’m a poly-sci major.
JOE: Well while you’re talking about it in class, Nick’s doing it.
YGA: Tim, what about you? You in school?
TIM: I start college on January 9th. Mid community college.
YGA: Where were you on September 11th, when the Trade Center got bombed.
TIM: Sleeping in bed.
YGA: How did you find out if you were sleeping?
TIM: My grandma came running in and told me we were being bombed.
TOMMY: The martians are coming!
YGA: Do you think today’s plane crash (in Queens, New York) was terrorism or freak accident?
JESSE: Just a freak accident.
NICK: Unrelated accident.
DEAN’S FRIEND WITH THE COOL HAT: Accident
NICK: Same as the anthrax. When the first anthrax thing happened, I thought there’s no way another country did it.
JESSE: I agree. I think it came from inside this country.
YGA: Who shakes their mail now when they open it?
NICK: I’m not worried.
JOE: I put mine in the microwave for five minutes.
YGA: Would you guys call yourselves patriotic?
TOMMY: I never was before. I’m a little more so now.
DEAN: I pledge allegiance.. to the Rainbow Flag?
JOE: I’m patriotic. I wouldn’t wanna live any place else. We may have it bad sometimes as gay youth but just think we could be in Afghanistan right now getting stoned to death by a bunch of guys in turbans.
YGA: Do you think America’s doing the right thing going after Osama bin Laden and the Taliban?
YGA: What would be the right thing?
JESSE: Not attacking a whole nation when you have one guilty party.
JOE: All those poor people they’re blowing up don’t have anything to do with it. All they’re doing is making people hate America. They’re breeding a bunch of five-year old Osama bin Ladens.
JESSE: I think we overreacted. To retaliate so quickly is unorthodox.
YGA: Do you think America is partially to blame for what happened on September 11th?
JOE: I think America is discriminatory. I think America is to blame because of our foreign policy. We treat people like crap. We get what we want and after we get what we want we drop them and say “seeya!” When Russia invaded Afghanistan we were buddies with the Afghanis and as soon as it was over we were like bye.
NICK: We don’t have an understanding and appreciation for human diversity.
JANELLE: I don’t know that much about politics, but I don’t like the way we treat other countries either. But I don’t know where to draw the line. I was watching TV a while ago and saw this thing where in some other country males are so dominant if they make a pass at some 12-year-old girl and she ignores him they can throw acid on her face. We can’t get involved in everything, we can’t go into tribes in Africa and tell them they can’t do that kinda stuff. I just don’t know where the line is drawn. We must be able to do something.
YGA: Do y’all have something you’d like to say to people reading this interview?
TOMMY: Alanis’ new CD comes out on February 26, only 124 days away. I’m not even kidding.
NICK: I don’t know him.
DEAN: Tommy and Nick, tell how you guys met.
NICK: I saw him at the fair, we eyed each other over the football game, we didn’t realize we were the same people until—
JESSE: Just like You’ve Got Mail!
TOMMY: He recognized me from seeing me at a football game. He’s like what’s your name? Tommy. Tommy from Clare? I went home and he emailed me at like 3 o’clock in the morning. Janelle’s like “Tommy! Nick called! Who’s Nick Tommy!? Who is he!?”
NICK: Coupla days later I’m in Clare and I’m like do you want a ride to work?
TOMMY: This is right after he’s being vaccinated for some weird disease.
NICK: A thousand people had to be vaccinated. There was an outdoor rave near Hogue’s Lake and some girl came with meningitis…
YGA: And you guys, Joe and Jesse, you’ve known each other since high school?
JOE: Well we knew each other in high school but we just re-met each other recently. A month ago my sister’s boyfriend came over and was like “guess what Joe, Jesse’s gay!”. He doesn’t know I’m gay; he’s really stupid. I’m like “OK.” He’s like “what, aren’t you gonna say something?” I’m like “no.” Fifteen minutes later I’m on the computer emailing Jesse.
YGA: You already knew each other but didn’t know you were gay.
JOE: Nope. We’re both not very stereotypical.
YGA: Do you feel there’s a certain way you have to act to be gay?
JOE: No way. I’m the most unstereotypical person in the world.
TOMMY: Except when he and Justin (Joe’s boyfriend) get in fights. Look out!
JOE: Everybody picks on me but I don’t care. I work for a linen company drivin a truck around. The other guys are all out talking about their bitches and stuff and I’m just like if these guys only knew.
JESSE: We are all so stereotyped by others. People think gay people act a certain way. Even now, people think if we are all sitting at the same table we must have something going on. My mom’s still like that. My job is to make her see otherwise.
YGA: How will you do that?
JESSE: Talk to her. Communicate. Tell her this is not the way we act. It can be really confusing for people. You see some gays that are out there fighting for our rights but all dressed in drag. There’s nothing wrong with that but for some people it makes it seem like that’s how all people act. There’s a lot of work to be done.
YGA: What do you think about stereotypes Janelle?
JANELLE: My best friend Justin is gay. Tommy and Nick. They’re all really different people that i met on adultfrienedfinder. One of my best girl friends just came out, too. No, I don’t think there’s a certain way. If you believed that, you’d have to say there was a certain way to be Straight!
YGA: Briefly, how much of a role does religion play in your lives?
JOE: I would go to church. I’m just too lazy. It’s too far to drive.
YGA: What about the rest of you. There’s this perception that you can’t be religious and gay, yet we’re meeting more and more people who are very religious and happily gay too.
NICK: It’s all about integrating your spirituality with your sexuality.
TOMMY: We like God.
NICK: The Biblical arguments that religious people use to condemn homosexuality are ungrounded and don’t hold any water. God created us in our entirety, even as sexual beings.
TOMMY: Nick and I go to the MCC church.
YGA: What’s that like. I know a lot of people wonder. Is it just like any other church?
TOMMY: Everybody always thinks it’s something different. But it’s really the same thing except the pastor is a lesbian. Otherwise it’s basically a very traditional service. You talk about all sorts of things. You don’t talk about sexuality every time you go.
NICK: One of the cool things is that since MCC and Unitarian churches are really the only places where a lot of people feel accepted, the people that go to those churches have very diverse backgrounds. We all come from different churches and there’s really a unique flavoring of people and backgrounds.
JANELLE: I used to go to a local church. They had an alternative service for high school students, which I went to a few times. One time when I went, the person was like “if you’re gay you’re gonna burn in hell.”
TOMMY: They actually preached this at our school.
JANELLE: I can not believe you can be a Christian and condemn someone else. The thing is, before Tommy came out I might have been the person to tell you that if you’re gay you’re gonna burn in hell. But since Tommy is someone I really care about I’ve changed my views. Now I find that attitude really offensive.
YGA: If every homophobic person just got to know one gay person a lot would change.
JANELLE: I agree.
YGA: Did you all come out or were any of you outed?
DEAN: I was outed. In 8th grade. I told best friend Amy. She was like my fag hag; I thought I could tell her everything. Turned out she had a crush on me. She told everyone about me and this closeted athlete guy I was dating. He went into this total denial mode. One day in locker room I was changing, and some of his friends came in with him and were like “are you the stupid queer sayin stuff about our friend, you better shut you’re fucking mouth!!” They had me against the lockers and they were tryin to get him to punch me. He wouldn’t do it. He refused. But he almost did it. He probably would have if the gym teacher hadn’t come in right then… I’m happy I was outed though. I might not have come out otherwise.
JOE: It’s hard. Even with how much better things are getting. For me coming out is more an issue about my family. I’m scared how they might get treated because of me being gay.
JESSE: My sister gets picked on in school all the time. I can just go to the gas station in Fulton and someone will slander.
JOE: That happened one time to me. I’d just gotten back inside the car and some guys were like “faggot!”
NICK: There’s still a lot of ignorance. I was in PrideYouthPrograms, which is a team of kids educating schools. We were in Columbus, at Coles department store, going out to go danging. I’m standing inside the girls’ dressing room area, while they were trying on outfits, making jokes and stuff. This lady in her 40’s slams out of one of the stalls. I had no idea she was in there! She goes “You shouldn’t be in here even if you are gay!” It was totally uncalled for. The girls came out, they started screaming at her. I couldn’t believe it.
YGA: But thanks to you guys, and all that you do, the future will only get better. Keep it up. It was so nice to meet you