Parting Shot: 'Outed' by Association
By Mark J. LucasPublished June 1, 2012
My best friend Dane came out of the closet when he was 17.
We were driving on Riverside Drive, in a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. I was riding shotgun, and my friend Chris was driving. When we stopped for the light at Hayden Run Road, I asked what we were up to that evening. The conversation went like this:
Me: “So, you guys wanna see a movie later?”
Dane: “We could do that.”
Chris: “Oh hey, by the way…you know that Dane is a big old queer, right?”
Me: “Ha! Yeah.”
(a second long pause)
Dane: “No, really.”
(a third, extra-long pause)
Me: “Wait…are you serious?”
Chris: “Super gay, man.”
(the fourth pause)
Me: “Well, that explains a lot.”
It did explain a lot.
Dane was eyeballs deep in women, and never seemed to be interested in any of them. Every girl I ever liked, after talking to me for any length of time, would end up shifting the conversation over to Dane. A fair amount of girls I’d approach in high school would look at me curiously for a moment, not immediately recalling who I was (despite the fact that they were my lab partner/date to homecoming/girlfriend) then perk up and say, “OH! You’re Dane’s friend, right?”
“Uh … yeah.”
It never occurred to any of us that Dane was gay. If anything, he was the straightest-acting guy we knew. Later, he told us that he’d gone to extraordinary lengths to keep us from knowing he was gay. For some reason, that didn’t include dating any girls. Of course, since we weren’t looking for signs of homosexuality, we just assumed he was picky. Turns out he had a very particular taste in women: the kind that were guys.
Being his best friend, when Dane came out, I was “outed” as well, despite the fact that I was straight. The logic for high school kids was simple: Dane was gay; we were best friends; I must be gay. It didn’t help that I’d never dated a girl, but that wasn’t a choice I’d made. Being scrawny, consumed by acne and sporting a pair of extra-thick glasses didn’t exactly get me a lot of dates.
For a while there, my mother thought I might be gay. Again, no reason to think so, but once the idea was in there, it was in there. It was the third time she asked that it started to get old.
“Mom, for the third time … I’m straight.”
“Are you sure? You know Dad and I would still love you if you were gay.”
“What do I have to – wait a minute! Good God, I should hope you’d still love me if I was gay! Anyway, I’m not.”
“Cause it would be okay – ”
“What, do you want me to be gay?”
“We just want you to be you, no matter what.”
Desperate times = desperate measures.
“I looooove vagina, Mom. Can’t get enough of it. Man, I wish I had some vagina right now.”
“Okay, okay – ”
“No, really. Breasts, too. Man alive … do I love them titties!”
“Alright, you’re straight!”
Being best friend to a gay teenager meant being thrown into some situations that wouldn’t have otherwise come up. Naturally, Dane wanted to go meet some other gay guys. Where do you meet other gay guys? At a club. So, all he had to do was call up the other gay teenagers in our small town, and then hit the club scene downtown – oh, wait! He was the only openly gay student at our school, so the honor would fall to me.
He was my best friend, he needed my help. I wouldn’t want to go to a club of any sort by myself, either.
Cut to two 18-year-olds outside a huge gay dance club in downtown Columbus. Dane was dressed like a young gay man on a mission to meet dudes. As for me, I didn’t want to stand out, thus, I was forced to dress the part. I couldn’t just roll in there wearing a letter jacket and a backward hat (or so I thought – actually, that would have been the equivalent of a cheerleader showing up to a club, which would have made me stand out in a totally different way). So I’d thrown on my clueless impression of a gay guy, just to blend in. Tight jeans, button-up shirt, gelled hair, nice shoes. At one point I actually asked Dane if I looked okay.
“What the hell am I saying?! Let’s go.”
Just to recap, I’m a straight guy, dressed as a gay guy, in the company of another gay guy, outside a gay club, and I can’t figure out why my mother won’t believe I’m straight.
Later that summer, I was sitting at home with my girlfriend (yeah, it was about time), and Dane came pulling up in his car. For some reason, the antenna was bent forward. When I asked him about it, he laughed, and told me that he’d lost his virginity the night before.
On the hood of his car.
He’d met another guy on the Internet and they’d decided to rendezvous. It was halfway between Columbus and Canal Winchester, where the other guy lived. They met at a Waffle House, ate, drove out to the country, had sex – on the hood, quickly, before they were spotted – and each drove home.
We had a good laugh about it. The antenna looked ridiculous.
But something dawned on me then.
You’ve got to understand, this was before Glee was the biggest show on television. The only broadcast show that even had an openly gay lead was Will & Grace. There wasn’t Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. There wasn’t Perez Hilton or Tim Gunn or Modern Family.
There was Matthew Shepard. And then there wasn’t. That’s the world we lived in at the time.
I lost my virginity to my girlfriend on prom night. I bragged about it the next day.
For Dane, it went differently. He couldn’t really brag about it. I remember him telling me later that he was scared. I felt a little bit stupid having been so concerned that people would think I was gay. At the end of the day, I was straight, and I knew it. I didn’t have to wonder whether or not me being straight would cause me to get my ass kicked, or worse. Almost every movie underscored my sexual orientation, every love song on the radio the soundtrack to my relationships. Dane didn’t have any songs. Fortunately, he’s a pretty good piano player, so he could write his own, but it’s still not the same.
But maybe it will be.
Finally, after a couple millennia, the leader of the free world has come out in the open to say that he thinks we shouldn’t deny a significant portion of our hard-working citizens the basic right of marriage. Took long enough. They’ll look back one day at how things were a decade ago like we look at Jim Crow laws today, and they’ll probably do that because it’s the same thing.
When Dane came out of the closet, he didn’t turn me gay, despite the initial suspicions of my classmates. He turned me into an advocate. It was the first in a series eye-opening experiences that came to change the way I perceive the world. If he hadn’t, I’d probably have wound up doing something on Wall Street instead of being a writer – which I love being. In that way, I owe him quite a bit.
As a joke, for our 10-year high school reunion, he wrote on the Facebook page that he was excited to show up with his boyfriend, Mark Lucas.