At dinner, I told Mom and Dad about Scooter and Antwone and what we were trying to do. I also told them I would probably out myself in the next class and if not, soon anyway. Both assured me they would support me whether or not I decided to out myself.
Later, after I finished my school work, I got on my computer and gave Google a good work out. I found a lot of information about gay high school students, but not much aimed at what we had discussed. Most of the sites were out to damn gays to hell, get them cured or prove harassment of gays was good else they were about pro-gay lawsuits, gay school clubs and gay proms. We were just trying to find a way to let gay guys know they were not the only ones at East River, not start a revolution--at least not yet.
Well, we also wanted people like Keith to let gays know there were straight students who simply wanted everyone to be treated like human beings. And then I thought about lesbians. We hadn't mentioned them at all. Lot of the sites I found were those Derrick and I had looked at when we were learning about gay sex. Nothing new there.
I was having no luck at all—or too much—with “gay high school” as my search entry. Before I gave up completely I typed in “gay youth” and found “younggayamerica.com.” It looked very promising and I just started going down the list under General Resources. I was getting a lot of the same things I had before and was getting pretty discouraged. I decided I'd just give up when an entry under General Resources caught my eye. The Mail Crew sounded like it might involve communication and that was what we were after. I clicked on The Mail Crew and found a site that was exactly what we were looking for. It even had a “how-to-do-it” section.
When Keith picked me up the next morning, he said, “Man, I must have looked at a thousand gay sites last night. Every time I thought I was on to something helpful, I ended up at a porn site. Some of that stuff might turn you on, but to me it's just nasty.“
“Ever look at a straight porn web site?“
“Well, some of it turned me on, but mostly, to tell the truth, it kinda grossed me out. My brother, I do not NEED porn to get me hot and ready for action.“
“Same for me and gay web sites,“ I said. ”I think porn, gay or straight, is for guys who can't get it up. I have more trouble getting it down!“
“Know that's the truth, my brother,” Keith laughed. “Anyway, I did find a site called “Young Gay America” They have a section called Closet Interviews which are interviews of people who are not out. Interesting, sometimes depressing. Be good for people to know about it since you can do an interview and have it posted, but it's not like knowing someone else at your school is gay, even if you don't know who they are.”
“Wow, my man, you are thinking.”
“Yeah, well, see, I have this best friend who's gay.” Keith laughed.
Antwone and Scooter had done their searching at Scooter's place. “We found just what we are looking for,” Scooter said as the two caught up with me and Keith at our lockers.
“Yeah, Scooter is into reading gay porn...”
“No porn guys. Just good gay romances. I don't NEED porn to get me on 'Ready.'”
“He's right about that,” Antwone said.
Keith and I started laughing our fool heads off and when we got control of ourselves, Keith told the two we had said the same thing about not needing porn to get it up. "Gay or straight, teen age males are always ready for action. It's always up or on its way up!" Keith added.
“Yeah, well, anyway, and no how, Scooter's always on the look out for a site which has stories that are more than just porn and an e-mail buddy from Utah—man, you talk about being in the closet. That whole damn state is in the closet. Did you know there are no gay Mormons?”
“Yeah, same as there are no gay African-Americans,” Scooter said, then added, “Get on with it, Lover Boy.”
“Yeah, right, anyway, his e-mail buddy gave him a heads up on a new site, “Awesome Dude,” which posts good stories. Awesome Dude talks about and has a link to a group called The Mail Crew. You would have thought they had an order from us for information and suggestions.”
Keith was laughing like an idiot before the two lovers had finished and when they had, he said, “Different route, but my brother Tom hopped in the truck today telling me about The Mail Crew.
As soon as we were allowed in the hall, we went to the media center and signed up for a computer and the four of us looked up The Mail Crew site and went over every thing on it again with a fine toothed comb. We were all taking notes and by the time the bell for homeroom rang, we had a pretty good idea of how it worked and were thinking about how to launch a similar program in a school where homophobes not only existed, but, to tell the truth, were allowed and, sad to say, sometimes encouraged, to harass students. Some teachers were also pretty homophobic. So, truth of the matter, we hadn't the foggiest idea of how to proceed at dear ol' East River Hi.
In Current Issues, the “discussion” which had started the day before was immediately re-opened.
“If you and your BOYFRIEND choose to be queer, then you need to be prepared to deal with good, religious people who KNOW having sex with another man is sinful. The Bible says it's a sin,” Sharon announced practically as soon as the bell rang.
“So?” Scooter asked. “So?”
“SO you're sinning when you're laying with Antwone as you would with a woman.”
“As I would lay with a woman? Maybe you don't understand, Sharon, but I don't LAY with women. Don't and don't want to. The very thought is, I'm sure you would guess if you gave it a nanosecond's thought, kinda repulsive to me. Since I don't lay with women, I can't lay with Antwone as I would lay with a woman because, need I repeat, I'd never lay with a woman, so I guess that means I'm ok.”
“Well, you're not! You know what I mean.”
“Do you mean what you say or not?” Antwone asked. “I'm confused. Anyway, did you have shrimp poppers for lunch or the fish?” Antwone asked.
“What has that got to do with anything? If you must know, I had the fish, as if it mattered.”
“Well, it does, oh it does,” Scooter said. “Because the Bible says you're not to eat shellfish or fish without scales and the fish was catfish. No scales.”
“That no longer counts. Jesus did away with that,” Sharon said, a bit of triumph in her voice.
“Oh, you pick and choose what counts and what doesn't. So what did Jesus say about my having sex with Antwone?” Scooter asked.
“Well, OF COURSE he said nothing about YOU. I don't recall what he said about laying with a man like you would with a woman, but I'll find out and, anyway, I KNOW he said it was a sin.”
The argument went on for awhile with Scooter and Antwone pinning Sharon's ears back a few more times. Finally Mr. Greene decided to get the class back on track and said, “First point, 'Jesus says' is support for a valid argument for Christians and only Christians, but you cannot use one religion's scriptures to prove or disprove something to a nonbeliever. Second point, even Christians are divided on the issue of homosexuality. The question is being debated in most Christian communions today. If you are an active Christian, maybe you'd like to find out what your particular group says. If you're not a Christian, choose another religion—not necessarily your own—and find out it's position on gay relationships.”
When the bell rang, Scooter, Antwone, Keith and I asked Mr. Greene if we could see him after school and he told us to come by his room.
When we got to his room, he was talking with another teacher and we stopped outside and peeped in. He motioned for us to come on in.
“Guys, I'll be with you in a minute,” he said as we walked in.
When he and the other teacher had finished talking, he came over to where we were sitting and sat down in a desk. “Wha'sup?” he asked.
“We're concerned about gay people here at East River,” Scooter said. “I'm sure you know that Antwone and I are not the only gay men going to school here and there are bound to be gay women as well.”
“If the percentages hold up, there should be about a hundred-eighteen more. Right?” Mr. Greene said.
“Well, I guess a hundred-seventeen,” I said. “I'm gay.”
Mr. Greene chuckled and asked, “How about you, Keith? Are you gay?”
“No, I'm the token straight in this bunch, but definitely gay-friendly. Of course, I wasn't always and that's why I'm concerned about the other gay students.”
“Keith, I bat for your team as well,” Mr. Greene said, “but because I am, I guess, effeminate in a lot of my mannerisms, I have been called gay and been asked if I were gay more than once. I'm glad you four are concerned, but what are you planning on doing about it?”
Among the four of us, we told him about The Mail Crew and Young Gay America and Mr. Greene became increasingly interested.
“You guys willing to start and run a site similar to the one you describe? The Mail Crew site, I mean?”
“Sure,” Scooter replied. “Antwone and I have seen little difference since we outed ourselves in your class, but I don't think that would be typical.”
“I know you're right,” Keith said. “You two are football heroes and big enough to discourage harassment. I suspect that might be true of Tom as well, except he's a honkie and that is enough to get him harassed from time to time. Right, my brother?”
I didn't answer for a couple minutes as I had a flask back to the Major and his tirades against “honkie faggots,” a group to which he assigned me. “Indeed,” I finally answered. “Mr. Greene, you said your effeminate mannerisms meant some have called you gay or asked if you were gay. Have you been harassed for being gay, even though you are straight?”
“Yeah, like Scooter and Antwone had been left along because they do not fit the stereotype, I have been harassed—especially in high school—because I do fit a stereotype. There has been some harassment here at East River.”
“Not by students?” Keith asked.
“Not to my face or where I could hear it,” Mr. Greene answered. “After all, everyone knows I put the grades in the book,” he laughed. “No, it's from parents and seldom directly. See, as a white teacher, I, as all the white teachers here at East River, have black parents who want us gone—and I suspect we would be if 1) there was not a federal court ruling which says each school in the system must reflect—as closely as possible—the racial make up of the entire system and 2) black teachers could be found who would teach here. So, no, it's the parents who use my effeminate mannerism against me. I try to be conscious of them and change and I have eliminated some, but it's just the way I am put together I guess.”
“Like being gay?” I asked.
“Like being gay,” Mr. Greene smiled.
We talked for another half hour and decided we'd just get things together and announce the creation of a Mail Crew type program for East River. Since we figured we'd have a web site sooner or later, we didn't want to use The Mail Crew as our name and chose “Secret Pals” tentatively.
Seems Scooter and Antwone were up on web site building and they went right to work, checking with me and Keith and The Mail Crew often. When we were ready to announce, we discussed the most effective way to do that and decided the flier method which was well-known at East River would be the best route and beat posters which we sure be torn down by the time they were up.
Fliers are common around East River. Half a sheet of letter sized paper, they were used to announce parties. The parties were not like social events for a group of friends, but parties organized by one of the several DJs associated with someone at East River. They were held in empty warehouses, closed stores, any large open space in a building with plenty of parking. The cost was usually ten dollars for men and women were often free or half price.
The police tried to ride herd on such parties, but a flier usually appeared Friday and the party was Friday night. The kids got to the place, went inside and the doors were closed and what appeared to the outside was an empty building. Sometimes the fliers only gave a phone number and when a person called, they were given directions which left them in the middle of no where. After they were checked out by hidden party sponsors, their cell phone rang and the location given.
Why all the secrecy? Free flowing (but NOT free) alcohol, plenty of drugs—especially Ecstasy—and sex made the parties what they were and why the police frowned on the whole undertaking. Last year a north county--rich and white north county--party got out of hand and a couple people--one a thirteen year old--died of alcohol poisoning. Another party in south county resulted in the death of a fourteen year old guy and critical injuries to three others when someone—and he was white--went wild with a gun. Victims of drug overdoses in both north and south were common, some fatal.
Anyway, Keith was pretty good at drawing and he drew a cartoon to be used for the flier and we got them printed up. The party fliers were just left on desks, lunch tables, stuck in car windows and under windshield wipers. We printed up three hundred and did the same. We got all of them where someone could see one before lunch. At lunch, they were a topic of conversation—both pro and con.
We had decided to do a nightly rotation for e-mail answering and Keith had Friday night and I had Sunday. The response was slow. Antwone was disappointed, but I pointed out that students had to take a giant step to write and had to have a level of trust. “I predict the pace will pick up quickly,” I said, and it did.
Mr. Greene was very pleased with the site and how we were handling it. A couple weeks after we had announced the site, he said, “Class, I have been looking at a web site. It is maintained, it says, by East River students, but there are no names. Some of you might want to check it out. It's called Secret Pals and is for 'gay, bi,transgendered, confused, straight and the just curious.' I'm still trying to figure out who's not included!”
The following class period, Secret Pals was the topic of discussion. Sharon, of course, was on her soapbox. She hadn't really looked at the site she said, but was ready, willing and able to demand it be taken down. She said she wasn't sure why Mr. Greene mentioned it and “It has to be done by cowards since they won't say who they are.”
Scooter had become a thorn in Sharon's flesh and decided, I suppose, to twist the thorn. “I'm not surprised. If I had anything to do with a site directed to gays and so on, I'd not like to have everyone know where I lived or my school. There are a lot of people out there who want to hurt us. Hate crime is not some abstract concept, Sharon. What happened to Matthew Shepard got nation-wide attention and was particularly horrendous, but it's only an extreme example.”
“Oh, how DRAMATIC, Scooter!” Sharon said. “How very like a GAY boy.”
Shawn, a fellow who seldom said much, stood up and said, “Sharon, gay or straight, I still think you have a stereotype for everyone and everything. It saves thinking. Or is it you don't think because you don't have the equipment for it? I have never heard you utter a statement which reflects any thought at all. And Sharon, I DO wish you'd release your verbal Cap Lock key."
That last comment by Shawn brought the class to its feet, cheering while Shawn did a Muppets' Miss Piggy exhibition.
Shawn was a bit effeminate and Keith and I had thought he might be gay, but certainly weren't sure. When I mentioned the possibility again, Keith said, “You know, we are guilty of stereotyping. There is no reason to believe Shawn is gay except he's kinda effeminate.”
“Guilty,” I answered.
Over the next few weeks, Secret Pals received more and more e-mails, about one third hate mail, one third out to save our souls and one third serious.
One evening as I opened the e-mail for Secret Pals, I took a deep breath as I read:
“Dear Secret Pal:
I am a senior at East River and have been called names since I was in grade school--sissy, candy ass nigger, faggot, queer, pansy, fruit, bitch--you name it. I have been beat up a few times, had urine poured in my locker, girl's panties put in my backpack, stripped and left on the athletic field in grade school and my pants taken and my dick dyed red with ink in high school.
I thought I was tough enough to stand up to it all, but lately it's gotten worse. Something happens everyday. Today three football gorillas drove pass me as I was walking home from school, turned around and came back. They jumped out of their car, grabbed me and dragged me into the car. Two of them held me while the third drove to a place in the piney woods two or three miles from school.
They dragged me out of the car and back off the field road where they had to leave the car. They made me get down on my knees and told me if didn't suck their dicks they would fuck my faggot ass. Two of them held me while I sucked the third. Each time when they got ready to cum, they shot off in my face. When they finished with me, they left me in the pines and I had to walk the three miles to my house.
See, I am straight. I don't hate or dislike gays. I don't hate anyone, but I sure don't like people who mistreat people. I know why I am called names and all. It's because “you walk like girl and act like a girl,” my father says. I've tried to change and I have changed some habits, but a lot of how I walk and all is just the way I am.
Oh, I didn't tell my parents. No need. My father would, again, tell me if I didn't act like a candy ass nigger, such things wouldn't happen. My mom won't do or say anything because when she does, my father yells at her and tells her she's responsible for my being a sissy.
In Contemporary Issues class I have tried to stand up for people who are different, but it has only made my torture worse. I had to get rid of my own phone because I was being called all hours of the night. I planned to start riding the Big Cheese to school because when I walk, I get shouted at and afraid I'd be attacked. I'm afraid most of the time and even when I sleep, I have nightmares.
I'll be honest, I am about ready to chuck the whole thing. How worth living is life when you're afraid all the time, when any dumb jock can make a cock sucker out of you?
Thanks for listening.
A Miserable Senior”
“Want to make a bet on who wrote that?“ I asked Keith when I called him about it.
“It sure fits Shawn, doesn't it? I can't think of anyone else in Issues it fits."
“My thoughts exactly. What are we going to do about it?”
“You are going to answer it. You've been there. You've tried to take your life. You know it solves nothing.”
“Do you hear yourself?” I asked. “You never got around to trying, but you certainly were where this fellow is. Right?”
“Hard for me to believe, but, yes, I was.”
I spent an hour working on a response. Called Keith and we worked on it some more. We finally wrote:
“Dear Miserable Senior:
Few people, I suspect, can say honestly, “I know how you feel.” We can come close because both of us have stood where you are standing. One of us actually did the deed, but was rescued in the nick of time. Here's some things to think about--
You are very important to some people now and others who have not met you yet. Don't take away from them the pleasure and joy of knowing you, respecting you, caring for you, loving you.
Taking your life is permanent. Things change, people change. Who knows what the future holds? The truth of the matter is, it holds nothing if you are not here. Any dreams you have become null and void if you are not here to make them come true.
Make a list of all the things you love and ask yourself why you would want to give them up.
Don't let your father put you down. It doesn't matter that he seems to think you brought your treatment on yourself. You didn't, so don't let him tell you just to buck up and be a man. You are a man.
Help is always available, but you have to ask for it. Speak to a counselor at school. Talk with a favorite teacher. Ask another student to sit down and talk with you. Talk to the police. You were kidnapped and sexually abused.
Write us back or, if you like, tell us who you are so we can make ourselves available to you. If you let us know who you are, we can give you the name of a policemen who will listen.
Finally, give serious thought to making those who harass you unhappy by sticking around! Don't let the bastards wear you down!!
Your Secret Pals
P. S. For all our protection, you need to make sure we are on the up and up and we need to do the same. Ask us a test question and please answer ours.
Question: Who at East River talks with her Caps Lock key on?”
We talked a long time before we agreed we'd send the e-mail. We were scared shitless by the weight of what we were trying to deal with, but we had asked for it.
The next day when we got to school, we looked up Scooter and Antwone and asked them what they thought of our letter. Both said it probably could be better, but they were as ignorant of how as we were. I think all of us were more than a little relieved when we saw Shawn walk into the cafeteria at lunch.
Later, as we were walking into Contemporary Issues, Shawn was just ahead of us and as he passed Sharon's desk said, in a clear voice, “You know, Sharon, I have decided you really don't count in my world or in the eyes of most of the people in the world. You call yourself religious, but you spew hate and disdain anyone who does not meet the Sharon test of purity. Frankly if God made me as uptight and bitchy as you are, I'd put in for a god change. So go your little bigoted way, but stay out of my space.“ Shawn turned to walk to his desk and as he did, gave his booty a ”shake, rattle and roll.“ Sharon's mouth was still open when the bell rang.
“Dear Secret Pals:
I felt good today. Thanks for your e-mail. Yeah, thanks, I needed that.
Today I decided name calling and that kind of shit would just slide off of me and mostly it did. I even got the courage to tell Sharon where to go. It caught her by surprise and she not only had nothing to say with her Caps Lock key down, she had nothing to say, period.
I'm thinking about letting you know who I am. It's kinda frightening, you know. Same with talking to the police. I'll have to think about that some more.
I talked to my mom before my father got home and told her I thought we should stand up to him and not let him keep putting us down. She's afraid he'll leave and she would be without house or home. I don't think she'll do anything and I'm afraid if I challenge the old man, he'll put me on the street.
Thanks for paying attention to me. I'm still hanging in there.
A Less Miserable Senior
P. S. If you don't believe Sharon Ellis talks with her CAPS LOCK key down, drop by Contemporary Issues sixth period any day.
Challenge: Name a senior on the volleyball team.”
Scooter had the Secret Pals ship's helm and called us to ask about the volley ball team. It hardly needs saying that it did not attract the following the football team did and he wasn't sure who was on it. I laughed to myself and suggested he call Keith and ask. The next day he told me I had played a nasty trick on him. "Just letting you know there are sports which neither require a gorilla brain or body," I retorted.
Scooter had written Less Miserable senior, acknowledging it was frightening to take a risk such as he had and encouraging him to continue the new path he was on. Scooter was realistic, but praised the steps he had taken and underscored our willingness to help saying we were standing by to help "as needed."
Before lunch, we checked with each other between classes, asking if anyone had seen Shawn. No one had.
Seniors had a section in the cafeteria reserved for them and we all expected to see Shawn in his usual place. He was not.
By sixth period and Contemporary Issues we were four very uptight students. Scooter had an inside tract with the Attendance Clerk and took off for her office as soon as Issues class finished. He met us in the parking lot after school and told us Shawn was not in school and there was no answer when the automatic machine had called his house. That helped our worrying, NOT.
"You know where he lives?" Antwone asked.
Keith and I both shook our heads, then Keith said, "Why don't we do what we told Shawn? Why don't we go to the police--well, one policeman?"
"You guys trust the police? You must not live in East Point," Scooter said.
"We don't. We live in College Park and we trust the police, but especially one gay policeman."
"What are we waiting for?" Scooter asked.
"Follow us," I said as I climbed into Keith's truck.
As soon as we were under way, I got the cell phone out of the glove compartment and dialed Joe's number. The machine answered. I then asked Keith if he remembered the police station's number and he reminded me it was in the phone's memory.
I dialed the station, identified myself and asked for Joe. The dispatcher responded, "Hi, Tom. How you doin'?"
"Fine, Ellen, but worried about a friend of mine. Joe around the station?"
“Afraid not. He went out on an emergency about 10:00 and is still wrapped up in it. You at home?"
"No, I'm on Keith's cell." I gave her the number when she asked and told her we were heading to my place to wait for Joe's call.
When I told Keith Joe was answering an emergency call he had taken about noon, Keith responded, "Why do I have a feeling that may involve Shawn."
I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Author's note: The Mail Crew and Young Gay America are real and were located by the process described in the story (although I have known about The Mail Crew for some time now.)