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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Out and (Not Quite Ready to Be) Proud at the Cheesecake Factory

A couple of months ago, I remember it being a warm October Sunday afternoon, hubby and me decided to take a drive somewhere. Where? We didn't know. Just wanted to get out and enjoy the blue sky and the afternoon. Now here in Portland, like most metro areas, you've got your core city (where we live) and then the suburbs (where we seldom go). The city we live in voted 75% for John Kerry. We don't need to go anyplace else for any particular reason. The counties around us, however, not quite so blue. And on this day, we started driving...out away from the downtown core....over the West Hills...out to the suburbs and then a little south to Washington Square Mall in Washington County....mostly Republican, mostly white, mostly well off. Conservative, as the mall made us aware. It was filled with well-dressed folks with plenty of disposable income. Lots of trendy high schoolers with daddy-padded pockets. We hadn't been out there in years, many years. We pull in, the place is packed, and we notice a Cheesecake Factory restaurant. Hey, let's have lunch! So, you know the story, the place is wall-to-wall people, bleach-blond hair and big boobs on mommy, daddy with an "I'm a successful white businessman" look on his face and plenty of screaming children (why would you come out here??). We put our names on the list and are handed one of those buzzer vibrator deals (no, not THAT kind, silly). We're eyeballing the yummy cheesecakes lined up in the display case while tucked neatly among, what seemed like, the other half of the state of Oregon. God, I know now why I don't like to end up in these kinds of situations. Somewhere behind us, I hear a voice:

"Hey, have you guys been here before?" We turn and see a couple of good looking younger guys sitting down behind us waiting for their table too.

"Well, we haven't been to this particular one before" (and probably won't go back again either) "but we have been to a Cheesecake Factory in another city."

"Oh," the spokesman of he two says. "So, is the food good?" he questions.

"Yea, the food is pretty good."

"So, how are the sandwiches," he asks. The sandwiches? What is he talking about. He seems a little nervous and kind of looking around a little.

"Sandwiches are good," I tell him.

He nods his head, his dark hair falling across his ears and down on his forehead a little...kind of shaggy like seems to be the style now. He's sitting next to his friend, a guy about his same age, only blond. Nice looking, both of them. T-shirts and jeans, a couple of shopping bags from The Gap or Abercrombie & Fitch or something.

Still nervous and a little hesitant, he sort of pokes his thumb toward his friend and then back at himself as he says "We're together."

"Oh," I say. "How old are you guys?" I ask.

"15" is the answer. Great, I've got my grandchildren in front of me. Cuter than hell, but I know they were looking past my salt-and-pepper hair and for my AARP card. You know, seeing if they could get daddy in the grave soon and steal his cash.

"15," I exclaim......"Wow. How long have you guys been together," I ask.

"A year. Are you guys together?" he wants to know.

I nod my head as he asks me "if it's fun being together?"

"Yea, sure, it's fun most of the time....but not all of life is fun," I tell him, "but mostly it's a good deal."

I ask him if anybody at his school knows he's gay. Nope is the answer. How about your family, my partner asks him....still, the answer is no. Nobody knows. His dark, handsome eyes are about as big as quarter dollars as we have this little conversation. I doubt it's ever happened before.

"I got kicked off the football team," he says as he tugs at his gray Tualatin High School t-shirt. "They were making fun of me and calling me names and stuff, so I quit."

"I go to Tigard High School," blondie chimes in. (They can both keep talking forever as far as I'm concerned.) Now, Tigard and Tualatin are two suburbs next to each other down near the mall. Still, both are white, well off, and not that well known for their openness to alternative thoughts or lifestyles. Their buzzer goes off about this time and the waitress is ready to take them to their table. They stand up and start to head off but not before they both extend their long arms and shake our hands, both my partner's and my hands. My gosh, cute and polite.....I didn't know we had any of that left. They head out of view and we head to our table soon after. We both sat there, staring at each other, and wondering what in the hell just happened. Strangest and weirdest experience ever. I mean, two 15-year-olds who are not out, introduce themselves to us and start asking questions and then out themselves to us, in a public setting. Not an everyday occurrence for me, anyway. We just kept talking about the whole thing, going back over the conversation. I felt so sorry for them. Not being able to be out and be who they truly are inside. And, being made fun of? Don't even get me started. I'm afraid that I'd take a swing at the guys that made fun of them (I talk pretty big for a little guy). So, I ask my hubby if I should give them our phone number or email address or something in case they ever needed to talk or needed help. "No," he says, "they're under age." Well, what could be so wrong with just letting them know so that they could call if they needed something. So, against his better judgment, I borrow a pen from the wait person and scribble down my phone number and email address on the back of the Cheesecake Factory napkin. Before I head out to find their table, I do a double-check of the area...making sure that their mommy or daddy are no place nearby. Remember, they don't have driver's licenses yet so who knows how they got to the mall....could be a parent nearby (maybe daddy is handsome....hum). I put the napkin on their table and tell them if they ever need anything, feel free to call. Again, they thank me and put their hands out to shake mine. I can't believe this! They are so handsome, so polite, and so fearful.

We never heard a word. Didn't really expect to. My partner warned me that it wouldn't be pretty if their mom found my phone number laying on the floor among his dirty clothes and next to his bed. Oh well, I told him, I'd just have to deal with that if it happened. I couldn't worry about that right now, I only had the one chance to make sure they had the opportunity for help if they wanted it. I had to do what I thought was right. So, we finished our pizza, salad, and Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes (excellent and off of the appetizer menu if you go). We talked about this crazy story for weeks and, really, still are. My neighbor lady was in tears over the whole deal. She is a middle school teacher and says she sees this kind of thing all of the time. I've also recently had another friend asking me about coming out. I guess I've forgotten those dark days....and they really haven't been that long ago, even for me.

If you're still hiding out in the closet and reading this, here's a place for some information for you. The Human Rights Campaign has excellent resources available as do other organizations. Make sure you make balanced, healthy decisions that are good for the long-term of your life. Don't make them with stress, strain or any human manipulation. Make them because you're an amazing individual. Make them with as much confidence as you can find, hold your head high, and, in your own perfect timing, go tell someone......"I'm Gay," even if it's at the Cheesecake Factory. I'd be glad to listen.


Will said...

I think what you did really is risky, but also very human and wonderfully caring. My husband has worked in secondary education in some form for all of his life and is convinced that much (if not most) teen suicide is caused by persecution over sexuality.

Just the fact that you sought them out to give them your number will probably provide support for quite some while.

Michael said...

What a sweet story. And ya know, I sadly see both sides of what you and the hubby were talking about. But I think you did the right thing. Sometimes that outstretched hand means a lot. Wish someone had done that for me when I was that age.

Matt said...

Lewis, this is a great post. Strange thing that happened, yes ... but positive for your partner and you as well as the boys.

Funny, my cousin (whom I wrote about on my blog) knows a young man in Oregon who is struggling with his sexuality vs. the church, and asked me if she could point him toward my blog and potentially getting in touch with me. Kind of a cool feeling that in any small way, you can help someone just coming to terms with their lives.

Spider said...

I think you did the right thing - reaching out and making yourself available... how many of us would have come out sooner or been more comfortable when we did if we had known people like you! You sure paid that one forward - and I know that those guys will do the same!

For what it is worth, I am proud of you!

Ryan said...

awesome post i think what u did was right i think more people need 2 b like that. i know me as a gay youth didnt have the worries some do coz my parents were and r very supportive of me but a lot of kids dont have it like that and people like u make it easier 2 come out and have someone 2 talk 2 if they need it.

Trailhead said...

That was a very kind thing you did, Lewis.

Funny, it's all relative. We live and work in the 'burbs, and they still seem far more liberal than most of Indianapolis, where we came from!

Greg said...

A risky thing, giving out your phone number like that, but I believe it was a good thing.

Jon Cox said...

Oh WOW!!!! That is such a beautiful story & experience. I think that soooo incredible that they just came out and told you both. VERY Inspiring! :o)

Steven said...

Fifteen? Fuck, even I coulg be their father.

Six Shooter said...

This is a great story. But don't you hate the fact that society has made everyone afraid to be good samaritans for fear of "consequences."