When I was a Senior in high school, we moved, and I had to adapt to a new home. This was not too burdensome for me. We had moved at the beginning of my high school time, and I was at a school that was 85% Native American, 10% Hispanic, and the rest was the rest. Being in the minority can be very instructive for those who wish to learn to read people. When the entire culture operates on different unspoken systems, the individual must learn to look and listen in order to get along.
I say all that to reflect on a discussion I somehow joined in the new high school my senior year. There was a girl there, athletic and clever, who had to ride the bus to get to school. Somehow in Pre-Calc we got into a conversation about the rights of humans to live the way they wanted to live. I found myself defending the rights of gay men to be openly gay. This kind of discussion wasn’t nearly as common in those long ago days. This girl was talking about how people had to behave, had to control their “evil impulses” (I believe is how she put it). She described a scene in which men were dancing with other men, holding hands with other men, kissing other men–in public. I was arguing from a strictly theoretical position. I has gown up in really small country towns, and I thought she was being hyperbolic, but I still argued that if they were adults, they were surely allowed to decide how they wanted to behave, both privately and publicly, as long as it was lawful. She threw up her hands. She said she found that idea “personally disgusting.” I remember those words exactly. She was so madly vehement. I was trying to reason. I did not have strong feelings about homosexuality, to tell the truth. I had strong feelings about the rights of the individual.
I was partly surprised by her unfettered and raw emotions because I had the distinct impression she “preferred the ladies.” I didn’t have a problem with that. She didn’t prefer me, or anything. She just had a distinctly “tomboy” aura, which was what we called some latent lesbians in those days. Given my understanding of her unspoken messages, I didn’t understand her spoken ones.
Now I think I may. In Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” the Wife explains that people don’t like it when you criticize them honestly. Tell people the truth about their faults and they will “kick.” This seems to be what happens to people who are too vehemently opposed to things that later turn out to be their truths–the truths of which they are ashamed. I think it’s true for me as well. It’s salt in the wound.
I don’t know quite what made me think of this girl today. I haven’t seen her in years. I feel sad when I think of her. She carried herself as if she were contending with a ferocious inner grief. I hope she came to feel better about life, about her own interests and desires. Is it presumptuous to think I have her pegged? I really think Chaucer had her pegged, her and me and just about everyone else. The truth hurts.