“Five years have past” wrote William Wordsworth in one of my favorite poems, “five summers with the length/Of five long winters” as he revisited the banks of the Wye a few miles above Tintern Abbey. And I multiply his five by five as I return to Cincinnati for my twenty-fifth high school reunion.
To be sure, unlike that great Romantic, I have returned multiple times to the subject of my writing. And my memories of my high school years aren’t nearly as sweet as were his of the rugged riparian region. Indeed, as recently as ten days ago, I was not planning on returning. But, a call from a classmate prompted me to reconsider my decision and realizing that a trip to the city of my birth would also afford me the occasion to see three of the PatriotNiecesWest, one of whom joined me for breakfast this morning — and to see as well the infant PatriotNephewWest (whom I am now watching). Just seeing these two was well worth the increased price of buying a plane ticket so close to my departure — and the aggravation of a red-eye flight from Los Angeles.
As I prepare to join my classmates tonight for our first event of the weekend, I reflect on the changes of the past twenty-five years. I knew some of the people I will see tonight in my earliest childhood, having started at this private school when I was in kindergarten. One man I have seen occasionally over the years. Another woman I haven’t seen in a quarter-century. And yet I had seen her nearly every day from when we were five years old until I graduated from high school. I remember when she came over to my house when I was five or six; everyone says that we made such a cute couple.
I am certain tonight that I will bring up this blog and those who don’t already will know I am gay. I was certainly aware of my feelings for men when I was in high school, but I had not then made the link between those feelings and the word “gay.” The world has changed so much since then.
I recall the last time I was in the Buckeye State, six months ago, when I returned to celebrate Passover with my family — and to speak to my oldest nephew’s high school, presenting a conservative view of gay rights. It struck me then, as it strikes me again today, how meaningful was that talk exactly twenty-five years after my own senior year.
At my nephew’s high school, there was something unheard-of when I was a teenager, a school Gay-Straight Alliance with an openly gay teacher as faculty advisor. Not only did I attract a standing-room only crowd, but I learned later that even the high school principal had come to hear me speak. What moved me more than anything was that the second eldest PatriotNephewWest, a very straight young man, not only came to hear his gay uncle speak,* but had brought along his best friend. It didn’t phase him that he had a gay uncle.
So has America changed — and changed for the better — in the twenty-five years since I graduated from high school. Instead of trying to explain away their feelings (as did I), gay teenagers can begin exploring their sexuality at the same time as do their straight peers. And let us hope that such exploration includes a moral education as well as the liberation of coming to terms with one’s own feelings.
What I learned when I returned to the Buckeye State this past spring is that today’s teens, unlike those from when I was in high school, are more accepting of their gay peers. This current social environment makes it possible that a young person coming to terms with his attraction to members of his own gender no longer feel ashamed of his attraction. While that attraction may distinguish him from his peers, acknowledging it need not make him a pariah. And young straight people don’t distance themselves from gay relatives as once they did.
Something to celebrate as I prepare for my own twenty-fifth reunion.
Bear in mind that these changes have taken place in a period when Republicans served in the White House for all but eight years. While my party certainly is less pro-gay than the Democratic, this gradual social progress has continued despite its political prominence. Something to ponder as we look forward to the next twenty-five years. It is not politics, but from the good will of the American people and our private institutions where we can expect to see the greatest social improvement.
-B. Daniel Blatt (GayPatriotWest@aol.com)
*Unlike his older brother, this nephew was not a member of the school’s conservative club sponsoring the lecture.