My friends and I held a stimulating open forum debate recently on what categories young gay teenagers fell in to while growing up in the 90’s. High school is a notoriously difficult time for all young people as they develop and navigate social structures. Adding a sexual identity crisis on top of that forces teens to seek refuge in very distinct ways.
The general consensus is that there are three broad categories at play: ‘Escapism’, ‘Inclusion’ and ‘Too Gay to Hide It’. This list is by no means comprehensive, and seems to skew more suburban, but I present a list of the types of late 1990’s gay teen identities there were (as written by a 20-something gay man):
Grease-lovin, show tune-singin, fag-hag hair-braidin’, bandana-wearin’, theater dorks. They love the stage and the lights and Liza. Productions allow them to immerse themselves in worlds where nothing is left to chance. The story is already written and they can easily escape from their own ambiguous reality.
Comic Book Dorks:
A love for spandex, muscles and testosterone aside, the comic book dork shares a lot in common with their female counterparts: the teen princess. They were both looking for a knight in shining armor to sweep them off their feet and make the world a better place. Comic book dorks were the middle of the bus types; wall-flowers who felt far more comfortable as silent observers but yearned for the opportunity to be the hero, if only just once.
Over-Zealous Leadership Types:
AKA Spirit Queens. They were involved in everything and anything. Student government, glee club, Spanish club, FFA, 4H, SADD, new-student orientation and, my personal fave, pep rallies. These kids were the very embodiment of closeted gays desperately trying to be included and liked.
This category is usually dominated by the closeted jocks. No-one suspected them because, in the 90’s, gay men were firmly type-casted as being like Jack from Will & Grace. These guys deal with their deep dark secret by acting homophobic, dating girl after girl and/or losing themselves in the party scene. This trend usually lasts until after college or leads to the next category.
Thank gosh for Young Life! With so many retreats, bible studies, guitar practices and promise rings who has time to sin! As the gay urges begin to overpower these lost souls they will usually come out to a caring sister or cousin. Some of them disappear for about a month or so after that to pray the gay away!!
Too Gay to Hide It
Usually these guys experimented with the jock thing but after a season of wrestling decided to embrace their god-given strength, non-sexual relationship with hot girls and love of dance routines. They broke a lot of cheerleaders’ hearts by “not dating to focus on getting into college.”
Nicest guys ever. They agreed with the girls that the boys at their school were just SO immature. They had more fun cruising around town with the gals in the back of their convertible VW Cabriolet than playing video games and watching football — yawn!
Poor thing tried his best to keep it under wraps in middle school. Everyone knew he was gay. He usually came out his freshman year, crying to his best girl friend as she smiled, put her hand on his leg and said, “I know.”
It’s quite possible that the increasing acceptance of gay people among our youth will blur the lines completely between these categories, or rule them obsolete. For now I believe they still exist and tip my hat to the 16 year-old male mean girls out there – using words and wit to scare everyone away from questioning their sexual orientation. You have a special place in my heart.