When a high school senior at a prestigious, private all-male school came out to the headmaster and just one student, he soon found himself out on the sidewalk—booted, he says, because of the homophobia of other boys’ parents and the school’s trustees. This is his story.
By Paul Chandler
An Advocate.com exclusive posted September 19, 2002
The night I came out to my first person, it snowed. I never thought this was a bad omen—rather, the way the snow fell so silently on the streets and crunched beneath my feet filled me with great reverence. It was the greatest night of my life, and I was happy to be out. I had never felt more alive. The future held such great promise, the dawn expectant and approaching.
Eight months later I am still out and still happy to be out. But the world now is quite different.
I suppose everyone eventually has a bad experience as a result of being open about their sexuality. Usually, we rub it off, shrug our shoulders, and move on. But what if everything you’ve worked for is swept away because of who you are, who you needed to be?
That’s what happened to me. I once attended an all-male boarding school. I was at the top of my class, captain of the cross-country team, editor of the yearbook, and president of two different clubs. I wanted to go to Princeton, and with my 1,480 SAT I thought I had a shot.
Besides college I had other hopes. I hoped to build tolerance at my old school. I dreamed that one day I could go the entire day without hearing the word “fag” from a student—or a teacher. I wanted to go to a school dance with a guy I liked. This was especially important to me: I spent hours picturing in my mind how I would ask. Probably by telephone because I am quite shy and tend to stammer when I’m nervous. The conversation would go like this:
Paul: Hi, can I speak to ___________?
Guy: This is him.
Paul: Er, um, hi. So, yeah. I was sorta wondering if you would mind coming over here to one of my dances. It probably won’t be a lot of fun at first because everyone will stare and whisper—and the way things are, someone might say something or threaten us—but I think that in the end it would be worth it because we could dance real slow and try to shut out everyone else, and one day some guy who was there who is gay will remember that, and it will give him the courage to come out of the closet or maybe something as little and big as silently accept himself.
Guy: Wow…Sure, OK.
I also wanted to start a club. It wouldn’t have to be a gay-straight alliance, it could be anything. It could be the Tolerance Club—even though mere tolerance is not what I wanted in the end (the Acceptance Club would sound too corny, though). We would take trips down to the city and work with the GLBTQ center there. We would be silent on April 16 and hand out pamphlets explaining the Day of Silence. The minorities of the school would all be a part of the club; they would understand what it is like to be hated for no reason, to be put down because of who you are. We could do short skits to educate both staff and students alike, and in the hours after study hall we could play games—because interaction is how we see that we’re not so different from other people.
It became quite a fantasy for me. I would think about that world constantly: while driving, while dancing, while dreaming. I even thought of the clothes I would wear: a white shirt that says “Heterosexually Challenged” with black jeans, rainbow necklace, rainbow anklet, watch, and sunglasses. Just like the shirt, the necklace and the anklet would be an exaggeration, an overstatement. I wasn’t flaunting myself; I was making a point. It was necessary to make people aware that I wasn’t straight, because they assumed I was—it’s what everyone assumes you are. I hoped there would be a time, though, when I would not have to wear those signals, not have to remain the only representative of all gays everywhere.
That was the most important part: I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew if I could pave the way, others would follow. There was already one person I knew was gay. He was having a hard time, especially at school. The other kids would tease him for everything he did, even when he did it right. We talked about being gay. He told me how much he hated it at my old school and how he wanted me to come back.
You see, I was about to switch schools. I did not think I was strong enough to be out at my old school, and I knew I could never go back in the closet. I had already made arrangements to go to another boys boarding school, one which was rather famous. This prospective school already had a GSA, a supportive staff, and a student body that cared.
I could have had everything there.
I could have been happy...but I chose to be a hero. I chose to stay at my old school and change things there.
I struggle as I write this. I wonder if even now I can say I made the wrong choice.
Like any idealistic teenager I ran forward into the arms of doom. I made preparations, though. I asked the headmaster of my old school if I would be kicked out because I was gay. He said no. I asked him if we could start a GSA; he said no. He didn’t want to segregate students, he said.
That should have warned me, but I guess I am naive. I believed him. We started making plans, or so I thought. We talked about getting faculty support. We talked about how important it was that I thought about the manner in which I would come out. Was this guy kidding? That’s all I thought about.
I arrived at my school with my head in the clouds. I was so excited and ready to change things. I wore my necklace. I wore my anklet.
Before I even arrived, the headmaster was not happy. The parents of many students had been calling, the result of one kid I had come out to telling everyone he knew. The headmaster was so angry. He said he was under the impression that I was going to be in the closet. He said that I should have come out according to his schedule. He said, “We agreed we would discuss if you were going to be out.”
I never said that; it was never a question.
I was kicked out of school.
We are all very confused about why this happened. The headmaster told me that I broke a trust by coming out to the kid who told everyone. What’s funny is that I came out to the kid before coming out to the headmaster. How could I have made this trust? Then he said I broke the trust by wearing my rainbow stuff, which he had previously said was “inconsequential” and “very subtle.”
I had never said the word gay in the two days this term that I spent at my old school. To my parents, the headmaster said I was “flaunting myself and my sexuality” and that I was trying to “recruit” others. This is why I had to be “withdrawn,” he said. My parents, who do not like my “lifestyle,” agreed. To keep it neat, the head requested that my parents write that they were withdrawing me for “personal reasons.”
He said he was doing them a favor.
I know the real reason I was kicked out. It is hard to tell other parents that their son is going to an all-male boarding school with a gay boy. It is harder to tell trustees. Both parents and trustees had called the headmaster even before I arrived this term. Both are now satisfied.
For more than a week I did not know where I was going to school. I was forced to consider even getting my GED and starting college early. Today, however, I find myself at a local 2,000-plus public high school as the only openly gay male student. I will be getting my diploma, and meanwhile, I look forward to homecoming, prom, and the other quintessential events of high school.
After many hours of discussion I have convinced my parents that both they and I deserve a written reason for my dismissal. The school, however, refuses to give such an explanation and is holding my tuition, prepaid for the term I was not permitted to attend, as ransom.
I sometimes wonder what the school’s officials think as they go to bed each night. But I already know. Their thoughts are the same thoughts shared by the KKK, the bigots, and the racists. Their thoughts are the same as the homophobes and the fanatical right-wing Christians. What sickens me the most, however, is that even as the head betrayed me, he twisted his back-stabbing blade by saying, “We don’t discriminate against gays,” as though he had not told me just moments before that life had become a “billion times harder” for him because of the parents and trustees, so that he felt that the school could “no longer support me.”
I have learned a lot from this experience. I hope that someday the head and the school may also learn something.
* Paul Chandler is a pseudonym, selected to protect the writer's identity while his dispute with his former school remains unresolved.