Monday, August 3, 2015

The Dining Hall

 I have always liked girls.  Some of them I have loved.  My first girlfriend was Page in the first grade.  Then came others along the way.  It was like the old song "For All the Girls I Loved Before".  I think some took pity on me as I grew a little older, but the fact remains that I am straight.  I always have been.  Not to put down gay folks.  I have a lot of friends who are gay.  I have had two roommates who are gay.  But, I prefer women.
 One thing I have found in my life is that there is a misconception that all creative people are gay.  They are not.  There is a misconception that everyone who does Theatre is gay.  They are not.  It is a label that I have had to deal with.  Why am I 62 years old and never been married?  Some would assume it is because I am gay.  I am not.  I was brought up in a very strict household, and my parents instilled in me that I should be careful in my relationships with girls.  For the most part, I was.  But, that didn't mean I was gay.  It meant that I respected my parents.  I know I may be stepping on toes here, or maybe you may read into this, when there is nothing to assume.  When I was in high school, I didn't have much time for girls, until I was around 16-17.  I was having too hard of a time trying to pass school; shoplift things; being under the care of a psychiatrist; and being bullied.  I had very low self-esteem, which changed when I met my new friends in 1970.  Girls came back on my radar.
 So, in the Fall of 1971, I entered Anderson College in Anderson, SC.  As I wrote earlier, it was a junior college and about the only place I could go with my low SAT's and with some pull from my father.  I had been there a couple of days.  I went to the dining hall for supper one night, and the line was pretty long.  I stood behind a boy and two girls, and they were talking.  The boy said that he knew that a gay guy was a new student.  The girls wanted to know what he looked like.  He said that the guy was thin with glasses, and his name was Walter.  He then turned around and looked at me.  The girls laughed.  He smiled.  I could have died.  I turned around and walked out of the dining hall.  No apologies from those who had wronged me.  No apologies from anyone who had started the rumor or repeated the rumor.  The fact was that it wasn't true.  I knew it.  My friends knew it.  I know you would say that I should have stood up for myself.  Yeah, I guess so.  But, I didn't.  I did prove those people wrong as time went by, but that moment showed me what it is like to be talked about and hearing it.  All of the improvement that I had made in the past year about self-esteem and character went out the window, because of those ugly comments.  I didn't know if I should keep going or just end it all.  I decided not to embarrass my father, because of all the strings he had to pull to get me into this college. 
 A few days later, I had a chat with the president of the school--Dr. Rouse.  He had known my father for many years, and was instrumental in getting me accepted into Anderson.  He asked me how things were going, because I was away from home.  It was the longest time I had been away from my parents, and the school was 130 miles from Columbia.  I didn't have a car.  I told Dr. Rouse that I thought of AC as being at camp, only longer.  He told me that was a good way of looking at it, and that I should stay strong.  I guess he had heard the rumors too.  Something was said between Dr. Rouse and Mr. Landreth, who was the Dean of Men.  They told the students not to spread rumors about me, because they were untrue.  Mr. Landreth's motto was "I say what I mean, and I mean what I say."  He did.  I stayed.  It got better, sort of.

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