Susan Cohen is the editorial assistant at the Charleston City Paper. She conducted the interviews for this issue.
Homosexuality isn't something I remember expressly learning about, but like so many of my fading memories, it instead seems like it's just always been there, like knowing that left is left and right is right. At the same time, I can't recall ever being told it was wrong. I guess I've always lived a life of luxury; I've never had to struggle with an impossible moral dilemma that would flip everything I believed on its head. Homosexuality has been a reality for me as long as I can remember, a fact that I could acknowledge with an accepting indifference. I was lucky.
Coming of age in the self-aware 1990s, I witnessed Jack on Dawson's Creek, whether to push buttons or as a natural progression of his character, open up about his sexuality. By the fifth grade, I knew that "faggot" meant gay and that it was a terrible, terrible word. I went to a performing arts middle school and invited a Cuban boy to my Bat Mitzvah who impressed all my aging relatives with his dance skills, twirling our friends to the music of the cover band my parents insisted on hiring. He wasn't out then, I don't think, but everyone in our drama class knew. Even my grandmothers, watching him salsa at my party, asked about his sexual identity. And at least two of our other male classmates would eventually join him on the other side of the closet in the years to come.
I had gay acquaintances from then on, but I didn't meet my best friend Brian until my sophomore year of college. He was a hairy vegan bassist who wore punk band T-shirts and knew all the moves to Sonic the Hedgehog, and being the awkward dude he was (and still is) I just assumed he didn't have the best luck with the ladies. A year or so later we were sitting in the sunny campus greenspace during lunch with some of our other friends. He told me about the romantic nightmare he had the night before, and then he slowly revealed that the dream was about another boy. I hesitated for a good minute before I told him my own secret, that I had known he was gay since the day he came out to his roommate (my ex-boyfriend) six months earlier and that it was fine, obviously. We got closer and closer in the years to come, and I watched Brian go from a boy who'd never kissed another boy to watching him perform "bearaoke" at one of Boston's butcher gay bars. I'm consistently amazed at the person he's become, and I couldn't be more proud of him.
And I hate to admit it, but I guess having Brian in my life lit a fire under me. Regardless of our relationship, I'm always going to be a person who votes for pro-gay politicians and against laws that try to take away the rights of gay people. But because of him, when I got stopped on our campus one afternoon by someone raising money for the Human Rights Campaign, I paused and contributed. And when the opportunity to organize a gay issue for my publication arose, I jumped on it.
There's a lot of confusion when it comes to some of the more abstruse terms in the LGBTQQIAA acronym. In the process of compiling this issue, I found myself explaining certain letters to people who defined themselves as other letters (queer seems especially confusing to some). "A for ally" is much more straightforward. There are certainly local allies who deserve more credit and who probably deserved a profile in this paper. But being an ally can be so simple. You can make donations to the right organizations and stop putting money behind businesses that are known to be homophobic. It's making wise decisions about who and what you vote for. It's making an effort to educate yourself on the health, human rights, and other societal issues faced by your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. And it's as easy as treating someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, or asexual with the amount of respect that they deserve as human beings. Which is what they are.
Unlike the other letters, identifying as an ally is a choice. One that more people should make.