Thursday, March 22, 2007


I’ve heard many gay people express in different ways the common theme of feeling like an outsider.

As teens their puberty often results in feelings of confusion because they are both curious and terrified about showering in the junior high locker room. They wear their towels wrapped tightly around their wastes into the shower. These teens are often disproportionately uncomfortable there when compared to their straight classmates. This leads to feeling like an outsider.

Later when in high school they witness their classmates inviting one another to dances and to the prom. Most young GLBT folks do not have the confidence or the support from their parents to invite a same-sex date to the prom. Doing so would mean outing oneself to the entire student body and most faculty, something that would equally horrify adults twice their age. They either invite a plutonic opposite sex date or, more often, forego the entire experience. Either way they know they are not like the rest, and they continue to feel like an outsider.

Then in college when their peers are dating and having sexual experiences, young gays and lesbians again feel like outsiders because they are often not participating in these activities too, at least not openly.

When the email invitation to the company holiday party arrives many gays and lesbians fantasize about attending with a same-sex date, but few wish to think about the possible career ramifications of doing so. Instead they tell their co-workers they’ve already accepted an invitation for the same date, and then the day after the party they listen over the cubicle to hear who did, said, and wore what.

Later in life when gay people finally find someone with whom they want to share their lives, hopes, and dreams they are again confronted with being different: unable to marry like their straight friends. And when they move into suburban neighborhoods populated mostly with married couples with children, again it is drilled into their heads that they outsiders; different because they don’t have children.

It seems that at almost every milestone in life gays and lesbians are reminded that they just don’t quite fit into their straight surroundings, leaving many to feel like outsiders.

Fortunately most of us learn to adjust. We stop caring so much that we don’t fit in; we embrace our diversity and claim our right to live with our same-sex partner (even if we can’t marry them) in whatever neighborhood we want or can afford. Eventually we may casually out ourselves at work and even take our partner to the company holiday party, if we’re fairly secure in our selves and our jobs. Many gays and lesbians create comfortable lives for themselves and live happily ever after. But do they ever really shake the feeling of being an outsider? I began asking myself this question due to my own recent experiences. But first, a step backward.

In 1993 I visited Rehoboth for the first time. I had just come out and had only been dating my boyfriend for 5 weeks. He and some friends were about to spend a week’s vacation in Rehoboth, and being so absolutely smitten with me, he lamented that we would be apart for an entire week. He arranged for me to catch a ride to Rehoboth with some friends on Friday after work so we could spend the weekend together. Although that weekend is now barely more than a blur in my mind, I knew then and there that Rehoboth was a special place. I knew I’d come back some day.

In 1998 I returned to Rehoboth with my partner Joe and our friends Gene and Tracy. Tracy had a few clients with homes in Rehoboth and they generously allowed him to use them off-season. The 4 of us enjoyed walking on the boardwalk, outlet shopping, and eating in many of the fine Rehoboth restaurants. We saw 2 films at the very 1st annual Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival without advance ticket purchase. (You know that doesn’t happen nowadays.) Gene and Tracy spoke of a desire to own a place here, which we completely understood. We returned to Rehoboth several times in the off-season with them.

In 2000 another friend, Susan told us she’d bought a vintage mobile home in Lewes, and invited us to stay there anytime. I knew Lewes was near Rehoboth but had never been there. We stayed in Susan’s ‘little trailer that time forgot’ and fell in love with it. Two years later when she decided to sell it, we bought the little trailer and looked forward to reading Letters from CAMP Rehoboth during our monthly visits to Lewes and Rehoboth. In 2004 we sold the trailer to another couple who equally appreciated its vintage charm, and purchased a townhouse in Lewes, continuing to spend at least one weekend every month there off season, and almost every weekend during season.

It was then that Joe & I began talking about the possibility of living here full-time. We thought of it like the realization of a dream. We love being close to the water, the slightly slower pace of life here, and the charm of Rehoboth and Lewes. But both of us had jobs that tied us to the DC area. What would we do for work here? We loved our house. Would we be able to find something we liked as much here? Could we leave behind all of our friends and family and once again become ‘outsiders’? We pondered these questions for well over a year.

In Feb of 2006 Joe decided to quit his job and try self-employment. Not long after that I learned that my company planned not to renew the lease on the office space that I shared with 2 colleagues. The company was planning to ask us to set up home offices. Suddenly both Joe and I were no longer tied to the DC area. We decided it was the right time, professionally and personally, to make our move. Rather than continue his self-employment, Joe got a good job working for the State of DE and moved into the townhouse in Lewes so he could start his new job. I stayed behind until our house got rented, and then we both moved into a new house in downtown Lewes in January.

So, now here we are: full-time residents who barely know anyone; ‘outsiders’ to the small and close-knit communities of Rehoboth Beach and Lewes. We still read Letters from CAMP Rehoboth religously and dream of the day when we’ll feel like locals who belong here. It’ll just take some time. In the meantime we’re meeting our neighbors, looking to get involved in community activities, and just being open to whatever new and unexpected opportunities we may find. We’re sure that one day we’ll outgrow that curious and frightened 12 year old in the locker room, and eventually become comfortable enough to leave our towel on the bench outside the shower. Outsiders no more.

Drag Queen name of the day: Verna Chelly


marcus_time said...

For some inspirational quotes on coming out, see my october blog:

tornwordo said...

Luckily in college, I fell in with the gay crowd. I've always been out at work since. Congrats on the settling in. Sometimes the "outsider" feeling comes entirely from within.