Small Town Boy

It may be hard to go home again, but it's getting easier to enjoy the visits

It was later in the evening when Sherry Dee grabbed me by the arm and pulled me out on the then-empty dance floor where some forgotten ’80s pop hit blared through the Peaveys set up in the corner of the country club’s common room and I found myself shuffling around trying to remember how, exactly, I used to move to this stuff. I was stricken with the thought that everyone was staring at me thinking, ”Oh my god, Sean Bugg’s gay and he can’t dance!

After skipping all my previous high school reunions, I decided to make the trek back to western Kentucky to celebrate having made it through the 25 years since 1985. Last year, a friend of mine who knew of my reservations about returning told me, ”You should go, really. You’ll have a great time.”

Turns out he was right. It really has been 25 years since I’d seen most of my classmates. When I left Kentucky for college and career, I barely took a moment to look back. Growing up in rural farmland during the late ’70s and early ’80s, the strongest skill I learned was building a sturdy closet. When I came out of it, I knew that it meant a certain part of my life was forever over.

It’s just the nature of the trade-off so many of us have made to be able to live our lives openly and honestly.

Oddly, while I achieved that separation with ease when in my youth, as I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself more often missing that part of my life — in many ways, the life that could have been had circumstances been different: stronger connections to family, lifelong friendships that grow from childhood through adulthood, a sense of belonging in my own hometown.

So it’s somewhat of a relief to find that, while I can’t simply conjure up a life experience that never happened, the world has changed enough that I can re-engage with what I left behind.

Catching up with old friends was a great thing, made even better by the fact that the whole gay thing didn’t come up, outside of introducing Cavin as my husband. Like most gays and lesbians I know, I’m not interested in talking about ”the gay” at every moment. Luckily, I didn’t have to spend the whole night talking about it, since it’s not as if everyone hasn’t known about me for years courtesy of the ever-efficient, small-town communications network.

Well, almost. When one of my closest friends from high school, Christina, grabbed me in a hug and joked, ”You’re my gay friend!” another classmate busted out with an exuberant, ”You’re gay? Really? Are you shitting me?” But I’m thinking that was less about his naiveté and more about the vodka talking.

In the days since, I’ve gained a lot of new friends from an old past on Facebook, which means I suddenly have a lot more people who claim a Christian conservative point of view following my status updates and online meanderings. As always, I hope that knowing me helps at least one person better understand the life of a younger gay or lesbian person who still lives back home, or see the consequences of particular votes on election day — and that I better understand their lives as well.

But just as important for me is the simple chance to reconnect to a small-town Kentucky life that I thought would be lost to me. I may not be able to truly go home again, but I can surely enjoy the visits.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.