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Who wants to be gay?


The Story of Billy Gay

William Cleary

He began life with a gift for word-love. Even as a kid, when he heard "rainbow," he could taste eight different flavors as he rolled the word around on his tongue.

He liked the word "God" too. "Holy God, we praise thy name" he sang in church. There were two sliding notes on "God," a sound full of honor and dignity.

But Billy's own name was without honor. "I am Billy Gay" he had to say to everyone he met in second grade, then third grade.

It was his real name. It was his whole family's real name. The priest called his father "Mister Gay" with an extra-straight face that galled perceptive Billy. On the phone his mother often had to spell it out: "G, A, Y" so people believed her. "Mrs. Gay?" they had to ask. They had to hear the name twice, then spelled out. Pain.

Billy heard his mother do that spelling on the phone again and again. He writhed in pain, because it wasn't one of the words Billy loved. In olden days, of course, gay had been a wonderful word, but those days were gone forever. Now it meant queer, "homosexual," people called it. It meant males attracted more to males and not so much to females. That was called gay.

Nobody he knew wanted to be gay or be called gay. His friends got used to hearing him called Billy Gay and made no fuss. It was when he had to say it out-loud himself that he quaked inside. His gift of word-love had a reverse side to it too, word-hate. He began to hate his own name because it made him call himself gay.

But Billy was not gay. There was just nothing non-conventional about him. In fact, he was crazy for girls from his earliest days. He even told his mother he didn't like his name and hoped he wasn't really gay. She said: "Well, I happen to love gay people, Billy." She was a therapist and knew lots of secrets.

Then one horrible day when Billy was ten, he did not look while crossing a road, and suddenly heard tires screech. He turned and put up his arm but it was too late. His arm buckled and broke even as the car stopped. He felt himself rolling along the pavement like a baseball bat. Warm blood ran into his mouth from a battered chin. Then pain surged through his wrist.

His mother was instantly there, kneeling beside him saying "Thank God, thank God, you're okay" but there was blood on her blouse. "You're bleeding, Billy. We're going to the hospital."

It seemed only a minute and together they were sirening along in an ambulance. A medic gave him a shot, and he fell asleep. Later he woke up with a cast on his arm and a giant bandage on his chin. "They're keeping us overnight," said his mother. "So let's say thanks to some of your helpers." She put her face down in front of his and whispered: "Many are gay people, Billy."

A balding orderly pushed his wheelchair around, and they went to thank the woman doctor in charge of the ER, then the male nurse, then the priest chaplain, then the lady receptionist, finally the ambulance guy pushing in a new patient. His mother seemed to know them all. Up the elevator they went, and into a private room where the orderly helped Billy into bed.  As he left with the wheel chair, his mother said to him: "Thanks for your special compassion, John." Billy nodded to him too. Once alone, Billy asked: "Was he gay too?"

"Nobody knows or cares around here," said his mother. "But special people seem to find special jobs."

It was a moment for intimacy. Tears ran down Billy's face. "I hate my name, mom," he said. "What can I do?"

She smiled at her beloved son showing his vulnerability. "You can change your name if you like, Billy, when you are sixteen. But maybe by that time being gay will be honored for what it is, an ordinary and natural way for God to give us a whole new rainbow of strengths and possibilities."

He said it to himself. "A rainbow?"

Then he said it out-loud. "Rainbow." It tasted pretty good. #  



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