“David, are you gay?” Another classmate asked me that question once when I was in the sixth grade. I had no idea how to answer that question. Well, I take that back. I did. I drew on my knowledge that the word “gay” was used in the theme song for The Flintstones. After all, they had a “gay ol’ time” every time that show was on.

I promptly answered, “yep.”

I had no idea what I had just done to my social life at that moment. To be honest, I still don’t know what I did to my social life. My only indicator is that from that point on, I was met with a lot of suspicion, didn’t have a lot of friends, and was called a faggot on a number of occasions.

Funny thing, too; I didn’t know what that meant either. Go figure. Innocence was a wonderful thing to me at that age. Alas, I was pretty sheltered so I didn’t really have an understanding what the kids at school were saying. Maybe that was a good thing.

So yes, the definition of ‘gay’ is dependent solely on the paradigm of the individual. To one person, it’s happy and cheerful. To someone else, it’s homosexual. To another, it’s watching The Wizard of Oz way too much. To yet another, it’s a drag fiesta.

Yet even in the LGBTQ community, ‘gay’ is just another word that’s tossed about. Some like it; others loathe it. Some say it it, others hate it. We all remember the moment when we finally said to a mirror, “I’m gay.” But what does identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or whatever else is out there, mean?

Before I came to terms with my sexuality, I thought that gay men had to be hot, oversexed, underweight, and built like a brick. I thought they had to look a certain way, dress a certain way, and act a certain way. They had to dance half-naked in gay pride parades or wear buttless leather chaps and use words like “girlfriend” or “biatch.” After all, that’s what “gay” meant.

When I finally realized that being gay means none of those things and that it simply means that I’m sexually, emotionally, and physically attracted to those of the same sex, it was an epiphany. I realized that I can be not-so-hot, overweight, and built like a sponge. Okay, about the sex, I don’t kiss and tell. But it’s nice to know that I can be content.

“Gay” is such a wonderful word that we can use it in any context. It’s simple enough that parents can even whisk it away when in an uncomfortable situations.

My sister, Beth, had her 29th birthday party recently. A number of family members and several of her friends were there. As it was close to Christmas, Curtis and I drove to Memphis to join in on the celebrations.

My stepsister and her eight-year-old daughter were there. At some point, Beth mentioned that she was so excited that she had eight gay people at her party. My cute-as-a-button step niece was perplexed. She asked, “Mommy, why are only eight people happy?”

“Oh, everyone is happy, dear,” her mom replied. “It’s just that they’re especially happy!”

Gay is happy. Gay is gay. It’s so gay. It’s supposed to be a bad thing to be gay. But it really isn’t. It’s just gay. So what do we do when we’re told that gay is bad? We’re still in a time where gay revelations about politicians are usually the kiss of death (especially when their political actions are anti-gay).—well, unless it’s Barney Frank.

The biggest problem that remains is the stigma and the label that’s associated with “gay.” I’m hard-pressed to find any story or book that doesn’t obsess over the sexual aspect of gay relationships. And it’s a little unfortunate that so many of our gay short stories are little more than a shallow story wrapped around a steamy sex scene.

But is there more to life as a gay man? Now, I’m certainly no prude when it comes to sex. But even with that in mind, I’ve read how our fundamentalist neighbors are convinced that we’re obsessed with sex and it shows by all of the ads that have college-aged boys in various stages of undress and provocative poses. Would I be out of line if I said that maybe they have a point?

After all, if we took the sexy guys and women out of all of the ads that run even in Freedom Press, what would be left? Would anything even attract our attention, much less sell?

After a bit of thought, I have to say, “Yes, it would.” Sure, we’ve all see the dancing guys and bar maids. But there are a huge number of us who say, “You know, that’s just not for me.” With that in mind, I’m delighted to say that the word “gay” is as diverse as it is misunderstood. I’m gay. My step-niece knows I’m happy, and my classmates know that I am attracted to men. My mom knows I’m a friend of Dorothy, and my friends know I’m just plain nuts.

And I look horrible in lipstick. Thank goodness. I can still have a gay ol’ time and be extra happy.

– David W. Shelton

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