Stonewalling Myself

A story of self discovery

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in Features • Illustrated by Eric Lauterbach

Note: The names in this memoir, other than the author’s, have been changed to protect privacy. Additionally, a slur appears with ** in the body of the text.

“One summer never ends . . .
One summer never began . . .
It keeps me standing still . . .
It takes all my will . . .

–The Motels, Suddenly Last Summer

In late June of 1969, the Stonewall Inn Riots in New York City became a pinnacle moment in the American Civil Rights Movement for the LGBTQ+ community after many within the community took a confrontational stand against societal and police oppression at their Greenwich Village hangout. Some ten years later, in June of 1979, I, as a 12-year-old boy living in Casper, Wyoming, would experience my own pinnacle moment around the issues of non-heteronormative attraction, though it was done under the auspices of a desperate anonymity.

The term “Stonewall” for my own story is ironic because, as a verb, it can describe a trio of actions: “to be uncooperative, obstructive, or evasive.” But for the gay community, that word would take on the opposite meaning: it would be the catalyst for many LGBTQ+ souls to openly (without being evasive) take a stand against the oppression they were on the receiving end of just because their sexual proclivities didn’t mesh with the mainstream. Nonetheless, that same term made famous as a rallying cry for gay liberation, would for me, play out in Merriam-Webster fashion, as I would totally be uncooperative, obstructive, and evasive with the true nature of myself around the issues of sexual attraction.

I found myself physically attracted to a boy roughly my same age named Joshua. He was sleeping over at my house some ten years after the historic event occurred almost 1,900 miles away from us. What began during that sleepover some 40 years ago continues to linger as a part of my life which has yet to find total expression and resolution. That experience with Joshua is etched into my consciousness because June of 1979 was full of romantic and sexual stonewalling, rather than taking a stand for what I was feeling on the inside both toward not only a man but a woman, too.

The attraction to Joshua came out of nowhere, as my Latino hormones and heartstrings had raged only for girls since the mid-1970s. And the discovery of my bisexuality came on top of the biggest heterosexual romantic debacle in my life, which occurred some two weeks and a few days earlier at the Eagle Bowl & Café. It was nestled in the northern and kind of seedy part of downtown Casper, a city in central Wyoming running on the false hope that its oil-rich surroundings during the 1970s energy crisis would make it as sizable and prominent a city like Denver or Salt Lake City. Casper, too, was guilty of stonewalling. This city, which found it challenging enough to stay above 50,000 people, was uncooperative with the reality that the commodity of oil isn’t exempt from boom and bust cycles while having nothing else sustaining to fall back upon for economic expansion into the 1980s. To this day, Casper has yet to reach 60,000 in population.

It’s important though to understand the events that occurred before the onset of my attraction to Joshua because of the serious implications socially and romantically they would have on me. I had been hopelessly and madly in love with a classmate of the opposite sex named Laura, who seemingly had everything from good looks to a well-off standard of living thanks to her prominent father. Everything, except . . . me. For the last two school years leading up to this summer vacation, she constantly glanced at me and once gave me a soul-piercing look, indicating she was at least somewhat as taken with me as I was with her. Despite being deemed as the smartest boy in class during the 5th and 6th grades at my elementary school, I was full of fear and self-loathing. As a result, I couldn’t imagine anything but rejection from Laura since I found nothing right about myself. Surely, it would only take Laura a short time to see how wrong and ugly I was before writing me off into the sunset of a loveless life. I stonewalled her with evasiveness, even so much to the point of obstructing myself from trying to have an actual conversation with her other than an occasional word.

Laura and I each had a brother two years and two grades behind us. Their Cub Scout pack was having a bowling party that included sudden invitations to their siblings to be a part of the festivities. For months, I’d been hooked on bowling, so I readily accepted the invitation, never expecting that I would have to deal with the person I’d been stonewalling since I’d woken up totally sick-to-my-stomach-in-love with one dreary and cold November school day in 1978 as the words to Debby Boone’s hit song “You Light Up My Life” crooned out of my sleepy lips.

Not only were Laura and her rudely boisterous friend Amy at the bowling alley, but to my utter horror, they were matched up with our brothers and some others for two games in the same set of lanes. I managed to get through both games with a mixture of fear along with the added stress of trying to impress Laura with my improving bowling skills as I kept glancing over to her. The games ended, so I sat down to take off my bowling shoes quickly so I could make as hasty a flight away from the Eagle Bowl & Café and Laura as possible.

As the bowling pins continued to crash about that sunny evening, echoing off of the concrete walls of the building, Amy suddenly appeared in front of me like a ghost. She asked me coyly if I “liked” Laura, who I could see standing just feet away in some kind of anticipation as if she were awaiting to hear the latest numbers of a lottery drawing.

There was no way I could see myself being a winner by experiencing the love of a girl I worshipped as a cross between TV icons and heartthrobs Valerie Bertinelli and Jaclyn Smith. As a result, I stonewalled by evasively mumbling out, “I’ve . . . got . . . to go,” then anxiously darted to the front of the bowling alley, where lockers surrounded me like a holding cell does before an arrested suspect is taken to a cell block: I was going to pay big time!

I could’ve arguably been the first boyfriend of a girl who’d be nothing short of greatly-sought-after during the ensuing years of post-elementary schooling in junior high and high school via a world I’d never get to experience: ones of well-to-do, athletic, preppy, and cliquish kids who set the standards and unwritten rules of what teenagers should be like, and damn those like me who couldn’t cut it. I lost my golden opportunity before the great social shift from elementary to middle school to be the Trivial Pursuit answer to Laura’s children’s and grandchildren’s questions about her first boyfriend because I acted like the dodo, rather a soaring eagle.

The condemnation from that moment would begin to haunt me as summer got into full swing, as a friendship between Joshua and me was developing. His family had moved back from Northern California earlier in the year to run an Italian restaurant. They took up residence just across the street from me in one of Casper’s oldest neighborhoods, where stately mansions built during the first oil boom in central Wyoming, mingled with more humble, yet, full-of-character domiciles. Joshua and I lived in on a street named after a president who’d saved the Union from the likes of Stonewall Jackson. As the family was moving into their house, we noticed each other from our sides of the streets and began talking, and then began hanging out. It didn’t take long for us to break the ice and I even found myself at ease with Joshua’s younger brother Kevin and sister Lisa as well as his parents, often scampering across the street to visit any one of them.

At first, I didn’t feel any kind of attraction toward my contemporary even as we shared common interests in sports and other guy activities plus, of course, girls. Regarding Joshua’s features, what could be objectively described as him having a nicely boyish form and a cute face topped with dirty blonde hair meant nothing to me at all hormonal-wise.

Given my painful feelings surrounding Laura, it came as a total shock in the scheme of things as far as I was concerned that my attraction to Joshua would emerge like some sudden afternoon cloudburst on the Northern Plains of the Equality State. During that fateful, late June evening as Joshua and I experienced all the activities of a typical sleepover between two pre-teen friends, including getting ready for bed in the living room with sleeping bags. As some late movie on a Denver station blared from my parents’ Japanese-made color television, I began to yearn for a body that wasn’t feminine. I noticed his alluring curves (around his denim jeans especially), and his other features described above began to stir something from within me. And recalling that he had resided in a mystical place like California only added to his desirability in my mind! As he fell off to quick slumber, I couldn’t take my deep, but troubled brown eyes off of my buddy’s breathing, unconscious form. Close to him, yet so far away. While hanging out over the previous weeks, Joshua had given no indication, verbally or otherwise, of feeling the same way about me and he seemed oblivious to my sudden onset of desire toward him before dozing off.

My pining to do something with and to him (but I didn’t quite know what that meant exactly) was strong throughout the starry night as the Cottonwoods rustled outside our tree-dense neighborhood until sleep finally overtook my yearnings. By the next morning, a sense of strangeness, not so much guilt, permeated my emotions and body tired from a lack of sleep. We talked regular guy stuff before Joshua left after eating breakfast. I never told him anything about how badly I wanted him the night before. The feelings I had were so real, so sexual, but without the kind of love, I felt so infected with regarding Laura. But now, this morning would evolve into just another day where my guilt over my bowling alley stonewalling again became my prime obsession. What I felt about Joshua was just something I filed away in the recesses of my being.

Anyway, what could I really do about this newfound sexual experience other than keep it to myself? After all, my peers, including Joshua, could easily levy the term “fa**ot” at another guy in jest or out of anger as the ultimate insult, given that to be attracted to a guy was totally unacceptable. Nor were such feelings about same-sex attraction openly discussed in 1979 Wyoming, or most places in 1979 America for that matter despite the progress gay activism slowly but surely was making since those initial cries of “Stonewall” rang out a decade earlier.

Soon after, Joshua parted out of my life entirely, finding other companions more desirable to buddy around with, not surprisingly, as my undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome (a high-functioning form of autism that I wouldn’t even be diagnosed with for another 20 years) tried to exhibit inflexibility and staunch control over our budding friendship. The easy-going laughter that was a prelude to the exuberance and energy that emanated from Joshua could only take so much of my darker side. Furthermore, my awkward social skills and lack of self-acceptance as a teenager only steamrolled any potential close friendships and/or romantic relationships as a teenager. Since I was such a good student on tests, quizzes, and book reports, the adults in charge of me at school for the next several years never saw any problem with me percolating.

During that next half-decade, it would be girls, girls, girls, and more girls occupying my senses, fantasies, and endless frustrations and tears, especially those rooted in Laura. The teenage boys I would go to junior and senior high with, held no sexual interest for me whatsoever, even though I saw more of their exposed bodies during P.E. Class and when I was a boys’ varsity track team manager during my junior year in high school some 180 miles away from where I initially discovered the bisexual side of me. I wouldn’t experience another attraction to a male until more than five years after the happening with Joshua.

Same-sex attraction for me, throughout my life, has been something that could be hidden away in an internal lockbox without any real consequences; after all, it was so easy for me to want relationships with the opposite sex, and to get them would be more than enough, or so I thought, and without all the negative social and religious implications. Anyway, to this point in my life, I’ve never fallen in love with a male even though, as the years have passed, I’ve felt myself attracted many times to those in my gender. At times, I feel only periods of same-sex attraction as if being attracted to women never existed.

Very few people that I know are even aware of my bisexual nature. And I’ve theorized countless times that if only, and IF ONLY, I had the inner tools to risk dating and actually date Laura and other girls during my coming of age, this attraction to Joshua (and any other guy since) would’ve never occurred.

Still, I finally realized in early 2019 that I needed to embrace all aspects of my sexuality, when I witnessed an online video of a minister coming out to his congregation. While he acknowledged that being gay is who he is, he concluded it was a cross to bear for Christ so as not to pursue any romantic relationships with men. I surmised that if being LGBTQ+ is who many in this world are at their essence, including me, why then would God deny our hearts’ desires to have ethical romantic partners and sexual experiences no matter who they are with, given that it’s just fine for straight people to have such encounters without having to feel stigmatized? Yet for bisexuals, there seems to be a prevailing attitude that goes, “It’s one thing to be straight, and another to be gay, but you want to fuck everybody? Get out of here!”

But I am what I am, and I accept it!

For 40-plus years, same-sex attraction within me has been an issue for me to stonewall on, just as I stonewalled amid the rolling of balls with holes down wooden lanes amid the smell of cheeseburgers and salty fries. But as time has marched forward into the present day, I’ve found it more imperative to embrace, like never before, that aspect of me which emerged as a surprise character in a play that early summer evening in an ordinary Western city, in an ordinary neighborhood, and in an ordinary white house with green trim some four decades ago.

Writing this memoir is one of the first steps I’m taking to be more open about my sexuality, the biggest step I’ve taken since discreetly seeking out LGBTQ+ groups in Wyoming back in the mid-1990s before basically losing touch with people who share my struggle. Again, I found it the easier thing for me to do, given my attraction to the opposite sex. I don’t think I need to take out billboards across Wyoming to announce that I’m bisexual; but on the other hand, I’m not going to run away from who I am either, when push comes to shove.

Still the question remains: Did the pain from a unfulfilled first love of a girl have anything to do with my attraction to both sexes? Why was this kind of attraction so rare throughout my teenage years? These are questions that still have not found adequate answers. For whatever reason, this ingredient that makes up a part of my life’s journey is as much a part of my sexual identity as the scent of lilac is as dawn unfolds upon another summer day in Wyoming. Whether by a brokenness or by a design that has yet to be fully realized in even a soft kiss to the lips of another male, only time will tell if the answers to my questions will be found as well as whether the reality of my oft-buried quest for a physical union with a man can offer something to me that no woman has yet been willing and/or able to offer: the chance for a love that lasts a lifetime.

It is because of those pioneers who didn’t fit the sexual status quo taking a stand in that place called Stonewall half a century ago in a New York City neighborhood , that I, Roy Barnes, can write this confession in the present day in a still conservative yet progressing state like Wyoming.

As the rest of my life unfolds, the temptation to stonewall again will still be there if Mr. Right (rather than Miss Right) comes into my world, but I don’t have to give in to my fears. I only have to fight them as I climb over them so I can see what’s on the other side of the stone walls built up around me. •

Roy A. Barnes writes from Cheyenne, Wyoming. His writing career not only includes published poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction but also commissioned travel articles from all over the USA and Europe. He’s been featured at The Writer, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Bootsnall.com, Breath & Shadow, and more. As a person with Asperger's Syndrome, he’s worked to be an effective self-advocate for himself, thanks greatly to the people and experiences he's encountered throughout his life who have helped him grow as a person.

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