(This) Gay Man’s Guide to Attending a Class Reunion at Taylor University
1. It’s okay if you don’t go, dear. You’re okay if you don’t go. You’re the best judge of what you can handle.
2. Think about why you enrolled in Taylor University in the first place. It wasn’t because Taylor was forward thinking and accepting of gay people. You showed up looking for a tried and true Christian school—and you withdrew (for a semester) after one year because Taylor was too liberal, not Christian enough to suit you. Ever hear of poetic justice? Now you’re too liberal for Taylor. And not nearly Christian enough.
3. You know Taylor is not a safe place for you. You know not to count on church people for a warm welcome and unconditional love. You long ago learned to look inside yourself, find love and acceptance there. Don’t expect it from others. That’s not what you’re going back to campus for. Is it?
4. So what are you going back to campus for? To see people? Revisit the place? Remember who you once were? Fair enough. Go and good luck. Be sure to stop at Ivanhoes for ice cream.
5. What’s your greatest fear in returning to campus? Physical violence? Soul-crushing comments, more spirit-deadening messages? Public shame and humiliation? Speak its name. Look fear in the eye and shake its hand.
6. Take care of yourself, sweetheart. Diffuse your anxiety as best you know how. It worked last time to ease yourself onto campus, remember? You skipped the first alumni get-together, walked around campus solo. You found two shelves of gay-themed books in the library. Comforting to know current Taylor students have access to information about gay issues. In the old prayer chapel you found an anonymous note from a Taylor graduate who, 10 years out, has left the church behind, found life outside of Christ. A kindred spirit. They do exist.
7. Last reunion you decided to be matter-of-fact about being gay. You’d not go out of your way to drop hints, but you would answer questions truthfully. If you came out to others in the course of conversation, so be it. You remember what happened? The first person who learned you are gay pronounced his disapproval, questioned your faith, and cast a pall over your experience. After that you pretty much ducked personal questions, steered clear of people, hung back. Do you want to do this again? Take your husband with you this time. There’s safety in numbers. Introduce him as your husband from the get-go, forestall surprised reactions mid-conversation.
8. People self-select. Those who show up to reunion tend to be the successful ones. Slim and trim. Men with full heads of hair and intact marriages; women with advanced degrees who really do look 29. Good Christians. Ones who fit the Taylor mold. Don’t expect them to admit to times of hardship, tragedy or doubt in their own lives, nor to want to hear about yours.
9. Expect chit chat: career, kids, college memories. Keep conversation light. Steer clear of heavy subjects. Reign in your tendency to disclose, your desire to get real. The time is short and not conducive to covering substantive ground. Save that for another day, place and person.
10. Questions are your friend. Ask lots of questions. Be sincerely interested in people’s responses. Ask follow-up questions. Use the journalist’s Big Six: who, what, where, when, why and how.
11. You’re back on campus for a day, maybe two. Be as present as you can be in this moment, now this one.
12. Have a backup plan. You can always leave early if need be. And whatever else you do, stop by ’Hoes. The peanut butter-fudge-chocolate chip milkshake is every bit as good as you remember.