James Madison University
Shenandoah Valley Oral History Project
Oral History Interview With: Travis Wills
Interviewer: Ellen K. Donnelly
Place: Artful Dodger, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Date: April 21, 2006
Audio File Size: 29.9 MB
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General topic of interview: The gay and lesbian community of Harrisonburg; overview of community and influences on the personal life of Travis Wills with regards to growing up in Harrisonburg being gay, the affect of the Christian Church, and the social scene.
NARRATOR: Travis Wills
DATE: April 21st, 2006
INTERVIEWER: Ellen K. Donnelly
PLACE: Outside patio of Artful Dodger
Occupation: Piano player
Travis Wills was raised in the Shenandoah Valley for the majority of his life after he and his parents had briefly lived in New York City. He is adopted and is the only child. He came out as being gay when he was twelve years old, but did not come out publicly until high school. Travis attended Fort Defiance High School, just south of Harrisonburg for his freshmen and sophomore years. For the second half of high school he home schooled himself due to intense ridicule and abuse received while at school. Since high school Travis has traveled and currently plays the piano at various gigs around the area. For someone as young as he, Travis has a very mature outtake on the gay community within and outside of Harrisonburg, as well as the influences of the Christian community.
This interview with Travis provided a very good perspective into the young person’s view and experience within the gay community. Since Travis came out at such a young age he as experienced quite a lot for someone his age. His two years in high school sheds light onto the harsh reality of an un-accepting community which is rather common than not. Having grown up in a Christian household, Travis offers a unique perspective on dealing with faith and homosexuality personally and within the Harrisonburg community. Travis definitely gives an honest picture into the gay community and their views of heterosexuals and the religious sect as well. Overall, Travis was a very charismatic and enjoyable person to talk with.
Shenandoah Valley Oral History Project
Transcription of Interview with Travis Willis on April 21st, 2006
at the Artful Dodger, Harrisonburg, Virginia
00:00- 4:10 Explanation of project, class, the use of oral histories, and the SVOHP
Ellen: “Basically what I, I’ve been interviewing a couple of people about just the gay and lesbian community here in Harrisonburg, and kind of, how it has changed over time- maybe your overall perspective of it, but also um, just personally how maybe you have changed or how it has influenced you. First of all I just want to start out with, where did you grow up and a little family background…”
Travis: ‘Right, um. My parents are originally from here.”
T: “I was adopted, my parents and I moved to New York when they adopted me and I lived there till I was six. And when I was six they decided that New York wasn’t the place to raise a child so they moved back here.”
T: “And I’m an only child, my parents are both extremely religious, extremely Republican. Um, very small family. Most of my relatives are from the West Coast; California, Nevada, so.
E; “Uh, huh”
T: “So…not a very close like knit like huge family if that makes sense. Like, I’m very close with my mom and dad. Being out was always like, I was one of those people that everyone knew I was gay before I knew I was gay, if that makes sense. Like everyone kind of like when I came out, everyone was kind of like, “Oh, we already knew! That’s not a surprise.”
E: When was that?
T: I was twelve when I came out, definitely a lot earlier than usual…
T: Yeah, for sure. It was weird, like…I lived, actually I went to high school thirty miles south of here in a little town called Fort Defiance.
E: Yeah I’ve heard of that…
T: So that’s where I went to school, it’s mainly southern. So there were a lot of red necks and country people, so it was really rough. Like, faggot and queer and stuff like that was something that was a constant.
T; Yeah, people definitely change as they get older I guess…
E: So how, can you go back to when you did come out…?
E: How your family responded,
T: Sure, I found out that I was gay, like I always kind of knew that there was something different about me if that makes sense. I didn’t always pick out what it was, but I knew that there was something that wasn’t the same as all the other boys, if that makes sense. And um, when I told my parents, my parents actually found out because I started seeing this guy when I was a freshman in high school. I came out to a lot of my friends when I was twelve.
T: So when I was a freshman in high school that’s when I told my parents. And um, they found out because I had a boyfriend in high school and the school called to tell my parents about it.
E: Oh my gosh!
T: And we sat down and had the conversation, and um…
E: What did they say?
T: It was weird, my parents, they were both like, “We expected it; we knew that something was different.” But they are also, they’re the kind of parents that they care because they’re parents and they are supposed to care and at the same time they don’t really agree with what I’m doing. They think that it’s a sin, like, for sure they pray for me like all the time and they think that…
E: So they’re Christian has had…
T: That affects like hard core. They believe that homosexuality can be cured, like, that its not, it’s a choice not a lifestyle. That it’s not something that you’re like born as…it’s something that you choose to do…
E: Yeah, I actually have some questions about that, just about Christianity and homosexuality, later. But yeah, keep going.
T: Yeah, sure. My mom, and then they just kind of just um, like my other family doesn’t really know, but I never see them so it’s not like it’s a lie in the family. But, like I never see any of my family because they live in California so it’s not something that has really been brought up.
E: Or like you see them on a day-to-day basis where they interact with you…
T: Right, right it’s kind of like a hush-hush thing. Like, we don’t really talk about it, it’s kind of put off to the side. But then I’m really cool with my parents, like my parents are really supportive of what I do and like at first it was really, really uncomfortable for them. Like, they were the kind that you could be a homosexual but, “Don’t talk to us about it, we don’t want to meet your boyfriends, we don’t wanna ya know, any of that, like it’s a sin, it’s not something we want a part of.” Like umm…
E: How was it for you?
T: Ya know, it wasn’t actually that difficult because in a way I, like when I came out I was like really ashamed of the fact that I was gay just because I had been taught, like I had been brought up in this religious background where being gay is a sin, and if you don’t repent for the sin then you’re going to go to hell. Like that’s pretty much what I was taught so like when I first came out I was actually really ashamed of myself because I was like, ya know, “I like boys.” I’m not supposed to like guys, this is a sin, this is a horrible thing for me to be doing. So I was ashamed of myself and then my parents on top of that were like, “We don’t want to see it.”
T: So that just added to the effect. But then, um, it was weird because when I came out I was the only homosexual at the high school that I went to, out of 1,200 kids I think…
T: I was the only one…
E: Out of Fort Defiance High School
T: Right and I was the only homosexual there. And um…
E: How did your peers…
T: It was rough; it was really, really rough, um…
E: You came out before…you were in middle school?
T: Like my friends were completely cool with it, like my close group of friends.
T: Were like, yeah we love you anyways, it doesn’t matter what you do. But, people here definitely are scared of what they don’t understand. That’s like, I think that’s probably what I’ve learned the most. Like, it’s really not the people hate homosexuals. It’s that they don’t understand anything about us.
E: Fearful of what they don’t understand…
T: That’s completely what it is. And the reason that I say that is because there’s so many people that I went to high school with for the first two years they would be like, “faggot, and queer.” They would see me, constantly…
E: All the time…
T: Constantly, yeah, and then like they started to get to know me and it was completely fine. So like, as people get comfortable with the surroundings, like, especially around here. Because, I think the mentality of it here is, a lot of the straight guys think that every gay guy’s objective is to sleep with every guy that there is.
E: Uh, huh.
T: And it’s really hard for straight guys to hang out with gay guys and because I was the only gay guy there was…
E: So they think you had like ulterior motives.
T: Exactly, exactly and then like once they got to know me they were like, “Okay, this guy is cool he’s really not trying to get in my pants.” It was like really uncomfortable, but, that’s definitely what I’ve learned. Like, you can’t expect people, especially around here, that’s like the thing. You can’t expect people, like you can’t force it on people…
T: You just kind of have to gradually like, like make people more comfortable. Like, I know a lot of people try to like go out there and force their homosexuality on people and just kind of say, “I’m gay and I’m here and you’re gunna like it or not.” But, it’s much easier to deal with if you just kind of like let people get comfortable, and I think it’s that way with any situation.
T: Like, I kind of imagine it like a first date. Like…
T: You’re like the two people, you’re like uncomfortable but as the evening goes on…
E: You’re not like “I’m the one for you and let’s get serious.” It’s a long process…
T: Exactly, like you get more comfortable as you go along…
E: Is that kind of the mentality that you took right on, or is that the mentality that you had to develop?
T: Definitely, I definitely developed that. When I first became gay, I would wear really bright clothes. and I dyed my hair like hot pink and was the kind of guy that would just like flaunt the fact.
E: Like stand out…
T: Yeah, oh yea. And um…people don’t like to have things forced in their face that they’re not comfortable with. For sure, and I think that’s really what it was. People already knew that I was gay. It wasn’t like, it wasn’t the fact that Oh my God he is gay! Such a shock…
E: So it was like needing to have adaptation from both sides, you needed to adapt to them and they needed to adapt…
T: Exactly, they needed to kind of come together. … (sits back and sighs)
E: Yeah, wow. You’re great at talking! Um…so um, going back to when you were in high school as far as living here in Harrisonburg. Were you able to meet other individuals that were, you seemed like you were the only…
T: Right here. The Artful Dodger was pretty much the place where all of us kind of get together, like that’s where…
E: Right, how old are you now?
T: I’m 21.
E: Okay, okay. So that was about 5-6 years ago?
E: Okay, was the Artful Dodger, ’cause that’s something I’m interested in, the development. Was this the place to come? Even back then?
T: It was, it was. The Dodger has changed a lot. When I first started coming to the Dodger they didn’t have a liquor license.
E: Yeah, yeah this is different now.
T: They were just a coffee shop. And it was a place where like primarily homosexuals and artists. Like…
T: Yeah, and then um, when they got their liquor license it turned more into a homosexual establishment. And the reason for that is the people that owned this are a gay couple, Chris and Kent. Um…
T: Yeah, so that’s why this is a gay friendly place.
E: I interviewed a guy who works here and he didn’t mention…
T: Yeah, so that’s why it is so attracts, plus there is no where else for us to go, like.
T: The nearest thing here is like D.C., like Nations or Dupont Circle and stuff, so like…This was like the only area…So this is an amazing opportunity for us to come and meet. So it was pretty easy for me to meet people around here.
E: Do you feel like there were any other places?
E: Or that they feel comfortable, or…
T: Not really sure, I know that like the JMU group Harmony, like that’s one that like a lot of JMU kids are in and like a lot of JMU, they um, I don’t think that it is just JMU. They don’t really try to recruit everyone.
T: Like that’s a really big thing. They used to do this um, they used to have dinners at Tuesdays like every, like in a different place, like all just get together and that was like a really, really good opportunity.
E: Did you feel like you’re able to join that even though you weren’t a JMU student?
T: For sure, for sure. They were really welcoming. Cause they are more about, it’s not about being a JMU gay it’s more about being, like, together ya know.
T: As a whole we’re trying to make the world see that we aren’t the bad people that they make us out to be.
E: Yeah…wow. Um, now how about like in your high school just coming and living in the Shenandoah Valley, were you, I mean, you said that you kind of became more accepted but were you able to have partners in high school or was it…
T: I was but they were never high schoolers.
T: When I, I came out my freshmen year. By the time I left there were two other guys that had come out so there were three homosexuals pretty much in my school. So, the pickings were very slim. If that makes sense, but um, I always had just been interested in older guys.
T: So when I was in high school I dated guys who went to JMU.
T: So it was fairly easy for me, to like, find them but it was one of those things that it was definitely like separated. Like I asked to bring a guy to my prom and my high school said no.
E: Oh really…
T: So like it was one of those things where I was able to have a relationship, but it wasn’t something that my school saw. Like…
E: It was very separated…
T: Yeah, exactly. I had like two different lives for sure.
E: Wow, now do you feel like it is the same way? Now since you’re out of school?
E: What have you been doing since you graduated high school?
T: Um, I travel a lot. I’m a musician, that’s pretty much what I do so…
E: Oh okay. What do you play?
E: Oh neat.
T: So that’s what I do, I just go everywhere; play anywhere I can, get a gig at any chance I can get. So it has changed a lot. Like it has changed some because of the fact that I’ve found friends now that are extremely comfortable around. Like that’s another thing that I should explain, that in high school my friends that were okay with me being gay, it was one of those things where, where, “We’re okay with you being gay but we don’t really want to see it.” Like the same kind of thing with my parents, like, “We’re not going to judge you for being gay, but if you brought you’re boyfriend over and started making out with him in front of us we’d be really, really uncomfortable.” So, now my group of friends is the kind of people that are like, “We could care less, like be gay, be straight, and do what you want to do.” So it has changed because I can’t bring my guys around, but still I’m not living with the parents. My parents have never met a guy that I’ve dated…
E: Really, they haven’t?
T: Never, never. So how is that…yeah, how is that been with the, not, is it still, do you live with them now? Or do…
T: No, no I had to move out as soon as I graduated just because they were crazy. Like my parents were crazy just like everyone else’s parents were crazy. Like, not a specific thing like…
T: Everyone graduates high school and they are ready to get out of their parent’s house and do their own so that’s pretty much what I did. And, um my mom’s the kind of bitter one that’s like, “I just wanted grand kids and a normal son that played football.” Um, so like she is still a little disappointed. Like you can tell she doesn’t say, she’s just like…She definitely tells me she loves me all the time
T: And stuff…but…
E: That’s huge that you still have their love and support.
T: Yeah… but my dad is completely cool. My dad…has pretty much accepted the fact that I’m gay. Just, I mean he’s uncomfortable with it because he doesn’t really understand what the mentality of it all is. Like, he really doesn’t understand that it’s something that…Hey if I could be straight, oh my Lord I would be straight in a second…
T: Like being gay, oh yeah, like it’s rough. Especially around here just because, like, the religion and the ‘southerness’ and the people are so set in their ways that like, that’s another thing. The last two years that I went to high school I home schooled me all of my stuff because I was tormented for like, like so badly.
E: So you did not go to school?
T: I went for when I was a freshmen and sophomore I went to Fort.
T: And then because of like the amount of abuse I went through I independent studied all of my junior and senior classes and taught everything myself.
E: So you like home schooled yourself.
T: Yes, because my parents both had full time jobs. Like I couldn’t go to school because I’d get like beat up and like…
E: Oh my gosh…
T: It was horrible. Like the stuff around, like it’s totally changed. Like, I should, like people would kill animals and leave them in our mail boxes like at our house and they shot our dog and spray painted faggot on our house and people would like spit on me and…
E: Oh my gosh!
T: Like I didn’t go to my high school graduation because we received death threats.
E: You and the two other guys?
T: Yeah and our families and stuff. And like, um…
E: How did your family?
T: Oh, so here is another thing…
E: Oh my gosh.
T: So my father…it gets better and better, so my father was the chairperson of the school board for Augusta County. So, yeah…
E: So you basically kicked yourself out of the school…
T: Yeah, yeah. So um, it was one of those things that the administration punished me because they were afraid that if they showed favoritism that other people would be like, “It’s because his father is on the school board.”
E: Right, right.
T: And stuff like that, so I think the best instance I can give is that I got decked in the face one day and had to get seventeen stitches in my lip by this like red neck who called me a faggot and I got suspended for ten days for invoking the fight with my homosexuality and he got detention for one day.
E: Oh my gosh!
T: Like that kind of stuff, so like, it was really, really rough. Like extremely rough and up until a year ago I hated that high school and I was like, “what a horrible place, I would never ever send my kids there, ever.” And then um, it was like everything turned around like literally over night and now they have a gay/ straight alliance and there.
E: Oh, wow…how did that?
T: And there’s like probably fifteen or twenty gay and lesbian students at Fort Defiance now and I honestly couldn’t tell you how it happened. It happened a year and half after I graduated.
E: Were these guys younger than you or…?
T: They were, they were a year younger than I was. So I have a feeling they probably had something to do with it and um, I guess people just, I don’t know. I guess maybe I was the first one to kind of ever…
E: You felt like you had to break through…
T: Yeah, exactly then once they saw that.
E: Hard core breakthrough!
T: Yeah, right. So I mean it was worth it. It definitely makes me appreciate like, it definitely taught me that like something that I fought for the longest time was just because like it was something that was kind of instilled in my mind by everyone else that being gay was like if you were gay then that was all you were. Like, you don’t, like when you think of straight people you don’t think, “Oh they’re straight.”
E: Classify them, okay
T: Yeah, exactly. Like you just see them as like a human being and like I see you as a student and like a girl that’s it. And like with me it’s automatically assumed as being gay and that’s one of the things that like the abuse taught me that like, being gay is not ALL that I am. Like, there are so many things, like it’s just a small part.
E: I’ve definitely heard that.
T: Like it’s just a small, small thing.
T: Like a part of me and I think that’s why so many people get offended because so many homosexuals try to make being gay all that they are. They try to flaunt, they try to make sure that like…
E: Would you agree that there are homosexuals that are…
T: Oh yeah, that like purposely
E: Kind of gives the straight people the mindset that they…
T: I totally, I totally am one of those people who believes stereotypes are based on truth. And I think that everything negative that people say about the homosexuality thing with the exception of the religion thing, because I feel that religion is a belief not a fact. Like, I know that a lot of people think that homosexuals are extremely promiscuous and habit abusers and…
E: Come with all this other baggage of…
T: Exactly, and I’m just one of those people that stereotypes are based on truth and the reason people say things that they do is because they see those examples and the only way to change those examples is by ya know like, living how you want other people to see the community. And I think that’s something the people here need to realize. Like, having drag shows and fetish parties like they do here is not something that like.that scares people. Like, it just, because it’s something they’ve never seen before, they’re not used to it
E: It’s very different.
T: It’s very different and I don’t even think they’re hateful. Like for a long time I thought it was people were really hateful towards us. Like I thought that the reason that they were so mean was because they hated us. But, I don’t believe that anymore. Like I don’t, I don’t genuinely think that anyone hates another group of people. I just think that they, that they don’t understand them and that they’re scared of them and they’re scared that they might be the same way or that they’ve…
E: So more fear than hate.
T: Yea it is, it’s fear, it’s not understanding what, ya know, like it really isn’t a choice for me. Like if I could be attracted to girls I would. Like, I would do it in a second. Like there are so many things about being gay that suck. Like, living in America, like the fact that we have no benefits, like we can’t get married and stuff like that. If I could be straight I would do it in a second, like in a second. But, I can’t because like it really isn’t a choice. And like I think that is what people need to understand. Like, it’s not a lifestyle it’s something that you’re born with. I deal with it and I’m learning to like accept the fact that I’m a homosexual. It gets easier, like as you find more and more people that are okay with you being a homosexual, like, every person that you find that’s alright with you being gay is like another notch on your self-esteem telling you that it’s okay to be gay because it shows you that like there is still hope out there and that there are good people that don’t think that you’re going to go straight to hell because…
T: Because you’re gay. So I mean it definitely, definitely like changes. I think age changes you too. Like I think maturity and understanding that when your young you think that oh being gay is such a big deal, like, “Oh my God!” And now like it’s not, it’s not even an issue. Like, it’s not something that you like.
E: Think about…
T: Yeah, exactly. So, it becomes more, oh I’m trying’ to think of the word that…routine I guess. Like you start to realize that it is your life and you accept it and you do what you can with it and you go on.
T: And I guess that’s what I’m tryin’ to do.
T: At least try…
T: I am curious, um just and this…
T: You don’t mind if I smoke do you?
E: No, no you’re fine.
E: Even if Christians may not agree with the lifestyle, there is no need to be shown that type of um, hypocrisy in a way.
T: I understand some of the hostility. Like I really, really understand the religious not wanting us to get married. Like I do, I do understand that, I do understand that the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I completely understand that I actually like totally respect that. I think that that should be held, like ya know because like there are things, it’s kind of weird because we’re both like this, we both like, the religious side wants their way and only their way.
T: And the gays want their way and only their way. And it’s really hard for them for the middle ground…like I understand the marriage thing. The thing that gets me is the civil unions. Like we just want rights. Like that’s, that’s what it does for me. Like that’s the part that I don’t understand.
E: Do you feel like that is, I’m just curious of more of your background and dealing with it since this area is, one of the biggest aspects ya know that it is really against the homosexual community. Do you feel like the civil unions are the big inhibitor that the Christian community is…or are there other things, or are that just?
T: I feel honestly, like I don’t, I, I understand exactly what you’re saying. I don’t, I mean I understand. I think what it all comes down to is the fact the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong and because of that they believe that anything that involves homosexuality also is wrong. And like, I understand, I understand that it’s a sin that they believe in, but what I don’t [cell phone rings]. But what I don’t understand is that from what I’ve been taught about the Christianity thing is that everyone sins, like everyone, there is no one.
E: That is true…there is no hierarchy of sin.
T: Exactly, like there’s no one sin that is worse than any. That it’s a sin and like I mean you talk about these Christians that they go into the jails to the people who have murdered people and they find God and they’re great and like they completely forgive them. But yet, homosexuals are bad no matter what. And it’s just one of those things that like around here you see the bumper stickers all the time, “One Man and One Woman Equals Marriage.” Like that is like,
E: Do you think that that is like specifically targeted…
T: I understand, like I do agree with that, it is one man and one woman.
E: But there are obviously indirectly targeting…
T: Exactly, why would you put that on the back of your car? That’s like, and I seriously think it’s just because they don’t like understand. It’s really because they don’t, I wonder sometimes like about the people who have those bumper stickers on the back of their car, like do you even know a homosexual? Because I think that, cause my parents like totally were before I came out my parents were totally the kind of people that would have been like, “Marriage is between a man and a woman, gay’s should be married, gay is a sin.” And when I came out they were totally like, their opinions changed over night almost and to the fact that like, “I do think homosexuals should have rights. I do think that and it was completely…”
E: Have their views changed?
T: Yeah they completely think that civil unions should be allowed and they believe that gays should be able to adopt and things like that. So like there really is, like just seeing that it’s not as big of a deal. I think that’s what it is. I think people have just made it such a big deal and…
T: And it’s just sexuality! And that’s, I would think that people would celebrate that two people are in love because there’s enough like disdain and horribleness in the world already that like you would think people would be happy that two people have like found each other and that they were happy. But, a lot of people don’t see that until they experience it first hand.
E: Um, is, is faith, does that still play a role in your life now?
T: Um, I believe in God. Um, I do believe, I don’t know if I believe in Jesus, like the whole Jesus thing. I definitely, definitely believe that there is a God because all of this didn’t happen. I mean I believe in evolution too, I do believe that things evolved over a time period. But I definitely believe that something had to start it, I mean something had to start all of this. Yeah, I do believe in God for sure. I do believe there’s someone looking out for us. But, my relationship with him is not very like, I acknowledge that he is there, but like I don’t go to church.
E: Does he play a role in your life personally?
T: Um…sometimes, like I hate to say this but when I need him to he does.
E: You’re not the only one.
T: Yeah, I’m sure that I’m not the only one but like it’s one of those things when I need him he’s there. Like I can talk to him and like be peaceful with myself but I’m not one of those people that follows like everything that the Bible says and goes to church every Sunday and prays before each meal. Like I’m just not like that. That’s not what I am. But I’m one of those people that believes that you could have a relationship with God without ever stepping foot in a church. So, but yeah I definitely still believe in heaven. I definitely still believe in it. For a long time I was really mad at Him. Like…
E: Did you feel like he made you…
T: Yeah, I was like why would you…like if you created everything and that everything like you wanted it to be then why would you create sin? Why would you make me gay if it’s something that…and then I realized that like he makes everyone exactly how he wants them to be and like I’m gay for a reason. Like that’s what I tell myself at least. Like, there’s a reason like everything teaches you something. I’ll learn something from this. Like being gay is going to teach me something and I’m willing to learn the lesson but like I just, I was very angry with God because I was kind of like, “Ya know, I didn’t choose to be gay and I’m suffering the consequences and people are saying how much they dislike me and hate me because I’m gay and they blame the reason that they hate me on you [God]” They use that as their empowerment.
T: And it was very, very hard for me to believe in someone whose followers were telling me that I was going to go to hell.
E: Oh, that makes sense.
T: And that I had to realize that like just what other people’s relationships with God have nothing to do with my relationship.
E: They are still human and infallible.
T: Exactly, they’re allowed to think what they want and…
E: That’s where judgment, I feel like that’s a huge issue. Um, when you did come out, um, since you were brought up in the Church, how did your Church react?
T: Um, I quit going to church.
E: You what?
T: I quit going to church
E: Like automatically?
T: Um, because of the fact that like for the first, I actually quit going to church for two years because at the first point…
E: Like after you were twelve?
T: Yeah I felt like…I couldn’t go to church because I was a hypocrite, if that makes sense. Like I felt like I was going to church and worshipping God and as soon as I walked out of church I was gay again and I was doing something that I knew was wrong based on the beliefs that I’ve been taught. And I was like, I can’t, ya know, I can’t go to church and be gay at the same time. I was very torn between the two. And then…like two years later I decided to go back and that’s kind of when I became alright with God and quit hating him so much and realized he made me like I’m supposed to be. But still decided that going to church wasn’t really…
T: … my thing. And around here church, or at least in my opinion, I don’t know about all the churches, but the church that I went to was one of those small town churches that half of the people went to the church to gossip and hear about what happened…
E: Kind of like a country club.
T: Exactly, instead of somewhere…I mean of course the people believed in God, but it wasn’t, they weren’t there to worship God it was more about like, “did you hear who did this and did this, this week.” So it was that kind of thing…so…
E: Did you feel like that affected you, do you feel like you were the talk of…?
T: Definitely, oh definitely. If people would have been there to like really…’cause like I’ve met, like I don’t want it to seem like every Christian I’ve met here is a horrible person because I’ve met some amazing, amazing, amazing people who have like really, really good relationships with God and like go to church and are still like really, really good people. And it’s those kind of people that like I’m really like, “Awesome! Good for you! That you can have the beliefs but still be open minded to other people’s lifestyles and choices.” But, it’s the ones that go to church to gossip and say they believe in it, but then like don’t practice it that, yeah…it does make it awkward. It does make it hard for you to understand what’s real and what’s not. Like, whose belief is real and who is not. And, then it comes down to, if they’re belief isn’t real then are they really hating because I’m a homosexual or are they hating me because of what God said. Like, does that make sense?
T: You start to question…
E: Like is it they’re own personal or just because they’ve been told…
T: Exactly, so it’s hard, but I’ve also learned that trying to force people who don’t accept your homosexuality, like it just doesn’t work. Like if someone, like it used to be if someone called me a faggot, I would turn around and be like, “what? You think I’m gay?” And I would talk to them and try to make them see that it was alright…
E: Or like defend yourself?
T: Yeah, yeah justify that I was right and they were wrong and now, like I don’t even hear the faggot word. Honestly that’s just not something that I experience, but if it happened to me I would just walk away. But people are allowed to think what they want. Like, that’s, I, don’t try to change my life style and I’ll do my best not to change yours. Like, I just wish people would be a little more open minded about like, we’re all people, like that’s the thing that it is for me. Like we’re all the same and it doesn’t really matter. I still don’t understand why other people don’t see that. But, I guess if everything about your life is normal, like if you grow up and you’re straight like you’re supposed to be and you find that someone, then seeing the homosexual world is awkward for you because it’s something that’s not like, I can understand…
E: Right, like the norm for what…
T: Exactly, like I guess I can look at it the same way, like I don’t really understand straight relationships. Like, not to the extent of what straight people feel for…
T: But like, I don’t understand what it, what it is like to be attracted to a girl. I don’t understand what that is like at all, not at all. So I do understand that people don’t, like understand or like know what it’s like. But, for me what it is, I just wish people would like realize that gays don’t walk around calling straight people, “Heteros” and…
E: Ha-ha, that’s true.
T: So why would it matter that we’re gay. Like we don’t, like it just shouldn’t matter. Like that’s what it is for me. And, I think people are gradually starting to see that. I really do, like, just the fact that like more states are now allowing civil unions and gay adoption. Like, it’s just, I think it’s progressive but it’s going to be slow, like very slow. I have a feeling, and I don’t think that it’ll ever be, I don’t think we’ll ever be equal. Like I don’t think that it’ll ever be that way. But I do think it’ll be better, like I really, really, really do think it’ll get better…I hope.
E: Yeah…um, this kind of like Harrisonburg in general do you feel like, um, since you have dated here since you’ve been here, have you, do you feel like you can be like, openly affectionate with your partners, like in public being seen with a guy that you’re dating or is it, like what kind of reactions do you get or…?
T: There is definitely like certain places that.
E: Or has changed…
T: Like you could come here and that would be fine. Most restaurants like you could go out and like sit at table like we are eating. I don’t know if I started making out with another guy at an Applebee’s around here I would feel there would be stares, like I have a feeling people would look. And um, like I have bumper stickers on the back of my car like the equal rights and the rainbow sticker and um, definitely like if you get on the back roads and stuff like that you definitely don’t want to be out in the middle of nowhere where the red necks are they’ll run you off the road just because of the fact you have homosexual stickers. So like it’s one of those things where there are places where you can go and feel comfortable, but there are places where you have to kind of exercise modesty I guess is the word I’m looking for.
E: Uh huh.
T: And know that some people just don’t wanna see it and you; I mean I respect that, like, ’cause I’m the same way. Like, if I was in a restaurant and there was like a guy and girl all over each other…
E: There’d be stares too!
T: Yeah, exactly, exactly. So, I mean I don’t think it would be, like it wouldn’t cause a riot or anything, but I think it would kinda be something that people would kind of be like, “Whoa, that’s not what I expected.”
E: Do you feel like if you travel, if you go up to D.C it would be the opposite…?
T: Yeah, oh yeah it’s so much easier. Like, definitely. I’ve been to New York and I’ve done the whole Europe thing and I’ve been to California. I’ve only been to San Diego, I’ve never been…
E: Did you go there with guys that you were dating or…did you…?
T: No, um no I went there with like friends, with high school friends.
T: Um, but it’s changing. And I think that yes, I definitely think that in other places it would be much, much easier. For like I mean in San Francisco it would not be a big deal in any way, shape, or form for two guys to be holding hands walking down the street or kissing. I think that might be awkward here. Like, more so actually for me and my partner probably than anyone else just because I really don’t want to upset anyone. Like, I, that’s one of my main goals too. I really, really don’t want to upset like, I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable around me because of my sexuality. And if something that I’m doing is making them feel awkward than it’s going to make me feel even more awkward because I’ll feel like I’m causing it.
E: Okay, okay.
T: So like it’s more of a comfort issue for me than it is for others…
E: Like consideration for others
T: Right, like I can, people could really probably care less and are probably like, “Wow, two guys just making out.” They probably don’t really care, but I feel like people are staring at me like, this is something…
E: Drawing attention.
T: Yeah, and that’s just not something that, like I don’t mind attention being drawn to me, but I want it to be for something that’s worth the attention. Like I don’t feel that two guys making out is worth people stares or attention. Like it should just be something…
E: Do you feel like being gay in general is to draw attention, is that something that you’re comfortable with or is that…?
T: Um, sometimes, sometimes. It’s really, it’s weird. It’s very easy for me to be very open about my sexuality with girls and other gay guys, but with straight guys it’s very, very hard for me to like, I don’t in fact, I don’t really have very many straight guy friends because it’s very awkward. Like, just because I mean it’s kind of like I don’t know. Maybe it’s, I don’t know, I imagine it would be the same for a girl being really, really good friends with a guy who is straight. It’s just awkward because you’re kind of like…
E: Because there could be attraction or as if there is…
T: Yeah like what happens if he starts to like me, that kind of thing. So it’s very hard and I don’t know if that is for all homosexuals, but most of the gay guys that I hang out with just hang out with gay guys and girls. Like, we kind of segregate ourselves. Like, from straight guys, this is in my opinion at least. So I guess we are kind of to blame for the fact that I mean staright guys don’t understand us because we don’t really like to hang out with them. So, I mean it kind of makes sense. It’s kind of like a circle; they don’t understand us but we refuse…
E: It’s like they don’t understand and…
T: But um, yeah it is awkward just because you don’t really know. Like I don’t really know what to talk to straight guys about just because our interests are different too. That’s another thing, like, heterosexual guys are usually into the sports and like the outdoor things and there’s nothing that I love more than shopping and that’s just not something that the other straight guys really want to talk about. So, it is a little awkward for me to hang out with. Like, I don’t feel like uncomfortable, like they’re going to beat the shit out of me because I’m gay. It’s just one of those things where like, what do I talk about, what like.
T: It’s really hard to find common ground. That’s, that’s pretty much the issue.
E: Do you feel like, um, other guys you’ve dated or, have felt that way as well, as like a general…?
T: Yeah, I think that a lot of homosexuals feel maybe not like awkward, but intimidated by straight guys because I think a lot of straight guys, not I think, I know that a lot of straight guys think that gay guys, like, check them out and are thinkin’ about having sex with them all the time and we know our boundaries. That’s definitely another thing that this place has taught me, I don’t know about, maybe the west coast guys will hit on straight guys, but that’s something that I definitely have learned being here is that you find out for sure that they are gay before you hit on them. Like, you don’t…
E: How is that, like, how, like if you come here to the Arful Dodger and you, ’cause there are a lot of college students that come here, maybe they are straight or gay? How do you, have you met? Are you dating anyone now?
T: I’m not, I’m single. Um, the clothes, the presentation that’s how you can figure if someone. Usually just talking to them is like what does it for me. Um, just finding someone that, I don’t know it’s just, I’m strong believer in the whole gay-dar thing.
E: The gay-dar…ha…
T: And um, it’s like just, it’s…
E: And then there’s the whole metrosexuals that like. I was talking to, another gay guy I interviewed said, “They’re just messing everything up.”
T: Yeah, they are. Those boys who get manicures and dress nice. They, yeah it does, it throws us off a lot because most straight guys just throw on whatever…
E: Yeah, unlike the metrosexuals who supposedly aren’t but…?
T: Yeah, so, but it’s not as difficult to find homosexuals around here as you would think. A lot of them are discreet. Like that is one thing, like there are a lot of gays, but a lot of them are discreet about it. Like, they’re not people whose families even know that they are gay. Or like coworkers or friends don’t even know that they are gay.
E: So do you feel it still is kind of a hush-hush thing?
T: Oh yeah, oh yeah for sure. And like people will come here Friday and Saturday nights and meet guys and take them home and have their fun and that’s it. Like there’s no strings attached, it’s completely discreet.
E: So do you feel like there are not many relationships that come out of them, like long term?
T: There are, but random hook ups are definitely something that is extremely common in the homosexual society, extremely common.
E: In general or would you say here?
T: Um, in general, everywhere, everywhere. Um just because and I honestly don’t know why this is, but sex isn’t valued as something very important in the homosexual world like it is in the heterosexual. Like I know a lot of people who are heterosexual waiting ’till they get married and like they deem their virginity as almost very important to them or at least when, if they lose their virginity before they get married it’s something that they are in love with. Like, not so much in, like, it’s very common, very common for homosexuals to…in fact on Friday and Saturdays nights probably half of the guys here leave and have one night stands and the next week they come back and have one night stands with other guys. Like that’s something that is extremely, extremely common. And that’s common everywhere…
E: Yeah, so that kind of perpetuates the stereotype that homosexuals are…
E: Yeah, promiscuous.
T: And, I know that not so much here, but I know that a lot of places it’s the drugs that cause the promiscuity. Like Meth is really big…
E: Is that a big thing here? I’m sure like Marijuana and drinking is…
T: Yeah, the uppers, club drugs are really like D.C. and like the Ecstasy. That’s really what like all of the homosexuals do in the clubs up there and around here there’s nothing like that because there is no like source for it. So, people just get really drunk…ha-ha.
E: Do you feel like a lot of them go up to D.C regularly?
T: Yeah, oh yeah, I go at least twice a month for sure. Um, Nations is a really, really, really big spot.
(Edited Out, interview completely off topic due to distraction 49:29- 50:11)
T: Yeah a lot of people travel far. There are a couple of clubs in Richmond that are gay bars, like strictly gay bars. And um, then there are some in DC and there are some in West Virginia…
E: Oh really.
T: …like Charleston. Um…
E: You’d think that would be a lot more conservative…
T: Yeah, you would think so. Yeah, that’s exactly what I would, I thought. I was like there is no way like that you would think West Virginia would be worse than here.
E: More places than here?
T: Oh yeah there are like four or five rather large gay clubs in Charleston. Yeah and like drag shows and stuff like that. That’s not really something that happens around here. Like it does on occasion, but like in the more open cities that is something that goes on, on a regular occasion. Like every weekend there’s the drag queen doing something somewhere. And that’s not something you see here, it’s just not. Just because it just scares people, like it really does. And I mean I understand, like I really, I try, I don’t really understand, but I try to understand I guess is what I really should say. I’m, there’s hope that’s what I say, like you just have to gradually hope that people will see that it’s not as bad as they’ve been taught. I mean people believe what they’ve been told and like that’s just what they like, everyone does that. You believe what you’ve been told because you believe that it’s the truth and until you’re proven at the truth is wrong then you’re gonna be set in your ways. And, so I’m not saying’ that I’m tryin to prove people that their beliefs are wrong but that they have…my goal is to at least show people that we’re not like they say we are. And like I’m definitely not a rampant drug user who has sex with a different person every night and goes out every day, like that’s not something that I do. Like, I’m a normal person just like anyone else. I just happen to be gay. Like, that’s what I would hope. Like I understand, I don’t expect everyone to be in the streets with rainbows celebrating gay pride like for sure, but…
E: Do you feel like that, I’ve asked as one of my questions…what is the greatest need within the homosexual community here and in Harrisonburg? Would you say that it is becoming more to be understood more or would you say…?
T: I think our need from other people is yeah, to be more understood than just a little more like, not necessarily acceptance, but willing to accept. Like, at least like try, like try to understand, like some people are so set in their ways that they will never change, like it doesn’t matter how many homosexuals they meet, it doesn’t matter how good, how good of people they are, they still are not gonna like us. But, that’s the same way for African Americans and…
E: Yeah, yeah
T: …people from middle, like there’s always gunna be some tension. So I think that our need from other people is definitely open-mindedness. I think that our need as a community is we need to be less spiteful, I think that’s another reason that homosexuals around here are not liked so much because when people do try to be nice and do try to give us a chance our mindset is that all straight people are the same, and they’re all ass-holes.
E: Oh you guys not being spiteful towards the rest of the community.
T: Other people, exactly.
E: Oh, okay
T: I think that homosexuals are very spiteful people, and we think that just because one red neck called us a faggot that every redneck is going to call us a faggot. And therefore…
E: I’ve never heard that…very insightful.
T: It’s very, very, like…very hard for, like I completely know gay guys that would not hang out with straight guys. They wouldn’t even give them the time of day because they automatically assume that because they’re straight they’re going to be assholes and the straight guys automatically think that because we’re gay we’re going to be freaks and try to hit on them. And like, it’s one of those things that where we’ve both done so much damage to each other that we’re not willing to see the that there is a middle ground. Like we can’t just step back and see that being, like you can’t be spiteful. I think that some people do try, like they try to really hard to accept us and they get turned off because we’re kind of like, “Whatever, you hated us, you’re straight, straight people hate us.” And, I think it’s important for staright people to accept gay people, but I also think it’s probably just as important for gay people to accept staright people, for sure.
E: The other way around, oh…
T: And that’s something that we never really consider.
E: Oh, I’ve never heard that before. Um, would you say that damage done from the Christian community, what would you say is the greatest need, um from the homosexual community from the Christian community?
T: That’s a really good question, umm…
E: As far as, I just feel like there is a huge gap and even though the Christian community believes that it is a sin, but it’s a sin as like every other sin, but as far as bridging the gap and as far as addressing the injustices done towards the homosexual community, how do you, what would you say how that could happen, or how could that gap start to be…
T: I don’t honestly know, I think it’s, it’s another one of those things where it would have, have to be something done on both parts. Like I think that homosexuals would have to realize as a whole that this is what people believe, it’s their beliefs, they’re allowed to believe it and we’re allowed to believe what we want. And I think that what the homosexuals need to realize is that, ya know, maybe if we could just, didn’t try to shove it in everyone’s face it wouldn’t be so bad and then the religious side I believe like you said, I think that they really, really need to acknowledge that a sin is a sin and there’s not like, it’s not like the food pyramid, it’s not like there are some sins that are worse than others. Like, it’s, it’s all the same thing, it doesn’t matter. Like, and that’s another thing. It’s no one else’s business what our relationship, or my relationship with God is. Like I think that’s what really like gets to me is that they preach, “Oh it’s a sin and God is going to send you to hell.” But I have a relationship with God and I’ve talked to God and I know everything is going to be just fine, like my relationship with God is just fine and I don’t need to change anything about myself to please him, like he’s happy with what I’m doing. And, I think that’s what they really need to understand is that you can’t, like I think they see us as us trying to force our homosexuality on everyone, but at the same time they’re trying to force their religion on everyone and you can’t force people to understand something. You just can’t, like you, it has to come with experience and like acceptance and change really like, you have to see something happening before you believe it.
E: So, how do you, how would you practically go about that? Like how, like if you were to talk to a group of Christians who believed that a sin, is a sin, is a sin, and have seen that there are homosexuals like yourself that have been utterly abused and ridiculed and that is wrong and they want to reconcile…with, how, how would that be received or how would you see that working within the homosexual community or…just hanging out together or doing…how do you feel that would…
T: I think, I think it would be possible. I think that egos play a very big role and people accepting, I think that… I think that if; I think it would have to be something where both people, like both groups try to make an effort. Like, I don’t think that the gays are going to step up and I don’t think that the religious group is just going to step up. I think it’s something that we really just need to come together and realize that like it’s not, ya know, it’s not a big deal.
E: Just getting to know each other…
T: Yeah, it really is, like it’s, like it’s, like just in my experiences there are so many people that I went to high school with that the first years of high school would not have given me the time of day just because I was a homosexual and were like, “Oh God no, We’ll never hand out with him, he’s gay, he’s queer, like gross.” And then they come to get to know me, like by just partying or like I’ll hang out with someone, we’ll go out to dinner and someone who is uncomfortable with me will just come along and see that like, “Um…it’s not as bad as I thought or this isn’t like a disease…”
E: Were most of these people Christians or were they just…
T: Um, yeah, the majority of the people that I went to high school were very religious, like, Methodists, are like really, Methodists and Brethren are pretty much what everyone that I grew up with…
E: Now Mennonites, were those big groups where you went to high school?
T: Um, Mennonites were closer to Harrisonburg than what I was. Um, so didn’t really deal with many Mennonites. There was also a lot of Russian Orthodox.
E: Oh really, okay.
T: A lot of Russians, but uh…
E: How did they, because I feel like that’s really different…
T: They didn’t have a problem with it at all. Like it wasn’t even an issue, not at all. They wouldn’t say anything back, at all. But, most of the Russian Orthodox were people were from Russia so they hadn’t grown up around here.
T: So perhaps where they grew up changed their views, I’m not for sure though. But, Jehovah Witnesses’ also there were a lot of Jehovah Witnesses…
E: How did they act?
T: Very preachy, very, very preachy. But, not preachy in the sense of you’re going to go to hell. Preachy in the sense of we would really like to help you find a relationship with God. And that with me is fine, like that is fine, like ’cause if someone wanted to talk to me about a relationship with God that would be fine.
E: You as a human being not like you as the gay guy dealing with the issue of homosexuality…and then you can, and that’s one thing that I definitely feel, anyone can come to God how ever they are. You don’t have to, ’cause I mean, I have my own issues and struggles.
E: I mean I’m not perfect either and I feel that’s, that’s why we’re able to come to God because he wants us to come as we are.
T: Exactly, exactly.
E: And not have to fix our problems and then come to him because we’ll never get there.
T: This is true.
T: But it made me appreciate, like definitely growing up here and being gay made me, it made me learn, like one important thing I learned is that I’m enough. Like, that’s something that I definitely live my life by is telling yourself that no matter what, you are enough for yourself, for anyone else. Because if you don’t believe you’re enough for yourself then you can never be enough for anyone else.
E: That’s true.
T: And when you are so hated by the community for what you are sometimes the only person that is going to love you, or at least what you think, the only person that’s going to love you is yourself. So, like it definitely, definitely,
E: If you don’t love yourself then you’re…screwed.
T: Exactly, exactly, so like you would think that the abuse and the torture would have like made me, like I knew people who get made fun of in high school usually have really low self-esteems and are really like, “Aww I hate myself.” But it definitely made me a stronger person.
T: Like, it made me appreciate, like it made me see that I was enough. Like who cares what everyone else thought? Like, when no one else liked me, I liked myself and that was what was important. Like if you don’t like yourself, like, if you don’t love yourself then you can’t love anyone else, for sure.
T: Yeah, so it definitely made me appreciate myself more. So, I wouldn’t, like I wouldn’t change anything [Starts raining and the sound is affected a little] I would go through the abuse again because I think that if no one would have ever made fun of me for being gay then I don’t think I would have appreciated how much I’ve gone through and how much I’ve like become as a person. Like, I was weak and I was very like scared and shy because I automatically thought that people would judge me for being gay and if I had never known that then I probably would’ve not like discovered myself. Like I feel like being gay and going through what I had to go through kind of made my focus on myself because I had nothing else to focus on. And, it made me like myself and realized that ya know, I’m enough. So, I do appreciate like, I definitely appreciate what I went through AND talk about you wanted to know about like has it changed, some of the people who actually put me through hell in high school are some of my best friends now.
T: Yeah and have apologized or were like, “We were so stupid for treating you like shit…”
E: Wow, after high school?
T: After high school, yeah, like after a year of college they went off to college and saw that the Shenandoah Valley is not the entire world.
E: Ha-ha…there is a world outside of…
T: And…Yeah, like I definitely think that…
T: …that age and experience definitely changes people’s opinion, like for sure. Like people that like, like actually the guy that hit me that got detention is actually one of my really, really good friends now. He goes to Virginia Tech.
E: I’m sure you guys laugh about that.
T: We do actually its pretty funny. But, like he apologized…
T: Like and we’re fairly close now so like it definitely is one of those things where I mean time will heal everything and I guess patience is virtue.
E: That’s true.
T: It just sucks because a lot of us don’t really want to wait like a lot of us want it to happen overnight and I think, that’s what I’ve realized is that it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not like one night we are going to go to sleep and everyone’s going to have all these problems and the next morning it’s going to be like, “Yay! You’re gay, you’re gay!”
E: Ha-ha…likes a big happy family.
T: So, I mean it’s, it’s progressing. It’s definitely better than what it was six years ago so who knows what it will be like six years from now.
T: But, it definitely is more comfortable. I definitely feel, I don’t feel hated for my sexuality anymore. For a long time I felt like I was extremely hated. I don’t feel accepted now, but I don’t feel hated. So, ya know it’s, it’s steps.
T: Yeah, so we’ll see.
E: Wow, wow. Travis, thank you so much…
T: Not a problem.
E: I don’t want to take up the rest of your afternoon.
T: Not a problem.