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Conversation with Laura Swain

Interviewee: 
Swain, Laura
Interviewer: 
Chavez, Marlene
Date of Interview: 
2003-04-18
Identifier: 
LGSW0369
Subjects: 
Relationships with people and places; Stories and storytellers, Tolerance and respect; Cultural identification
Abstract: 
Laura Swain talks about revealing her homosexuality.
Collection: 
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Marlene Chavez interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
Transcript:
MC (Marlene Chavez): Hi, I'm Marlene Chavez and I'm here with Laura Swain on April 18th, 2003 and she's going to tell us a story.
LS (Laura Swain): Hey. My name's Laura Swain and I've lived in the United States for two years. I first lived in England until I was 16. Um, I lived in a county called Hertfordshire, um, I lived in a town called Berkhamstead. Um, that's where basically most of my family is from. Um, and then when I was 16, I moved from Hertfordshire to Birmingham, Alabama to live with my step-sister, Melinda and her husband, Jim. And I have some family there, also. And then, uh, I just recently came to college, UNCC, uh, North Carolina. And, uh, and I play tennis here.
MC: OK. Are you ready to tell us our story?
LS: Yes.
MC: OK.
LS: OK. My story involves, uh, my sexuality. Um, I'm gay and, uh, I, I kind of first realized I was gay when I was 16, I was in high school in England. Um, right from a young age I always realized like, I was different. But, uh, when I was 16 I just decided, just write this letter to my friend, Rebecca to tell her that I was gay and I was like so scared and nervous and excited and, and I just couldn't wait to, to see her reaction also, tell one of my best friends like, something major about my life. So I wrote her a letter and gave it to her and uh, and uh, and, she just basically accepted me, like she couldn't accept me even more. And, um, but, uh, she said maybe 'cause I, I hung out with, with, uh, three girls, with two other girls, Rebecca and Anne-Marie, Rebecca was cool about it and Anne-Marie, we weren't sure about, so Rebecca advised me not to tell her right away, give her some time. Um, I ended up telling Anne-Marie about it also and she was fine about it also. Um, and then gradually, one by one, I came out to most of my friends in England before I moved to the States, um, in August '99, and they were, I mean I had no, no, no bad problems, nothing. Um, and then I came out to my family, one by one also and half of them knew I was gay already before I did, which was, which was quite interesting and funny at the same time, um, but they were all OK about it which I was very grateful for. Um, and then I came to America, Birmingham, Alabama and I really didn't know what to expect [cough] all I'd seen from, about Birmingham, Alabama was Forrest Gump and, and, how he talked.
MC: \\ [Laugh] \\
LS: \\ And, \\ and the dirt roads, I wasn't really expecting what I actually got, but I attended a private Catholic school, um, and, uh, it was very religious, the school, of course, and private and I realized that if I came out as being gay, I would face a lot of, uh, discrimination, prejudice, stereotyping, you name it. I was scared to come out. So, over the two years I was there, um, I decided to came, come out maybe four days before graduation day. It was, uh, the beginning of the exam week and I came out in a theology class and I was very, very nervous. I got, I went up there and my hands were shaking and I started sweating and one of my friends in the class, he knew what I was going to do and he said, you know, if I, if I broke down and needed his help, he would come up and help me. But, uh, I did actually break down, but it was OK. I basically told a story about, um, about a girl, um, growing up with a secret and she didn't know who to tell, who to trust. And, uh, one day, she decided to stand up in front of her theology class senior year at high school and tell them her secret. And, uh, I looked around and people were like, "Huh? What is she going to say? Is this her?" You know, "What is going on?" And I was like, "The girl in the story is me and I am gay." And I did not know what to expect, what people were going to do, whether they were going to laugh, you know, start shouting at me, just say, "You're going to hell. You know that, right?" Or I didn't know what to, what to expect. One by one, everyone just started standing up and clapping me and it was the best feeling in the world. So, I was shaking, there were tears rolling down my face and I didn't know what to do, but it was just like the best feeling in the world. Um, and then over that week, the last week of school, people just, you know, were coming up to me during the day saying, "Hey, Laura. How you doing?" You know, people that would just ordinarily look at me. Um, I did have one guy approach two of my friends and, and say, "Did you hear what Laura, um said, in theology? What, what she came out with?" And they're like, "Yeah," and he was like, "I just can't believe it. You know, I just, I don't respect her anymore. I don't like her anymore, just can't, can't believe it." And, and, and they were like, you know, "She's still Laurie," you know, "She's still the same person," just, you know, "So what if she is gay?," you know, and he just kind of got a bit embarrassed and, and walked away. Um, so really, I am very lucky with my experiences compared to some people I know. Um, one of my ex-girlfriends she, um, her mother did not, uh, react to it very well when she came out and uh, actually took her out of school and basically stopped paying for everything, you know, that, that, that normal teenagers, you know, have paid for.
MC: Are you serious?
LS: Yeah. Like, um, she went to University of Alabama. She was in a sorority and the sorority found out. Her parents found out. She just got, she was taken out of school, out of the sorority, you know. She lost many of her friends there. Um, her family was like, very well-known in Birmingham, Alabama and, and it was just like she was seen as a disgrace. So one, one, night she ran away and, um, and her mother sent the police looking for her and, uh, they found her, brought her back and told her she would attend 'straight therapy,' which just is like-.
MC: Ridiculous.
LS: Ridiculous. I don't know exactly what goes on, but basically, you know, a certified doctor would just sit with you and say, "You know, it is wrong to be gay and you're not really gay, it's just in your mind," blah, blah, you know, "When you find the right guy, you'll be with him and be happy," and of course, that wasn't for my ex-girlfriend, so she just went to just please her parents and keep them off her back and then, um, and now she is fine. She is independent, she is on her own and living with her new girlfriend and she's happy, so you know, but, but some stories, uh, don't have a happy ending and, uh, but I'm very lucky.
MC: Would you like to share that story with us that you read aloud to your class?
LS: Sure. Here it is. "Imagine you grow up confused, but know exactly what you want. You know you're different for sure, but the feelings you have are normal to you. You are putting yourself in a girl's shoes who is in her early teenage years. She suddenly one day decided to tell her best friend her deepest, darkest secret that only she knew. Her friend's reaction could not have been better, relief filled her heart as she knew other people's reactions could be bad. This secret was not a secret for long as the girl revealed it to her closest friends and family. She knew because of her natural feelings she would oppressed throughout her life. The girl had her first relationship which couldn't have ended worse because of one person's narrow-mindedness and ignorance. She then went through her life-changing experience straight after, which gave her strength and certainty on who she was and what she wanted in life. She then used that strength to reveal that secret to more friends, family, and teachers. She was supported, loved, and looked out, looked out for even more and even congratulated. A few relationships were experienced by her, each a great lesson of how people can ruin other's lives and be so blind to love. Those relationships were rocky due to those uneducated people of all ages, races, and backgrounds. The girl then decided to tell her favorite class this secret and they embraced her with acceptance, understanding and most importantly, love. She was scared at first of the idea, but not surprised at their open-mindedness. She then felt fully content in that class as they all knew who she really was. The school year was almost over, just a few days to go. But, before school got out for the year, she wanted to show her peers what kind of person she was, who and what she wanted in life, and show those people the respect she had for them when she said she wanted to tell them her secret. Out of school the girl didn't have this secret. To her family, friends, chosen teachers, counselors and even the head, this secret was known. And one day, she found herself standing in front of her senior theology class telling them her secret of her life, the way it has been, is, and most likely will be in the future. She wanted to tell about the countless jokes, remarks, sayings, expressions, slangs, beatings, rapes, and killings that affect her and people can say they have something in common with her. The secret you may want to ask, is that this girl who grew up confused, gained strength through her experiences and from the people around her, can finally stand up and say to her peers that the girl in the story is me. And I am gay."
MC: That was a great story. Thank you for sharing your time and your stories with me. Well, can you share some stories that you had, any difficulties you had coming to college, or anything like that, other stories?
LS: Um, I would say, so far, I have a positive experience, um, with pretty much everyone that I have told that I am gay. Um, but, uh, my first roommate in college, we, um, her name is Courtney and we shared a dorm room together and, uh, she didn't know I was gay when I came, but, um, I showed her a picture of my girlfriend that I had back then and I, I told her that, that it was my girlfriend and I was gay and everything and she said, "Oh. OK, cool." And, uh, anytime that I brought up my girlfriend coming to stay and such, she would kind of change the subject really quickly and I could tell she was uncomfortable about it. And I thought, you know, I'm spending a whole year with this girl in this small, tiny room. I just, you know, we had to talk about it. So one day, we were, uh, about to go to sleep and I said, "Courtney, are you OK with, you know, my sexuality and everything?" And she said, "Well, no. I just have a few questions." So she sat on the bed and I knew we were in for like a four hour conversation. Um, and we just sat there and she asked questions, um, and, uh, some of them were quite funny you know, things that she didn't know and like and I expected her to know kind of thing. But um, she asked some questions and I answered them and, uh, and I think I taught her a lot you know, about being gay and how I realize and how people treat me and you know, um, that, that there's nothing for her to worry about because she really thought that living in the same room as me, like sleeping in the same room as me, she would, she would turn gay and I assured her that that was really not possible. Um, and whenever we would go to the, um, cafeteria she would sit on the other side of the cafeteria, me and my other friend and, um, we were just being, you know, what's going on? And she confessed that because you know, I was gay and she was worried that either she would turn gay or be associated with gay people then being thought of as being gay. And I assured her that that wasn't possible, it wasn't going to happen. Um, and now we're like the best of friends and she accepts me and everything. Um, she actually had to write a, a paper for her, one of her English classes on, um, how a minority group is oppressed and discriminated against. And uh, she chose to interview me and, um, she did so and she said that she had to go to a place where minorities group together or whatever. Um, so I said, "Why don't you go to the gay clubs I go to?" And she was like, "Oh. No way. No, no, no way." I kind of talked her into it and I said, "It would make a great paper." And she said, "OK. I'm sure no one else is, would be doing that." So we went to this gay club and, um, it was actually one of the best nights she, she could have gone there because she met so many people. She met, you know, really, really feminine guys and she met some really masculine guys she would see on the street and be like, "Oh my God. He's, you know, he's really cute. No way is he gay." And she met some girls there, too. Um, and I think it was a great experience for her, especially when, um, three guys dressed in nun outfits came up in, \\ in the club. \\
MC: \\ [Laughs] \\
LS: And you know, Courtney's a strict Catholic and she was just like, "Oh my God," you know, and she was standing there watching them dance, you know, with her mouth open. Of course I was dancing with them but. We end up going to eat afterwards and it was a great experience for her. Yeah, anyway, so, um, that was that but she accepts me now and we're cool.
MC: Well, thanks for sharing, sharing your story with me. That's it [laugh].
END OF INTERVIEW
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