A Gay Friend Story
I didn’t know she was gay — at first. I was almost 40 and hadn’t known any openly gay people since attending college up North. In the deep South in the 90s, gay people were as well-hidden as atheists and socialists.
What I didn’t know was that the woman who previously held my new job was a Southern Baptist homophobe. Gina expected the same from me because I mentioned attending a church of the same faith until a few years before.
Not to mention that our office was a sexual cesspool. Our boss was a spoiled rich boy who spent way too much time thinking about sex and dirt bikes. He had no verbal boundaries. Those federal employment laws didn’t apply in a small office in rural Florida.
I don’t know when I realized Gina was gay. It was common knowledge that soon became common to me. At staff meetings, our boss would often make jokes about her sexuality or ask very uncomfortable questions that made everyone squirm in their seats. It was the 90s in the South — if you filed a sexual harassment claim, you’d never work again.
Gina was guardedly nice to me. Nice in that you’re-my-supervisor-so-I-have-to-be way. She had a well-deserved wall built around her that I wasn’t likely to breach.
After almost two years working together, she and I were assigned the job of cleaning out the contents of a business that our company sold. We spent the day boxing up supplies and loading them in the bed of her truck. At noon, I bought her lunch at a Mexican restaurant. I consider that lunch to be the start of our friendship.
Over burritos, we finally talked — really talked. About so many things. She was shocked when I ordered a beer and relaxed enough to order one herself. Our lunch stretched into almost two hours — two well-deserved hours after a morning of heavy-lifting and carrying in the May Florida heat.
After that day, Gina’s attitude towards me changed from forced politeness to a warm camaraderie.
Less than a year later, our boss decided to spend more time dirt-biking and hired a “chief operating officer” to run the business. Hank was an ass. That’s all I have to say about him. Every employee disliked him — intensely.
I was the second to jump ship, deciding to work as a self-employed bookkeeper rather than deal with his despotism. Gina followed me a week later. She also decided to start her own business as a computer consultant.
Since I’d already worked through the legalities of starting a new business, I helped Gina do the same and also agreed to help with her bookkeeping. That was the tie we needed to assure our friendship would survive not seeing each other 5-days-a-week. Not only did it survive; it thrived.
Thrived despite the ignorance of so many people I knew.
One former co-worker and friend was horrified that my newest friend was gay.
“Aren’t you afraid she’s going to attack you? I mean, you’re never alone with her in private, are you? How can you trust her?”
“Well, that’s just moronic, Cathy,” I said. “You’re around men, right? Sometimes alone with them. Are you scared of them? Do you think all of them will attack you simply because you’re a woman?”
She huffed, “Of course, not, but they aren’t lesbians. You can’t trust a lesbian like you can a man.”
I laughed, “Men are safer than lesbians?! Please! What world do you live in?”
But, Cathy’s attitude was, sadly, quite common.
That was 24 years ago.
It’s 2021 and Gina is my best friend. There is no one I trust more.
And, I am happy to report that the attitudes of others have changed. Even Cathy laughs when I mention her lesbian warnings. Interestingly, Cathy and I are again co-workers but no longer friends. Just people who’ve known each other for a very long time.
But, the friendship I share with “that lesbian” Gina has survived all life threw at us over the past 24 years — the good and the bad.
I attended her wedding in Canada before same-sex marriage was legal in the U.S.
Unlike most “friends,” she supported me when I left my husband after 28 years of marriage and welcomed the new man that entered my life shortly after.
I sat with her in the hospital after her wife’s horrific car accident that left her body badly broken and ran errands for them many times during her wife’s long convalescence.
She drove me to Tennessee when my stepmother passed and spent three days sorting through a hoarder’s hell with me.
I gave her anything from my stepmother’s house that she wanted.
She maintains and repairs my electronics and built two desktops for me.
I gave her my Volvo when I bought a new car.
On her land, she buried two of my pets who died while we were living in a rental house.
I house-animal-sat when she and her wife took their first vacation after the accident.
She assembles everything I buy that arrives in pieces and parts that I can never figure out.
For 24 years, we’ve listened to one another’s problems and celebrated our victories. Other friendships came and went but ours remains.
And, it all started over a Mexican lunch and Dos Equis beer.
© Dennett 2021