I Was a High School Rebel

Coming out, breaking the dress code — a 40th reunion brings up good memories

I’m going to my 40th high school reunion this weekend.

No wrung-out laments here about the dwindling sands of time, etc. That beach closed decades ago. Besides, wrung-out laments about high school are boring. I’d rather read a parking ticket.

Truth is, I can’t wait to go back to the future with the Class of ’70 from Amherst (N.Y.) Central High School. There will be more than 120 of us, according to our reunion website, one from as far away as Thailand.

Hope he bring souvenirs, if you catch my incense-infused drift.[SIGNUP]

Amherst is a leafy, middle-class suburb of Buffalo. (Spare me the Buffalo jokes, please.) New York City effetes dismissively describe the geographical location of my hometown, as they do all municipalities in the state that are not New York City, as “upstate.”

No biggie. I’ve endured New York City’s dis of Philadelphia for 31 years.

Some nifty stats about the class: The vast majority live in or around Buffalo. California is next, with 31; followed by Florida (21), Ohio (15) and Pennsylvania (12). Overseas, Israel shows two, with Germany, Mexico and Thailand one each.

Twenty-two classmates have died, that we know of, including one (or more) victims of murder. At least two have lost a grown child.

For that reason alone, this reunion feels important. Most of us have endured searing loss, as well as transcendent joy, as we close in on 60. We are legitimate grownups, with earned wrinkles and gravitas. That wasn’t at all the mood at our 20th or even our 30th events.

Unlike most people I know, I loved high school. Two of my most important emotional touchstones were formed there.

I came out my junior year, the first openly-gay student in the history of my school. This was no small thing in 1969, even with an emerging counter culture of raging feminists and mellow hippies. I paid a price for speaking the name of the love that dare not speak its name. When I walked the halls, there were whispers.

My senior year, I fell in love. Deeply, passionately in love. Foolishly, we made little effort to hide our feelings. The whole school soon knew. After five years together, she left me for an old boyfriend. I had never known such pain.

On a lighter note, I broke a few less dramatic barriers. I refused to wear sweater and pearls for my senior picture — a serious breach of protocol. Instead, I posed, broodingly, in a denim work shirt and my John Lennon wire glasses. Too cool for school, I was.

Later that year, I expanded my sartorial canvas by helping to break the loathsome school dress code, which barred girls from wearing pants. (What planet were we living on?) Jeans became my daily uniform. Epic win, Wrangler.

Thanks to the reunion site, I have heard from numerous classmates. Two, in particular, touched me; both from men I was not close to in high school. They thanked me for having given them the strength to come out, lo these many years later.

I will dance with them Saturday night. I may even let them lead.