School's out

Walt Whitman Community School in Oak Lawn is America's first private high school for gay and lesbian students. Despite some grim personal stories, the kids are all right.

He regales me with stories of his father, who lives in Branson, Missouri, with his new wife ("I don't like either one of them"). His stepmother, he claims, insisted to his staunchly Catholic father that the man make Ware cut off all ties with his mother, "who'd turned gay on him, which is one of the reasons they got a divorce."

The lesbianism of Ware's mother wasn't the first family shock his father would receive. When Ware walked into his Branson home one night wearing black nail polish, "the shit hit the fan," he says.

"He yelled at me in the kitchen for over two hours. I hadn't told him I was bisexual yet, but he started assuming all this stuff. He said that men who have shameful feelings start off by trying to hide them. They do things like wear pantyhose under their jeans. But slowly, those shameful feelings come to the surface, and then they start wearing nail polish and dresses."

When Ware finally told his father, over the telephone, that he was bisexual, the reaction was angry rejection that still hasn't cooled. "The first thing he said was"--Ware deepens his voice suddenly in what, I can only imagine, is a ruthlessly accurate impression of his father--"'Oh, that's just great.'"

Ware moved to Dallas to live with his mother, who for a while shared an apartment with a transgendered lover named Tony. His first day at W.T. White, a Dallas high school, didn't meet with the approval of many other students.

"I wore a striped, sort of tight muscle shirt to homeroom the first day, and immediately some guys started messing with me," Ware says. "They started asking me if I was a faggot and stuff. After that, people started mad-dogging me in the halls [trying to stare him down]. I never got jumped, but I wasn't there for very long. They were big and scary seniors, and they had lots of friends. It would've happened.

"W.T. White is filled with--"he adopts an especially disgusted tone here--"white Christians. Everyone's so white and so Christian there. I was always being judged by Christians, so I decided to wear one of my shirts that read: 'Jesus, protect me from your followers.' That didn't go over well. Guys started mad-dogging me even more. One guy in the senior store kept crossing himself as I was buying something."

Ware craftily defends the shirt's message. "You could interpret it any way you wanted, like a horoscope. You could say it was pro-Christ, but was criticizing what people have done to his words."

On the subject of his self-proclaimed bisexuality and what that means, Ware has discovered at a tender age what adults who make the "bi" declaration quickly learn--nobody trusts you. Straights think you're too scared to come all the way out of the closet, and gays think you're just in the mood to experiment.

"A couple people here [at Walt Whitman] get really pissed when I say I'm bisexual," he adds. "They're like, 'Oh, just admit it, you're gay.' Even though sometimes I like to say 'girlfriend!' I'm leaning toward straight right now. My one [sexual] experience with a guy was not very pleasant. It was my choice, but I chose the wrong guy. Usually, guys understand each other better, so it's easier to date them. But now I'm looking at girls more."

Convinced that, 10 years from now, this kid will either be in jail or running his own multinational corporation, I'm heartened to learn that he's already taken personal steps to improve his future. In addition to what little money his mother can provide and a few private grants the operators of Walt Whitman Community School have managed to scare up, Ware is working part-time at Tom Thumb to finance his own high school education.

"You get more attention in public schools," he informs me, although he won't specify if "attention" means interaction with educators about the curriculum or proper outrage at antics that don't, in the Walt Whitman universe, seem quite so outrageous. "And if we don't get accredited, I'm screwed. But it's definitely way more tolerant here."

Any last words of wisdom from an enlightened bisexual teenager?
"It's tough to find good dating material, whether it's boys or girls," Ware confirms. "And Jerry Falwell sucks.

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