Who's a "Normie" Anyway???
|by Eric C. Peterson|
|I saw the new CAMP Rehoboth Community Center for the first time on Friday morning. There were still some boxes to be unpacked and settling in to do (and an art reception the next day to prepare for), but I was in awe. As a Washingtonian and frequent Rehoboth weekender, my immediate thought was, "Wow, we don't have anything like this in D.C."
By the time that the paintings were unveiled at the HeART of the Community reception on Saturday afternoon, the place looked great. Beautiful paintings, perfect weather and a wonderful backyard reception with wine, cheese, and catching up with members of the CAMP Rehoboth community who have become friends. I got to meet lots of new, interesting people as well. It was, in many ways, a typical Rehoboth afternoon for me.
Unfortunately, such moments are rare for me back home in Washington. Don't get me wrong; I have wonderful friends there. But rather than a community of people who have formed a collective, I enjoy a series of "one-on-one" friendships. While I treasure my friends in D.C., most of them don't know each other, and socializing with them usually means a quiet brunch, dinner, movie, or walk through Dupont Circle for twonothing like the buzz and energy that comes from attending events like Sundance or the Follies, or even happy hour at Cloud 9.
One of my close D.C. friends is Gary, who I've known for several years. Gary is unique in my circle because most of my friends in Washington are straight women; Gary is really the only close gay male friend of my own generation that I have. He's warm, funny, gregarious, and sensitive. He's also unique in my circle because he's currently in substance abuse recovery. Gary (not his real name) told me a few years ago that he was entering a recovery program. I was supportive, but a little shocked; at the time, I had no idea that he had been dealing with this issue. As a professional diversity practitioner and educator, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that well, he didn't seem like "the type."
Unlike me, Gary has a ton of gay male friends his own age most of them in recovery, like him. He sees them at meetings and calls on them for support when he needs it, and he fields those kinds of calls as well. When he found out I'd be spending Memorial Day weekend in Rehoboth, he said, "I'll be there, too. A bunch of the guys from the program are renting a house by the beach; you'll have to come hang out with us."
I was really excited to meet these guys. I knew they were important to Gary, and I was also looking forward to meeting some of the guys I've seen around here but have never really socialized withthe kind of guys who rent a whole house down here for a week! I was looking forward to sunbathing on Poodle Beach and seeing a different side of Rehoboth than the one I already know so well.
At the same time, I was a little apprehensive. I wasn't sure I'd be accepted into the fold.
I needn't have worried. They couldn't have been kinder or more welcoming to this stranger in their midst, and I soon found myself with open invitations to join them for trips to the beach, dinners on Baltimore Avenue, and dancing at Cloud 9. Individually, they were very different; they came in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. But as a group, they shared a few attributes; they were spontaneous, witty, a little raunchy, and they loved to make each other laugh.
As we spent more time together, it became clear to the group that I'd spent a lot of time in this little town. I was constantly running into people I knew, and recommending my favorite restaurants and shops all weekend long. Completely independent of each other, three different men eventually asked me if I lived here. I had to say no, but found myself flattered to have been mistaken for a localand I suddenly realized how important being a part of the Rehoboth community was to me.
At the same time, I couldn't help feeling a little outside of this particular group of men. As warm and welcoming as they were, there was a shorthand between them I didn't always follow, and there were some jokes I didn't quite understand.
Apparently, some of the guys didn't know that I wasn't in recovery, and eventually one of them asked: "Are you in the program?"
I said that no I wasn't, and Gary followed up with, "He's a 'normie.'"
"God," someone said, "what's that like?"
No one expected me to answer, which is a good thing because I wouldn't have been able to. It occurred to me that if a gay person asked a heterosexual what it was like to be straight, he or she would probably be at a loss for words as well.
Upon reflection, I found other parallels between our two communities. Gay folks have a shorthand, too. Most of us love to welcome affirming and accepting straight people into our circle, but oftentimes find ourselves explaining a joke or catchphrase that isn't part of their vocabulary. As gay people, we come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments tooand the process of coming out as gay or lesbian in a culture that doesn't reward the way we love people is something that binds us together. And I wonder if the moment that an alcoholic or addict realizes that he or she needs help is a lot like the day that I decided to stop living a lie and start living a life where I could be happy and healthy.
What keeps coming back to me is this idea of community. The lucky members of both groups find a community of people who will provide companionship, laughter and support for one another. After all, living in a society that doesn't always trust or understand us is a lot easier when we can get by with a little help from our friends.
If any of the guys from Rodney Street are reading this, I want to thank you for a great weekend, for giving me a glimpse of your community, and I hope that we'll see each other again soon; I'd be honored to call any and all of you friends.
Eric C. Peterson is a regular contributor to Letters from CAMP Rehoboth.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 6 June 3, 2005