Profiles in Courage

By Jeff Walsh, December 1995

Justin Clouse, 19, of Boston, Massachusetts

Justin Clouse was never beat up because he's gay. He wasn't threatened, harassed or even suicidal. He began telling people he was gay in the tenth grade, and no one freaked out or called him names.

"I realize that doesn't make for interesting copy," Justin says apologetically. "I think that's a lot of people's misperception -- If I'm going to come out, a lot of people are going to beat me up and harass me."

Justin says that even considering his rural background, that was never the case. "I was from Richmond, Kentucky," he says. "This is chewing-tobacco, riding-in-your-pickup-truck country, and I didn't have any problems there. I think with the older generation, it was a little different. But with people our age, it's not the big deal it was once was, at least in my experience.

"In Kentucky, my parents would have more of a problem with me dating a black girl than a white guy," he says.

Justin says he is just the average gay-boy next door, diligently looking for love in a community obsessed with sex. And he plans to stay a virgin until he falls madly in love with the red-headed man of his dreams.

He realizes he's not Middle America's typical view of a gay teen. "I'm the Beaver Cleaver queer," he jokes, quickly changing his mind about using the word 'queer.' "I really hate that word," he says. "It's in-your-face. Gay is much nicer."

'My life is an open book'

After 18 years in a rural town, Justin finally moved to the bright lights of a big city, where he began his studies at Boston University as a communications major. For the first time in his life, he dated and danced with guys his age. His is a dream come true for many -- escaping to a big, liberal city, going to a prestigious school and looking to be loved. Most people wouldn't even look back to their rural roots. But for Justin, big city life is temporary. "I'm pretty sure I'll end back up in a rural area," he says. "The city is mainly to find someone, and then take him back. It's just so much more peaceful and relaxed. If I'm doing digital work, it's not going to matter where I am."

Digital work is what Justin is best known for. Soon after arriving on campus, he found the World Wide Web, and started "Justin's Koool Page." The site features movie reviews and other text files written by Justin -- the crowning glory of which is his extensive online diary.

Chronicling his life from January through the present, readers can experience what has happened with Justin every step of the way. Boyfriends, strippers, dates and his day-to-day interactions pepper the thorough diary. The diary is a no-holds barred look at Justin's life, and when he finally does meet Mr. Right and they get intimate, he says it will be in the diary. "That's the whole appeal," he says. "If it's just 'Today, I picked my nose,' and 'Today, I cooked some food.' Who would want to read that? The whole appeal of the diary is I am candid. I do tell it. I tell it just exactly like it is."

Sometimes it is a problem that people he also knows offline can within a day read his candid thoughts about them online. "You meet somebody, and then they know what you're thinking about them," he says, "things that even with regular communications you wouldn't. My thoughts are online, and everyone can read them."

It affects his daily interactions, because if he likes someone, they can find out. Of course, the opposite is also true. "I had met this guy that read my Koool page," he says, "and the whole time I was preoccupied thinking, 'How am I going to write about this? How can I write that he's weird-looking without saying he's weird-looking?

"But, then a couple days later I met another guy who was reading my pages and he was normal, so that wasn't a big thought in my mind," he says. "But whenever it's something bad, it's 'How am I going to write about this online?' I never even anticipated that before, when I started out."

Justin said he first decided he needed his own web page when he saw Jase and Eddy Pittman-Wells' homepages. "I was like 'This is too cool,'" he says, "especially because they were husbands. I was just blown away, so I said 'I want to do this too.'" So, he started with a little page and about seven visitors a day, and it grew from there. Now, while he takes a break from school, web page design is how Justin makes a living.

"I'm pretty amazed at what it's become," he says. "Even though the diary has become a virtual Frankenstein. My life is an open book, literally, online." Justin's online diary is not his first stab at keeping a diary, but his first one was far more secret.

'I'd like to be like him'

In ninth grade, before he ever told another person he was gay, Justin remembers telling his computer. "I remember typing that word, G-A-Y," he says. "My hands were shaking and I was crying, even though I knew no one was going to see it. But still, I was typing it and saving it. Several times, I didn't save it just because I thought, 'Well, if you save it, someone might see it,' even though no one I knew even knew how to turn on the computer."

Justin says he's always known he was gay, but his feelings took on different meanings before he understood exactly what they meant. "At first, I thought it was just appreciation. It was "Oh, I'd like to be like him,'" he recalls. "But as I got older, it changed into realizing exactly that it wasn't 'I wanted to be like him,' but that 'I wanted to be held by him.' The thought just kept getting more powerful as time went on."

In tenth grade, he told a male friend, whom Justin still insists is gay, despite the fact that the person says he isn't. After he told the first guy, it got around, but "it was never a big deal," he says. He thinks it was accepted because he and his classmates had been with one another for a dozen years at that point. "I was with the same kids from kindergarten through 12th grade," he says. "So, you know, by the time you're ever even close to saying 'Oh I'm gay,' everyone thinks they know you pretty darn well. But at the same time, there was a lot to be said for knowing these people. Right now, I would say the majority of my high school knows I'm gay just by word of mouth."

He says he never officially came out at school, people just knew. "I read about all of these things where coming out is some big monumental day, but that never happened," he says. "I'd known these kids since I was in kindergarten, they knew me much more as a person."

In his junior year, he told his mother.

"She started crying and saying, 'No, you're not. No, you're not,'" he recalls. "I just drove around for the night, and snuck back into the house. The next day, she still was like, 'Don't say it,' and still doubted that I actually was, but it wasn't a major issue.

"Basically, she said she wanted to protect me from other people hurting me, which I know was the truth," he says. "But I told her that she was the only one that was actually hurting me by worrying about it so much."

Last year during the holidays, Justin decided they should tell his father. He was getting calls from guys, and he told his mother that his dad had to be picking up on what's going on. His mother asked "Picking up on what?" Justin said, the fact that he's gay. His mom said: "He knows. I told him three months ago."

"I couldn't believe that she'd actually told him," he says. "She said that she didn't tell me purposely, and she told him not to tell me, because she wanted to prove that he was treating me exactly the same, even though he knew. And he did.

"At first, I was really ticked off that she'd done that," he says. "But afterward, it was really cool to have them totally interested, asking, like 'Have you found anybody lately?' They want to know about every part of my life.

"We'll keep them away from the web page," he jokes, but then adds, "They basically know everything that's online. I talk to my parents every day. They know I have this interview. They know pretty much everything that goes on."

Blondes need not apply

Justin is actively looking for a husband online and offline, but there's one characteristic that must exist. Justin's Prince Charming must have red hair. He encourages red-headed men to e-mail him, and he says it's an attraction that has always been there. "In second grade, I had a big crush when reverse puberty was in effect and I liked girls, and she was redheaded," he says. "It's just always been a thing with redheads. It's always been a major attraction."

At first, Justin thought he could get over his love of redheads and date men with other hair colors. He was wrong. "I had never even been on a date until last year when I got to BU," he says. "As I did, I realized it's not going to work unless they are redheaded. I know in the back of my head, I'm going to keep saying, 'I've got to have a redhead, I've got to have a redhead.'"

This prompted Justin to add "the Interactive Red-Headed Knight Search" to his web pages. "It's netted a few people," he says. "None of them have worked out, but I wouldn't even have met them if it hadn't been there.

"It's more than just the hair, it's a personality and a skin tone," he says. "It's like this pale but golden skin that most redheads have. Even if they dye their hair, there's still the eyebrows. I've found that eyes and eyebrows can make or break a face."

Justin realizes his red-headed requirement severely limits his dating potential. "I'm just looking for that redheaded Mr. Right," he says. "There are a bunch of qualities, but that redheaded requirement pretty much knocks out most people. You have to be redheaded, and gay, and in my age range. There are not that many people redheaded, gay and in my age range."

But that isn't stopping him from looking. He is currently planning a trip to Ireland, where he will have better odds of finding redheaded, young gays. When asked, he admits obsession is an appropriate term for his love of redheads. "I've heard that so much, it doesn't bother me," he says. "I'm self-aware. I realize that it is."

But that doesn't stop throngs of guys of all hair colors from mailing Justin on a regular basis.

Normal, not queer

Justin said he has over 1,000 pieces of e-mail in his in-box right now from "normal gay guys." It's impossible for him to even respond to everyone, but he does read all his mail.

"I get a lot of letters saying 'I thought I was the only normal gay guy in the whole world and then I found your site,'" he says. "I get that letter a lot, and they're all writing it. There are tons of normal gay guys out there that think they're the only normal ones.

"That's what my page is, I'm just a normal guy who happens to be gay. That's what most of the appeal is," he says.

Justin doesn't apologize for not being politically correct, such as his not liking the word queer: "It lumps everyone that isn't straight together. And I don't consider myself with everyone who isn't straight. I'm gay, and gay is different from the other ones, which I know that may not be the politically correct thing."

His gay student group didn't find him among like-minded individuals either. "I went to the (gay student group) and it wasn't me, all they wanted to do was have sex and protest if people didn't like it," he says. "Neither one of those are me. I am who I am, but I'm not going to say 'Oh, watch me have sex.' (The group) was so obsessed with protesting, having sex, and condoms.

"People's minds aren't changed by protesting," he says. "It's going to be changed by me being a friend of yours, and me being gay, and you realize, 'Hey, he's just a normal guy.'

"If it had been the way I wanted, it would have just been us getting together, talking about what we want to talk about, and meeting other people. My philosophy is you're not going to change many minds by yelling at people. You're going to change minds by showing them by your example."

Justin says his exposure to the gay community changed his goals about what needs to be done to educate people. "When I first started all this, my goal was 'I'm going to change the straight world's perception about gays,'" he says. "But then I realized, 'I need to change the gay world's perception of itself first.'"

"If you're sitting home in your apartment, and you see these gay pride protesters yelling and screaming with drag queens, you're going to be forced more into the closet," he says. "If you're watching a gay pride march on TV, and you see a normal guy walk by, and then you saw this totally flamboyant, bright-neon colored person, you think you're going to notice the normal guy?"

"That's one of the great things about being online. It's not intimidating, and you can see other normal people," he says. "Gay politics doesn't work for me. I think it's more individual, just being yourself around the people you know. If everyone did that, there wouldn't be any homophobia.

"That's the reason my site did become so popular," he says, "because I'm just your average Joe that's gay."

The author, Jeff Walsh, may be contacted at jeff@outproud.org.

[OASIS]General information: Jeff Walsh
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