Letting Go 

The road to saying, "I'm gay." Richmonders share the stories that changed their lives.

Page 4 of 6

click to enlarge Ruth Perkinson - SCOTT ELMQUIST

Ruth Perkinson, 45
Author, Insurance Agent, Former Henrico County Teacher

As I grew older, and it was in the early '80s ... at that time, and a lot of people feel like this, you feel like you're absolutely the only person in the world. Because everything you see — movies, radio, print media — was all just being geared toward the straight life, the heterosexual life. That point in my life was a very lonely time.

I was 14, and I read a few Rita Mae Brown books. Thank God for her. I used to hide them under my bed so my mom didn't see them. And so I would come home and I would race to my bed, and pull them out and read them under the covers at night. And I finally found a connection with her. And she let me know that I was not alone.

I was really drunk, I think, in 10th grade [laughs], and I was talking to a fellow basketball player on my team. And we were out partying, and I kinda had these attractions. And I finally just said, I have to tell somebody. And so after many beers, I told her. And then of course I had that feeling that she might be gay as well. So we both came out together. And then we forged sort of a private alliance at Godwin High School. We didn't become an item or anything, but at least we could talk to each other.

At 17 I told my mother. She's really come full circle. It was actually a very pivotal night in my life. Looking back, I thought [her reaction] would be, "It's OK, you're going to be fine." And then the more we talked about it the worse it got. Bless her heart, but she, for about six months, was not too cool with it.

She was a big Roman Catholic, and I think she was completely embarrassed initially, and initially thought it was kind of worse than cancer, worse than my father's alcoholism. And I kind of get that, because she had nothing to read either. She thought I was sick. She sent me to a psychiatrist. And he asked me if I was afraid of a penis, and I said no, they were fine. No big deal there. But I think with a lot of women from that period, the '50s, they were coming through a different evolutionary period. So she was just in her own shell as well ... so she was just very ashamed. And I think I was too. And I think still, even today, I still carry shame.

Recently I was in a jewelry store right in Shockoe Slip. I wear a ring on this finger [holds up left hand] because I want to get married to my girlfriend. And I remember walking in, and I took it off and put it on my right hand. Because I didn't want to portray who I might be. ... And then I felt very guilty about it afterwards.

Out of high school I went on to [Virginia Commonwealth University] and galvanized into a really nice local community there. I felt for the first time, going to VCU, that I was free. I got my degree ... and I went on to teach at Tucker High School. I was trying to be as straight as possible, if you will, so that I wouldn't be frowned upon by anybody. I did lie. As time went on, and I got into teaching, I was able to come out to some teachers, and let them know who I was. I know the kids knew I was gay, on some level. But I never publicly came out to them. I should have. And when I wrote my first book, I acknowledged that. And I said, to the one thousand kids I taught in Henrico County, I apologize to you.

It's not really the color of your skin, or your ethnicity, or whatever. It comes down to who you want to kiss, which is a private thing. But in order for us to get away from that, we have to make it a completely public thing.

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