At 22, I didn’t want the real world. I couldn’t think about a house, a husband, or kids. I was not ready for the 9-5 job or the post-college life. I had always dreamed of living in Europe, so I began to research study abroad programs for my last year of school. I wanted to go somewhere warm and fun like Spain or Italy or France, and I wanted to explore and discover all that I could while I was young and wild and free.
I researched Communication programs and the only countries with ones that would not set me further back in my studies were in Sweden and Singapore. I loathed winter and cold weather but I really wanted to live in Europe. So I researched more, thought long and hard about my decision, and soon found myself planning for what I hoped would be an amazing year enduring long, dark Swedish winters.
The courses for the communication program were taught in English and due to an agreement between Uppsala University and the California State School system there was a high concentration of Californian students in the media and communication classes. Before we left the states we received a contact sheet with names and email addresses of all the other Californian students.
I think that’s how I first met Ashley.
Ashley was a spunky, brown-haired, brown-eyed tomboy from northern California. She was wildly hilarious, adventurous, and everything that I love in a person. We quickly became best friends.
We went to parties together, attended classes together, explored Swedish culture together, biked through forests together, and generally caused mayhem in our small university town. We always had an amazing time together, and she was just the type of girl I wanted to keep close.
One day in late September/early October we went into town for an afternoon ‘fika’ (Swedish for having coffee and/or desert while socializing with a friend or loved one). We sat down at Norrlands nation and began laughing, bantering, and discussing our latest party haps and mishaps.
We were laughing and having a grand ole time when Ashely started to look nervously around the room. She scanned the crowd and shifted in her chair a bit. Her body language changed, and the tone in her ‘I have to tell you something’ told me that shit was about to get real. Like real real. And real quick.
I tried to keep my voice calm but I was cautious and nervous about what she needed to tell me. What was it that suddenly turned our drunken tirade recaps so serious?
I don’t remember her exact words. I just remember the awkward shifting, and that it felt like forever. She kept beating around the bush until finally she confessed to me that the boyfriend she spoke of back home, the one she loved and missed so much, was actually her girlfriend.
Ashley was gay.
I remember laughing an awkward chuckle of relief and then saying something like, “Really Ashley!? You brought me all the way downtown for a fika just to tell me you were gay?” It was then that my insanely outgoing friend suddenly became super shy and said, “I hope you are not mad at me.”
“I’m not mad at you,” I clarified. “I mean, I had kinda wondered if you were gay, but I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I mean, of course it’s a big deal to you, but I don’t think of you any differently.”
But of course I did think of her differently. I felt like I knew her better and loved her a bit more. I felt very honored that she trusted me enough to share this side of her that was so personal and then I found myself feeling very angry.
I was angry at the fact that my friend felt like this was something she had to hide or be ashamed of. I was angry that my friend felt like she couldn’t freely talk about the person she loved. I was angry that loving someone could somehow feel ‘wrong.’ But most of all I was angry that it took her a month of hilarious escapades and a big sit down fika date to feel like she was safe enough to share all of this with me.
It shouldn’t have to be that way.
Homosexuality always brings up strong emotions for me. I can’t help but feel a bit robbed of a happy childhood and warm home life due to the fact that for so many years my dad didn’t live in a world that embraced who he truly was. I get angry that people like Ashley and my dad have to hide something that is so central to their being because they are afraid or ashamed or don’t want to be judged.
I don’t remember how our fika ended that day. I just remember that from that day forward my relationship with Ashley was forever changed. I felt closer to her. I loved watching her face and eyes light up when she talked about her girlfriend and I loved seeing her come alive when she could let her guard down and be herself.
Ashley and her girlfriend didn’t last, but Ashley and I had an amazing year together in Sweden. We hosted a radio show, continued to wreak havoc on the small university town we called ‘home’, and slowly but surely Ashley continued to share her ‘secret’ with our friends and classmates who were nothing but encouraging and supportive.
It’s been a few years since we lived in Sweden, but Ashley and I still keep in touch. I think the world is changing for the better as more and more people are changing their minds about gay rights and homosexuality. I still find myself getting angry every now and again but it’s usually not anger directed at any one person. It’s anger directed at the fact that people still have to ‘come out’ and that people still have to hide who they truly are or who they love. I don’t think loving someone of the same sex should ever be wrong, and I don’t think anyone should ever have to ‘come out.’