Jason Howard is the author of A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music and coauthor of Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, the Nation, Sojourners, Utne Reader, and on NPR.
It was 1995, the year Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” was released, the end of my eighth-grade year, in rural Kentucky where homophobia was—and continues to be—rampant. My secret boyfriend and I—the one I had kissed in darkened classrooms after Science Olympiad practice, his blond scruff chafing my freshly shaved cheeks—had broken up. We were bullied and threatened in the hallways at school, and gossiped about when we passed notes between classes and had lunch together. I ache for those two boys now, for the normal acne-scarred romance they were never allowed to have.