I overwhelmed myself. I'm sometimes bad at realizing things a little late, so when it dawns on me how much has occurred I'll go and try to take it all in at once. Sometimes, it's good, it makes me feel awesome and lifts me up. Sometimes, it drives me crazy and I feel like someone dropped me in the forest, took away all forms of navigation, and told me to find my own way back. Then sometimes, I'm just... Overwhelmed. It looks much like being lost, but in this instance, I'm uplifted. But it brings up so many thoughts at once—which is probably why this is going to sound like a lot of rambling. Please excuse this walk down memory lane...
I see the quotes from the Attorney General "Being gay is not a disorder. Being transgender is not a malady that requires a cure. Had I been Leelah Alcorn's physician, I would have told her exactly that. And that's the message I want other doctors, nurses, health professionals, and public health leaders to help get out to parents and children who may be confronting these issues."
And our president. “Every single American — gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender — every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society. It’s a pretty simple proposition.”
They're standing up. In the capitol, in the White House, on television. And people are listening. The quotes got to me because it was that moment, like many others in my life, where the sheer gravity of the moment dropped me on my ass. I started looking back over just the 9 years since I graduated High School in 2006 and can't get over the changes, the fucking tidal wave over even just the last 5 years. And I can't really catch my breath, today.
When I was 7 or 8 years old, I had a best friend named Caleb. I thought that guy just hung the effing moon. But I also thought he was the prettiest thing I'd ever seen (to this day, I realize I still have that same type: curly hair, olive skin, goofy smile...er, but I obviously prefer it in the post-pubescent, adult male form, these days haha). I mean, of course I had girl friends I adored. I remember Jordan in first grade. We were pretty inseparable. I only really remember that she sucked her thumb, a lot. I never remember thinking of any of them LIKE THAT, though. Never did I just want to sit and stare at them like I could have with Caleb.
In those same years, I one day was watching television with the daughter of my Dad's girlfriend—April. She had an older brother that I thought was the bees knees, as well, but I digress. I guess it's the first time I remember being embarrassed that I thought of boys LIKE THAT. We were watching Home Improvement and Jonathan Taylor Thomas was on, of course. Well, April said he was sooo cute and me being the enthusiastic, perky little fucker I've always been, readily agreed. "Yeah, he's really cute," I said. April stopped and looked at me all weird and said "Ew. Boys don't say other boys are cute."
I was so embarrassed, which I guess is why that memory stuck so well. She seemed genuinely grossed out that I'd said it. Some of that could be because she was a typical 9 year old, but hey, it was the Southeast, circa 1995. It wasn't that people were openly disgusted by gay people, it's that we literally never spoke about them. But obviously some people's parents did, because when I was hanging out with another one of those boys I thought was cute (and he was my bad boy hero: we cussed, broke into shit, went further down the block to play than we were allowed)... He got annoyed because when his mom was babysitting me, I was trying to talk to him when he was in the bath tub. Yes, I was 8, so sue me, I didn't know better. He was like "What are you queer?" Again, mortified.
In 4th grade, I only knew that the word "gay" was an insult, so when my teacher said something about Bill Clinton and my friend said Bill Clinton was "gay", I laughed. We were dressed down by our teacher, who said "Do you know what gay means?" And she went on to tell us it mean "Happy. It means people who love each other." She was in her 60s and, again, this was the South, so I find myself still a bit shocked she took us to task like that, but again, I was so embarrassed it stayed with me.
Ay, then that year, there was Jay. We were in the same grade but he was tall and blond and he did horse shows. God. I loved that guy. Still, though, at that age it's just so... Innocent. But of course, I knew boys didn't say they liked boys and we'd just started getting to the age where I heard things from other guys about ME being gay. I was mortified. If being gay was bad to them and they were saying I was gay, what the hell? And I surely wasn't going to talk to my parents about it. It wasn't something I'd ever heard about at home. My Aunt would say things about "queers" (a favorite of my dad's. I still shudder more at that word than I ever will at the word 'faggot'). But, there was NOTHING different about me. So what I didn't like girls... i just didnt' realize I was supposed to. It never dawned on me. Not once. I had "girlfriends" because in 5th and 6th grade that's what you do... But, I didn't know WHAT that mean other than asking "do you want to be my girlfriend?"
It was about the age of 12 when I got it, though. I remember watching the movie Center Stage (still one of my faves), sitting on the couch with my mother. I was watching the guys SO HARD. Loved their tights and those asses. I was enraptured. Well, there was a gay character and for the first time someone SAID what gay really was. And I remember saying to myself, "Oh, shit." I was... That. No one in my life had ever said the words, in our bubble of church (no, even my pastor never railed against homos because, certainly, not in my quaint home town could there ever be a homosexual in our midst.)
But still, the sexual connotation, that link to WHY one would be gay. But isn't that what people forget about being gay? It's not JUST sex. It's those head in the clouds, innocent, butterflies in the tummy moments. So what? I liked looking at Kyle's ass in gym class (Still one of the most legendary set of cakes I've ever seen. J/s) And of course at 13, my father being a bit of a slacker at parental things, never had any convo with my about sex. Not once, not ever. I think maybe that, and the repressed attitude of my extended family—my cold, unaffectionate, old school grandparents—had me embarrassed to even ask about it. I mean, I come from the family where when I was 12, my aunt said I was too old to be so demonstrative with my 9 year old female cousin who'd been my best friend my whole life... I think that's when I just stopped hugging anyone, altogether. Shamed the hugging right out of me, haha.
So, we got the fancy AOL dial-up on our Windows 98 and in the dead of night, I'd slip into the computer room, like any curious kid, and I'd look at the most innocuous things. Never once did porn even dawn on me. I was really completely naive about sex, not even masturbation was something I got until it happened on accident. Again, we just didn't talk about it. Well one of my favorite hobbies was typing in random web addressed... again, being completely naive, when I typed in boys.com (I'm sure it's nothing like it was in 1999) bam, up popped gay porn. Again, I was mortified. I closed it, I ran out of the room.
But I came back the next night.
And the next.
Yes, I looked up girl porn too, but the only fascinating thing was I'd never seen anyone in a sexual way. That vagina on that girl was ... Surprising. Haha. But every time I clicked back over to those boys, I guess it just... Made sense. Like "okay, so if I like boys, then this is what boys do together." I didn't GET that it was wrong. I didn't GET people wouldn't approve. I knew I'd be in trouble for looking at porn but I hadn't connected the sheer meanness of things like "queer" and "fag" to mean ME because I'd NEVER done anything to deserve meanness. I was talkative, sure, but I was a straight-A kid, I was polite and respectful and wore khakis and turtlenecks that my grandmother gave me for christmas. I loved going to Vacation Bible School during the summer, I loved helping my grandfather with the horses. So a total dweeb, yes, but "queer". Why would someone be that mean to ME?
I sometimes wonder, if I'd not realized then that two guys could be together like that if I'd have made some weird fumbling decisions with some girls. But it's like after that, what was the need? It's who I was. I'd not really ever been any different. I'd always thought boys were cute and the anti-climax of realizing there was a word and an action to consummate that... was just that—anti-climactic.
So I got on some websites, gathering my courage to look up words like "Gay" etc. I found some great stuff, and discovered the chatrooms at Yahoo. I found livejournal.
I e-mailed my mother.
Ay dios mio. Yes, I know that wasn't the classiest way to do it, but I was 14 so a little slack, please.
They showed up to pick me up from the Back Yard Bible Club I was helping my aunt with. (Same aunt with the hugging, and yes this was like Vacation Bible School, only in the back yard...) That car ride, I was SHAKING. That's when I got the first real run down on exactly how they felt about it. My dad was "queer this" and "queer that", my mom said it was a phase. "Someone told you what to write in that e-mail." (Not really, I've just always been decent at writing out my feelings, even if I SUCK at saying them). So the internet was cut off, we started going to church more when the doors were open, and we... Never spoke of it again.
But I knew the score. That was it. Eventually they turned the internet back on. "You can't ruin this for everyone." So I learned how to clear browser history, I talked to my online friends. And I was SO jealous. Some of them came out and it went well, some of them lived in bigger cities so even if they weren't out, they could meet other gay kids.
I'd have settled for a GBF, but there's nothing quite so lonely as living in the middle of nowhere and the only gay kid near you is just as scared as you about even attempting to talk because... There's so much to lose. It's lonely. It's scary. At fifteen, wanting nothing more than... a hug from someone who knows. I would have killed for a "boyfriend." That was a physical ache. But I didn't know any gay boys. I had plenty of guys in school I crushed on, but the way they treated the one openly gay kid...
The way I treated him.
Then I switched schools and they were... worse. There was a don't ask, don't tell thing at my old school, though I'd told a couple of friends our sophomore year. But the new school. These kids were brutal. I'd never been treated that harshly, always got along with everyone at my old school. It was a DAILY struggle. It wasn't always the bullying so much as being so different from all of them. But that set me aside enough. First time I'd ever been called a faggot happened at that school. And I lost my shit. I started having panic attacks and my depression was... intense. My mom thought I wasn't giving the school or the kids a chance, thought I was just pissed she'd moved us 100 miles. Of course, some of it was that. I was a teenager, after all. But I couldn't tell her WHY they hated me. We didn't talk about that other than when I listened to my mom say how gay marriage wasn't right, my dad seemed to actively talk shit about gay people. Probably to remind me to stay in line.
I'd never felt so fucking alone. So I would stay up ALL night on my computer, online talking to friends who honestly saved me. But, in all this, I'll say... I never wavered. I knew I was gay. It hadn't been a big deal, an intrinsic part of who I was, no matter what people said about someone recruiting me. I knew it, I always had just... liked boys LIKE THAT. Even before I knew there was a word for being LIKE THAT. I can remember. Every butterfly in my stomach when Caleb was around or when I watched Jay ride his horse. Who the fuck could have recruited me when I knew not ONE gay person until well after I'd come out... And it had never been spoken of again. The only gays I ever spoke to were MY AGE. No adult telling me "being gay is okay", just a bunch of kids hiding online, thinking we'd never EVER be able to be out or have someone to hold hands with like in the pictures in XY Magazine.
Well. It finally happened, though. My dad found porn. Aside from my mom asking me once if I ever "felt like that" I'd not really been questioned. To say my dad lost his mind was an understatement. The ultimatum from my family was "You stay here, you pay rent, you go to school, then work, you go to therapy." My grandmother, in the few times I've spoken to her in the 9 years since, still says I should stop being promiscuous and go to her friends "who help with things like this."
So my option was keep them, the repressed, unkind people they were, or for the first time ever just... Be gay. Not "bi" like I'd told my friends at first, not hiding on the internet. I couldn't. Not one more minute.
So I left. Whether this was being kicked out or not seems to be a cause of debate between me and some, these days, but regardless... What was the option? I was told "well you didn't talk to us". What could I have talked about? I was 14. I didn't even get the sex talk... Why would I come to them AFTER they'd said "no, you're just going through a phase. Gay people just try to recruit, they'll say anything." If there's a stereotypical response, I got them all. Twice.
He got out. He's actually with a really great guy these days—though, his parents aren't thrilled the guy is black, but that's a whole other thing.
I realized, though, I'd lost my grip like that once. Why was it a prerequisite to being an out-and-proud adult to lose family, respect (even thought you'd been a model kid your whole life), and coming THAT close to drowning yourself. I still am haunted by how desolate I once felt, haunted by how empty Will sounded that summer. I feel it in every time a kid comes out and has a similar story, and I hate that my story isn't that unique.
I hate that something I never struggled with or had a problem with in myself was tainted and sullied by the people who were supposed to love me unconditionally. But I'm not the only one. And that... Kills me. Knowing other kids have felt that, met that prerequisite, are meeting it as I type this.
I can't walk in the Ali Forney center, run into a homeless kid without feeling that place in me that SOMEONE ELSE broke. I never needed or wanted fixing, but I know so many who did and tried, or whose parents tried. Maybe I was just lucky I'm such a headstrong bitch and knew that there was no point, having the moral compass to say "i'm not gonna hurt some girl I love because I try to pretend to love her, for acceptance."
But that place, the one that's empty... Realizing today that all these things are going SO right... That place got a little fuller. Like, there's some patching up happening.
It's in the words and the votes of people and in the fact I'm an openly gay 20-something who makes money writing about 2 boys falling in love. I'm accepted and loved by so many people and that realization still blindsides me every once in a while. And I just want to do it for other people, another kid who never found anything wrong with himself, but that the world keeps telling is broken. I mean, my mom came around after 8 years of estrangement. Anything is possible, right?
We're not really broken, any of us. Just different. We have flaws and we're all a bit "off", but we're all so perfect in our own way. I guess I still have to tell myself this. Which is why all this change, this move toward Equality—a movement I didn't think I'd see in my lifetime—has me on my fucking knees today. I'm overwhelmed, my feeling just... Everywhere. I'm so sad for the kid I once was who was so alone for so long, sad for the man I grew into who just accepts the solitude (though, I'm happy with it... I've been loved well.) And I hope we all can change even ONE person's mind, help one person understand their kid isn't wrong, their kid is not different or broken or against God.
But that's the best of all... moments like these— like waiting for the supreme court to hear about gay marriage, seeing the backlash against the laws in Indiana, seeing something as simple as openly gay men and women win Emmy awards— remind me why I never really slid off into the abyss.
I had hope. Always hope.
And for me, for you, for the anyone who needs it...
I'm going to keep on hoping.