Friends in Black

I spent nights with my stomach in knots, crying and begging god to take away my “affliction”. The following days, I would act like nothing was wrong. I confided in no one. I wouldn’t accept that I was even possibly bisexual until two years later when I realized that all the prayer and tears brought nothing but more of the same. Parts of me were begging to be released into what felt natural. I had a friend, Brittany, that I met at church. We were instantly drawn to each other, the all-black wardrobe helped you find friends among sheep in Sunday school. Brittany was depressed due to her environment at home; her mom sounded like a monster when I’d hear her yelling in the background during long phone calls.

One Sunday, Brittany brought a friend to church. We didn’t fit in, but he gave so much less of a fuck. He dressed in all black, just like us. He could smell the gay on me, maybe he caught me checking him out. He made reference to it a few times, but I ignored him. In this particular youth service, we ended up in a group activity where we were paired up with another person, and they would tell us a few things about themselves, which we would repeat to the rest of the group. Mike was paired up with this shy little Indian girl, MJ. We were all sitting on the gymnasium floor, I don’t remember who I was paired with because I was preoccupied sitting next to Mike and MJ. I wasn’t sure what he told her, but heard him say, “Just throw it in there, it’ll be fine.”

MJ had an uneasy look on her face as Sister Kunty approached and asked what she had learned. She started, “Well, Mike has two sisters, Hot Topic is his favorite store…and he’s (said as quiet as I was in reading the definition of ‘gay’) bisexual.” Promptly after the exercise, Sister Kunty escorted Mike out of the gym and told him he was welcome here, but could not showcase his sin to the other children. I remember feeling a sense of relief as I hugged him goodbye, I was so scared of being found out. We had so much in common, but I wasn’t ready to have an honest conversation with anyone, I didn’t even know my truth yet.

As cliché as it sounds, most of my friends shopped at Hot Topic and some of us cut ourselves in bathrooms. It was stupid and hurting oneself is never a good idea, but in those moments when I was overcome with emotions I didn’t understand, I would carve things into my thighs with a razor blade. Sometimes they were just lines, sometimes words like “they hate me”, whatever the moment called for. The psychology behind cutting makes sense, some people say that it gives a sense of control to the cutter when they feel helpless. For me, it was the only way I knew how to get out of my mind and away from the intense emotional pain I was feeling.

When we lived in the suburbs, I would go on walks and hide in alleys of grass and power lines to get away long enough to smoke a cigarette. Chance had found a couple cartons when we were 14. Let me just say that both of these are terrible examples of how to cope with emotion and I hope anyone going through the same struggle will reach out to a friend or even myself instead of harming themselves. Though I would cut myself, I never gave a second thought to killing myself in my teens. I made up my mind early in life that if someone made me feel shitty enough to off myself, then doing it would just be letting them win. I was far too stubborn for that.

Role Models

Let’s dive in, shall we? If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ve had a glimpse of what a day in the life of my childhood was like. In this writing, I hope to give you a more encompassing view of the environment I lost and found myself in. My father used to say that I focus on the gay part of my life too much and he would infer my “fixation” as the reason why I can’t seem to have any kind of relationship with my direct family beyond surface-level conversation. I find this darkly comical, in a sometimes disabling kind of way. If I had to pick between the two of us who makes the bigger to-do of my sexuality, an attempted exorcism of sorts comes to mind..but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a trip to the first memories I have of my sexuality and see where we end up.

The earliest recollection is a simple, if not common one. I was 8 years old and remember playing with my sister and her Barbie dolls, not to say that boys who play with dolls are inherently gay, nothing could be further from the truth. However, in this instance, I remember being incredibly curious about the lump between Ken’s legs. This is the memory that comes to mind when people ask how old I was when I realized I was gay, but as a child, I had no idea what being gay was, and because of the environment I was born into, I wouldn’t even consider it as a possibility until I was 14 or so.

In my pre-teen years, I spent a lot of time with my best friend, Chance, and our mutual friend, Edward, who was the pastor’s grandson. I don’t recall the specifics, but before I knew anything about it, Edward had started collecting stories (he called them tracts) that pointed to me being gay. Of course, these accusations made me furious, even violent towards that little twerp, which only prompted more taunting. I didn’t know much about homosexuality, and what I did know, I learned from homophobes. So, when Edward would start accusing and making jokes about it, the problem wasn’t that he was calling me gay, it was that he was saying I was an abomination to the god we were brought up to serve and therefore going to hell for all of eternity.

I never understood Chance’s father, Ronnie. He was always a little unsettling to me, I think he liked to make people uncomfortable, maybe it made him feel powerful. 9 times out of 10, when I was there, he was upstairs on his computer. Occasionally, Ronnie would enchant us with a story, such as the time his friend was chasing around a girl he liked with a pet lizard of some sort. Apparently that girl’s boyfriend didn’t have the same sense of humor. His idea of a good time was to take the lizard from it’s human, bite it’s head off, and throw the squirming body down the joker’s shirt. Charming, I know. Don’t worry, it gets better.

I’m not sure how intentional he was in telling me this next story, but this is the same guy that killed and skinned my pet quail, Trinity, in front of my young eyes, so.. Chance and I were doing something in the kitchen when Ronnie descended from his hideaway. He found us by the pantry and proceeded to tell a story from his youth. The story goes something like this- Ronnie was riding around with a couple friends in a car, at some point they came across a young man and offered him a ride home. I’m not sure how or why, especially because of the general attitude towards LGBTQ peoples in that decade, but somehow it came out that the young man was indeed gay. They arrived at the guy’s house and before leaving, one of the other passengers quickly exited the car and headed towards the man, delivering one good punch to the face before jumping back in the car like the coward he was.

After the punchline, no pun intended, Ronnie stands with a big smile and puffed up chest, and my best friend is laughing and wide-eyed at his father and his story. I simply asked why, he replied with something like, “I guess he didn’t like gays.” This is just one of the stories I heard growing up, and by far, is not the most disturbing. People are currently being tortured and killed every day in so many parts of this world for simply loving who they love. Luckily, Chance takes after his mother more than his father and is still my brother to this day. Still, I can’t help but think how many hate crimes start with a story like this one, implanted by a trusted adult at a young age.

To some extent, I understand my parents and their twisted view of the world. When it comes to my sexuality, I know that they truly believe that being gay is an abomination, will separate one from god and deliver them straight to hell. It’s been said before and still rings true, “People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer.”-Andrew Smith

My parents lost themselves where the lines begin to blur between doing what you think is right and being self-righteous, therefore blind. This path has led them to a place where they inform my siblings and anyone within earshot what they’re against under the guise of prayer. On multiple occasions, after my parents knew I was gay, I was forced to attend their megachurch and stand beside my parents, brothers, and sisters as they applauded the pastor who was making a lot of noise while condemning the “homosexual lifestyle”, citing Will & Grace as propaganda for the “evil lifestyle”. He argued that they shouldn’t legitimize it by calling it a lifestyle because it was simply living in sin.

When I was 11 or 12, I was standing in the kitchen with my mother. She had just hung up the phone and seemed distraught. She looked at me and said, “We need to pray for your uncle.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well!” She shrilled, her voice soaring through octaves, “He’s gay and has AIDS!”

Now, this wasn’t news to my mother, though it was to me. My uncle had been living with HIV for well over a decade now, so I’m not sure what sparked this outburst. However, I have to assume that the experience of seeing your only brother get sick with an incurable disease that sparked a state of crisis in the US changed my mother, and not for the better. If anything, it partially explains her incredible fear that was transmuted into hate. With this disturbing news thrown onto my young shoulders, I went to seek solace; my mother had basically just told me that my favorite uncle was dying and going to hell. I went to my room and began to write in a journal I kept in my computer. I wrote that I felt sorry for my uncle for the above listed reasons, but something in my stomach churned. Mind you, this was before I had a real clue that I might be gay, I was in such denial. Either way, it felt and was decidedly wrong to put those words down; to say that it was wrong to be gay felt like I was attacking myself and I had to delete the words instantly. This memory sticks out for me because it would be years before I started piecing things together, yet I felt something so instinctual and guttural that day.

I had little exposure to the world outside of my parents’ view for the first part of my life. I was either at home, in church, in a Christian school, or being home-schooled. The few examples I had of queer men were the ones who were trying to be straight and find “their way back to god”. One guy, Rich, even played Jesus himself in the “passion play” the church put on, you know where you watch a guy get nailed to a cross in his loin cloth, meant to inspire guilt every time you masturbate. I think he played Judas the last year he was with the church, which I hope was intentional. Another fine example was Jeremiah, he was born with queerness falling out of his mouth, but everyone believed he had changed. He had a wife and two beautiful kids for heaven’s sake! Jeremiah worked with Chance’s mom, Sun, in a shop she owned. They would reclaim old beautiful pieces of furniture and refinish them, everything in the shop was gorgeous, stylish, and timeless.

One day, Chance and I were goofing around on the store’s laptop, as we were typing something in the address bar, something interesting appeared. Those three words, which are wonderful words in my opinion, never looked so damning- “Vin Diesel Naked”. Chance called his mom over, who quickly closed the laptop and told us to keep quiet and that it wasn’t funny. It really wasn’t, it was goddamned sad. It must’ve been days like this that inspired me to imagine a life where I was married to a woman and would have to sneak away to a stolen night with my boyfriend. That’s literally how I thought life was gonna go.

My 4th grade teacher, Mr. Haydock, was another example of a repressed queer I knew. Like Jeremiah, Mr. Haydock found it impossible to hide his tendencies, no matter how many times he procreated. Once, he quoted a song from the soundtrack to My Best Friend’s Wedding (which I knew by heart), teaching us a valuable life lesson. The chorus of the song says, “If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife. So, for my personal point of view, get an ugly girl to marry you.” Now, he was making reference to a part of the song that refers to how a woman’s attractiveness influenced her skill level when it came to cooking/homemaking. This situation was so fucked. Needless to say, his wife was less than impressed when one of my classmates mentioned our afternoon lesson to her.

One day, a few of my friends were joking around in class and using “gay” as a derogatory remark. Mr. Haydock was instantly upset, but thought he would just tell them what’s what by asking me to read the definition of the word out of the classroom dictionary, as most dictionaries didn’t have the updated meaning yet. I stood up beside my desk and read the words.

“Bright, full of color, happy,” this last one came out under my breath, I had never spoken the word before and had no idea what it meant, just that the word “sexual” was in there, “Homosexual,” I said as the class instantly fell apart in laughter.

Mr. Haydock looked disappointed at his failed attempt as he asked to see the book that was the cause of all the current commotion. This instance would mark the day I started to see books as more than just entertainment, obligation, or words on pages; they were stores of knowledge and might even help me figure out myself. I started with encyclopedias, moving to a CD-ROM version called Encarta. Soon after, I was using the library’s computers to search words like “gay”, “hunk”, and most daringly “penis”. I would get such a rush from the images. The library was tiny, so it was pretty easy to see if the librarians were getting nosy or, if I hadn’t ridden my bike that day, when my father would come in to pick me up. I always had another tab open, that way I could make it look like I was just reading Archie comics on-line.

I was living in two different worlds and it felt like these sides of myself could never meet; who I truly was and who I was expected to be lived universes apart. Within the same week, maybe even the same day, I was hanging out with my girlfriend, Pixie, (who couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to kiss her) at church or her place, only to relieve myself at night with thoughts of Matt LeBlanc climbing through my bedroom window.

Pixie and I had a notebook we would pass back and forth, writing love letters to each other. Once, she wrote and asked if I was turned on by girl on girl stuff. I attributed my negative feelings toward this thought more towards it being morally wrong than just not my taste. I still believed, on some disconnected level, that it was wrong to be any kind of gay and I wrote back to her just that sentiment. Soon after this exchange, I started really looking at my thoughts and actions in regards to my attraction to men. When it sunk in that I had been “dabbling” in this particular “sin”, I was crushed. Until this point, the two worlds were separate, light-years away. With one piece of paper, it all came crashing together, the lives collided and I was left among the wreckage.

The Evening

I can and have plotted out my life so far. I drew a time-line, scribbles of notes everywhere, taking account of the moments I can’t forget. When I start thinking about my journey, it all hits me at once- the pain/love/peace/torture/bliss.. If it’s on paper, freshly drained from my fingers, I can see that this moment led into that one and so on..but organizing memories is essentially trying to make life linear, which is not the way it feels. Einstein said, “The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” It feels as if I’m watching a film..or even browsing through the Netflix of my existence. I don’t always feel like digging up a dramatic coming of age story, but I know that part of releasing is remembering. It’s tedious work finding the old wounds and cleaning them out, but when I get to the end of a traumatic memory, and I feel like I can wear the scar with pride, as a notch of survival..well, that’s what keeps me coming back..that and it also feels like more of a duty than an option to tell my story. To quote Einstein yet again, “Human beings, in their thinking, feeling, and acting are not free, but are as causally bound as the stars in their motions.”

The end of January 2017 marks 10 years since my “odyssey”. The story has escaped my lips many times, and though the ears were eager and willing, details fall to the floor. The smell of my mother’s hair product heated by the blow-dryer as I ran for the front door..my sister’s face calmly waiting to finish a game of checkers that’s been in limbo for a decade.. These moments, pieces of my brain I wish I could cut out, have taken residence in my soul. They tear holes in my chest and beg to be let go.

Time bends broken bones, til they wrap around your throat and snap around your fingers. This is a story bout the three of us down by the water and the tide keeps rising. This world is burning and I’m terrified. I just need a little more time with you. -Aqualung

Last night I dreamed we were swimming into the ocean from the back of a sinking delivery truck. There was a cardboard box of flopping sharks in the back and I frantically tried to keep them inside, but it was hopeless. All I could do was swim like hell to shore. I woke up before I made it to the sand and before the sharks reached me.

I don’t feel inspired, I feel threatened. Those sharks are real, and just like the magnificent sandpaper-skinned beasts, they will destroy me if I let them. The water is turbulent, everyone else is swimming out to sea, the waves thrash with power from another world.

Like those hungry fish, I know it’s simply your nature to hunt, in your blood to feast on mine. This truth makes it harder to speak mine. I have seen through your eyes, seen the world label you as nothing but a monster because you have proven your potential to be. I can see the sadness in your eyes, witnessed time twist your face and turn it to granite..jagged formations growing into your cerebellum.

These nightmares that have followed me into waking life separate me from most of you. Your fleeing eyes tell me you don’t want to see. The sky is so much more lovely than the strings leading to the past. When I look up or close my eyes, all I see are the strings..the cords that tie me up. If you can’t bare to see me unravel, look away.