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My Buddy and Me

I’m inside a refrigerator. 

Caricatured milk bottles and eggs and heads of lettuce stare me in the face. The plastic smell is inescapable.

I’m trapped.

This is my first memory.

***

I’m dressed in a blue sequin two-piece, and watch enviously as Saved By the Bell’s Zack Morris marries some random woman in the ocean. But everything about this moment bleeds into the background, and all I see is Zack’s chiseled form.

This is my first dream journal entry.

***

Laura and I are walking our dog past our old middle school when she stops me.

“Well, I have plenty of straight friends and plenty of gay friends. But I don’t have any bisexual friends.”

“Well, I am.”

“Hmm. Well, whatever. Alright by me.”

This is my turning point.

***

I’m two meters underground — skimming layers of soil with disturbing precision. Amanda is shoveling behind me. We’re talking about guys. I say one is hot. She stops and turns. I stop and stare.

“I like men.”

“I know.”

A snake burrows through the wall and falls into the unit. We scream and jump out.

***

“I. Am. Gay.”

Three words strung together. Superficially, that’s all they are. And yet, they’ve reached into my gut, my heart, my mind and pressed puree. With my mental blender whirring loudly, I watch my mouth sync these words to my reflection.

I’ve known this phrase, but never sculpted it through audible language. Though whispered at first, the words seem to melt into the darkness of my apartment, permeating every atom with the spoken truth.

“Gay,” I murmur louder, my lips contorting a little less than before. The whirring stops.

I look back into the mirror and see myself for the first time.

This is my freedom.

***

He looks like a Russian poet. That’s what I tell him. He finds it endearing. We drink a bottle of wine. He makes lasagna. And the next morning, the sun fills the room, and glances off his torso. I turn over and smile into the sheets.

This is my first time.

***

I stare hard into the antique dining table’s surface, so much so that my vision blurs. Then I look up, right across to Laura. And there she sits: solid, unmoving, protective.

A few tense seconds of silence pass; they seem like months. Mom’s voice shatters them to pieces.

“Well, I hope you know this doesn’t change how much we love you.”

This is acceptance.

***

The air conditioner sputters uselessly. His leg rests on mine. We’re hot and tired and bored. We’re together. He looks up from his book and smiles.

This is love.

***

He’d always been there of course – a passenger of sorts, riding along but never engaging. But he had to be given a voice. My voice.

This is me.

Where memories are made.

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A Postmarked Message to Myself

Even before my glittery departure from the ranks of the gainfully employed, I read a lot of blogs. Now, I do it even more. Mostly because I love to read and write and look at pictures, and blogs engage all of that, making it less likely that my ADD-wired self won’t tear off and do something else. Especially if a particular blog satiates my love of design (and double plus bonus if it features our apartment).

So, I was reading a recent post on a blog I really like (and you should too), and it got me to thinking about my younger, more impressionable high school self. I’ve written plenty about my coming out process, have made an It Gets Better video, and have enjoyed becoming an LGBT advocate.

Still, I love writing letters. So, in the spirit of the Hommemaker, I decided to write one to my high school self.

***

Dear Matt,

I know why you’re paying close attention to everyone’s reactions to the first out gay student requesting to bring his date–another guy!–to the senior prom at your conservative, small town Alabama high school.

And it’s not because you think he’s cool.

It’s because a part of you identifies with him. But you can’t quite put your finger on that yet. You have an idea, but nothing fully formed.

All you can do is watch the fallout when the newspaper lines of the local paper read something about a “Gay student” and “Prom.”

Hear what other students call him.

Feel the palpable tension that falls over a crowd when he walks down the hall, the students parting like the Red Sea. And you part with them. Because you’re unknowingly in survival mode.

Because you know that, if you do put a name to what you’re feeling now, you’re not popular enough for it to be “cool” or even “okay.” After all, you’re that amorphous blob of an adolescent who has barely gone through puberty. Who always smiles, is friendly, and acts goofy. Who gets bullied by freshmen several years younger than you. Who has to stay in band because it’s your “only social outlet,” even if you hate it. Who has to like girls.

Because, well, you don’t want to be called “faggot.” Even if plenty of people already do, including those who’ve just learned the word and need a target to test it on, but who will probably never realize the repercussions of shouting it.

Here’s the thing: High school sucks.

So don’t believe the few people in your graduating class who’re saying that high school is the best four years of your life.

They’re clearly delusional.

Or they’ve gotten laid.

The point is, they’ve probably peaked tragically early, and will have little in the way of good times in the future. (In a few years, this new thing called Facebook will make it easier for you to realize this.)

But you know what? The fact that you’re processing such crazy-intense feelings at your age, in this context, is a feat in and of itself. A lot of people you’ll meet still won’t have found some of the base elements of who they are. And while being gay won’t define you as a person, being comfortable with your identity will help you build upon the strengths you already possess, but which need a bit of nurturing.

Identifying as gay will take a lot of mental and physical strength. You’re going to put your body and mind through an emotional wringer, trying to shoehorn yourself into an idealized notion of what it is to be gay.

But you won’t reach that point. Because, in the process, you’re going to hit rock bottom, only to come out bruised, but stronger nonetheless.

This process won’t happen over just a few years.

You’ll hit a handful of rough patches, each of which will test your resolve.

And you’ll gain clarity in the most unexpected ways.

You’ll come out to your family, and will be thankful for their support.

And you’ll write to that guy from high school who had the stones to come out when he did, who dealt with the crap people threw his way, to tell him that he was probably more inspirational to questioning students than he’ll ever know.

And you’ll get a response back. And you’ll have some sort of odd closure.

You’ll push yourself out of your comfort zone, and it’ll pay off.

You’ll become more invested in fighting for LGBT rights.

You’ll find your voice time after time.

Me speaking out against NC's bigoted Amendment One.

Your family will find theirs, and will help people in your hometown.

You’ll become part of a chosen family at a local community center.

And you’ll walk alongside others marching for equal rights.

Rally sign for Ides of Love, 2012.

You’ll gripe about failed dates, and you’ll vow to never go on any again.

You’ll meet an amazing guy when you least expect it, and you’ll be happy.

The duo on our way back from NYC, 2012.

You’ll be happy.

Love,

An Older, Wiser You

 

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Moving Gaily Forward

A little over six years ago, I sat my parents and sister down at our large antique dining room table in an incredibly dramatic fashion and announced that I had something to tell them, something that’d been eating away at me, eroding my relationship with them. I’d informed my sister of my plans, and she stood by me stoically.

Being gay in a small Alabama town isn’t easy. It’s not easy anywhere, really. But watching others who identified as members of the LGBT community being persecuted at my high school made me close the closet door tighter, shove a chair under its knob even. But I always knew, just like you always hear. From the time I was about eight or nine years old, I knew I wasn’t like other boys. Contact sports were never my thing, but I craved the attention boys would give me, even if they were about the tackle me because I actually caught a football (this happened exactly once, and I ran to the wrong end zone). But then we got older, and any semblance of prolonged contact was automatically suspect. Either tacit or explicit, the assumption was clear: he’s a fag.

I wasn’t called a fag until high school. I even used it in my own jeers among peers. Because that’s what you do when you’re desperate to hide a part of yourself, when you see other, prouder, braver people demoralized in front of the lunchtime crowds. I became grateful that, somehow, I passed. But everyone’s time comes due. And then you become the fag people laugh at when you walk down the hall, the fag people impersonate with overly embellished, lispy inflections and limp wrists. But you deny it; it’s the only way you know how to cope.

And then you graduate, and move away from the small town to a bona fide city, still in Alabama. There, you make life-long friends during heartfelt conversations and experiences, and leave others behind in quintessentially angsty tirades. You grow a little over the years. More people come into your life: first crushes, first exes. You realize through these experiences that who you are at your core isn’t problematic or immoral; it’s just a part of you–not the whole shebang, but a crucial building-block to use as a basis for constructing your future self.

And then you prepare to tell the people who’ve been there from the beginning, and hope they accept you. Because, during the ride back to that small Alabama town, you steel your nerves for the potential fallout–what you’ll grab and leave with, how hard you’ll try not to let them see you fall apart. You stay as distant as you’ve been for the past few years during those first few days back, trying to wrap your mind around the fact that this is it: the moment of truth.

Then we all sit down. We’re all here, at the table. And I stare at my plate. I trip over my introductory blurb–memorized for months now, but as distant as Pluto. The silence becomes palpable. I glance up every now and then to make sure they’re still there, that I’m not still in my Tuscaloosa apartment talking into the dark. And then my voice cracks at the precipice of that final phrase. But I fall in, the words following me down and out.

“I’m gay.”

Silence. I look up, straight into their eyes, catch a tear or two. And I want to scream. But then, another voice breaks the silence.

“I hope you know that this doesn’t mean that we love you any less.” Mom: the champion.

Still, it takes time for it to sink in. There’re more tears and questions, and all the typical things that follow. And there’s a bit of distance. But then, gradually, there’s more acceptance and interest in my romantic life. There’s the usual prodding about “getting out there” and questions about “seeing anyone.” They express an interest in becoming more involved, educating others. They want to make a difference for others like me. They talk about opening their home in the middle of the Alabama woods to disowned, homeless, or threatened LGBT youth. They are no longer the “them” against “us.” I’m immensely proud.

And I think to myself, and say aloud, “I’m fucking lucky.” I’m out, proud, and loved.

And I love each and every one of you.