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The World Stage

I can remember being queer as a jaybird before I was ever in school. The world made a million little adjustments to my innate urges but they were there from the start. I had a keen eye for attributes that I found beautiful: doe’s eyes, smooth skin, kissable lips. Sometimes they belonged to a girl and sometimes they belonged to a boy. I mean, who really cares? 

A lot of people, apparently.

In elementary school, I can’t remember when the distaste for homosexuality and all its derivatives went above ground in my social sphere, but I recall the endless remarks that people volunteered about me: I was a ladykiller. I would have to beat the girls off with a stick. I was going to get a girlfriend—or a few of them. And that was it. Girls or bust.

I recall making a joke to an adult that a friend of mine was gay. I can date it to maybe age 6. I also recall the panic that ensued. He demanded to know where I heard that term and if I knew what it meant. My answer was perfunctory: “boys kissing boys”. I understood the concept somehow and then I understood the context: it was not to be spoken of. I don’t know if adults in the nineties thought it could be caught or what. It was stamped out about as soon as it came up.

But oh, the bizarre memories of when it did. Adults actually loved to bring it up and discuss it, but they always seemed angry about it more than anything. I can recall going to a wedding around the same age where one of the guests dared to bring his male partner. Even more offensive was when he held his hand and looked longingly at him during the bride and groom’s first dance. This was more hotly inspected than the first dance itself. If he and his partner had dared to have a dance themselves, somebody might have called the riot squad. I also seem to recall his partner being black. Irrational hatred is almost always a Venn diagram. Imagine at your own peril what was said.

Aside from a shy glance at a stranger, I remember the first boy I ever crushed on. He was a close friend and we were ironclad chums (for about a year) which involved lots of sleepovers and wrestling and hitting each other with sticks and all the other joyously wimpy things young boys in the Midwest indulge in.

I remember one sleepover in particular where we were playing a rather heightened version of truth or dare that revolved almost exclusively around us whipping our little wieners out as much as possible (the truth portion being primarily which girls in our class were cute as a futile effort to offset how level 10 gay we were being). One of the other boys asked my friend to get hard and spin his willy in a circle and the second he pulled the little thing out, his dad threw open the door with such force it sounded like a thunder crack. At the top of his lungs, he told us we weren’t “going to do that shit here”. We weren’t really sure what he was referring to but the shit ceased. I think we watched “Rambo” instead.

Living in the Midwest is a hoot. You learn quickly what an echo chamber of nonsense a small town really is after hearing a lifetime of unsolicited (and insane) opinions. I was gripped with a strange anxiety when I realized a lot of the people I was supposed to trust (due to their advanced age and supposed wisdom) were more childish than I could ever hope to be. It’s one thing entirely to be called a faggot by a peer but hearing it from someone three times my age was sour and perplexing.

Teenagers thrive on stupid conflict so you can bet your bippy we tried to rack up as many slurs as we could attract. There’s sport in it. A lot of the time, we would just be walking around town and someone would roll down their car window and angrily yell something about being gay at us (especially perplexing because no self-respecting gay man would dress the way I did as an adolescent). It was more than a random ejaculation. It felt compulsive, like they couldn’t prevent themselves from saying it.

I’ve been a little skeptical of the idea that homophobes are all self-loathing closet queens. I think a sizable portion of them have to be but I remember vividly the bizarre adolescent obsession with all things gay, but not even actual gay things. It was an exaggerated version of gayness that revolved almost entirely around people putting things in their assholes. Well beyond penises. I’m talking objects, small animals, automobiles. It was Freudian and would be hilarious if it wasn’t coming from a real place of stupidity and hatred. Straight men think more about their assholes than gay men ever will. It was an obsession.

And everything was gay and no one got a pass. I can recall wearing a dress to school on Halloween (knowing exactly what I was doing) and this numbskull twice my size yelling for his friends to “come look at the faggot in the dress”. Not even Halloween was an acceptable time to toe the line of gender norms. This was confirmed the time I wore a different dress for Halloween and a grown man squared up at me while in line with his family at the store (forcing the quick-thinking cashier to take me to the employee bathroom so I could pee safely, for fuck’s sake).

You can’t take people like that anywhere. They always pin the catalyst for their macho anxieties on gay men (or even just people who seem gay). They are of the opinion that people who aren’t straight should just keep it to themselves, even though straight people all but fuck in the damn streets in performing their gender and orientation. These are the same people who buy near-photo realistic casts of adult male scrotums to hang off the back of their truck hitches. Irony is not a facet of their being. If you ask me, it seems a little gay, but what do I know?

I don’t know that a short essay can truly be comprehensive on any subject, but I know it certainly isn’t on this one. There’s still a lot more that I haven’t even covered, a lot I probably haven’t unpacked to myself, let alone in a word processor. There’s still the matter of the closet, a place I didn’t come out of so much as slowly dribble out, bit by bit. And it’s been a pretty okay experience, but I sure as hell waited to do it. Even my desire for confrontation has limits.


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