In Hebrew, my first name means “Secret of God.” My mom told me this when I was three. Secret of God, come to breakfast. Secret of God, don’t pee on the toilet seat. Secret of God, don’t interrupt me and learn how to hold a knife the right way or I’ll scream.
In sixth grade, I wrote my first name on the bookplate of my first diary. It had a crescent moon on the cover. The moon was smiling, and holding its own tiny journal in its little moon-crotch. There’s an entry from May 6, 1999 re: self-help. My instructions to myself: be more selfless, think less about the contours people’s skin make on top of their blood/muscle, and try to turn yourself toward a social studies assignment about Mesopotamia so you won’t be distracted by cocks.
Secret of God.
Through middle and high school, I didn’t tell anyone. And in high school, I made my friends wrap me inside their living room blankets, mummifying me in alpaca throws. I’d fit my fingers in the valleys between my ribs and think about when, or if, I’d ever come out, and what it would feel like, and who I would be when it happened, and whether I’d have facial hair by then.
It felt good. The feeling you get when everything is almost. If our identities are like eggs, then this was like carrying an egg in your hands across a field, and cupping it so it doesn’t break, and whenever anyone asks what you’re doing, just shrugging and saying, “Oh, I’m just walking across a field like everyone else, can’t you see?”
I think I was — to most people, at least — a convincing straight man. But that’s not really my call to make. I do know that I felt safe, and I felt loved, and I felt sincere. It’s contradictory, I know, but sometimes we’re at our best when we’re faking it.
A closeted life is good for some things. First, there’s the active identity construction. The constant question, “What would straight me do?” Practicing mindset shifting in the middle of a conversation, or just before one, or in the train on the way home as you rehearse how you will modulate your voice differently next time — these are worthwhile exercises. Because you’ve actively, forcefully, changed the shape of your own identity, you are insanely malleable. You are always looking through someone else’s eyes. There is no “other.” Tell me to act like a dog, and I might be able to do it.
A closeted life also makes you patient. I didn’t kiss a man until after college. I’d learned to be patient — not the kind of shallow patience that allows you to wait for a marshmallow, but a deeper patience, one that concerns your own self-actualization. We’re all waiting to become our best selves, our freest selves, and for most of us it takes years. There are some of us who can handle that wait better than others.
Mostly, though, it was exciting to know that there was this thing, this fourth dimension inside of me that, because I’d pushed it far below the surface, even I couldn’t see sometimes. We never want to know all of ourselves, or all of anything, really — we want to try, but we never really want to get there. It’s why we enjoy gossip. And celebrities. And wearing beautiful underwear.
I was in that closet for ten years, and they were the best years of my life.
In 2010, I told my mom I want to marry a man when I grow up. I guess it was supposed to feel good. Mostly it felt like premature ejaculation.
For a person who signs every check with the English translation of the word “secret,” it’s hard to let that little ball of wonder and tenderness go. That precious egg you’ve carried across so many fields and in so many pockets. I dropped it. I was ordinary. Just another gay boy in New York.
I know it’s weird, but I miss it. I miss the kinds of rehearsals I’d do before high school lunches. I miss strategically choosing a hoodie and jeans that would align with my straight alter ego. I miss wrapping myself in blankets, looking up at the ceiling, and praying to the shrine of secrets in my head. I miss wanting to please my parents. I miss caring so much about what people think of me.
We live our lives wanting to “be who we really are” when, really, that degree of authenticity does not exist. We will never know ourselves — not what’s inside our heads or what’s inside our bodies. Our friends and lovers may know some of us, but we are always changing, ever-moving agglomerations of star stuff, they will never know everything. When you’re in the closet, you appreciate that ambiguity — you cup it in your hands and you take care of it.
Do I hate myself? Is there a streak of homophobia in this essay? Well, no. Or at least I don’t think so. I can assure you I’m a run-of-the-mill homosexual these days, pretty confident, and sexually active. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still miss my faux-hetero days.
For all of the closeted homos reading this, prepare to forfeit your fourth dimension. You may already know this, but the closet does not open onto a meadow of hyacinths with pink ponies and Pegasuses flying off into the atmosphere as they “express” their “true” “selves.” No. It leads into a room. Wooden floors. Four walls. Dust bunnies doing slow pas de bourrées in the corner. It might be bigger than your closet. Or it might not. Look around. What do you like in that closet, and how will you feel when you can’t go back?
Check out Harris Sockel’s new Thought Catalog book here.
image – Purple Sherbet Photography