I was gay before I knew what being gay was, and I thought it was just being alive. I mean like, “Sherlock Holmes for Halloween twice, jeans under my flower girl dress, my first kiss was a girl” kind of gay. Ugh, yes! You can do all this stuff and not be gay at all; I’m saying these are probably some of the ways I expressed it. It is also the way I expressed my love of antiquated mystery series, jeans, and complete lack of self-consciousness.
My lack of pathos over being gay probably had to do with my parents being amazing and also lots of luck. Eventually though, during middle school (when else?), the creepy long fingers of societal pressure began to poke my shoulder. It occurred to me that in order to fit in and avoid being unpopular, I should probably stop getting my hair cut so short and adjust my fashion sense. I also stopped telling people to call me “Jason”, you know, “if you want to” — as if that might have been something they wanted to do independently, and they were just waiting for me to offer them my permission. I remember actually realizing that I was gay, in my 7th grade English class and just thinking, “Okay well, I’m just gonna put this in my pocket for six years or so.” And that is exactly what I did, more or less.
There was very little angst in my situation especially considering this was the 1990s, the decade that gave birth to the WB television network and Weezer. I was only of pretty average intelligence and maturity. Yet I made this one preternaturally acute decision, which is still kind of hard to believe even though many people have done it long before and since. Somehow at the age of twelve, I surveyed the cultural climate of my small, religious town in the 1990s and thought, “my life will be abundantly easier if I just deal with this after high school.” And it was. Although I don’t advocate it, and I am despondent at reminders that this doesn’t work for everyone, it did work for me in my specific time and place.
However, I went out (or “in,” really) with one last bang, figuratively. I went to public school, but my family, like a fairly large portion of my classmates, was Catholic. That year, in 7th grade, I was going to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, which is basically similar to ceremonies in other religions wherein one becomes an adult member of the church. Well, similar except for one detail: we got to pick a name. The idea is for young Catholics to pick the name of a saint they admire, learn about them, and to adopt that name as a symbol of their confirmation. The name I chose? Barnabas.
Dark Shadows, a reboot of the 1960s nighttime vampire soap opera, premiered in 1991 and ran for only one season. As you’ve heard, I have a love of antiquated mystery series, and so I watched it religiously with my mother on her black-and-white television. I didn’t so much fall in love with the leading man, a 200 year-old vampire, Barnabas Collins, as I did totally identify with him. He got to have short hair, wear pants, and get the girl. Plus, there was this total a-hole doctor always trying to cure him of his vampirism and Barnabas was not having it. I wanted to “be” Barnabas and, a few years later, I got my chance.
When my parents inquired about my confirmation name choice, I informed them that it was in fact “Barnabas.” “It has to be a saint’s name,” said my mother. “It is a saint’s name,” I replied. Boy, twelve years of Catholic school and Catholic college, yet she didn’t know there was a St. Barnabas? “Fine,” she said. “Whatever,” my dad said. They seemed more concerned with getting dinner on the table.
My friends were picking names like “Mary” and “Margaret.” I wasn’t alone in my unique choice with possible hidden agenda. My friend Caitlin picked “Agnes,” ostensibly because St. Agnes bravely rejected her suitors and stayed virtuous for the Lord, but it was really because she was the prettiest saint in the Lives of the Saints book. In hindsight, choosing a saint that rejected all of her male suitors might not have been a terrible way for me to go, but at the time it was “Barnabas” or nothing.
It’s not against the rules to take the name of a male saint. Even nuns do it when entering an order if they feel particularly drawn to a certain saint, or their work. No, it’s not against the rules, but it is also not the ideal choice for a twelve year-old girl trying to blend in with the Limited Too crowd. In the end, I told my friends I’d chosen a female saint. We all made confirmation at different masses, and it’s not like you walk up to people introducing yourself by your confirmation name. There really wasn’t a way for them to find out otherwise. So, while completely unplanned and mostly unbeknownst to me at the time, I synced my first official act as an adult Catholic, an adult television-watcher, and an adult gay, by taking the name “Barnabas” and then telling my friends I was “Mary” or “Margaret” or “Mary Margaret.” But I always knew I was Barnabas. And my parents did too.