It was a sunny, spring, responsibility-free Saturday afternoon — one of those beautiful days that was made for future nostalgia to treasure. I’d began losing some of my adolescent interest in things and found a newer, more foul-mouthed and rebellious clique to hang out with. They’d already been a fully formed trio with history attached, but invited me to be the fourth member of their posse. In return, I rewarded them by becoming the consummate teammate. I adopted their mannerisms, lingo, and personalities while abandoning my own in the classic coming-of-age trope called ‘trying to fit in.’ The quartet walked along the sidewalk with beach towels over our shoulders and our scuffed up Air Maxes scraping the concrete and flower petals under our soles. The streets were moderately lined with beautiful, white, Bradford Pear trees, which the neighborhood kids immaturely and inaccurately referred to as ‘pussy willows’ because of the particular stench they would emit when in bloom. Everybody always complained about the fishy aroma, but I always thought they smelled more like cum. When I made the mistake of saying this out loud, my new compadres laughed in unison, asking me how I knew what cum smells like.
A neighboring apartment complex was celebrating the opening of the community pool and we decided to crash the party. Innocuous Top 40 radio filled the perimeters and the smell of something deliciously burning permeated the air as it always does in the South when the weather begins to warm up. Juveniles of varying ages splashed around in the eye-burning, chlorine-rich water. When the youngsters got out of the pool to eat a charred hot dog, the adults monitoring the situation made sure we waited 30 minutes before getting back in so that we didn’t cramp up and accidentally drown. The gang and I sat around, far away from the commotion, and proceed to have one of those bored, mind-numbing discussions that boys have to fill in the void between having fun. The nature of the exchange was to go around the circle asking each other would we rather suck a dick or do some way more asinine act, and no matter how far they took it, you never sucked a dick.
Like most boys, I grew up in a safe haven, drowned in baby blue, action figures and footballs. My big brother would punch me in the shoulder and tell me that boys aren’t supposed to cry. I’d tell my mother that there’s a monster in the closet and she’d insure me that there isn’t. My father would look at his spitting image and pinch my cheek, bragging to his friends about how I’d never have any problems getting pussy. Even before I knew about sexuality, I understood the default. I knew I was passionate about boys and had to go to the extremes to conceal this fact. Even before I knew what the status quo was, I knew I had to be loyal to it.
As the elementary playground jabs of ‘gayfer’ became the full on verbal assaults of ‘faggot’ in high school, I held on to this suppression even tighter. The crew changed, but the bravado stayed the same. My life became emulated behavior. Emotional demeanor had to be bottled up to stave off the ‘weak’ perception associated with being gay. Machismo was muscled up and masculinity exaggerated so that I could fit in with my peers. Everybody seemed to have preconceived ideas about what it meant to be gay and I tried my best not to fit that mold. I mastered perception.
I’ve witnessed homophobia so extreme that guys couldn’t even be within the line of sight of somebody gay without losing the ability to focus on anything aside from the fact that there was a gay person in the vicinity. I’ve listened to 10 minute tirades about fags, chocked full of words such as degenerates, disgraceful, and abomination. I’d sit right next to them, fake laughing as my face heated up and drops of sweat dripped down my ribcage. Many times, I’d participate in the abusive rhetoric just to be able to talk about homosexuality out loud, because it was the only time I could. It seemed as though the defining passion of my life were only left in these harangues or in a moist sock that I hid at the bottom of the hamper. When I’d hear other guys going on these rants or randomly referencing homos, I’d wonder if they felt the same. It wasn’t until years later that I heard the stereotyping about the ones being the most against it having something to hide. It wasn’t until even later that I’d experience this first hand.
I hate liars, and it was beginning to become a lifetime conundrum. After graduation caps were tossed in the air and I stepped into the banality of real life, I decided to at least open the closet door. I stopped overcompensating, but even though I wasn’t pretending anymore doesn’t exactly mean I was a beacon of truth either. I still wasn’t having sex with men so I felt that since my actions had yet to dictate my orientation, coming out would unnecessarily complicate things. But the longer I waited, the heavier those words became. The longer I waited, the more I felt ashamed for leading people on for so long. It felt as if a revealing would be seen as corruption. Betrayal, even. I was the insincere one. Could I really be mad that my friends didn’t accepted me after spending years presenting a version of myself that wasn’t real? I made other people the victims of my nature, and when the thoughts of that became too much of a burden, I closed the closet door again.
There’s nothing worse than feeling alone when you have people that are supposed to be there for you. I couldn’t see any other option other than suffering in silence. Coming out would cause waves everywhere and I could possibly lose everything I ever deemed important. Even if it wasn’t the relationship-destroying cinder block I felt it would be, nothing would ever be the same if I did. Even if history held my friendships together, I would never be sure what the boundaries were. Whether acting a certain way would drive a wedge even further. If doing or saying something would make them uncomfortable. I could never be myself.
A different thought process in the same brain told me I didn’t need friends who didn’t “agree” with my lifestyle. Friends who tolerated me, but didn’t accept me. Friends who’d piously look down on me because they thought my sins were greater than theirs. I’d be excluded from a lot and slowly ostracized but would stupidly keep hanging on, simply because they left a thread for me to hang on to. At worst, they’d abandon me completely and shake their heads whenever they thought about us, disgusted that they used to share blunts me.
Towards the end, I’m pretty sure they knew. I hadn’t had a girlfriend since junior high and didn’t even put up a facade that I was even interested any longer. But as long as nothing was said aloud, everything was good. All the signs I gave out could be reinterpreted to give me the benefit of the doubt, but as soon as things were verbalized, everything would fall apart. I decided that living a joyless existence wasn’t how my story would end. That hating myself for something I had no control over and allowing society to steer my life wasn’t a life worth living. Instead of expressing these things clearly, I took the cowards way out. It became a defense mechanism I’d use repeatedly throughout life. A selfish thing I started doing to minimize the emotional labor that I felt I couldn’t handle. I’d disassociate myself from those relationships, deciding it’d be better than getting harmed first. I distanced, and then, convinced myself that they did something wrong, because in my head, they did. They didn’t understand. They hindered me. They didn’t see me for who I was and accept it, even though I never gave them the chance.
I’ve been telling people I’m gay out loud for the past five years and it never becomes less awkward. There’s always the those first few second where I’m trying to gauge the reaction of whoever I told while keeping the facade of nonchalance. Truth is, I don’t give a fuck about other people’s acceptance, but it still feels weird that I have to be the one to make a situation uncomfortable simply by stating my being. But it’s something that has to be established from the offset now because I never want to put myself in the same situation that affected the majority of my life.
I haven’t gotten in contact with my old friends, mostly because life is transient, and people don’t hold the same significance in the grand scheme as they once did. I can’t be anything appropriating the same guy I used to be, because he wasn’t real. There’s no need to try to force chemistry with people who’ve drifted apart based off a superficial past. If I did see them, I’d probably apologize for how I ended things. It’d be halfway sincere, but I wouldn’t feel too much guilt over my actions, which typically isn’t the normal sentiment to base apologies on, but nothing about me is normal. You don’t grow up listening to people who care about you lambasting faggots while knowing you’re one and end up becoming normal. They couldn’t know how they were affecting me at a young age the same way I couldn’t know how to correctly articulate my feelings.
In a perfect world, neither parties would ever have to go through the emotions of losing a friend or having to alienate yourself just because you liked devouring pillows behind closed doors. I didn’t choose this identity, but I choose to own it. And I’ll never force myself to hate myself as much as society wants me too again.