As a teenager, there was a sweet spot in the daytime between when I got home from school and when my mom slumped in from work. During that precious window, I would queue up pornos online, grab mom’s body lotion, and go to town off of the thirty second clips that took two hours to download. Then I would delete the shameful evidence, wiping away the remnants of my lust with an old t-shirt. I liked what I was doing, but I hated what I liked. Mom would come home and ask me why the family picture on the desk was face down, sniffing suspiciously as the perfumed scent of her good lotion lingered on my right palm.
I liked what I was doing, but I hated what I liked.
The dissonance between how I felt and how I wanted to feel was rooted in the omnipresent church hymns humming throughout the Southern Baptist households I grew up in. A velvet painting of Jesus collected dust on a living room wall. His eyes followed me everywhere I went. My desires hadn’t yet materialized outside the realm of my imagination and I’d convinced myself that they never would. He was always watching. I couldn’t see the upside to coming out.
My mother discovered that I was gay the same way a lot of millennial parents did. Her eyes welled up as she asked about some “interesting” pictures she stumbled upon in my internet browser history.
My heart hit a drumroll and my hands played an invisible tambourine as I was forced to face the music of a song I never thought I’d have to hear out loud. She asked me that infamous three word question—Are you gay?—and I froze, my thought process stuck between wanting to finally let somebody know the truth and wanting to protect everything I’d ever known. The truth was exposed in the unpleasant silence I couldn’t break. The well began to stream down her face as she pulled me closer to her, reassuring me that it was going to be alright and that nothing was going to change.
She was wrong.
The act of revealing my sexuality sent a buzz through me. I figured if the one person in the world that I was afraid of disappointing could handle the truth, then telling other people wouldn’t be too big of an issue. Still, I stalled.
The act of revealing my sexuality sent a buzz through me.
Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor was tucked in the MF Doom section of my iPod because I knew nobody would ever find it there. I’d walk towards my high school commons area in the morning with my earbuds as audibly low as I could bop to until an administrator would snap at me and point at her own ear, cautioning me to stop.
Regardless, sometime during my senior year, the facade seemed to fade. I questioned my sexuality more proactively. A friend wondered aloud why I hadn’t had a girlfriend since middle school and why I didn’t want to go to the prom with the pretty girl who decided to ask me out and why I didn’t seem at all interested in girls like the other boys did.
I’d shrug, evading eye contact to mumble some guarded distortion. She would just shake her head, pretending to accept my BS and let it go. I thought my act was convincing until one memorable spring afternoon. That day, I swaggered around after school with the cool of a kid who was one week away from graduating with passing grades in all classes. The aforementioned friend introduced me to a classmate I’d never met before.
After a particularly animated conversation about a boy I had a crush on who had a crush on a girl, this classmate, whom I’d never had a conversation with before, rudely asked me that three-word question with point-blank bluntness: “Are you gay?”
She knew. I knew she knew. She knew that I knew she knew.
I hadn’t heard those three words strung together since my mom had pointed them towards me nearly a year prior. Feeling ambushed, my words again became stuck—this time between a simple school’s-over-in-five-days-so-you’ll-never-even-face-the-fallout yes and a declarative mind-your-business no.
I wanted to say both, but could muster neither response.
“He’s metrosexual,” my friend chimed in, saving me. “They’re kinda gay, but they still like women.”
The invasive stranger stared me down in my oversized t-shirt and skateboarder drag and shrugged before continuing the conversation. My friend shot me a sly smile and I sent one back in appreciation. She knew. I knew she knew. She knew that I knew she knew. But she would let it stay a secret until I decided it shouldn’t be one anymore.
When I finally mustered enough courage to let her know, she replied by bellowing the most ‘no shit’ laugh I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing.
Time is an incredible concept. Specifically, the fact that if you let something pass—something that seems extremely significant in the present, even—it becomes completely irrelevant in the future. I feel like I’ve lived a million lives since the days of living in the proverbial closet in high school. Those thirty-second video clips that used to preoccupy me before mom came home from work seem so camp now. I haven’t spoken to my friend in years and couldn’t dredge up a composite sketch of her nosy classmate if I had to. And nowadays, I tell people I’m gay with the exact same effort it takes to yawn.
Love is confusing for all of us. Find out how Alex navigates the dating world in Alex Strangelove, available now on Netflix.