A Better Portrait Of Homosexuality

I was sitting in that red swivel chair I had in my office when I heard her knock. Her knuckles trampolined against the glass pane that was next to my door, and sent bullets of sound ricocheting off pictures, and books, and the potted plant my boss had given me on my first day, which I’d managed to murder. It pouted — brown and spineless — next to a picture of San Francisco on the black Ikea shelf I’d hung above my desk. I spun around and crabbed my chair toward the door with my feet.

I could see her through the window: she was wearing her puffy, faded blue vest — the one that her friend said, “made her look a little dyke-y” one morning when she walked into class. Her hair was sexy-messy, and rested behind her head in an I-hit-snooze-eight-times bun while her army green vinyl backpack lazily dangled from her left shoulder. She was still knocking — now faux-frantic, which made me laugh.

“Holy hell,” I mouthed, “I’m almost there.” When I reached the handle, I punched it down and the door swung open, bumping against my knees. I pushed my chair back, she walked in, and we hugged — the same way we had two months earlier when I told her everything.

“Gahhh! Hi!” she excitedly said, unzipping her backpack. “I got you something yesterday at this Baths concert I went to.” Her hands plunged inside, and — after some foraging — pulled out a copy of Camus’ Plague. She grabbed what looked like a bookmark that peeked from the top of the pages and handed it to me. “Read the back first,” she explained. The words were scrawled in olive letters at the top of what turned out to be a bumper sticker:

“This is so normal!” it read. She was casually leaning against my wall, arms folded, and smiling, one leg kicked behind her.

“Well, turn it over!” she insisted. I flipped the sticker in my hands, and was greeted by a picture, one that would hem me with hope for weeks.

It was a bedroom: modern, tidy, wooden-dresser-ed. A few socks littered the floor, and the sheets of the bed were tangled and loved. The bed itself was simple, boasting a modest headboard, and it sat between two nightstands that each carried frames filled with family, and half-filled glasses of water. Asleep on the left was a scruff-haired man, with the kind of facial hair that told you he liked to camp. He’d put his hand over his eyes, like you do when the sun’s crept through your windows too soon and you’re hiding in grumbled protest from its rays. Seated on the edge of the bed in black, thick-rimmed glasses was a second man — this one clean-shaven and strong-jawed. He was blond, broad-shouldered, and shirtless, his arms half-raised with palms to the ceiling. You could tell he was shaking his head, and he was smiling toward the bedroom door, which was open. Through the threshold ran a laughing, two-year old girl with licorice black hair that shot from her head in two, firework-like pigtails. She was wearing an oversized dress shirt, the one the man on the edge of the bed was missing, and she was running toward her dads.

“See?” my friend said. “You’re going to be fine!” We hugged again, and then we laughed until our stomachs hurt, the way you do when you find out that you got the job or into the school or that he likes you back. I remember jumping, too, which is embarrassing. “I thought you’d appreciate it,” she said. I said thank you as she slipped out the door and let it shut behind her. After she left, I sat back in my chair and rolled up to my desk, setting the sticker on my computer’s keyboard. For minutes, I stared and scoured; I investigated the picture, bewitched by its promise of peace and companionship and family. I laughed a few more times before the tears started collecting in the crooks of my eyes and crawling toward the floor. When I decided to go to Point Loma, I remember my mom crying. “These are happy tears, son,” she said, which were the same kind I was crying that afternoon in my office.

Growing up, I never saw healthy portraits of my sexuality, never caught glimpses of what life could be: not in movies, not at church, not with friends. Whenever homosexuality was mentioned, it was usually hushed or laughed or worse — ignored.

“Homosexuality is a perversion and only leads to immorality,” I remember one pastor explaining. “There is no healthy expression.” When who you are is lampooned and demonized, dreaming becomes difficult.

My cartoon sticker screamed otherwise. It said, “Look! They’re like you, and they’re happy.” It said I might get to laugh at my daughter one day when she takes my clothes. It said my husband might sleep later than I do, and that we might have nice furniture. It said the pornographic picture of my future that had been painted by people I trusted was wrong.

I carried it with me everywhere, that prophetic vision: to class, to lunch, to bed, and stole glances whenever the familiar voices spoke — the ones that said what I wanted wasn’t possible.

“Someday,” it’d faithfully whisper. “Someday.” TC mark


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  • Guest

    this is beautiful!

  • BL

    Love love love!

  • http://twitter.com/wesleethomas Weslee Janisen

    Please sneak your address into a future article, so that I may know where I can send fan mail! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/t.jason.ham Jason Ham

    Lol this is cute. Don’t worry honey, you are born with white privilege, Dan Savage’s movement was made with men like you in mind. Get a post-secondary education, meet a boy, grow old together, get married, buy a prius, buy a 3-car garage house in the suburbs and adopt some (possibly multicultural) kids. These are things you can do, the world is on your side. Chin up lol. 

    • Guest

      i understand and agree with your comments (in a certain sense) , but they are said in such a way that makes you not nearly as effective as you could be 

      you need to learn how to make an appropriate and attractive arguments that will make people listen… not push you away

      • Guest2

        to add to this guests comments, he said a better portrait of homosexuality not a fucking perfect one. in the title he acknowledges this isnt the best path but its healthy to focus on the positive once in a while

    • Anonymous

      Get over yourself, please. This contributes nothing.

      • http://www.facebook.com/t.jason.ham Jason Ham

        @ @gabydunn:disqus  and Guests: I have a handful of friends that weren’t entirely sure if they wanted to come out because they didn’t know if they could have kids/family (as if staying in the closet would somehow afford this luxury) and I wanted to grab them by the shoulders and shake them. U WILL BE FINE. We (north american society) have gotten to the point where gay white men can find support in the workplace, schools, the media, even among family. I don’t get where people get the notion that gay men can’t have functioning families. There are more than enough examples around and the most common attitude among young gay men is that they do eventually want to have a family (much to the shock and horror of many older gay men). It’s not considered a weird thing anymore. I mean, some friends complain to me about how hard it can be to find “the one” and how people might perceive a gay family at a supermarket or at PTA meetings but ffs, at least you’re not in Uganda. Telling it like it is is just tough love I guess. Like, I woulda felt a connection to this at age 16 but I have friends mulling over coming out to their liberal WASPy parents at 22? What have you been DOOOING.

        The phrase “white privilege” can be a contentious one (and it was meant to raise some eyebrows). Many LGBT POCs cannot find the same help that white LGBT people can, that was all I meant by that. I would include them with the married gays and their priuses but the most popular gay media outlets do not portray it that way. Times are changing, of course. As a person of colour coming out of the closet you find yourself choosing between the culture from your upbringing and “gay culture”, which the media portrays as being overwhelmingly white (and fair enough, because it kinda is).I feel as if my comment contributes to a discussion on this essay. Not all comments need to be “this is so beautiful”. (It was a good essay, the word “beautiful” i reserve for ryan o connel)

        tl,dr; i know. But if you tell me to get over myself I am firing you a goddamn essay.

  • http://twitter.com/therealjaybaker Jay Baker

    This story has an Ikea ad next to it. I know I should expect this, but it’s still weird.

    • http://twitter.com/therealjaybaker Jay Baker

      This was my comment.  
      This story has an Ikea ad next to it.  I know I should expect this, but it’s still weird.

    • http://www.facebook.com/t.jason.ham Jason Ham

      Mine has “Poise Hourglass Shape Pads” feminine products. I think the ad-placement algorithm is homophobic or at the very least a jerkwad.

  • Anonymous

    Mr Clayton, thank you. Thank you so much.

  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    You’re delightful.  Really.   However, you seem to contradict my theory that gay writers on this site are paid in the number of times they write about sex, drugs, and alcohol. Hmmmmm.  

    • Mel

      You sound like the haters he’s describing in this essay. Gay people don’t need to be theorized or generalized. Appreciate the writing of each person as his or her own, not as something that belongs to a group. 

  • Riskyduck


  • Robin

    This practically made me cry. So lovely.

  • Lilith

    This is beautiful.  Thank you for posting a wonderful essay I can share with my homophobic friends showing that love transcends gender. 

  • lws13

    Thanks, I kinda needed this right now, tears are definitely battling my will right now, but, they’re happy tears.  Such visual writing, so visceral…   Ryan was right, you are damn special – keep it coming!

  • Guest

    I don’t get it!

  • rebecca

    This was great….amazing, moving, and just absolutely wonderful. It gives me hope too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eblank3.langs Eddie Blankenship

    This moved me so much I shared it on Facebook.
    This has been my life. Here I am with a man who wants to marry me and I still have a hard time envisioning our future because of the negative images that have been painted by the people I trusted in the past… I still have a hard time believing that someone like me, can live a normal life like everyone else.

    Thank you so much for sharing

  • Sarah

    Beautiful, Todd!  Simple and perfect and beautiful.  Nice job!

  • Nviennaguy

    Amazing article.  Heart-felt and genuine.  Can’t wait to read more from you.

  • Anonymous

    Mixed feelings. Beautifully written, but there are just so many assumptions made by the author that prevented me from connect to the passage. For example, what does this article have to do with homosexuality, other than it’s a scene that just so happens to include (again, what we assume to be) a same-sex couple? And why is this necessarily “better”

    I, too, want to be in a committed relationship with my partner (and eventually have kids), but that has NOTHING to do with my homosexuality, and everything to do with my desire for stability/growth as a person.
    I suppose my major beef is with the title. It threw me off. Perhaps it should have been entitled, “A Better Portrait of Homosexuality For Todd Clayton”.

    • http://twitter.com/todd_clayton Todd Clayton

      Totally fair critique, I think.  What was meant by “better portrait” was definitely self-referential, and was a reference to my upbringing.  

      • Anonymous

        Note to self; learn to proofread. :/

  • Courtney

    this is incredible (:

  • Bealtaine6

    Thumbs up!This piece was beautifully written

  • http://twitter.com/gypzAndy AndreaCarmona

    I love this! So beautiful. I feel… warm.

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