I recently signed up for a Gay Male Memoir Course through UCLA, because 3.5 jobs isn’t enough right? The first assignment was just a piece about an early on moment in our coming out stories. For those of you who know me, it’s no surprise I landed on that high school straight ex:
If anyone had still been paying attention to the game, chances are it never would have happened, but most of the room was Truth-or-Dare’d out. The only ones really still playing were the three of us: me, my best friend Jenn, and Him. The first him, anyway. There’d be other hims later, many other hims, but then, it was just Him. Jeff. . The rest of the room, the other dozen or so people I’d invited out to celebrate my seventeenth, were caught up in their own conversations. They couldn’t hear Jenn urging Jeff to ask me who I liked, and they definitely couldn’t hear my answer.
Jenn knew what that answer would be, of course. I’d come out to her the previous fall. She was one of three people who I’d told by that point. Her reaction had been the best: complete acceptance and total lack of surprise. That had compelled me to tell the other two, whose reactions had been, for Pam, awkward laughter, and for Verity, betrayal and anger. Three people knowing “my greatest secret” was more than I’d ever intended, so I was fine leaving it at that, especially given the declining positivity in results.But that night, I took a plunge there’d be no coming back from.
“Who do you like?” he asked, just simple and straight-forward.
“You,” was my reply, equally simple but far less straight. Jenn was on my right, legs folded underneath her on the couch, bouncing up and down with excitement. Jeff was in the chair next to her, everyone else behind us doing their own thing.
“I’m just not gay.”
Was it immediately at that moment he said those four words for the first time, or did the news take a minute or two to sink in? Looking back, it’s impossible to remember, and given everything that came after, the timing didn’t matter. The words were said, right away, or minutes later, or possibly even the next day. They were said, and they ended all the hope that had carried me, giddily, into the confession.
He’d seemed it though. And that wasn’t just me projecting. Jenn thought so too. The plan had never been just outing myself for the sake of being out. Oh no, it had been outing myself because that was how I’d get to the next part, the good part, the fall in love forever part. Because when you’re seventeen and freshly out and you haven’t had your heart broken yet, you still believe in forever. Or at least I did.
But with those four words, he ended the hope that that forever would be with him.
“I’m just not gay.”
He said it lots over that summer, as the friendship deepened.
And he had called to say it once again that fall.
It was her birthday this time. Jeff and I were drunk and Jenn was just laughing at us. The vodka soon filled me up, and I ran upstairs. I came back down to the basement from the bathroom – ‘Angel’ by Aerosmith playing on the stereo – walked by them kissing, and, wait – what? I turned around, but she was gone. Nothing about the night until then had indicated it would change everything so profoundly, but as she cried and I cried and she accidentally outed me to my mother, who panickily outed me to the rest of my family, and all the while, all he could say was, “I’m just not gay.”
My heart was shattered. She was my best friend, and he was… my Jeff. And in the midst of that, there was my mother, now privy to something I’d never intended to tell her, and she was in a crazy denial. “You can’t be,” she said, through my locked door, while I was crying and Jeff was passed out on the couch across from me. “You’re just not gay.”
I was barely aware of the momentous shift in my reality. I was out to everyone! How did it even happen? No, all I could see was them, kissing. Her, the best friend. Him, the boy I liked. I was gay, and he was fine with that, but he wasn’t, and I had to accept that. Allegedly.
They dated. We fought. They broke up. We fought. They got back together. We fought. We laughed and cried and got drunk and passed out next to each other, and it was all such a mess. A painful, beautiful mess. It was New Year’s Day that I woke up next to him, taking a moment to breathe in his scent. Just the barest whisper of my lips against his ear was enough to wake him up. “I’m just not gay.”
She was just barely there, on the periphery of our descent into whatever it was that came next – months of mind-games and self-harm, and solace in each other. But there she was, while they dated, and after they were done. “He’s just not gay,” she’d say, and oh, it would sting, that she could know that, first-hand. He’d tell me he wasn’t gay as I reached out to brush away the brown bangs that fell across his forehead. He’d tell me he wasn’t gay and I’d cut myself, thinking that pain was easier to handle than this, this finally being out and STILL not being loved back. He’d tell me he wasn’t gay as our fights about her turned into actual physical confrontations, and he’d tell me he wasn’t gay as those physical confrontations turned into some twisted frottage. And by the time May rolled around, a year after that Truth or Dare, he’d tell me he wasn’t gay even with my mouth on his dick.
“You’re sure you’re not gay?”
“Curious and interested in experimenting?”
“Gay and just not telling me?”
“I’m just not gay.”
I grinned. “Oh well. Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
He’d never touch me, of course. That would make him, you know, not not-gay. But he was seventeen, and a mouth was a mouth. And of course, I knew he was thinking of her because he told me; he made sure I always knew that she was in his mind when my mouth was on his dick. I didn’t care. It wasn’t the fairy tale, but it was something. The connection was fucked, but it was a connection.
It wasn’t real, and I knew it wasn’t real, and oh, how I needed it to be real! My arms bore the proof of how painful the un-reality of it all was, dozens of slice marks made by a paring knife that now lived next to my bed. It was the mid-90s after all, and the soundtrack to our summer was angst and rage. Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana and Green Day sang my pain. The world was dark, it seemed, and everyone hurt, so what were we doing? What was I doing to myself? It was just our normal.
It was a merry-go-round I couldn’t get off, because, maybe, the next time around, I would grab that golden ring, the one where he would finally accept what he obviously wasn’t ready to accept, and he would kiss me, and the price I had paid for it would all be worth it. It was easy to ride that fantasy, even though I had to know, deep down, that it really wasn’t ever going to happen. His four little words had told me that right from the beginning.
And then I had to move. High school had ended, the summer was winding down, and my university career was happening 300 miles from his. How inconsiderate of real life to just up and intervene in my obsession like that! I knew what would happen of course. With me away, he’d soon forget all about everything we’d gone through. He’d be fine. He’d land on his feet. I was the one with everything invested in the relationship.
For the first time in a long time, I was exactly right.
He was fine, and he did land on his feet. More accurately, he landed on another blond girl.
It’s easier for straights, I guess. I’d land on my feet too, but it would take months. Months in which I re-entered the closet. After all, it was a new city, far away, and I didn’t have to be the crazy psychotic gay anymore.
It wasn’t real. I was gay. There was no denying it. By the time the two-year anniversary of that fateful Truth-or-Dare rolled around, I was visibly and vocally out (and being cheated on by my first boyfriend, which just goes to prove, gay or just-not-gay, all men are dogs). But before that happened, there was a weekend back home. With him, and the new her.
We were at the Thunderdome, this massive straight nightclub, and they’d been kissy-facing all night, which really drove home the way he would never kiss me. Still, I put on a good face, because he was, in the end, my friend, and as much as it hurt, I wanted him to be happy. As the sound system blared AC/DC ‘Thunderstruck’ (really, straights? Really??), and the smoke from the fog machine rolled across the floor, she left to go to the washroom, and he leaned across the table.
“I’m just not gay,” he said.
“Fuck! I know! Why are you—?”
He cut me off by leaning across the table, with just the barest whisper of his lips against mine, there in that straightest of worlds.
He cut me off again. “Thank you for being okay with it,” he said. “With me and her. And thank you,” he continued, “for being okay.”
That he would finally kiss me, however briefly, somewhere so public, so straight, it meant something. Whatever he was to me, this mash-up of best friend and straight-ex-boyfriend, he was important to me. And then I thought about his last words. Thanking me for being okay?
I wasn’t, not really. The damage would take a long time to heal – not just the physical scars it left, but what it did to my brain. But right there, right then, surrounded by the drunken straights in air thick with smoke, it was just me and him, one gay, one just-not-gay. We had seen each other through the worst, and yes, it was going to be okay.