The Very Last Life Serial
This is, in fact, the very last Life Serial. Feel free to steal the title, I’ll think up another one.
Writing about oneself obsessively (as if there is any other kind) becomes boring and trivial after a while. You begin searching for things to write about. You begin trying to make uninteresting things interesting to varying degrees of success and you take everything you write and look at it more critically and decide, more and more often, that it’s crap.
Thus, I come to the end, here, of writing about the truth of things. Opinions? You know my opinions by now. What’s my take on George W. Bush? Take a wild guess. What do I think about television? What summer movies am I excited to see? Have I bought new shoes lately? Am I worrying about my health and weight and the way I look?
There are reasons, I suppose, that I could discuss with you. “Discuss” being a complete lie since this is a one-way conversation and I never answer my email and my mind is pretty much made up about this now. It isn’t any single factor that leads me to say goodbye to self-referential analysis of every action I take, every thought I think, every movement of my bowels and blink of my eyes.
But by way of taking my leave of this venue of the telling of lies made to look like truths, I’ve decided to give up my final secrets to you now, most of which are no longer secrets anyway. Which is only another reason to stop talking about myself like this because there is, frankly, nothing left to say (for now).
I’m gay, which isn’t a secret to anyone who knows me. I don’t usually discuss my sexuality because I’m so bad at it. I’m a horrible gay man. I’m horrible at being a gay man, to be more precise. Even I am not sure what that means, but I feel like it’s true.
Being gay, you know, is nothing like you think it is when you’re not gay. I pretended not to be gay for a long time, which came after denying I was gay, which came after wishing hoping and praying and trying not, not, not to be gay, so I guess I can say that I know what it’s like not to be gay which is exactly the same thing as making other people believe you’re straight which you can do quite easily, actually, because “gay” is seen, most often, as a put down and an epithet and, in extreme cases (Arkansas, Wyoming, certain parts of Northern California) a threat to life itself.
So people want to assume you’re straight, and it’s easiest to simply go along with that assessment and make everyone more comfortable. One of the hardest moments for me and, perhaps, other gay men and women is the first time you actually say out loud to another person “I am gay.” You hear it inside your head a lot and you think it will be easy. And you’ve constantly been saying, “I’m not gay,” so one might imagine that excising an apostrophe and a single three-letter word and inserting an ‘a’ would be easy.
I was sitting in my car outside a club next to my best friend at the time. This was outside Baltimore, in Glen Burnie where I was living. She was sitting in the passenger seat and we had come outside because she wanted to ask me why I treated her the way I did.
The way I treated her was like this: We would go out and dance and drink and laugh and have a great time. We would dance close, we would shake parts of out bodies at each other, we would sweat and sing loudly and feel each other. The next day she would want to tell me how much fun she had and when could we do it again? I would turn a cold shoulder toward her and not talk to her and avoid her eyes.
The reason I treated her like that was this: I was a gay man hiding that fact from myself, my family, everyone I knew, everyone I worked with, everyone everywhere. I was afraid of… what, I’m not sure. That they’d think I was buttfucking someone? That I kissed men on the lips and liked it? That I sometimes looked not at the women’s asses but the men’s and the looks were lingering and not intended to see how big their wallets were?
Admittedly so. I had to be asexual. I had to not look at anyone. It had been this way, my life, forever. It was a life of denial, a life of shame and self-hatred. It was a life I contemplated ending more than once, but I was too cowardly even for that. I wasn’t afraid of what people would think, but of what they might think. I wasn’t afraid of what people would say, but of what they might say.
I wasn’t afraid that my best friend would hate me, but I was ashamed that I made her feel that way, so I was staring through the windshield, not at her, and my hands were gripping the steering wheel so tight that I thought my knuckles would spring through my skin, and I was sweating so much that I was drenched and the entire driver side of the car was fogging up, and I opened my mouth and said inside the tightly sealed vehicle, “I’m gay.”
The world, such as it was, did not end.
I thought that maybe by saying it out loud, I was finally admitting to myself that I was the thing I hated. The thing I had been taught to hate, and maybe I wouldn’t hate that thing anymore.
But it doesn’t work like that. Saying it to one person and then making them swear not to tell anyone extends and magnifies the lie. The shame grows exponentially, because now someone else shares it and validates it for you, even unintentionally. “You’re right,” they say, “we should keep this a secret, this thing you are, this shameful horrible thing. Deny it! Hide it! Together we’ll…”
She gave me a piece of advice sitting in that car that night, one which I didn’t follow. “Get out of here,” she told me, my best friend. “Move away. Go somewhere and be gay. If you can’t do it here, leave. You have to. You’ll never be happy here if you can’t be yourself. You should leave.”
She was absolutely right, but what I couldn’t figure out was how to be half-gay. How to move somewhere and make new friends as Gay Lance, and still have friends of Non-Gay Lance. I saw this division clearly, as if it were true, as if I were two people. How could I do that? And what would happen if they found out, anyway? Why go away anywhere?
But I had said it. Out loud. One other person in the world knew I was gay. It was no longer a suspicion or a bet, it was for sure. I had said it, so I knew it. I had said it to her, so she knew it. But still I did nothing about it, and the darkness and fear grew heavier. I was gay. I really, truly was. There was nothing I could do to change it, nothing to deny. And I felt no better at all.
One night, one (you should excuse the expression) dark and stormy night, as the lightning and thunder ranged around me, I found myself in a deep, dark depression. I couldn’t go on like this! I couldn’t! I hated myself, I hated that I couldn’t change, I hated that my life would be forever like this and that I was too fucking weak to just… change it. To accept it. To be it, whatever that meant. Just admit it and move on with life. It was life! This was my life! Why wasn’t I living it? Did I truly hate myself so much?
I went outside into the storm, because I wanted to feel something. I needed to feel something, anything, except what I was feeling. It was a horrific and beautiful tempest, the lightning flashed around me and the thunder was like rifle shots. I was drenched as I walked down the bike path near my apartment and I came upon a felled tree. The wind was so strong it had knocked it over, and I couldn’t go any further.
I couldn’t go any further.
I went back to my apartment and sat down at my computer and wrote four letters. They were letters to people I felt I had lied to the most about myself, so I wanted to apologize and admit things and go further. I needed to get around this thing, and this was my first step. I printed out the letters, I signed them, I put them in envelopes and addressed them and immediately mailed them.
The storm had stopped.
What I wish most of all for everyone faced with this situation was that it didn’t exist at all. Of course I wish that, but wishing won’t make it so. And no matter how you try to explain who you are — more than that, it’s what you are. Explain what you are, that you cannot change that, that trying to change it leads to lying and to hurting and to broken lives because you invite other people into the lie. And all the explanation in the world won’t change people’s feelings about it.
That was a very hard lesson to learn, and it took years. Wasted, pointless, frustrating years of my life to learn it. People will think what they want to think. This is not only true of opinions on homosexuality, but on everything. You simply cannot change their opinion, and the harder you try the more they’ll defend themselves to the point of attacking you verbally, then physically, to the point where some will want to kill you.
And then you actually start thinking about that. People I may meet on the street who I don’t know and have never met, spoken to or seen before, will want to kick the shit out of me. People will want to string me up to barbed wire fences or set my body on fire or shoot me in the head because… because I’m gay. Not because I said something they didn’t like, or hit them or even looked at them funny. They’ll do it because I’m gay. Who wants to live a life like that?
And then you decide — I decided, well, fuck it. Which is worse, leading a life alone lying to everyone and denying your desires and feeling ashamed and hateful, or taking the one-in-a-million chance that some doofus who’s afraid of their own stirring homoerotic tendencies will want to beat me senseless because they can’t beat that out of themselves? Am I really going to go through the only life I get being afraid of something that is unlikely ever to happen?
So, with my last breath of Personal Narrative on the Web, I offer two pieces of advice for two classes of people…
If you’re gay and you know it (how do you know it? this is the Mike Test, which my friend Mike used on me: “When you’re alone and you’re jerking off and your eyes are closed and you’re fantasizing about being with someone or looking at someone, what sex is that person?” there’s your answer. you may be able to lie to yourself, but your body knows what it likes.) and you’re afraid to admit it to anyone, including yourself, it will never get any easier and it won’t go away.
You will waste your days in wishful thinking and in your nights you will be alone. You have to come out. You have to. Not for anyone else. For you.
It may destroy friendships (it probably won’t), it may destroy your relationship with your parents (it may, but is that worse than denying what you are? only you can answer that question. and your parents may surprise you (they may already know)) you may be scared to death by the prospect of what might happen, but you have to do this.
It shouldn’t be something you have to “face.” I agree. Lots of other people agree, too. To most people, it won’t matter at all. You may, in fact, want it to matter after the build up you’ve given it. But take comfort that for most people, and I mean most people, it won’t matter. To a certain few, it will matter very much and they’ll hate you and call you names. So what? A fag is what you are. Say it. “I’m a fag.” Claim it. Be it. “Yes, I am a faggot. How are you?” Nothing else matters as much as you liking what you are, which becomes who you are. Do you really want to hate yourself forever?
Finally, to those who wish gay people would just go away, or that we can be “healed,” or that God hates us, or any one of a thousand other reasons you hold onto to validate your hatred of millions of people — I don’t care. I don’t care about who you are or what you stand for or how strongly you believe what you believe. I know you’re wrong. I know it, now, finally. You were always wrong. I’m not supposed to hate myself for being who I am, and wanting what I want, and saying it out loud. I’m not supposed to sit in the corner quietly and pretend I’m not what I know I am.
There’s nothing wrong with me. Well, besides the weight thing and I’d like to get that laser surgery for my eyes if it weren’t so expensive and I look horrible in red even though I love the color. But there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m trying hard not to hate you the way you hate me, because it would also be for no reason. You are what you are – an ignorant, small-minded, backwards-thinking nobody with nothing better to do with your life than rail against something that no one can control. Go yell at the trains when they pass, maybe they’ll stop for you.
Me? I’m a faggot. How are you?
May 1, 2001