Essay, LGBTQ, Life, pop culture, Pride 2017

COMING OUT IN THE AGE OF YOUTUBE

My first laptop was a thick black Dell that required a near-constant source of power and hummed louder than a barbershop quartet.

It took minutes to load up and froze frequently, which I’m sure is entirely unrelated to the buckets of shady porn websites I was searching. Also unrelated to my search history was the Dell’s untimely and unseemly demise at the hands of a Trojan virus.

On that laptop I wrote my stories, a thousand beginnings to stories where beautiful (sometimes mythic) girls fell in love with hot guys and I wrote a 200-page novel that languishes on my bookshelf. If I ever published it, I would get slammed with copyright infringement because it is essentially a patchwork of every book I read as a tween. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and honey, I must’ve been really sincere. It’s the laptop I created my Facebook account on and took photos of me wearing two polos layered over each other and a dog-tag with my camp girlfriend’s name on it. This laptop was PG (pre-gay).

After the Dell died—a fitful, restless death—I got a Macbook Pro, lightyears faster and sleeker. That was the laptop I came out on, in a few lines typed out over Skype because I was terrified to say it out loud. It’s bizarre to think that, technically if I could remember that username and password, I could access it again because those first moments of truth are forever immortalized in the ether.

But before I came out (at 15, around Easter) I knew I was gay for months. Well, technically years because I don’t know many straight five-year-olds who wrap a blanket around their waist to pretend to be Ariel from The Little Mermaid and claim that they’d love to marry Prince Eric. I know even fewer straight people who, at eight years old, would put on Radio Disney in the dead of night and pretend to be in a school hallway talking to my boyfriend Aaron Carter.

But in my sophomore year of high school, my feelings for a Certain Boy, a crush of mine which is also forever immortalized on my teenage blog, shifted from “buddy” to “booty.” I could no longer pretend I was admiring his gym techniques during track practice as I traced my eyes over his abs (fourteen years old!) when he lifted his shirt to wipe off sweat in rest moments.

In fact, much of my coming out process was centered on running track. In the endless empty hours while we ran, I thought. I thought about the way that Boy’s hair shifted from caramelly-brown to golden blonde, how his eyes shifted from blue to green under thick dark brows and framed by thick dark lashes. His vocal fry. I thought about how I wish I could talk about him to my friends, but I couldn’t because of the Big Reason. Because in the cloister of my heavily religious, heavily regimented life—private, all-boys prep school; small, chatty town—I knew that this Big Reason was a Big No-No.

So when I couldn’t turn to any people in my real life, I buried myself in online friends—YouTube. In 2010, YouTube was only five years old and the content was still very unpolished. But, in the nascence of it grew this weird phenomenon of collaboration channels, particularly gay collabs. One of the firsts, from what I could find, was “5AwesomeGays” which was slightly before my viewing time but introduced me to people like Joseph Birdsong, Korey Kuhl and Tyler Oakley. While I never watched 5AwesomeGays, they inspired an entire new genre of YouTube, and I became hooked on one of the copycats, “AGayADay.”

Five days a week, Monday through Friday, one of the collab members would upload a video. The video was based on a theme decided for the week, and they talked about everything from fashion to music to dating to politics. It was my first introduction to actual gay people, not caricatures or stereotypes or negatives. Just gay teens and twentysomethings living their lives on the Internet.

I devoured this content and began unsteadily tracing out my own gay identity. Much of early queer life—at least my early queer life—was like that. For better or for worse, they taught me about what it meant to be gay, in the slightly un-PC way that only existed for that brief window in the late ‘00s. I based my own identity in resistance or attraction to these gay men. They were everything I wanted to be in some ways—out, open gay guys who dated boys and wore skinny jeans and cooked and were sassy and sharp and clever.

YouTube also wasn’t anything like it is today. You didn’t talk about what YouTubers you liked; it was, for most people, exclusively viral cat videos and hair tutorials. So the experience of watching—to an obsessive nth degree—these young men was entirely solitary and intimate. No one knew who these guys were—at least in my world—and they were mine.

“AGayADay” gifted me with my first gay crush. One of the boys (Thursday?) was named Brandon, probably a year or two older than I was. He had spiked hair, a turned up nose and deep, dark eyes. It was my first experience with having a crush on someone who, hypothetically, would have a crush on me back. He lived in Pennsylvania and his videos were always more tentative than the others; he was the youngest, he was in the closet, and this was early enough in YouTube’s formation that there wasn’t “Internet fame.” He could be out on the Internet and closeted in real life and no one would know. Later, it seems, people did find out and he was the first of the collab to drop out—his videos disappeared like the snap of a closed book—after he went to college.

His awkwardness and vulnerability and cuteness made me so deeply attracted to him in a way that can only exist when you’re fifteen and closeted and angsty. I hated his boyfriend, Alec, (who I later unwittingly matched with on Tinder and had to unmatch because how weird is that?) for loving him and when he left the group, I left too. The phenomenon of gay collabs petered out eventually as members splintered into individual channels. There was, it seemed, more power and marketability, as we entered the 2010s, in the individual brand.

It’s probably a direct result of watching so much YouTube that I started a blog a year after coming out. The idea of creating content online was so bizarre and fresh and new to me that I wanted to emulate my “idols.” It only occurs to me later as a young adult the absolute chutzpah I had to write about all the boys I had crushes on while being in class with them in my very small, very straight, very religious all-boys prep school. My generation of queer people were the first ones to be able to look to the Internet for advice and guidance, and the first ones to not really know what to do with it. I in particular really didn’t know what to do with it.

It was also Brandon and the other members of AGAD that spurred me to come out. The perception that they were living their lives out made me worry (here it makes sense to realize I was struggling with undiagnosed anxiety and depression) that, at fifteen, I had somehow missed the boat and was too old. Only years later did I understand that Brandon was closeted, that half of the guys were in their twenties when they came out, and some were estranged from their families. But that nuance was lost to me then, and so I came out at fifteen to my parents.

I’m now almost a decade older than when I first realized I was gay (14 to nearly 22, that’s like, what 7.8 years?) and the world has changed so much. Everyone has an online presence—a blog, or a well-curated Instagram or a LinkedIn—and the market is so saturated with people wanting to cultivate their “brand” that it’s easy to forget the beginning.

I don’t miss being fifteen—who the fuck does—but in some ways I miss the intimacy and blindness of the Internet. When I could log on and watch a seven-minute video of someone filming on a grainy laptop camera, my Skype chat minimized until the “boop-BOOp-boop” started ringing. I missed having a crush on someone so intensely and singularly that I thought I would literally die if I didn’t see them. Slowly shifting my library seat until we were sitting next to each other, or watching through videos and memorizing the lines on someone’s face.

There’s such an intense innocence to being gay and closeted and fifteen and in a small town. I’m not yearning for that again, but it’s nice to remember that before the world was cracked wide open, it was just me with the volume low and the door shut, watching five gays on the Internet.

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college, Essay

IN MY LANE

I’ve been avoiding going on Snapchat. And when I do go on, I avoid the Stories of my friends and peers, preferring to stick to innocuous celebrities and “influencers.” I’m avoiding Snapchat because I’m jealous, and if I see one more “I’m employed” snap, I might crack my iPhone over my knee and use the shard to slit a jugular.

So staying off Snapchat is a way to protect me from me, and more specifically, my jealousy. It’s hard not to be jealous around this time. People are broadcasting their successes on social media—suddenly we’ve turned into our parents and narrate every goings-on digitally: “Insert Name is so pleased to announce that I’ve accepted a job at Such&Such! Message me if you’re also moving to (this place)!”—and those that aren’t are silently stewing or, in my case, broadcasting their feelings on their blog.

But jealousy is a complex emotion—particularly right now—because it’s hardly ever just jealousy. It’s jealousy mixed with pride for your friends and their accomplishments, soured by a seething monster named “Why Not Me” and reddened by anger at yourself for not just being blindly and simply happy. So you’re jealous and happy and resentful and self-admonishing and stressed and depressed and can’t stop eating French fries.

I realized I was becoming jealous but I wasn’t able to really verbalize why. Why was I gritting my teeth so hard bone shards were popping out of my mouth? Why were there half-moon crescents on my palms from my nails? For me, the most lingering of the emotions was shame—embarrassment that I have not gotten a job but the more pressing shame of being so jealous. No one wants to believe that they can get jealous, particularly over others’ success, but I think—at least for me, and I’m hoping others—naming it and saying it out loud can help process through it.

A friend of mine—someone who has made regular appearances on this blog, Nina—said something that’s stuck with me since I vented about it Saturday night.

“Do you want to switch places with them?” she asked as I took a sharp staccato breath after ranting until all air had been squeezed from my lungs. “Do you want their lives?”

I thought about it for a second. Everyone I was jealous of…I wasn’t particularly jealous of what they had achieved, only that they had achieved something. And the accomplishments I’ve made seemed paltry and invisible in the face of a tactile job offer, a definite plan.

“No,” I admitted. “I don’t want their lives.”

“So,” she shrugged and leaned back in her chair, “if you don’t want their lives, wouldn’t want to switch, then you don’t need to be jealous.” And just like that, the stoppered green bottle in my chest loosened and exhaled a little bit. It didn’t empty completely, but I felt some pressure alleviated.

I’m happy for them and in the same breath I’m anxious for myself. It’s not weird or bad or good—it just is. And if I can separate my own emotions and name them and recognize them, I can begin the process of staying in my lane. There is not a finite amount of success, especially not across industries. One person succeeding in this moment does not mean that my moment has spluttered out on the floor. Stay in your lane, and focus on your end-point.

On Friday, I found out that I’m graduating magna cum laude for my journalism degree and cum laude for my English (English, wtf, I’ve been speaking you forever). In the moment, I diminished it because I thought, “Hey, that didn’t get me any jobs, so what does it even matter?” But after telling a few people and having them be excited, I reconsidered. If you know me in real life, I’m constantly cutting emotion with humor and I have a chronic disability to receive a compliment.

But these Latin honors are more than just Latin honors. During college I started to grow (started—haven’t finished yet). I came to terms with my own depression and anxiety and went on medication. I went to London and interned. I started my blog, this very weird, wonderful blog, as a method for self-expression and honing of my own voice. I got two degrees in four years. I had an on-campus job and worked as a fashion writer and city editor and a radio DJ and a copywriter and blogger and did plays and organized events and gave tours. I started going to the gym and coming to terms with my own body issues. I made friends. I lost friends. I made new ones. I came into my queerness. I traveled to six countries and countless cities. I wrote pages and pages of articles, blogs, essays. Hundreds of Instagrams, thousands of Tweets. Walks in chilly night air and in hot summer heat. I was sad, I was happy.

These might seem small or big or extreme or obvious—but that’s kind of the point, no? I’ve had millions of experiences, kaleidoscopic and varied and sharp. And I’m here. I fought the good fight. We all did. I cried and laughed my way to the top (some moments had more of one or the other).

And the point is that these things shouldn’t be erased because I don’t have a job lined up right away after graduation. In fact, I refuse to them be erased. I became a more full and depthful and wide and colorful person. Every moment, good or bad or heartbreaking or joyful—these things don’t lose their meaning because I don’t know where my foot will land next.

I’m looking forward to the future, but this past has been great. Horribly, wonderfully, weirdly great.

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Essay, Humor

A TALE OF TOO SWEATY

Alternately titled “Gland to Meet You” and “Sweaty Pie”


I don’t sweat like a whore in church, I sweat like a brothel in a clown car on the sun.

Over the Easter break, my mother stuffed an Old Navy gift card in my Easter basket. I don’t eat chocolate bars (or bunnies) and I don’t eat jelly beans, so besides Peeps, gift cards are the safest bet. You could argue that I’m too old for Easter baskets, but my response is *plugs ears* “LALACAN’THEARYOU!”

Old Navy holds a special place in my family’s collective heart (we share one, like the Three Fates in Hercules, and pass it around—my turn is next Saturday). Apparently a few years ago they switched designers and that, coupled with the cheap prices and frequent sales, means that in our thrifty household, an Old Navy gift card is Gospel. My mother’s favorite activity is to pick at something you’re wearing and say, “What is this? Where is this from?”

So from Old Navy, I got three shirts. One was simple striped—boring—one was a Golden Girls homage—I’m wearing it right now and I look like the gay Mount Rushmore—and one was a black t-shirt with a Reptar patch stitched above the meat cavity where a heart usually is.

I wore the black shirt twice in one week—I washed it in between, you Judgy Judies—once to a magazine launch party and then to a bar, and once party-hopping in Allston. It’s beyond cute and tres simplistic, but with a touch of early 2000s whimsy (very much my brand right now).

Paired with nondescript chino shorts (Old Navy and J.Crew respectively on the two different nights—yes, I own J.Crew. Intimidated?), Adidas Superstars (now perfectly beaten up, but not too beaten up) and a denim jacket (Amazon), the shirt was great for going out. Simple enough to work, dark enough to be appropriate for nighttime, and an injection of fun to keep it from being monotonous. I put as much thought into my outfits as I do my political coverage—scary.

I figured the black would be perfect because dark colors are generally more forgiving of excessive sweating. This is no secret, I’ve talked about it before, but I sweat more than the average human. I don’t know what dire climate and situation my body thinks I’m in, but there really is no physiological stimulus that requires such a response. I have a theory that because I work out (is it drafty in here from the door I opened to do that backdoor brag?) a lot, my body has assumed that any situation I’m in requires a waterfall to keep me cool. I appreciate that my body is looking out for me, but it’s also kind of ruining my life.

giphy

Source: Giphy

My sweating itself doesn’t bother me that much—it’s like, babe, we all do it—but anticipating the reaction from others about my sweating sends me into…a cold sweat. Then it becomes a vicious cycle until I pass out from dehydration. It began one day in church, when I shook hands to pass along “peace” to my sister, when she recoiled and hissed “Sweaty” in an accusation.

Whether it was the thinness (and breathability) of the cotton, or the particular shade of the black (a subtle charcoal), whether it was just a particular sweaty day for me, the individual reasons don’t matter. What matters was, on both occasions of me wearing the shirt, my body sweat began darkening the fabric, turning that charcoal-black into the black of the unforgivable void, of blackholes. Really sweaty people know that it’s not just the armpits you have to worry about, or the small of your back—that’s amateur hour. Real sweaters have the conspicuous dotting over your chest and stomach, where sweat rolls down slick skin and catches against your skin despite your best efforts to hunch your back and add negative space between your front and the shirt. To no avail.

Even after the sweatiness of Thursday, I wore the shirt Saturday because I’m optimistic and just a little bit stupid. I thought that I could scooch past my destiny, even when the omens had already appeared in my lap. And my back. And my chest. But, I’m being unfair to my own body. Sweating isn’t all bad.

But like I said, I actually don’t care about my sweating that much, besides the mild discomfort of it all. And after a few drinks and some vigorous jumping jacks, I can play it off quite nicely. Sweating? Who me? Oh I guess it’s because I just did some push-ups. You can always pass off sweat as a funky tie-dye pattern. It won’t work, but if sweating has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t quit.

 Sweating is also great for breaking the ice, and that’s not just because salt is corrosive to frozen water.

I’d like to think it’s my good looks, or my height, or my wit, but I’m intimidating to people. So being a sweaty betty is my version of a mole (a la Cindy Crawford) or eyebrows (a la Cara Delevingne) or gap tooth (a la idk various British models)—the slight imperfection that humanizes someone otherwise inhuman. When I crack jokes about being too sweaty, other (less attractive) people find that we have something in common and that I’m relatable. Sweating also keeps me humble, and if you pause at this point and say, “Hey, you’re actually not humble,” then imagine how bad I would be if I had inactive sweat glands. I would be a monster.

So that stupid Reptar shirt actually taught me a lot. It taught me that appearances don’t always matter, that illustrated depictions of prehistoric giant lizards are fraught with misrepresentations, and that charcoal black is not as forgiving as one might assume. It also saved me from embarrassing myself when the party I went to was revealed to have a (previously unknown) theme of “early 2000s”. Luckily I dress in early 2000s wherever I go. Thanks, Reptar!

Side bar: This post is going to be over 1000 words, which I was easily able to crank out about the topic of sweating, but took me several hours to reach when I was profiling a comedy website. Why am I like this?

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Essay, Humor

I LOOKED INTO THE VOID AND THE VOID LOOKED BACK: “Buffalo Exchange Amnesia”

A.k.a. I didn’t recognize somebody; Alternative titles included “I Don’t Know Her: The Danny McCarthy Story,” “Goodall for Nothing: Can’t Recognize Faces” and “Face It”.


I ran into a situation where I was greeted by someone whom I didn’t remember, and my level of unrecognition was so deep that I felt that not only had I never seen this face before, I had never seen any human face before.

Let me back up.

I was going into Allston—think Brooklyn with less gentrification and more rats—to meet up with a friend at Buffalo Exchange and get light-wash shorteralls (a decision that has garnered me much derision).

Buffalo Exchange is a slightly more-curated, one-tier-up version of Goodwill. Hipsters go there to get cheap clothing when they can’t hit the free shipping minimum for Urban Outfitters. So instead of buying some shorteralls online, and not knowing the fit or how much of a blue jean lima bean I would look like—

Side bar: If I ever make a country album, it’ll be called Blue Jean Lima Bean and I’ll have a wheat straw clenched in my teeth.

—I decided to be economically savvy. I would go to Buffalo Exchange and see if they had any shorteralls or overalls (or as I call them ‘pre-shorteralls’). I wanted a kind of folksy, “makes my own soap” Bushwick-Coachella-Rumspringa summer look. Essentially, I aspire to look as Amish as possible at all times.

And in Buffalo Exchange I had my Fifty First Dates-level of amnesia.

Buffalo was packed to the gills. A line of people looking to drop off clothing (for store credit or cash) snaked through the men’s section. After picking up several “Can’t Decide If They’re Ugly or Hip” button-downs, I shifted to the t-shirt rack. As I was figuring out if I hated myself to subject myself to this torture, someone tapped me on the shoulder, the one opposite to the line of people.

I turned towards an older man in a fedora and—I might be exaggerating but I don’t think so—a full three-piece suit. “Izeverthin here a dowla?” he asked.

I literally stared at him. “Um…”

“Izeverythin here a dowla?” he asked again, and I realized he was asking, “Is everything here a dollar?” in a thick Boston accent.

Being rude, I assumed that he didn’t get Buffalo Exchange like I got Buffalo Exchange, so with one hand—my other hand was holding several ugly button-downs—I thumbed the price tag out of the t-shirt he was looking at. “That’s the price–$9.40,” I smiled at him. But he was not satiated.

“No, the sign says a dowla,” he shook his head and pointed over his shoulder at a sign on the wall. I squinted at it: “Earth Day, Everything A Dollar.” But I still didn’t know what to say, so I made a silent “help me” plea to the line behind me of people waiting to drop off clothes.

“Everything in one section was a dollar before 3 p.m.,” a girl—dark hair, olive skin and startlingly light eyes lined in glittery eyeshadow—answered, pulling me out of my misery.

“And it’s,” I said, pulling out my phone, “3:40.”

“One dollar, that’s a good deal,” I remarked to her before turning back to the man. “Sorry.” He grumbled something about “a dowla” again before turning back into his own shopping. “Thanks,” I said to the girl.

“No problem,” she answered brightly before adding, “And by the way, nice to see you again!” and squeezing me genially on the shoulder.

aHhH!” I squeaked at her open, friendly eyes—eyes that I had never, in my entire life, ever seen before. She smiled as I managed to croak out, “You too!!”

Now, I’m very good at faces. It probably comes from being an unathletic gay kid in a Catholic grammar school, but because I didn’t have a lot of friends, I spent a lot of time observing people. And because of that, I’m generally pretty good at remembering faces, even if I’m not that good at remembering names. I’m great at remembering bizarre details—I won’t know your name, but I’ll remember that you hate avocadoes.

The reason I’m bad at names but good at faces is because whenever you’re introducing yourself to me, my mind is going rapid-fire, “I hope my palms aren’t sweaty; don’t squeeze too hard; say your name, you idiot” on and on. But the entire time, I’m staring at your face.

So as I was staring into this black hole of her face—a face I was sure I had never seen before—my mind was frantically pinballing around my recent memory to no avail. Afraid she would try to continue the conversation, I shyly shifted away to another side of the t-shirt rack and studiously avoided her glance.

The reason I was so shaken is because not only was this a face I had no memory of, but clearly she had a very strong memory of me. And since I pride myself on good facial recognition, I suddenly felt as if I wouldn’t be able to recognize any faces ever. I furtively looked around, hoping that I didn’t run into anyone else that I didn’t remember. How deep does this go? I wondered. Who do I recognize?

As I stumbled around the store looking for my friend—Would I even know her when I saw her?—I felt as if I were in a TV show where the protagonists realizes that they haven’t been remembering anything. It was Jason Bourne meets Before I Go to Sleep with a dash of Jane Goodall to taste.

Eventually I found my friend—screaming someone’s name over and over in a small store with strangers is generally a good way of finding people—and told her what had happened. All the while I looked around to make sure that the girl wasn’t within earshot. Although, admittedly, there was no way for me to know if she was or not. And if I ever ran into that girl again, I probably wouldn’t remember her face because the last time I saw her face I was in a noiseless scream. The cycle is wont to happen again so I’ll probably never know this girl.

And at the end of the day, I guess the moral of the story is that I ended up buying a pair of ripped-up $20 Levis.

 

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Essay, LGBTQ

MY VOICE IS MY VOICE

A few weeks ago I was hosting my sister and her friends at my apartment. Cram five queens into a three-by-three-foot box, and it’s pretty hectic. But whatever, it was fun and they bought me Patron (the toilet Patron from “ONE-TWO-THREE”!) as a thank-you present. On Saturday, when they were heading out to da club and I was heading to a house party, one of my sister’s friends brought over a friend from the area.

He walked in and my high-school-heart beat a little bit faster. He was just like every frat boy-wannabe I went to high school with (an all-boys Catholic prep school)—non-psycho American Psycho hot face, slicked back long hair, Oxford shirt buttoned tightly over lacrosse muscles, canoe-like leather shoes and blue jeans. Yung Wall Street.

And when I introduced myself to him, it wasn’t me. It was a strong, firm handshake and a voice that was like mine, but several octaves lower and controlled. “Hey, I’m Danny,” he/me said.

It’s a voice I pulled out a lot that weekend as I met my sister and her friends’ straight guy friends. That afternoon, I was downtown and I got out of my car. “What’s on your sweatshirt?” said-shouted a straight guy on line outside the bar I was going to. I looked down. I had pulled on a cross country hoodie from my sophomore year of high school, underneath an olive-green bomber jacket.

I shifted my jacket and showed him. “Fuckboy Prep,” he said (name has been changed, because duh). “Yeah, do you know it?” I asked, my voice hitched in the bottom of my throat, my vowels pitching backward into my esophagus.

It’s difficult to describe the “straight” voice, but it’s like that: instead of projecting forward, the words make a boomerang: out from the bottom of my throat, below my Adam’s apple, jut forward and then careen back into my collarbone.

“No, but I went to Yung Money Prep in Maine,” he said. We nodded at each other. End of conversation.

It’s a voice that I unearthed from the deepest recesses of my early tweenhood. Monotone, soft, deep. A voice I had discarded when I came out at fifteen and, shaky in my gayness, hurtled towards the opposite end of the scale and went full “Agaytha Christie.” What a gay joke. Neither were my actual voice, which is decidedly average and can veer equally into deep monotone and higher-pitched modulation.

It’s something I do when I’m meeting straight guys for the first time. I drag my voice back into low-pitched “sups” and “yo.”

I do it for a few reasons: I want to be taken seriously by another man, and I want to survive.

“Survive” sounds so extra, but let me remind you—I went to an all-boys Catholic high school where I was already harassed enough. Lowering my voice into a monotone was at least one attempt on my end to make myself seem like less of a target.

I have one vivid memory of sitting at a lunch table at fourteen. I was saying something when across the table, a mean hot redhead said to me, in brusque masculine tones,

“Talk like a boy.”

This was before I came out, so I was vibrating with anxiety about being “found out.” I couldn’t respond to him, so I picked up my tray, shakily threw out my trash and hid in the library. In the moment, I was doused in ice-water dread. Later, I would feel a coiled mixture of revulsion and attraction to him. Revulsion that he could embarrass me with four words, and attraction to him and his masculinity.

Because that’s what it comes down. We as queer boys are taught to hate our femininity and strive towards masculine attributes. It might be why gay guys work out so hard at the gym, sculpting Adonis bodies and artfully manicured scruff. Why we put “masc for masc” on our Grindr profiles. We eschew femmes and shame bottoms because we never, ever want to be put in that vulnerable position again.

So instead of living our truth, we shut it off and hate it. We fight against it. We slit the throat of our femininity and let it drop to the floor, a sick survivalist instinct to protect ourselves in a masculine, heteronormative world.

But in that “passing” is a hidden desire uncomfortable to admit: that part of passing for straight is not just out of a survivalist instinct, but undeniable envy.

I would imagine that queer people have thought about it; some of us have the ability to pass as straight in a heteronormative society. To not appear different or othered. It’s a dangerous thing because it’s a temptation to step outside of your marginalized group.

In a day-to-day scenario, it’s easier being straight than it is gay. When I’m walking late at night, with a female friend and we come across a group of straight guys, I put my arm around her, or I move closer. We both tacitly understand that those guys won’t respect a woman not wanting to talk to them, but they will respect a boyfriend because there is the notion of women as property.

And as much as it is a protection against catcalling for her, it provides me with a dangerous taste of heteronormativity. It provides me a glimpse of the luxury, respect and authority that being a straight white male awards you. The ability to express physical affection without wondering if it could get you gay-bashed. The respect given to you by straight men who don’t see you as Othered or predatory or sissy.

In a lot of ways, when I lower my voice, I’m still that skinny little kid who wants to impress straight boys. Look how manly I can be! Hear how low my voice can go!

It’s a muscle-memory reaction, a hit of fight-or-flight adrenaline, and it’s something that complicates me even now. It complicates my relationship to my sexuality because for so long, I have been taught to hate it. And when that didn’t do anything, I moved on to hating myself. And others. And everyone.

It’s easy to forget, six years on, that I have been irreparably damaged by the strain, stress and assault of living in the closet for fifteen years. And it’s easy to forget that that strain and stress does not disappear when you come out. That the reason I dress more plainly and simply now is a way to avoid being labeled as flamboyant. That I keep my hair messy to not seem prissy. That the reason I like mean guys is because in the hidden depths of me, meanness is associated with masculinity, and thus, idolization.

There is damage in having been Othered. There is damage in hating a part of you because society has deemed that part to be malignant.

But there is power in reclaiming that damage. I started wearing nail polish recently. And even that small bit of femininity has eased me a little. Because I am a feminine person in some ways. And in just as many ways, I am also masculine. Everyone is masculine and feminine; labeling or coding one as negative only serves to incur further damage.

My voice rings up high when I’m excited. I talk fast. I use my hands a lot. I’m expressive. These are just descriptors. They’re not bad or good, they just exist. My voice is my voice.

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Essay, Life

“ONE—TWO—THREE!”

Neon-green teeth against deep, dark violet skin. A ceiling fan broken from too many hands flinging into the air. Too many bodies crammed into too little square footage, forcing the heat to climb upwards until your white shirt has turned filmy as it clings wetly to your skin.

We see the host, and I grab the drink out of his hand to take a sip of artificial margarita. We set up residence against one wall, some girl’s long strands of hair whipping against the small of my back as she dances with someone else.

Talking becomes a post-lingual experiment. The mouth forms words that will never reach someone else’s ears, instead swirling out and upward into the collective cacophony. You communicate by mouthing simple words, by pointing, by the arching of eyebrows.

That’s a college party. Sound so big it forces you into the corner, heat so high everyone loses water weight against their will, and a Babel tower of red Solo cups.

It’s the kind of thing that could only occur in college. Only occur when there’s an uneven distribution of wealth. Top-shelf liquors mixed with liters of lukewarm Sprite, the kind that our teachers brought in for class parties. J.Crew button-downs with beaten-down Converse splashed with various liquids. You bypass the club with their $10-covers and instead cram in with sixty of your Facebook friends-of-friends and sweat it out to Childish Gambino.

It’s the kind of thing that could only occur when you’re on the razor’s edge between childhood and adulthood.

Before, we stood in her bathroom, me balancing a water bottle of Patron and two shot glasses on the ceramic lid of the toilet tank. I poured the Patron into the glasses, alternately labeled in ridged letters “Don’t Mess with Texas” and “Malibu”. I took care to make sure they were level with each other before handing one off. In between her putting black eyeliner on, we licked the bony tops of our thumbs and dumped salt on the damp.

“One—two—three,” I said as we clicked the shots together.

Lick the salt. Suck down the Patron. Hold the two in your mouth for a second before gulping. We didn’t have limes so I grabbed a bottle of lemonade. The sickly-sweet-sour taste of the lemonade, from concentrate, cuts through the tequila as I made a hasty gulp before passing it on to her. We stagger the second round of shots so that we can have equal access to the chaser.

Lick. Suck. Gulp.

I perch behind her as she tries to balance out her eyeliner. I pull thick swathes of auburn hair into place. We preen, and something warms in the outline of my ribs.

Later it was a bottle of red wine that we passed back and forth. We had to clench our teeth to avoid consuming the coils of foil from the twist-top that had fallen to the bottom of the deep dark red. Afterward, we would have to comb our tongues free of the aluminum scraps.

We went to a birthday pre-game first, one we drastically overestimated the punctuality of its occupants. By the time we strolled in at 9:45, they were already platonically grinding to Top 40, and That One Girl was yelling at people to start requesting their Ubers.

“FIVE MINUTES PEOPLE, CALL YOUR UBERS,” she waded through the clusters of drunk people. “FIVE MINUTES.” This was not a Lyft crowd.

We had enough time to say hi to Birthday Girl & Co and mooch some Smirnoff Raspberry into thrown-together cocktails. But they were annoyingly punctual, and by 10 p.m. we were the last ones to swirl out of the apartment, shoving potato chips into our pockets for snacking on the sidewalk.

At the second party, the purple light burned through the window even as we were approaching from outside. Inside, sweat mixed with liquor mixed with burnt weed. Hawaiian shirts glowed hotly against dark violet skin. Synthetic leis lit up the undersides of chins and matched eerily with the neon whites of people’s eyes.

Inside, everyone is a stranger, even the people I know. The darkness coats everything, so that familiarity becomes a moot point until they’re in your face. I run into people from class, old half-forgotten acquaintances, and former besties. In a party, old frictions are limned over in the alcohol haze.

She and I stand by the bar counter, a square hole in the wall between the living room and the kitchen. Separated by a narrow line of strangers are friends from my collegiate nascence. Friends whom I knew when I hardly knew myself. That clogging nostalgia rises from my chest and coils behind my tongue. The sense is that identity is a series of rolling hills.

You climb one with some cluster of people, crest over the top and skid to the bottom. Then you begin again. And suddenly people begin to drop off. After one hill without them, they become a little blurred. After two and three, you have lost sight of them entirely. But they’re on their own hills, cresting and skidding endlessly over and over. Run up, hover, run down.

And eventually you realize that if you keep looking back, as the hummocks replicate, you’ll trip. So you force yourself to look forward, cresting with new people, ending at the bottom of the hill with new people.

Sucking the foil from my tongue, I lean down to say something to her and come face-to-face with a yelling landlord. Party’s over, he says. The purple light weakens as yellow-bulbed rooms are opened up, the crowd thins, but the music thumps on, as loud as before. It blankets over the scurrying people, grabbing coats, appearing from cracks in the walls and hidden spots like cockroaches.

As I wrestle our coats from the pile, she spills a cup of something over me, her and the floor. Margarita, probably, or Sprite. Something sticky and sweet that dots my jeans like rain.

As we leave the purple light party, our laughter trailing behind us at this long-ago failure of a night, we cut through back alleys to our familiar place. Two identical beers and nearly identical burgers—fries to split between two people.

Our hills have neatly aligned, I realize as we tuck into burgers, the kick of spicy secret sauce hitting the ridged roof of my mouth. Bite of burger, snap of fry, sip of beer. Sloppily sopping up that secret sauce, too drunk to care about appearing proper.

Balancing between childhood and adulthood is like that. It’s the razor’s edge, the series of hills. The ravenous eating of two dollar burgers after wine and tequila and beer. Patron in plastic and curls of foil on tongues. Too many metaphors because I haven’t learned yet that one will do. It’s the here now and the not there yet.

We stand at the bottom of the hill and I reach my hand out towards hers. She clasps it, sweat against sweat. Chipped baby-blue nail polish.

“One—two—three.”

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Essay, LGBTQ, Life

“WHAT KIND OF GAY ARE YOU? CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT!”

I took a “What Kind of Gay Are You?” quiz because, in a world that is rapidly changing and mutating, I needed at least one answer in my life.

That sounds dramatic, but that’s only because it is. So you’re astute. Congrats, hon.

It was a slushy snow day. We were huddled around a tall Starbucks table, damply drying off and cradling inappropriate iced coffees in between our hands. It might be winter outside, but my sweat glands knew no season.

I was taking a “What Kind of Gay Are You” quiz on my phone, because—frankly—I needed to know. After selecting one that seemed thorough—I didn’t want your run-of-the-mill quiz; I wanted a deep dive—I started checking boxes.

The problem, if it’s a problem even, and the reason for this erudite season is that my body exceeds gay boundaries. I’m tall and rangy—thirty pounds and three inches ago I might’ve been a twink. But as I stretched upward, the hours at the gym making me dense with muscle and bone, it became a lot more difficult.

I couldn’t find a physical category that seemed to fit. I’m not stocky enough to be a bear; not hairy enough to be an otter; neither hairy nor muscular enough to be a wolf; not effete enough to be a twink; too big to be a twunk; not geeky enough to be a gaymer. I could go on; I won’t.

Jock. Pup. Gym Bunny. Cub. Silver fox. (Just kidding; I went on).

Nope. Nope. No. Nope. No.

You might think that with as many categories as that, finding a niche would be easy—or at least possible. But instead my long, lean body—toned but not muscular, solid but not stocky—spills over any box, muddying the distinctions. I wanted some answer that might offer me a semblance of geace™ (gay peace).

So this outside, impartial source took in my body weight, my height, my musculature, my style, my activities, the timbre of my voice—average but deceptive because the pitch wildly vacillates based on whatever mood I’m in. But before I could get my answer, it produced the dreaded text:

Register an account to find out your answer!

“Fuck that,” I said, finding a small button at the bottom:

Proceed without account

I clicked it and the small circle at the top of the screen spun. The same screen popped up again. Clicked again. But every attempt to click the button led to a Sisyphean cycle of reloading that same page.

Eventually, I had to give up. I’m not made of steel—I rarely put energy into anything that isn’t writing, Real Housewives, or grilled cheese—and my phone battery can only withstand so much blunt trauma.

But I was disappointed—much more disappointed than I realized I would be, and more disappointed than I think anyone should be about any Internet quiz.

Would this one Internet quiz have changed my life? No. Would I be able to order a custom license plate with my assigned tribe and be inundated with romantic pursuits? Likely no but one can dream. It’s not like each category requires you to pay dues, or offers you any networking possibilities. There’s no “Bears In Media” except for Smokey. The only thing that’s likely is that I would’ve been disappointed with any answer.

But still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would’ve been nice to have at least one answer in a life that seems to hold very little for me right now. Days later, I was having a conversation with classmates about baby names. I really like the name Betty, spelled Bettie. One classmate offered up “Bette” as also being cute.

“But then people will always wonder what kind of gay I am,” I argued. “Am I a Bette Davis gay or a Bette Midler gay? ‘Cause that’ll affect how people try to pronounce her name.”

As I’ve been applying to more jobs, I’ve been in stasis, uncomfortably but evenly pulled between my Imposter Syndrome and my inescapable anxiety about being jobless.

The former tries to stop me from submitting my application, and the latter reminds me that if I don’t do this, my future remains as cloudy and voided as it currently is. So I remain largely in the middle, occasionally jolted into movement by a particularly strong wave from either end. My limbs—those rangy long limbs—are pulled to their full extension, tendons popping and bones straining at the joints.

I’m in a drawn-and-quartered life crisis.

Too tall to be a twink, too slim to be a jock. Too lively to be the reporter I’m training to be. Too timid to be an opinion writer. Too dumb to be a genius, too smart to be an idiot. Too cocky for my own good, too self-conscious for my own health. Too good in too many things, not good enough in one thing. Perfectly at the center of so many identities, sticky strands of confliction pulling at so many different parts of me.

Everything is up in the air. On social media, all I see are these static pictures of people in their things. The red-carpet one. The photographer one. The writer one. The engineer one. Steel. Silk. Definitive things. Not some thing, but this thing. Do I go for this or for that? Do I put all my energy into one path, or do I spread my eggs like it’s Easter Sunday?

I want answers to questions that haven’t even fully formed yet. For the first time in 21 years, my life is opaque. And the more people I talk to, the more common I realize that feeling is. So I might not be a thing one, but I’m not the only one.

I closed the tab of the “What Kind of Gay Are You?” quiz, quick darkness swallowing the cartoon drawing of a jock intertwined with a twink. I didn’t really feel like a twink or a jock. Or a bear or an otter or a silver fox or an otter.

I really only felt like myself.

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