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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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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