Identity / Life

Reflections on a Queer Childhood: Problem Solving From the Closet

Problem: If Roger, a high school senior, has a curfew of midnight, what time does he drop his girlfriend off at her house after a date in order to make it home on time? If he abides by posted speed limits, Roger’s house is a 3-minute drive from his girlfriend’s house. Solve for WHY???

Actually, the why is easy. The why is because I was deeply closeted and petrified that anyone would find out the truth about me. The why is because I hated this detail of myself more than anyone else possibly could have. However, for as much as my school might have rejected me, I rejected me more. The rest of the answer, while slightly more complicated, is pure creative genius, if I do say so myself.

IMG_4297For me, high school was an exhausting experiment in being someone I wasn’t. To the best of my knowledge, many people share this experience. No wonder teenagers sleep so much. The constant charade is utterly debilitating. Those years are about trying to stand out while still fitting in. In day to day practice, that means excelling at things that are considered cool and diminishing or negating altogether those facets of ourselves that are, well, not so cool. Being gay was decidedly not cool. Not even close. And I knew that. For me to fit in, or even pretend to fit in, I simply could not be out. So I did what any “normal, red-blooded American male” does. I found myself a girlfriend. It was all about the optics.

For the record, she was awesome. Smart, funny, fun, creative, interesting, and quite beautiful. We always had a great time together, laughing and just generally enjoying one another’s company. Also, she was two years younger than I was, a sophomore, which was a huge bonus. That’s a big age difference in high school. So there were certain expectations from which I was essentially freed, specifically physical expectations. “Red-blooded American male” expectations.

Which brings me back to the word problem at the beginning of this piece. The answer is as follows: I told my girlfriend I had to be home by 11:30 p.m, as opposed to my actual curfew of midnight. We would arrive at her house around 11:15 or 11:20 p.m. and then proceed to make out for roughly a half an hour, with me protesting all the while that I was going to get in trouble for being out late. At around 11:45 p.m., I would insist that I go, lest I get grounded. I would arrive home around 11:50 p.m., leaving myself ten minutes to spare, which made me look like the ultimate in teenage responsibility as opposed to what I actually was: a gay kid doing anything and everything he could think of to avoid being alone for too long with his girlfriend.

Wins all around! My girlfriend got to feel good that I stayed out past my curfew for her. My parents (well, my mother as my father was sound asleep. For all he knew I could have been sauntering in at 4 a.m.) were happy with my ability to follow their rules, and I won by not having to prove, too much, that I was a “normal red-blooded American male.”

Was it one of my finer moments? Clearly not. But I do think the creativity is pretty remarkable. I’m also rather proud of my ability to problem solve from within the confines of a dark, claustrophobic, and deeply self-loathing closet. I’m not so proud of my lying, leading my girlfriend to believe that I was straight. But that’s 43-year-old me looking back and judging 17-year-old me, and I’m not sure how many of us could escape that particular lens unscathed. If I place myself in that space at that time, lying was nothing more or less than an act of survival. Self-love with an unwavering devotion to honesty, wouldn’t arrive until later.

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