I never had a coming out. Melissa Etheridge never stopped by my house with a toaster. Alan Ginsberg never wrote a poem about my anus. I never even had a hokey after-school special sort of moment with my mom, telling her why I was suddenly so interested in the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. What would I have said at some mythical Coming Out party? There was never any light emanating from some guy's cock or ass pulsing out "You're a big homo" in Morse Code. I never got inappropriate erections when watching "Saved By The Bell". And I didn't wake up one day and say "I've always wanted to be persecuted for something I have no control over. And since I'm white and male, I suppose I should just start lisping and paying attention to fashion trends." My sexual identity came in a series of slow flashes.
The first one I remember is Kevin. A year younger than me. A lifetime older. We'd be playing basketball in my driveway, and he'd pull down his sweatpants and start stroking himself. When I visited his house, he'd keep getting dressed and undressed, bending over to pick things up while he was naked. When he was over my house, he'd sit just outside the bathroom door when I went in for a piss, and as soon as my stream of urine made contact with the awaiting toilet water, he'd rush in with my mother's camera, and take a picture. My mother kept wondering what she was doing wrong when all of her film came back exposed. I figured, better the film than me.
And that was the problem really, I was afraid of being seen as gay, because I had a friend who kept taking off his clothes around me, and taking pictures of me while I peed. I never asked him to take his clothes off. I certainly never posed for him. And most of the times that he pointed his naked ass in my direction, I'd look away. We were twelve or ten or thirteen, some age before hair and deliberate erections. I had a vague understanding of sex. Like Japanese porn. A bunch of naked people with the genitals blurred out.
"My sister invited me to an orgy." Kevin said.
This was most likely a lie. No sixteen year old girl, no matter how inbred and slutty, invites her ten year old brother to have indiscriminate sex with people she has to see on a social basis. Or would she? I'm an only child.
"Do you want to come?"
I tried to picture myself in a room full of naked people. I was eleven and fat, and I hadn't...bloomed yet. My hair didn't comb properly. I was perpetually bruised or skinned from falling off my bike on one of the dirt paths at the end of my street. I had seen exactly one naked vagina in my so-far life. I had been five, the girl had been three, and peeing. Sexy wasn't part of my vernacular. "No. I've got baseball practice."
While I never asked whether or not he went to the orgy, I know he didn't. If he had, he'd have spent every afternoon for the rest of our friendship detailing the parts of women's bodies they only show on late night Cinemax.
Instead, life went on as typical. Me playing Nintendo or basketball, or riding my bike. Him following me around, occasionally exposing himself. He must have gotten bored of me when I turned twelve. He started hanging out with his next door neighbor, Jeremy, a professional wrestling fan who liked to reenact his favorite matches.
Jeremy Burdick and I had never had a strong connection. When my family moved to Cranberry Lake, I was five, and just beginning my ten year lust-affair with bicycles. I was riding around the neighborhood, looking for kids my own age, when I saw three year old Jeremy, playing in a patch of dirt with a stick. When I asked him what he was doing, he picked up a huge rock, hit me in the face with it, then ran off with my bike. I don't remember how badly my cheek was cut, whether I had a black eye, I just remember the confusion on my father's face when I told him I'd been mugged by a toddler. Two years later, I'd tried to befriend Jeremy again, inviting him to play baseball with me, Kevin, and a couple of other kids we'd rounded up. Jeremy agreed. When it was his turn to hit, he picked my baseball bat up off the street, walked to the curb, and dropped it into the sewer grate. We didn't seem destined to be friends. So when Kevin and Jeremy started spending their afternoons taking off each other's clothes and putting each other in headlocks, I decided to seek out new companionship.
After a few failed friendships with some of the more popular kids in the neighborhood, I came to the conclusion that Kevin and Jeremy were the best friends I could possibly hope for. So I started watching wrestling, and learned to pepper my conversations with words like "deeeeeeeeeeewd" and "oh my head". It wasn't long before I was sitting in my basement, watching Kevin and Jeremy pull each other's pants down and smack their asses. When it was just Kevin taking off his clothes, I'd wondered whether he was weird for doing it, or if I was weird for not doing it. Jeremy's existence in the world seemed to prove that I was the strange one for wanting to keep my clothes on. Still, something felt horribly wrong with shaking my ass to provoke someone. And putting my hand on another guy's ass wasn't on my top ten list of things to do. Yet.
The afternoon wrestling sessions were a completely different world from my school life. Since I was a year ahead of Kevin, and two years ahead of Jeremy, they failed to exist between the time the buses dropped us off in front of the school, and the time the last bell rang at 3:15.
Most afternoons, just after the bell rang, the teachers would march their students out of the classroom to the bus loop behind the school. At the loop, the teachers would take out their clipboards, and check off the names of all the students as they got on to their appropriate buses. First Bus One, then Bus Two, all the way through Bus Twelve. Sixth graders went out first, and took the back of the bus, then the fifth graders, and so on, until they lowly kindergartners took their place in the front two rows. While the ritual took place, the bus drivers stood on the far side of the loop and smoked.
Jeremy almost always sat in the seat in front of Kevin, and the two of them would smack each other with Trapper Keepers until the bus driver threatened to throw them off. One afternoon, between the fourth and third graders getting on the bus, Kevin called Jeremy an asshole, and Jeremy pulled down his sweatpants, stuck his ass over the seat and said, "No, this is an asshole." At which point, Kevin smacked it as hard as he could. One of my fellow sixth graders, Queen Popular Sarah the Second inhaled her top lip through her left nostril and said "Oh, my. You're such a faggot."
Were they? I'm twenty-six now, and while I can no longer stand musicals, and have never been one to wear makeup or read fashion magazines, I do enjoy having sex with men. At no point, however, have any of my dates mooned me or smacked my ass during a naked reenactment of a sporting event.
The afternoon that Queen Sarah called Kevin a faggot, I went home, and looked the word up in my dictionary. I'd heard her use the word a few times before. Once or twice to describe me. The only definition was "a bundle of sticks or twigs". The definition for fag was "to make tired". And since I was growing weary of my afternoons with Kevin and Jeremy, I decided that while they might be fags, I wasn't. And for a few weeks, I stopped hanging out with them.