The Gay Me
I remember when I knew that I was gay: I was in eighth grade and I was thankful I got to change in the guys’ locker room. I knew I loved being with girls, but I knew I didn’t want to make love to them. I knew I liked painting and acting, and that I also enjoyed baseball, fishing, and basketball.
In the town of 600 in the North Dakota where I grew up there were two women, retired school teachers who were “roommates.” One of the ladies spent her career teaching high school history and the other was the former physical education instructor. I found it odd that the people in my community would place extra emphasis on the word “roommates.” This was a clue that the language I used mattered, and that the language I use to speak about people still matters.
Growing up, I was taught how to dance, how to properly invite girls onto the dance floor, and how to look like I was having fun the entire time. Vivid images stick in my memory like a piece of pull candy in your teeth: I can see myself at the age of four learning how to polka with my grandmother, thinking we were having great fun as her pots and pans grew feet and walked along her countertop; and there’s the memory of me in a suit at the age of seven, learning to waltz with my mother. I loved—and still love—dancing, finding myself teaching straight men the basics, knowing that they won’t have nearly as much fun as I do with their girlfriends. As the late writer David Rakoff said, “I danced a lot through my childhood bedroom; it’s a generic trait for a certain type of boy. Like a straight boy being obsessed with baseball, except it’s better.”
I also did other things growing up—like worship Julie Andrews, wear my mother’s high heels, and love the feeling of silk. I did all the, well let’s just call it what it was, faggy things that little gay boys do.
I’ve had those other, typical gay experiences, too—like being called a girl, getting made fun of; that whole gamut. That’s the not so gay part of being gay.
But I also—and sometimes sadly so—have found that being gay isn’t controversial. Like when I told both of my grandfathers that I am gay. My father’s father immediately said, “Taylor, you’re my grandson and that’s all I know.” My mother’s father was a little more outspoken saying, “Taylor, the priests tell us it’s against our religion,”—he’s Catholic—“but you’re my grandson; screw what the priests say.” I didn’t fully think through the risk of telling my grandfather, a World War II vet, on Veteran’s Day in Denny’s where all the other veterans get their meals for free. After his comment he told me to have a bite of his pumpkin pancakes because they were fabulous. It was that easy to tell my grandfather that I am gay.
Being gay has been challenging for me; it’s made me have to confront my own homophobia. I’ve wrestled with people that I perceive to be “overly gay,” which really means that I find them threatening because they’re so comfortable in who they are. I’ve tried to cultivate the stereotypically manly side of my personality—whatever that is—like trying to be able to do more push-ups than you, shoot my 20 gauge shotgun better than you, or knowing how to change a flat tire. In being gay I’ve also worried about my own relationship with straight men: What if I like them? Is it possible to be friends with another man and not be attracted to him? What if he thinks it’s “weird” that I like other men? This has usually resulted in me becoming even more awkward than I already am by flat out saying, “You realize I’m not going to make out with you just because you’re a man, right?” But this mentality has also led me to ask questions that, for some reason, feel to me like they diminish my humanity, like I can’t admit that people can just be friends. I ask questions like this, “What do you think about having a gay friend?” Which is the equivalent of saying, “What do you think of having a friend who likes Twinkies?” The answer is that it is silly question to begin with, and really doesn’t matter.
But being gay is even more risky in comparison to how it affects my personal relationships. Recently, both Arizona and Kansas put forth legislation that would allow business owners the right to deny service to gay people based on the owner’s religious beliefs. Both Uganda and Nigeria have recently put into place anti-homosexuality laws. It angers me. But it angers me in a way you might not suspect. I believe same-sex marriage and being gay is not an important issue. It is only an important issue because the conversation has been hijacked in this country and abroad, and that conversation has been watered-down with fear. So now we will spend millions of dollars to secure my right to marry and my right to shop at certain stores when there are far more important issues to be working on, like global climate change. I am not an issue; I am a human being.
In a recent essay on The Guardian’s Web site the British author Julian Barnes had this to say about Liberty, which I think can help us think through these anti-homosexuality laws: “Those who wish to deprive us of freedoms rarely do so at one go, and are skilled at assuring us that loss of freedom is really something else, something necessary and advantageous, like greater safety. As soon as a politician tells you that decent, law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear from a particular measure, you can be certain that someone, somewhere, is losing a small or larger part of his or her freedom. So we need a constant, committed, cogent defence of our freedoms: in other words, liberty needs Liberty.”
So how does it feel to be gay me? It feels like I’m always on my toes, mindful of how “gay” I’m being, which really means, How much am I acting like myself? It feels better and better each day, because I have supportive friends and family members, and I’ve had a number of people tell me that I was the first person that they told they were gay. That feels like getting told you get to go to a Beyonce concert for free. It feels like I’m growing more and more into the person that’s comfortable with himself, which makes me hope that the same is true for you.
Taylor Brorby is a writer living in the North Cascade Mountains. He writes for The Huffington Post and The EcoTheo Review. He is currently at work on a commissioned book and his first vespers service.