I had my first crush when I was eight years old. And, by “first crush,” I mean my “first gay crush.” I suppose one could say that there had been others. I still remember the first day of pre-Kindergarten when I marched right up to the prettiest little girl in class and gave her a huge kiss, right on the lips. I’d most likely seen a movie recently–probably one of those romantic films from the 50s and 60s my mother liked to watch where kissing scenes stood in for bedroom scenes–and had felt it would be cool (in the way that four-year-olds do) to emulate what I’d seen. It is, therefore, entirely accurate for me to say I kissed a girl and I did, in a sense, like it. The teacher had seen the impending-PDA coming seconds before it happened and, though she hastily yelled for us to stop, she was too late–llips had locked. I had a rebellious streak even when I was four and took great pleasure in her scolding me afterward but having no ability to change what had happened: I’d won, and nana nana boo boo.
Looking back on the other heterosexual crushes I had through middle and high school and even through college, I can see that those were an outgrowth of a feeling of necessity. Not getting married simply was not an option. Not only was the kind of relationship I truly wanted out of the question, the conservative cultural expectations of my family, hometown, and schools demanded that boys like girls and eventually marry them in order to produce babies–the more, the merrier. Sure, there was the fire and brimstone of Hades to worry about, but the fire and brimstone of the aforementioned trio were far more proximal considerations on my mind. Up until my senior year of college, I didn’t understand human sexuality enough to feel even remotely comfortable with the idea of actively expressing who I was. Even when I decided I was going to come out, it was several months before I’d both found the courage and the right words to express how I felt before actually doing it.
Anyhow, so, about my first crush. I didn’t realize that’s what it was at the time, but in hindsight I see I was smitten. Before he joined our elementary school class, I’d only seen him once before. I was probably five or six at the time. It had been at one of the county fairs that convened two or three times each year and he’d been playing with another group of kids among the skeet-shooting stands and rifle exhibits. Hashtag southern. I’m from rural Oklahoma, okay? Get off my case. Anyway, I didn’t know any of them and was too shy to go up to kids I didn’t know and join in the merry-making, but I remembered him when news spread like wildfire through Mrs. Wyrick’s third grade class that a new student was going to be coming in a few days. When you only have fifteen kids in your class, that’s huge news and cause for much speculation. Who is he? What’s he like? Does he like Cartoon Network or The Disney Channel? Or, unthinkably, Nickelodeon? When he showed up, I immediately wanted to be his friend.
Even though I was more often than not the awkward hanger-on, we’d stay over at each other’s houses from time to time and were nigh inseperable on the playground. I remember when, in the sixth grade, he made the decision to move to the bigger school in the county, I decided I would too, but it was after this move that we started to grow apart. It happened slowly at first as he gradually found new and cooler people to hang out with during lunch break and in between classes. There wasn’t ever a single moment when we stopped being friends, but I do remember coming to the realization at some point during eighth grade that we weren’t anymore. He’d changed a lot, having entered an “emo phase,” and was hanging out with the troublemakers. In high school, he became one of the deadbeat pot smokers and we never really spoke again. So began and ended my first crush of the gay variety. I’m sure he probably wouldn’t be excited to hear that’s what it was, but it’s whatever. I don’t know him anymore. I’ve had many more crushes since and, I presume, there are still others I’ve yet to have. That story wasn’t any of your business, but I decided I wanted to share it with you anyway.
In any case, that I am gay continues to be a fairly non-notable aspect of what makes me Roy-Gene. That’s my opinion at least. I’m nonetheless coming to terms, however slowly and grudgingly, with the fact that it will likely be something I’m obliged to discuss from time to time. I recognize that it’s still a new thing for someone like me, a small town boy who grew up in the Bible Belt and who went to college at one of the strange quasi-academic religious phenomena that inhabit it, to embrace and be open about their sexuality in the way that I have. Whether anyone agrees with those who choose to come out of the closet or not is beside the point–they are owed respect simply for the fact that it’s an incredibly difficult and anxiety-ridden step to take.
Since coming out, the vast majority of sentiments that have been sent my way have been more than gracious and very kind. I do want to be honest with you who are reading this though–particularly those who have known me for a good while: the moment I desired to come out was the moment when I realized that I would rather be cut off from everyone I knew and loved than to continue one more second pretending to be something I never had any hope of becoming. Dissonance of that magnitude in a person’s identity can’t be maintained forever and eventually people do have to acknowledge who they are, even if only to themselves. To be honest though, I had really hoped it wouldn’t be necessary for me to say any goodbyes and I’m glad that’s how things worked out. I am deeply thankful, as too many of my contemporaries publicly acknowledge their sexuality only to be disowned by their families and outcasted by their friends. Yes, that does still happen.
Since publishing my open letter in February, I’ve been asked many questions. Part of the reason why I even published the letter was because there were simply too many people who I wanted to hear directly from me, not from someone who heard it from someone who saw it in a Facebook comment on so-and-so’s wall. It also solved the problem of my desire to tell people but not wanting to repeat the same conversation fifty or more times. Apparently, however, it still left some questions unanswered, so I’ll answer them now as best I can. Just a note though: most of these questions have been asked multiple times by multiple people, hence my mounting exasperation with some of them.
Why would you make this decision when you know people won’t approve?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I once again assure everyone that my gayness was not a choice. Those who continue to say otherwise need to brush up on their understanding of human sexuality. They might also need to fuck off, but that’s often difficult for people to understand, particularly socially conservative Evangelicals. No one’s straightness is any of my business, yet I’m perpetually fascinated by people who feel as though my gayness is theirs. Granted, it’s something I’m open about and willing to discuss, but I’m still shocked whenever I’m casually asked a deeply personal question, almost as if people feel entitled to an answer. My thoughts in those situations are generally, “Your question is valid, but the attitude behind your question strikes me as forward and confrontational. I don’t know that I want to bother answering it.”
You know you’re going against what the Bible says, right?
The Bible says a lot of things, many of which are contradictory. On a related note, the Bible isn’t even a real book. The Bible is a Medieval anthology of various Hebrew/Jewish and early Christian books and writings occupying essentially every genre of literature. It’s got poetry, history, parable, letter, prophecy, and proverb all mixed in with each other. Those writings were written across multiple centuries by dozens of people, each of them encapsulated within their own distinct historical and cultural context. If people want to throw Leviticus in my face, then I’d like to examine their own lives first to make sure they’re in compliance with all the other Levitical laws governing diet, clothing, sacrifice, and whatnot. I’m not getting into an extended discussion on what the Bible does and doesn’t say at the moment (because it bores me, and also because I’ve said it all before), but I will say this: the concept of committed same-sex relationships did not exist during any of the eras in which any Biblical writings were penned. What did exist was same-sex temple prostitution, same-sex rape of slaves by their masters, pederasty, and many other types of same-sex profligacy and debauchery. Two men who love each other committing to and sticking with a lifelong relationship? No concept of that existed, which is why biblical passages condemning “homosexuality” don’t refer to it.
How do you justify yourself before God theologically?
The simple answer to that question is that I’m not in the business of “justifying” myself before God. I have no justification, especially not a theological one. I don’t make a habit of justifying myself “theologically” mostly because I’m not a theologian. Of equal note is the fact that my sexual orientation requires no theological justification, as it is neither a creed nor a belief. I never asked to be gay and I see no reason why I should have to offer theological justification for an aspect of my being that I neither sought nor chose. Furthermore, I wasn’t even aware that justifying oneself before the Almighty was a “thing” now in Christianity. As I understand it, none of us have any justification. If we do, then Calvary was a sham and a farce. On the occasions when I’ve been asked, “How do you justify yourself to God?,” my initial impulse is to ask, “How do you?” I genuinely want to know how that whole thing works as there are a lot of things for which I’d like to find justification before God. Interestingly though, that list does not include my sexual orientation. Go figure.
Okay, you’re gay. Why don’t you just be celibate?
Why don’t you? In other news, this question irritates me above all others. What right does anyone have to ask me why I don’t “just be celibate”? I’m not going to be celibate because I do not want to be celibate, case closed, roll end credits. Who I choose or don’t choose to be in a relationship with is only one person’s business, and–I’ll give you a hint–it’s not yours. Once again, I never asked to be attracted to men. Why should I punish myself for the rest of my life with a self-denial of intimacy simply because I’m gay and some people are convinced that’s a heinous abomination? I’ll give a cookie to the first person who can give me a good reason. A snickerdoodle, at that.
What if you lead other people astray by choosing to live a gay lifestyle?
I intend to. I intend to stand on a street-corner in Manhattan and recruit legions of young, impressionable, stylish, and fabulous men to the ranks of the ever-more-burgeoning Gay Army. Then we’re going to coat the world in rainbow paint and glitter and there’s nothing you can do stop us. But seriously, your sexual orientation is the result of complex interplay between genetics and environment, not multilevel marketing.
Are you okay with me still loving you but hating your lifestyle?
To be honest, I really don’t give a shit. If it’s that big of a deal for you, then there are plenty of other people in the world with whom you can be friends. I’m just not interested in having relationships with people who can’t look past my sexual orientation. If all you can see when look at me is “gay,” or—worse yet—something to be fixed, then you really don’t know me and I see little reason for me to waste any of my time on you.
Do you intend to get married?
Do you intend to happen upon buried treasure?
What do you find attractive?
Men, duh. But, for real, this is an unexpectedly awkward question for me to answer, which is why I usually dodge it. I’ll also conclude this post with it. I don’t know why but it just makes me uncomfortable. I mean, it’s not that I don’t know what I find attractive, it just feels weird to talk about it with people. Actually, that’s probably a result of me needing to keep that a closely guarded secret for so many years, so I’ll give it a shot. I think chest hair is really sexy. Like, really. Also, I’m generally not attracted to guys who are shorter than me, or who have smaller frames, and I like darker hair more than lighter hair. I don’t find extreme effeminacy attractive, but neither do I like machismo. I guess I prefer somewhere along the center of that spectrum. Mostly, I like guys (and just people in general) who don’t take themselves too seriously, who are cool with just hanging out and being together, and who aren’t too loud (but not too quiet either). So, there you go. The transformation of my website into Zoosk is now complete. So long, respectability.