From Sweet First Kisses To Saying No To Having A Misses; Tales Of Growing Up Gay
As you can tell lately I have been doing more opinion articles as of late and the reason is because it makes me truly feel connected and able to foster thought and conversation. Since it’s Monday and rainy I thought I’d share something a little light hearted; a tale of when I knew I was different and how moments like this shape our lives in a profound way. When I began to realize that I was not like everyone else and began to realize that I’m gay. And how even though some events in our life weren’t as poetic and a replica of what society tells us I still hope it reminds you of a time of self discovery that you treasure rather than a time you only associate with pain and frustration.
As most of us growing up, I knew I was different from the beginning. I may not have had many overtly “feminine” behaviors (even though I have always been fascinated with hair) I was a very sensitive kid. Often described as moody I always felt as a child that I was at the mercy of everyone else’s emotions. I could cry at the drop of a hat whenever I saw someone else in pain, both in real life and in fiction. I often cared more about everyone else’s feelings rather than myself. A lot of times very quiet and only wild or rambunctious when given permission to do so.
Gay was not a solid construct in my mind because there weren’t too many out gay men at the time in the south though there were a few lesbian couples in our neighborhood. And honestly I was a bit naive because I really didn’t know what gay meant until I was almost in middle school. I only thought at the time when I saw two men as a couple that they were like every other normal couple and did recognize a difference or similarity. I just believed all adults loved each other the same way. More importantly I didn’t know that gay was seen by some as a bad thing. Oh how I miss that naivety.
So I was not all too concerned with love thinking it only happened with adults. I didn’t have pretend girlfriends or teased fellow classmates with age old songs about kissing while sitting in trees. I was more likely to defend someone who was being teased because of it. And then everything changed when I was in third grade. I had a great group of friends during that time that I loved having as many adventures as I possibly could; staying out longer in recess than necessary, sneaking the latest and most popular toys, making fart noises and sticking gum under the desk during our boring history lesson.
All the normal things guys our age did. But there was a classmate of mine that I hung out with more than anyone else. Seth. A fiery redhead that was just as effervescent and spontaneous as I was. Like me, he was always looking for the next bit of excitement to be had in a wild adventure. We always were in a competition with each other. From grades to kickball, we always tried to one up the other all the while having some of the best laughs growing up. Our competitive side only made our friendship that much stronger. And it remained that way throughout the year.
Then one day our teacher had us make these makeshift binoculars that would allow us to look at the sun during the upcoming eclipse. It doesn’t sound exciting but if you know me, you’d know that I was obsessed with astronomy and astrology at the time (I still am). My first coherent memory is of a full moon when I was two. So Seth and I, as always, were in competition to see who would complete it first and he won that time.
After grimacing and slowly congratulating him, we were then assembled to the exit of the school playground so that we could test out our new creations and because of the excitement, Seth and I got separated. We began to call out to each other, each of us apparently just missing each other at a previous location.
Then, we heard each other’s voice in the same proximity and ran to each other. As we navigated the last few yards between us we both turned the corner at the same time and ran directly into each other, full impact. Because we were the exact same height our faces met at the exact same time and our lips touched. We kissed. My first kiss. Neither of us moved in that moment and I know on my end, I was too shocked to pull away. The entire time I felt as if I were frozen and unable to do anything except stand there as my best friend and I were kissing each other. It all happened by accident of course and I feel like we both knew that.
Nothing about this was planned since we were only nine years old. But in that instant of when our lips met, my world changed. It was almost as if time stood still. My feet were numb and I was so lightheaded I could barely stand up straight. We slowly pulled away from each other, both of us blushing from looking at each other since it happened. It wasn’t followed by what guys our age would normally say by saying it was gross.
We didn’t try to prove our budding manliness by fighting. There was no blame because we had done nothing wrong. We simply shared a moment that so many of our other classmates had shared with each other every day. I went to apologize because I did not want it to be awkward and Seth held his hand out to say no, it’s okay, we have nothing to be sorry for. Then we just stood there. It was perfect. And I was never the same.
After that moment I began to think about love and what love meant. And even though the myopic interpretation I had about what love was at that age didn’t change, my place in the world of love did. No longer did I just think of it happening to adults because of fairytales. I began to see my grown up self as one of the characters, looking for the man I was supposed to rescue. My mind had begun to awaken to what was really possible for two people to feel for each other some day.
I began to think about what I wanted someday when I was an adult. From that moment on, I knew that I would never walk down to greet a woman wearing a spectacular white gown that I pledge my affection to for the rest of our lives. I wasn’t ready to accept it but still at that moment I knew. All that from an accidental bumping into each other; and it had changed my life forever.
The remainder of that year was great and the friendship between Seth and I didn’t miss a beat. We never discussed it afterwards and went on competing each with other. But on the next to last day of that school year, Seth told me he was moving away and I was heartbroken. A common fault of mine when I’m overwhelmed with emotion is to shut down but not this time. I cried my eyes out in front of everyone and to hell with what everyone else thought.
But to calm me down, Seth took me to our hangout spot away from the swings and held my hand and promised we’d always be friends no matter what and that we’d met again one day during an eclipse. And I calmed down. And we laid there in that spot looking up and holding hands until it was time to go home for the day.
This incident in my life is probably why I romanticize love and what I want in a man; kind, rugged, noble, and always challenging me to be better than I ever perceived myself. And it took me a while to realize that during the awkward stages I had of dating women. As great as they were, the women never encapsulated the feeling I felt back on that clear spring day in third grade.
That and I grew to have a very soft spot for rugged ginger haired men with beards. I know how rare perfect moments like these are to have at any time in life and even more so at such a young age. But who wouldn’t at something like this? Because as I grew up to become a man, I still think of when I felt love and what I want love to be like for me.
The point of me sharing this story today is because we go through so much as gay men. Though the process of coming out is a long continuous set of obstacles, there are some great empowering moments that come from it. Strength can come even from our awkward and vulnerable points in life. Moments for us to reflect upon and to treasure and grow and to draw strength from.
How the most profound things are discovered about ourselves in the most unexpected ways and that the dark clouds of our past do have some silver linings. And I am still waiting for the adult Seth so that we can use the makeshift binoculars we made in our youth to watch the eclipse and hold hands.