I remember watching soaps with my mom. I was 3 years old, and I had the biggest crush on Todd from One Life To Live. I remember my first time at a water park. I was 5 years old, and I saw my first naked man in the locker room, resulting in one of my first erections. I remember the fond feeling of belonging around my elementary school girlfriends and finally making it to the “cool girls’ table” in eighth grade. And I remember when the “cool guys’ table” began calling me gay — and chasing me home from the bus stop screaming “faggot.”
I remember ninth grade, kneeling in the church pew. God, please make these feelings go away. “Being gay is a temptation Catholics are supposed to resist,” my parents told me. “It is a sin — God says we must resist sin.” If they were saying it, I thought it must be true.
I remember the first time I admitted those feelings to myself, and I remember how thoughts of suicide would ease my mind. I stayed at the girls’ table until 10th grade. By that time, the rumors and teasing had gotten intense. Then, my school zone changed. I stopped sitting with the girls my first day of 11th grade at my new high school. I started sitting with the guys (despite how fucking boring it was — ugh, football). I trimmed my eyelashes, because I thought it helped me look less feminine. The gay rumors stopped; the bullies left me alone.
I kept sitting with guys like the ones from high school until my senior year of college. I joined a fraternity. I drank beer. I pretended to not like Madonna nearly as much as I did (and those were the American Life years — such a good album). I got a girlfriend. I had sex. I loved my girlfriend. I wore a Miller High Life hat every day. I fit in. I fucking fit in well. And all of this meant I wasn’t fucking gay. I was 20 years old, and NOT gay.
I remember coming home too drunk one night and watching gay porn.
I remember watching lesbian porn (to counteract the penises I had just seen, of course). I kept coming home drunk, fuck it — gay porn time.
I remember being scared to death Krystle would find out.
I remember locking myself in my college room to watch Queer As Folk.
I remember when Krystle and I broke up.
I remember needing to stay busy to avoid being upset. Love has many forms, and I loved her very much.
I remember Gary.
I remember the top of Gary’s ass always hanging out of his pants in class. I remember seeing Gary years earlier on campus. I remember his tan skin. His muscles. The gray tank top he always wore. Gary was “the gay guy” in my advertising classes. Gary began noticing me. “You’re attracted to me, aren't you.” “Yes.” Sign off AOL Instant Messenger. I broke things off 5 to 10 times during the first few months. I finally stopped lying to myself, because I loved him. He was my first full, liberating love — the first time someone knew all of me. The first time someone knew the secrets I would never say out loud my first 21 years on earth.
I remember telling my roommates Gary was not just my “gay friend,” and they still loved me. I remember telling my siblings Gary was not just my “gay friend,” and they still loved me. I never told my mom and dad. They had their own problems; this would crush them. We are a hardcore Catholic Republican family, and a gay son is the last thing we need. And it is something “you’re supposed to resist,” after all.
I remember when my parents abruptly stopped talking to me. (From what I’ve heard, my aunt sent them my MySpace profile, which included the stat “Interested in Men,” and she noted how I was “publicly disgracing the family name.”) Looking back on the situation, I have much less anger than I did at 22. All parents have dreams for their children, and my parents’ dream for me involved a Catholic wedding — to a woman. A daughter-in-law, a mother to their genetic grandchildren.
He was my first full, liberating love — the first time someone knew all of me.
With the disownment came sadness and anger.
When my parents stopped talking to me, I was graduating college. My friends were going separate ways. Gary left me. I missed my mum and dad very much. Especially my mum. That period in my life will always remain the single hardest time I’ve ever lived through. It was the first time in life I realised love is not forever, nor is it unconditional. And I had losses in every realm — partner, family, friends.
Amidst my depression, Christmas was quickly approaching. My dad’s family is fairly dysfunctional, and I was invited to Christmas, despite my disownment by my immediate family. I was met with a cold stare by my mom and dad — no hello, no nothing. I was invisible at Christmas dinner. I left in a flood of tears and went back to my apartment in downtown Tampa.
Then came New Year’s Eve. I knew I could not spend it alone, so I went to visit my college friend and his live-in girlfriend to stay busy. Around 10 p.m., depression set in, as it did every night. I missed Gary. I missed my mom and dad. I went home to spend the rest of the night with my dog Venya, who is 12 years old next month and my firstborn child. I drank and drank. And cried. And drank. I began staring at the set of knives in the kitchen. I began Googling ways to commit suicide using over-the-counter medication. And I kept drinking. I kept chain-smoking. I laid in bed hoping it would all end, thinking about which route I would take. And then, Venya curled up next to me. It was around 12:30 a.m. I cried and cried, and I decided I would never, ever leave her.
I woke up the next morning covered in vomit. I vowed to move. I wasn’t using my advertising degree and desperately needed change. I decided it was life or death for me to leave my current environment — leave my current depression. I texted my mum and called her repeatedly. Nothing. I texted more and called more. Nothing.
Venya and I packed ourselves into a U-Haul and headed to Brooklyn to start my new job buying advertising for Nestle. I cashed out a 401k I had from a college job, called in every favour known to man, and channelled my horrid depression into drive — drive to pursue a dream I had always been too afraid to conquer.
In New York City, you are not gay; you are just a person.
I am not the “gay guy” at work; I am not the “gay guy” amongst my friends.
I am not the “gay guy” to my doorman.
I am just Jeremy.
A few years ago, my parents came around. They met my fiancé, and they saw the home we built together. They toured my office; they heard our dreams to adopt. They realised I was going to live out their dream, to be married and provide grandchildren.
“Does mum’s family know I’m a homosexual, dad?” I joked the other day on the phone. “Well, you don’t exactly keep it a secret — and I would kick anyone’s ass who had a problem with it. I love you,” he said.
People change, people evolve. Some love is unconditional — it just takes time.
My mum told me how conflicting that time was — her love for me and what religion said — and how broken her heart was. I spent 21 years trying not to be gay and trying to love women. Trying to resist Madonna and anything that may “out” me as who I actually am. To me, Gay Pride is not about being gay; it is about being accepted as me, about being all of me — about just being Jeremy.