The following monologue was performed on The Naked Man Podcast.
I was a senior in high school and I was sitting beside my mom in the gymnasium at a table with other mothers and their kids. It was a Mommy & Me-like tea party event with all the gendered nonsense that came with it. I was one of the few boys in attendance with their mothers.
The event opened with a trivia game, where all moms were quizzed on their knowledge of their child. It was like an even weirder, more uncomfortable version of The Dating Game.
But I only remember one question: “When was your child’s first kiss?”
My blood froze. I froze. I’m sure I was starting to sweat. Turn red.
I hadn’t yet had my first kiss.
As other moms chuckled and wrote down their answers, my mom eventually did the same.
I was mortified. Thankfully, these Q&A’s were insular, private, but at the time I didn’t know that. It felt like I was on a stage about to be laughed at, surrounded by all the girls that I wanted to kiss.
What was my mom’s answer going to be? Did she know? Of course she knew. I barely ever had girls over in high school. I was filled with shame and embarrassment.
But when it was time to reveal our answers, my mom smiled and said, “Chelsea, when you were three.” I exhaled, I laughed. Chelsea was my best friend from when I was a baby up to preschool. Of course we had kissed, even if it wasn’t the kind of kiss the organizers were referring to. It was a loophole, but I was eternally grateful to leap into it. Bless my mom for sparing me that embarrassment.
Chelsea was the closest thing I had to the “Girl Next Door,” and when I was lonely and depressed in my early 20s, I wanted to track her down, to complete what would be our incredible love story. I had clearly watched too many teen dramas.
But Chelsea wasn’t my first real kiss.
It was only recently I even remembered my first kiss. I had forgotten it, repressed the memory.
I’m not sure how old I was, probably six or seven. I was in the woods with a group of friends, a mixed allotment of girls and boys. We were playing make-believe, pretending to be adults in the “real world.” We coupled off, of course, because we must all be married, have a house, have a family before we could be proper adults and have kids of our own.
This was obvious to every one of us.
But there was an odd number of boys and girls. An extra boy. Even then, I recognized the other boys’ discomfort at pairing off with another boy. So I volunteered to be this other boy’s husband. I may have even proposed dramatically to him.
The boy’s name was Ted, but even at that young age, my parents called him “Pink Ted.”
Even then, I knew this effeminate nickname wasn’t exactly complimentary. Sure, it was in good fun, it wasn’t full of malice. I knew my parents liked Ted. But it was still a joke. And they were pointing out how different Ted was from the other boys. The inference was clear: Ted is gay.
I have no idea if he is or not and that’s not my business. But either way, I absorbed that hypothesis. And that’s why it felt natural to be married to Ted rather than the other boys. We were playing, after all, and I was determined to be authentic, a method actor seeking to be real, natural.
From what I can remember, and I really have no idea how accurate ANY of this is now, Ted and I got “married” in the woods in front of everyone.
All of us kids knew you had to kiss after being married. So we did. On the lips and everything.
And I immediately felt weird. More shame, more embarrassment. All of a sudden, playtime was over. I had gone too far. Now, none of this was verbalized, or if it was, I don’t remember. But it’s how I felt. I felt homophobia from the group — from the boys AND the girls — even then.
I don’t feel like Ted was uncomfortable, but I have no idea. I’m not sure our friendship survived much beyond this outing and that sucks.
I had quickly internalized that what I did was wrong. Or at least, that’s what everyone else thought so there must be some truth to that.
As I grew up, I made a conscious effort to never use “gay” as an insult or call anyone the F word. I even remember scolding people for saying it and being called “gay” for my trouble.
I wasn’t perfect; sometimes those words came out of my mouth and I immediately regretted it.
Because I knew using those words that way was wrong.
And I knew anyone and everyone who was gay was not wrong. IS not wrong. I’ve always known and felt that and I think most of us all know that as children.
But the constant deluge of homophobia at home, on TV, on the bus, in schools, in movies… and that stupid desire to be accepted by the awful majority has a warping effect.
The fear of being called gay, of being bullied, of being made fun of, eventually shut me up. Showing emotion, whether it was fear or anger or passion, led to derisive laughter. Whenever I dared to show my feelings around other boys, the word “gay” wasn’t far behind.
I knew I wasn’t gay, but sometimes at night I’d wonder: what if I was? What if I found another man attractive? Would I lose my friends? Would my parents still love me? What would happen if I imagined someone else’s penis? What would that mean?
If this happened, and it did every once in a while, I’d be terrified, confused. I’d literally shake my head, I’d clear it away like I was haunted by infectious cobwebs.
“That’s not okay, Andy.” What if someone found out?
Found out what? That I’m curious? That my mind explores all kinds of possibilities? That it’s natural to do so?
I believe so much homophobia and hate comes from boys and men who HAVE had a sexual thought or feeling about another man. I imagine we all have. There’s this fear that it changes us, that this thought is evidence that can be used against us. After all, we’ve all been told this is wrong, so we must be wrong for having this thought and we direct that inner hatred out against the people brave enough to be their complete selves.
It wasn’t until I was in a secure, loving relationship with a woman that I was able to consider these things with any confidence and clarity. To realize that sexuality isn’t black or white. And the world certainly isn’t either, and we’d all be better off acting like it.
Now I know I’m privileged. That I had and have way less to fear than the people who have more than fleeting thoughts to worry about.
I can only imagine how Ted feels and I’ve had many sleepless nights wondering about him. No boy or girl should be up at night worrying if their friends or parents will still love them for being true to themselves.
I wish I had been braver growing up and been there to listen to the Teds in my life if they needed me. Instead, I allowed other boys to shut me up. I hid for my own safety.