by A. Montgomery
I don’t pretend to know why I needed to come out last Christmas break. High school had been easy; I had waltzed my way to the top of my class, created a small, impenetrable world around myself, a false front that could fool anyone. The art of inauthenticity is easy. People who try to be “morally sound” say it’s hard to be fake, but for me, that’s not true. I was well-practiced in pretending
When I was younger, my family successfully convinced whole communities that we were perfect, only to shatter the screen with a violent divorce. So I learned early on how to make outsiders see what I wanted them to.
For the first sixteen years of my life, I wanted nothing more than to be straight. This was tough, though, I’ll be honest. People grilled me ruthlessly on the subject, but I satisfied them, for the most part. It wasn’t until last Christmas, as fluffy white snow fell to the ground, that I made the most difficult decision of my life so far. On that lazy, cup of coffee and book king of day, that I chose to come out.
It started with a lot of crying. I phoned one of the only people I trusted with my authenticity, my best friend. As I relayed my plan, she began crying as well. It is very hard to have an honest, heartfelt moment over the phone, but, laying on my bed, tears streaking down my cheeks, I felt as if she was with me. Some relationships are like that, so strong that even phone conversations feel like an embrace.
Not fifteen minutes after the phone call, I came out completely. I used that fifteen minutes to plan how I would come out to my friends. It needed to be slightly private, something that wouldn’t upset my conservative and ignorant extended family. Surprisingly, I found my answer in an app. I posted a photo to Instagram, which was not very classy, I know; it was, however, fulfilling. In fact, it was all I needed to do. Immediately, I felt relief. Again, I began crying, this time a deep, belly-aching cry, but I was happy. It was only the start, though. I had broken that false front and now was looking at a new world opening at my feet. Now I could consider other things, like, actually dating another boy. Though it’s strange to think, I already had one prospect: an intelligent guy who goaled to be a doctor, or a model (seriously, he already had a contract). We were friends for months before I came out to him, and when I did, we clicked. And then I fell quickly. Almost as fast as stars shoot.
I had never been in a room with so many people that hated my guts. They didn’t even know they hated me, but I knew. At this point, I had been out for almost half a year, and I was proud to the be the person I was. But in this room, I felt like prey. Constantly, my eyes flashed from side to side, making sure none of the other kids could penetrate my faux front as if it was something they could see.
This collection of high school students hailed from North Dakota and Minnesota, but on the first day, they all made one thing clear: they were radical conservatives. Not by choice, though, it’s how they were raised, just as I was raised a liberal. The first day was the worst. I sat on my hands, waiting always for one of them to pounce on me. Questions raced through my mind. Should I tell my roommates? How big of a problem, really, would it be? Am I in or out of the closet this week? Answers came quicker than I thought. No, I would not tell my uber conservative North Dakotan roommates that I was gay. Yes, this would be an enormous issue this week at Close Up (an immersion program that encouraged students to learn about politics). And yes, I would have to go back to the dark of the closed door. However, it wasn’t too awful, I just had to return to the hellhole I was trapped in for the first sixteen years of my life.
I was going on my first real date. A date with a person I actually liked, was actually attracted to, this had never happened before. And of all the things that could have gone awry, none of them did; it was perfect. He met me at a quaint little coffee shop overflowing with tattooed, shaved mulleted, pierced, and band-merch-wearing hipster baristas. I had been here many times before, though. Each year, my family and I go see The Nutcracker live, and we always stop here for coffee and hot chocolate. Today, though, a new crackling magic was added to the reminiscence of childhood. I was diving into a familiar pool, only this time there were different swimmers and the lifeguard was on his hour-long lunch break. To my surprise, my date had already ordered me my favorite drink, a macchiato. Weeks earlier, I had expressed my deep love for coffee and this particular beverage, but I was shocked that he’d remembered something so small. So I sat down, took a steaming drink of that godly espresso. Then I looked up and saw him at me; the butterflies in my stomach jittered.
He started the conversation and it soon faded into a comfortable back-and-forth. We watched hoards of people striding along 5th Avenue outside our window, guessing their jobs, wondering together what their lives might be like. There was a solemn account drowning in his trenchcoat; a well-paid lawyer with enough college debt to fill twenty of the Marc Jacobs briefcases he was carrying; a NASA astronaut disguised as a mailman. The three dollar tip I left was not so much for the good service but because I was exhilarated by possibility. We drove to the theatre, talking here and there about school, sports, and an upcoming career conference we were both involved in. He told me about his childhood, and I glanced at him from time to time over the wheel, his eyes engulfed in what he was saying. Upon arriving at the theatre, I finally figured out what show we were seeing (he had wanted to surprise me with something other than my preferred Shakespeare): Into the Woods.
Of course, they had to pick me. The kid from the faraway Alaska with the big ideas and the even bigger mouth. The instructors knew I was easy to fire up, knew I would give them an eventful night, so they chose me to speak in front of all those fundamentalist, god-fearing, prejudiced people, whose views radically challenged my own. And the topic turned out to be something more than an issue, it was an issue that was ingrained in my existence: the LGBTQ Equality Act, an extension of the Civil Rights Act from the 60s. I didn’t think I would ever need to debate whether or not a person should have fundamental rights.
I soon found out that most of the kids in the room did not agree with me. Not only did they disagree, but they detested the thought of anyone who was part of the LGBTQ community. I had to is and listen to Donald Trump-supporting bigots, spilling their beliefs like blood across the floor. They called me “unnatural” and “disgusting” to my face, said I should be burned. I couldn’t help myself from thinking how badly these kids wanted me to die. Two people, from my own school, who knew I was gay, advocated against LGBTQ rights. And then it was my turn to give a speech. I stood, trembling, knowing that if I slipped up and accidentally exposed myself, I would be marked. The least they would do was toss slurs and insults, and that frightened me because such people are not known for conserving their actions. Nevertheless, I gave myself up in front of all those kids. And, if I may say so, it was well put together and well said. I also think the copious amount of tears streaming down the faces of the instructors, my own teacher, and other students was a good indicator of the profundity of my speech. The debate droned own, and then came the time to vote. The LGBTQ Equality Act did not pass that night. With that group of kids, I knew it wouldn’t. I sat there tearing up, thinking about how all those kids, as well as two of my “friends,” believed I didn’t deserve simple rights; I felt betrayed, I felt angry. I had never been so uncomfortable.
In the theatre, we found our seats. Out of habit, I scanned the room for people who didn’t know I was gay. My date asked me what I was doing and suddenly I snapped out of my worried trance. I remembered, I was out, who cared if someone saw me. Even more so, I was here with a boy whose brown eyes were not nearly as mundane as he claimed them to be, and I was having a wonderful time getting to know him. Together, we began discussing the storyline of the play, and I realized that I had seen this musical before, though it was as a film. I’d seen it a year ago, with my mother. But, I guess, it didn’t matter whether or not I’d seen it or hadn’t because neither of us were there to pay attention to it. We laughed and talked through pretty much the entire production.
I learned a lot about him that night, including his possible move to Utah, of all places, next year. Part of his family was Mormon, and the thought of leaving Alaska frightened him. As we talked, the natural nature of conversation pushed at the back of my brain. How could anyone say that something this organic was bad, was wrong? Though the entire day had been great, I was smart enough to know that this was just a teenage date. This guy would likely leave after summer. The play was, I’ll be honest, kind of crappy. But, for a moment, in the embrace of those deep, enveloping eyes, I had never felt so comfortable.