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Identity from Shame

Identity from Shame

Shame has always been an emotion that haunts my home. My earliest memory of intense shame is tied, funnily enough, to Disney’s A Goofy Movie and my over-inflated sense of hero worship. As a boy, I was infatuated with Goofy’s son, Max, to the point that I wanted to both dress and sing like him. The dressing wasn’t hard, it was just a red hoodie and jeans—I played with the idea of gloves for a while, but I couldn’t find anything nearly big, nor white enough to make the cut. The singing, however, was a lost cause.

As a child, I’d sit in my room, on my bed, watching A Goofy Movie on a near-constant loop, wearing clothes just like Max and dreaming of the day I’d be able to participate in a large-scale, singing, dancing flash-mob at school. The exact details of what I did to invoke the wrath of my father in this instance are forever buried in the sands of time—I was probably reigning hell on my sisters or something of the like, Rod wouldn’t typically make an appearance like this for anything less. But, the memory is this: I’m on the bed and I’ve just been scolded. I’m embarrassed for whatever I’ve just done but, the shame hasn’t yet factored in, not until he says, “Are you trying to be cool? You don’t need to worry about being cool, you’re too young for that.” The worlds hit my ears and my vision began to narrow; I’ll never forget the world dimming around the edges of my sight. Looking back, I believe it was my ego taking its first real blow and dying a little. As I type my father’s words, in hindsight, I’m touched by them. He was scared that I was growing up too fast—he wanted his little boy to hang on to his childhood. But, in my broken mind set of “step-dads are scary,” I took this to be scathing critique of my clothing and behaviour. My little mind raced to agree with him, saying, “Yeah!? What are you doing? Adolescent, cartoon dog-humans are not role-models, Joel. No matter how much Roxanne makes you want to take your pants off!”

I went from feeling like an older kid, on top of the world, to Charlie fucking Brown. He was the ultimate tier of “uncool” at the time: there was the knockout cool guy, might-as-well-be-the-7up-cool-spot Max Goof at one end of the spectrum, and that hapless, bald sad-sack Charlie Brown on the other. It’s a tad unbelievable to fathom my hated for Charlie Brown back then. There was nothing worse in the world—it wasn’t the Peanuts as a whole, though; I loved Snoopy, Linus—Schroder was one of my favorites. It was just that fucking Charlie Brown that I hated. I digress.

From that moment on, the pangs of shame have been an every day occurrence. Mostly though, they’re tied to food. I wonder what was missing in my brain, my life; what was it that shaped the device that forces me to take simple little things to heart in a big way? I was up early one Saturday before curling, making myself a bowl of cereal. Rod was smoking in the computer room just off the kitchen. I made my bowl, poured the milk, sat down to eat and from the other room he says to me, “You’re going to end up like the good year blimp if you keep eating like that,” motioning to my breakfast. It was like a punch to the face. I had to choke down the meal, his statement had killed my appetite. The shame soured the milk and turned the Alphabits to dust as they hit my tongue. My face was hot and I fought back tears, but I couldn’t cry. Not again. I was tired of being the weak little boy he thought (and knew) I was.

Rod was my step-father, and therefore, removed from my genepool. He loved us like we were his blood, but one look at us and it was obvious that my father was another man. For as long as I have been conscious of my body, it has been round. Fat. Husky. Whatever you want to call it, I was an overweight child. Rod, a child of the sixties and seventies, came before processed food, video games and living in the city. He was fit, a track star, a wrestler, and an all-around athlete who was good with his hands. He never struggled with his weight, and it wasn’t until he was in his late forties that he even developed a belly. I remember him staring at it, sitting on the couch with a cigarette in hand, watching TV and poking his tiny little spare tire as if it were an alien symbiote that had attached itself in the night.

I believe when he saw me, he saw the way he could have gone. If he was a different type of person, he could have been me. There are people in my life I feel that way about—though, they’re roughly my own age. When I see them, or stand in their homes, I can trace the moment that, if I would have stayed where I was, I would have become them. A part of me hates them, because a part of me hates myself. I wonder if my father’s feelings went this deep, but I suspect not. He was a man of still temperament, and I honestly don’t believe a grown man could hate a child, but I could feel a fear in his concern. Like he knew how hard it was all going to be for me.

During the summers, I always felt like my father watched my intake like a hawk—which, in all fairness, is something parents should do, but each mention of my diet was a personal affront to me. My shame would recoil like a snake and instead of hearing him, I’d enter a shock-mentality of not again. His words had an adverse effect and I started to steal food to eat in secret. One night, scarcely before my teens, I had stolen a Costco-sized box of Dips granola bars from the cupboard and was eating them while I was supposed to be asleep, trying my hardest to crinkle the wrappers underneath my pillows to keep them silent. It didn’t work. Rod was in the kitchen, which my bedroom door practically opened into, and he heard. He came into my room with a deep blast: “What’re you doing in here?” He pulled the blankets back, exposing the box and the empty wrappers. The drawer in the bedside table was open and full of the debris from my shame; I had been stashing the garbage for days, unable to find a way to smuggle it out of the house unseen. All of this set him off. I’m not sure if it was the theft, the secrecy or what—but he hit me harder than he ever had, or ever would again. The secret eating continued, and continues to this day.

It's nine-thirty, the sun is setting and the bricks of the building I face are glowing. I have the windows down and the radio off. Sounds of the streets filter in, bouncing off concrete and plaster, plastic and aluminum, moving past my ears and settling in the upholstery along with the dog hair, cigarette smoke and sweat of road trips past. I feel the breeze on my neck and ears. It moves my hair with a tenderness that only a July evening can offer and sends a chill of melancholy down my spine. The cheeseburger in my hand soaks through it’s wrapper, into my finger tips and stains my lips with every bite. I can taste the shame. I wipe the grease from my moustache, light a cigarette and send a text about construction, or a line at the gas station. Be home soon. Love you.

#

When I reached the age where young boys and girls start to stink and have to change for gym class, I became obsessed with time. How long until I have to take my shirt off in front of my friends? How long until I have to run in shorts? How long until the skinny kids gang up on Ronnie and I? There were three or four other fat boys in my class, but most of them kept to themselves. I was friends with all of them, but Ronnie and I were the closest, and the most outgoing of them all. We made friends with everyone, and most everyone happened to be skinny. Somehow, our ease at making friends also translated into an opening for ridicule. It did for me, anyway.

I didn’t see The Goonies until I was twenty-six. Unfortunately for me, my friends grew up with the movie and decided that I had the exact same physique as Chunk. They weren’t wrong. They taught me about the truffle shuffle, how funny it was, and how I just had to do it for them. Four of my best friends stared me in the eye, all of us no more than eleven, their boyhood wonder burning a picture in my mind so vivid I can still see it seventeen years later. I conceded, and died my first death as I shook my belly for a cheap laugh. I had such an intense self-loathing around my entire body image, my little mind didn’t know how to process it any other way than to project outwardly, in the strangest of ways.

The early eighties through to the early aughts are home to an era of film I call The Big Greasy. The Big Greasy consists of family and children’s movies starring any more than two kids. Along with the choose-your-ethnicity token, there was almost always a fat kid in these groups. Sometimes the kid was White, sometimes he was Black, but he was always fat. I’m talking Chunk from The Goonies, Thud Butt from Hook, Goldberg from The Mighty Ducks, Robe from Max Keeble’s Big Move—as you start from the early ones in the eighties, theses characters are always eating. His weight is almost all anyone talks to him about, and though he is bashful about it, and may even get mad at the jabs, he seems to own it and be confident about it. He always has a hero moment, but he’s also always holding a two-litre bottle of soda or a massive bag of chips. Sometimes he’s just carrying McDonalds with him for seemingly no reason at all. It was these kids that released Charlie Brown from the whipping post in my mind.

I’d seethe with a shame-laced rage whenever I saw these “clowns” on the screen. I’d utter things like, “You’re an embarrassment,” under my breath and curse their parents for letting them have all that food, completely unchecked. I stumbled through my young life like this for a long time, hating people I saw on screen for seemingly arbitrary reasons. As I grew and became more aware of myself, my environment and my identity, I came to see that the hate I put forth was nothing more than a way to hate myself out loud. It was always me versus the world, until I found it was just me versus me. It was a breakthrough that lead down the wrong path and when I figured that out, I began to cut out the middle man. I no longer needed to a conduit to cut myself down. I could address the parts of me I hated on my own.

I rejected the label of “fat guy” because I didn’t see myself as that, and I didn’t want other people to see me as that. I grew up in the nineties and the first decade of the new millennium, back when we didn’t have any of the body positive images to make us feel like we’re beautiful too. It was the new era of the supermodel and thin was in. Muscles were left to Mr. Olympia; men were thin, yet built. I was doomed.

It took until 2003 to even feel remotely close to someone positive onscreen, when Jack Black played Dewey Finn in School of Rock. Though he was a flawed character, there was never any talk about his weight—save for cheap shots from the kids. He reacted to the jabs; you could see the hurt on his face, but he moved on and that was it. He stole the screen, he was immensely talented and the movie ended well for him. Because I had started learning to play guitar less than six months before the movie came out, Jack Black became a very serious role model for me in the way I owned both my body and my personality. Without him, I would not have survived high school. In this writing, I only now realize how much he meant to me. At the time, he was just another part of my pop-culture landscape, but looking at photos of myself during that time, I dressed like him. I wore my hair like him. He was, unquestionably, my lighthouse.

Still, the body-positive identity of “fat guy” was only just beginning its gestation in our culture, and I vehemently rejected the label. I was a musician. My ideas of identity were, for lack of a better term, black and white; you could only be one thing. My sisters were dancers, my dad was one of the Oilmen, with all their curling and poker games. My mom was Mom. After drifting through my childhood and trying every sport under the sun to earn the “athlete” label, my mother took a chance against my father’s best intentions and bought me an electric guitar. It was first time I had ever found something I could dedicate myself to without hesitation. My heroes played guitar, and just like when I was a small boy with Max Goof, I needed to do everything within my power to emulate them. This was the turning point in my life. For once I had found myself in a place where I could call myself something. Something other than Joel. I was a guitar player. I was the guitar player. I rode this identity until I got to college, when I became the musician I wanted to be.

After college, I had an album under my belt, I was gigging semi-regularly with my three-piece funk band, I had done shows with all types of musicians and even got to play a festival in the summer of 2008. As it happens after college though, people fall away from each other and my drug use had gotten heavier, so my regular life of music started to wane. Eventually, I found myself alone with an acoustic guitar, writing my heart out. I took to the page a lot more in this time, and I began spreading the seeds that lead me to where I am today. When I met Olivia right before school, we formed an instant bond. She had moved from up north to attend the same program, and shortly after we started playing together, I started sharing my writing with her. She was the first who ever gave me encouragement with the written word, speaking kind words about the stoned-out stream of consciousness rambling that I’d send her. Writing, both music and words became the singular reason I woke up in the morning after that, but I was still just a musician in my mind.

About a month after Rod’s death, I recorded my little EP, or “demo” as I called it, and felt like it was the start of coming into my own as a solo artist. I was Joel Morgan: Folk Singer. I was looking for gigs, and a woman that I accompanied at an album release party was coming through town on tour. I sent her a message through Facebook and asked if I could open for her, and surprisingly to me, she agreed. I typically only make these sorts of moves when I’m in a depressive state, hating myself and looking for any way to punish myself with risk. If the gig went well, I’d be rewarded with congratulations and smiles, if it went badly, I’d just do it again later. Or so I thought.

In the weeks leading up to the show, I had barely mentioned it to anyone. Truthfully, I hadn’t seen anyone in months. My self-imposed exile had cut my social circles apart, and I didn’t want to be the guy who begs everyone to come and see a horrible show that doesn’t start until late. To this day, I still don’t understand why I was so surprised when no one I knew was in the bar that night. It was Monday, and the room was nearly empty. Two couples playing pool and a few old men at the bar. I was too early, anyway. I put my guitar down next to the table and I sit, jacket on, scanning the room. My stomach begins to sink. I had been smoking pot all day long and was paranoid out of my tree, thinking everyone was looking at the guy with the guitar. A server came over to me and asked if I wanted anything—I should have said yes, but I was already in panic-mode and turned her down. Fifteen of the sweatiest minutes of my life go by and I finally decide to take off my jacket; she comes back. This time I order water. There’s no sign of the headliner, the sound guy, or any other living soul I was familiar with. For a city where I knew a lot of people, I had never felt more alone.

When the sound guy and headliner show up, we do a quick sound check and I get the nod to go ahead and start the show. Every witty line I had written in my head, everything I was going to say before my first song just disappeared from my brain, leaving me with nothing but, “Hi… I… Uh, I’m Joel Morgan.”

I meant to play all six songs, my entire demo, but there was no reaction from the room. Not a clap, not an acknowledgement, nothing. Active disinterest. With each wave of silence after the songs, I grew smaller and smaller, and by the time I got to the sixth one—the one about Batman, I just quit. I couldn’t play it. I was an open wound. I thanked the room, stayed for the first two songs of the headliner and went home to sit in the dark. I felt like a complete sham—why had I ever thought that I could stand on a stage and command a room alone? I played in bands, I’m no solo artist.

I quit after that. I haven’t written a song in earnest since. My guitar playing stagnated and somehow, the stranglehold that music had on my life was wrestled away. I made electronic music for a while, but soon that fell away too. I still do both, but nothing’s been the same since. My shame managed to overtake a part of my life that I loved like no other.

Analogous to this moment, is one that came years before while I was still in high school. A woman—a young lady at the time, had just transferred to my school and captured my imagination; a woman who I still think about daily. She sat down next to me on the city bus and smiled. We had a very easy relationship. The type of friends who can just sit together and be quiet, my favorite type of friends. Apparently, she had quite the reputation at her old school that followed her, but being a social groundhog, I didn’t know. Not that it would have made a real difference. To me, she was nice and she was funny, and that was all I needed. She has these giant blue/green eyes that can trap you forever if you’re not careful.

She sat down next to me, I had my headphones on. She knew my status as a metalhead, so I flashed her the horns and we sat in peace together, heading to relatively the same place. Down the road, not ten minutes later, she puts her hand on my leg. I pull my headphones off and she says, “Joel… Why are you breathing so loud?”

I instantly turned red. I stammered. I was ashamed of it. I knew exactly what I sounded like. I’ve never been able to breath out of my nose very well, and for some reason, when relaxed, I can sound like a forty-five-year-old man contemplating a garden salad at a buffet. Long, loud and heavy nose breathing. I’ve been extra-conscious of my breath volume ever since that day, always monitoring and switching between nose and mouth depending on company, proximity and position in a conversation. It’s always in the forefront of my mind, I’ve become like an animal; if you hear my deepest of breaths, you know I’m comfortable around you. Shame created a habit from the seeds of something I hate most about myself in a single instant. Call it impulsive, call it compulsive. You could call it insane.

#

It is not uncommon for me to allow myself to be altered completely by a single moment. In fact, it’s one of the qualities I hate the most about myself—it bleeds out in different ways, subtle ways, largely turning me into a personality sponge. I’m susceptible to behavioural change even on a moment to moment basis by large personalities. I’ve gained several different reputations because of this. Some people find me to be lovely, because our personalities match and I don’t subconsciously fight being robbed of my own identity as I would against people with large personalities. Those people typically find me to abrasive, or as most authority figures fall into this category, “problematic.” It’s an inward struggle that taints my mood and behaviour in certain situations, mostly professional. It’s the greatest hurdle in my path, because I can see doors closing all around me when it gets in the way.

When I was young and fighting against the three-fold attack of clinical depression, puberty and brand-new heartbreak, Rod said to me, “We’re our own worst enemy. We stand in our own ways more often than you’d think.” The sentiment has lived in my brain ever since, but I think it took me seventeen years to truly crack it. I’ve always understood it to mean that when it comes to taking action, we’re so quick to find ways around it. There’s always an excuse, and unless you practice willpower often, it’s easy to allow yourself to believe your own lies. But, in reality, in my own life, the phrase is applying increasingly to my identity.

Like I said, I can be a personality sponge. My father pointed it out on a camping trip when I was fourteen; I became a mimic of the cooler, older guys on the trip. I’ve always been conscious of it, and the accompanying thought has always been, “Well, that’s weird.” But lately, I’ve been fighting it, in the worst ways. I’m a rubber band. I’ll bend and flex to fit in, but at a certain point, I snap and bite the person who was bending me. I believe it plays into my impulsivity. I hardly think before I speak, and luckily, I’ve just developed a skill to have my thoughts formed with speed, but most of the time I all I manage to do is bite my own ass. Silence is the virtue I’m trying to work on, to only say things I can stand behind. My beliefs are heavy, and I don’t need to get into it with everyone—unless I feel like they’re really doing damage to the people around them. I’m trying to reign in my reactions to things, I cater too much to the feelings of others when they talk to me. I become fake. I overexert my interest, my reactions and my rebuttals. I feel the need to make absolutely everyone feel accepted, even when everything in me disagrees. Socially, I need to reign myself in. It creates a dangerous expectation within me that I will be treated the way I treat others, and unfortunately for us all, there is no bigger lie. Expectations have stoked a small ember of confusion into a burning flame within me. Expectations, and my ability to absorb personality traits have created a twenty-eight-year fire that, before this week, threatened to swallow me alive.

Expectations are the devil’s most clever disguise.

We live in a hetero-normative society. I was raised by heterosexual, cisgendered people, around heterosexual, cisgendered people and was only ever exposed to another lifestyle in a derogatory way through the media—you remember the Gay representation of the Nineties. I grew up only ever knowing that women were the end game. A wife. I was born a boy, so a girl is whom I shall spend my life with. It’s how you play house, and how the figurines come in the playset, right? I’m Ken, and I just need to find my Barbie. All of these factors while growing up have created the expectation that I am a heterosexual man. False expectations like this are what breed self-conflict in men like me, and are a red flag on the true nature of how we build our men in this society. Let’s talk about David Yost.

You know David Yost, even though his name may not ring in your mind. David played Billy Cranston, the original Blue Power Ranger, from ’93 to ’96. Though only he came out publicly in 2010, through his time on the set of Power Rangers, he was repeatedly harassed with the F-word (no, not fuck. It’s like the N-word. I’m not even going to type it), his producers frequently questioned his castmates about his sexuality, and he has stated that he was “made to feel unworthy of being a superhero” because of his sexuality. They were making a show for kids, and he had to deal with this at work every day. He left near the end of the fourth season because of the harassment and contemplated suicide, but decided to start conversation therapy instead—something he’d continue for two years.

Conversion therapy is, for the uninitiated, a process based on the assumption that homosexuality, or any behaviour deemed “sexually deviant” are mental conditions. It’s an attempt at flushing the Gay away and flipping that “deviant” switch back to “normal.” If David Yost was raised in a society with positive Gay role models; if Gay men were seen as men and not an extension of women, if the world had been a little more accepting, he may not have lost part of his life and soul to a horrible, unethical practice. For David, the conversion therapy led to a nervous breakdown and a month in the hospital, but he came out on top. He moved to Mexico for a year and came back to the States with a newfound acceptance, and a fire under his ass to speak out against homophobia in the industry that chewed him up and spit him out. David Yost is a personal hero of mine, and not just because the Blue Ranger was my favorite.

#

When I was nineteen, something happened to me. It’s an event I’ll never forget, and one that continues to shape my identity to this day. I met someone that made me feel like a child again, nervous and excited—unable to handle my feelings. Arousing in ways I had never felt before, and confusing in ways I had never dreamed of. I was reduced to a mass of confusion, hormones and emotion, left to stammer around in the dark trying to figure out what to do with the erection that guided me through the day. I hadn’t felt this way since the deep within throes of puberty.

In the ninth grade, when it started to count for something, I had a natural ability to talk to women. Not in a shady pick-up artist manner, but as humans. I have the house full of women I was raised in to thank for that. Some of the girls I was friends with hung out with the girl whom I’d go on to call, “the woman of my dreams,” for four years, like some sort of perverted old man trapped in a child’s body. Her name was Tina. I couldn’t talk to her; I could only stammer out incomplete sentences, my hands would sweat and I’d act like a complete fool in front of her. She had eyes like saucers filled with the ocean and legs for days—I fell hard like any pubescent boy would. I fell hard because I felt hard. At that age, boys can be remarkably simple.

However, simple boys turn into confused young men and when I met Allen, I graduated to just that. We worked together; he started maybe eight months into my time at the store, and when I saw how many people already knew him, and how magnetic he was proving to be, I knew I couldn’t beat him. The hard-wired competitiveness of your late-teens and early twenties are a hard thing to overcome, but I decided that I had to make friends with him. With a ham-fisted entry, I walked over to him and started a conversation about Dragonball Z, something I had heard him talking about just moments before. We had similar opinions on a lot of things, and when it came to the things that actually mattered about DBZ, we wholeheartedly agreed. It was then that I asked him, point-blank, “do you want to be best friends?”, as if Will Ferrell would play me in the movie-version of my life. He stared at me, for the creep I am, and said plainly, “We can be friends, yes.”

Regardless of how he responded to our initial encounter, we took to each other almost immediately. Fast friends. We had similar childhoods; from family situation to taste in cartoons, everything fit together like the teeth of a zipper. We were those guys. You’ve seen them before, the guys that get along so well that they annoy the people around them with their identical behaviour and ridiculous catchphrases? That was us. On one occasion, it got to the point of getting sent home from work—together, none the less.

Months after Allen, Jack came along to sell computers. Jack’s a life-long friend, and one who knows this story already. He was the third leg our tripod needed and together, the three of us stood tall. We knew something everyone else didn’t, and we appreciated certain things on levels they couldn’t understand. We were eighteen, nineteen and twenty-four, of course we knew it all.

Our friendship ran deep, and these men came to mean a lot to me. Allen, Jack and myself spent a lot of nights in my living room, dreaming out loud on a white board. We’d write together, watch movies together, talk about movies together, eat and breathe movies together. We were the dream team, but when it got late, Jack would leave and something else would come forth. Allen and I would talk late into the night about the things that really meant the world to us and it wasn’t long before Allen would leave my house, but spend the night in my head.

I had been single for a while at this point. I had been with my second girlfriend for three years of high school and half a year of college before we became aware we had grown apart. I had little interest in women at that time; I was a musician, a writer. I had things to get done, and women just weren’t my concern. The only woman in my life was actually the woman that became my wife, but that’s an entirely different story.

I was no stranger to women, but I was a stranger to the way Allen made me feel. I knew that the friendship had some sort of primal brotherhood bond, but to me, it felt deeper. I found myself stealing glances at a distance, picking up on small ticks, just like I used to with the girls from school—the girls I’d end up dating. His presence became comforting, but not in the way your friends make you feel. No, this was the feeling created only by those who have settled in your heart.

It was a bear I wrestled with. I couldn’t tell Jack, not yet. I couldn’t tell anyone at the store and I certainly couldn’t tell Allen. Allen was (at the time) the type of person to become uncomfortable when our humour drifted into the faux-Gay area of play. I was stuck. I confided in Olivia, my roommate, who found it sweet and endearing that I could admit the feelings, but unfortunately held no solution for me.

I sat on it. I tried as best I could to forget about the feelings I had. Eventually, it worked because it had to work. There was literally no option for me, at the time my mind couldn’t comprehend the idea that I could be attracted to a man. I was heterosexual. I’m not a homosexual, I’ve always be certain of that, but what do these feelings mean if I’m not Gay? It’s a question I’ve spent a lot of time sitting with in the past weeks, and I think I’ve finally come to a conclusion.

I don’t know if I loved Allen, but I felt for Allen in a way I never felt before and didn’t feel until I met my wife for the first time, again.

#

I’m writing this after a Lady Gaga concert. It’s so fresh, my ears are ringing and I’m still reeling from spilling a five-dollar bottle of water into my shoe as the show started. At one point in the concert, she asked if anyone was from the LGBT community, to which she received thunderous applause. I was not one of those people, though, every fiber in my body wanted to be—I just couldn’t. I haven’t talked to my wife yet. I try, but the words always stall on my tongue and fall away into thin air. I’ve talked about the men I find attractive and what it is about them. The particulars of the male form we can enjoy together. My wife is the most amazing person on the planet, and the last person I should be afraid to come out to, but our history is loaded to a degree that it just makes so much sense, I can’t figure out what’s holding me back.

I think of when my friend Christina came out to us just after high school. I was in my first year of college and the plucky group that we called “The Table” got back together after about a year apart. There were six of us, and we met at my parent’s place. My parents were actually thrilled to see most of these people too, as they’d all been coming around for years during school. We talked late into the night about anything and everything, and at about one in the morning, when there was a lull in the conversation, Christina spoke up.

Now, it is to be noted that Christina is also transgendered. At this time, Christina was Shawn, and a very intense, silent writer-type. He had never had a girlfriend the entire time we had known him, showed very little interest in the girls we’d all chase, and even after his first sexual encounter with a woman, he didn’t seem too impressed with the whole thing. When Shawn, now Christina, came out to us, we all reacted with, “Okay.” It was as simple as that. It was easy. We all saw her chest sink with a deep exhale, she smiled and we moved on with the conversation. Of course, we asked the horrible, dumb-ass questions that even accepting kids can ask; things like, “So… Am I hot?” But he asked us if we knew, and somehow, we all did. We took turns, the five of us, trying to explain that it wasn’t her mannerisms, or the way she spoke, but a vibe we all felt. We couldn’t explain it properly though, I think we ended up on, “it just makes sense.”

I expect the conversation with my wife to go just like that. I know she knows; how could a woman who knows me so intimately, who sees my struggles and the things I’m sensitive to, not realize that this is coming? She’s just waiting for me to be comfortable. She knows its complicated, she’s sensitive to things in my life that I’m not even aware of. When I make jokes about being Gay, even though that’s not what I am, she usually laughs along with me—but last time, it was different. With all of the talking we’ve done, she finally lifted the veil of feigned ignorance. She just slipped her hands around my waist, kissed my neck and said, “it’d be okay if you were. I’d still love you.”

At this point, I’m starting to wonder if it’s going to be less of me coming out as Queer, and more of me breaking it to her that I’m not Gay.

There. I did it in a joke. No real thought, just an urge to make a joke. (I say, “no real thought,” but there are literally 6,265 words that come before that single sentence.) But, that’s the first time I’ve done anything but thought, “I am Queer.” It’s in writing now. I’m still new to this. Am I “a” Queer? Probably not, sounds a little hateful.

This is the first step to that conversation with my wife. I’ve always used my writing as a way to distill the thoughts from the stupid barrel I call a head, and this revamp of old writing has proven to be a real process for me. I started this piece near the end of June, and as I write this sentence, the clock has just rolled us into the fourth of August. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my place in the world, not only as a man, but a Queer man, and what that means moving forward.

It has no effect on the love I have for my wife. If anything, life’s just going to get better for the both of us. It has no effect on my marriage. My wife and I are partners, there is no denying that. Till death do us part. It has no effect on my friendships. But the one thing it may have an effect on, maybe not—I don’t give her enough credit in a lot of areas, is my mother.

When I was a younger, I remember being with both of my sisters and my mom. Cassandra asked her, “Mom what would you do if one of us was Gay?” She replied in the best way a parent can, she said that it’d have no effect on our relationship, and then went on to tell us about how she has no prejudice against anyone, and started naming various minority groups, ending her list with a hearty, “as long as your nice, you’re good in my books.” But then, she added the strangest caveat that has stuck with me my entire life. She said the one thing that she didn’t understand, was bi-sexuality. It was “weird” to her.

My mother is not hateful. My mother is not mean. My mother has a filthy mouth and will speak her mind, but there is not a single nefarious bone in her body. She didn’t mean anything by that statement other than what she said. She doesn’t understand bi-sexuality, but that was also over ten years ago. She may have learned something, and really, it’s 2017 and she’s progressive. I shouldn’t be worried, but I am. This is an instance where I have to believe with my entire soul that I am over thinking it.

I only found the courage to finish this piece with honesty and integrity after the combined effects of the Lady Gaga show, and stumbling on to a blog post on thebodyisnotanapology.com afterwards. I came home, still waterlogged from crying during the concert, and after Steph went to bed, I typed “how do I know for sure if I'm Queer” into Google. The third result leapt out at me, because it asked the question I should have been asking, “Am I Queer Enough to Claim Queerness?”

The article was written by a woman named Taylor Steele, and there are I have no words of my own to describe what I felt as I read hers. She talked about not feeling Queer enough because she’s identified as straight for so long, she talked about wanting kids and marrying a man while still maintaining a Queer identity. She said everything I wanted to say—which as a writer, pissed me off, but as a human, set me free. This was the key:

“Queer itself is defined by its lack of rigidness, its ability to fit itself in many bodies and still be uniquely true to each individual. Queerness is a language wide enough to allow for all deviations from heterosexuality, whether that means you’re a bisexual woman who has only dated men or a bisexual man who has only dated men or an agender person who dates whoever the fuck they want to.”

So, in the spirit of honouring myself, and my new-found hero, I’m going to end this post in the same vein that she ended hers. By introducing myself, and the world, to my new identity.

Hi. I’m Joel, and I’m a Queer White male. Nice to meet you.

Hair

Hair

Opinion: HBO's Confederate

Opinion: HBO's Confederate