You remind me of myself, and I hope — well, how should I say this without being condescending — that your next years do not surprise you unpleasantly. You are probably in 5th or 6th grade. This is when all the girls are sprouting past you in height, and all that’s left at your eye-level are armpits, which are mustier than you remember. You wear baggy shirts that your brother handed down, and no matter how cold it is, it’s always shorts weather. You like play dates with your buddies where you compete in sled races, snowball fights, and computer games. You wonder why people always have to fall in love in movies — why are they so emotional? You promise yourself you will never be like that.
It’s easy to make promises about the future, but keeping them is… there I go again sounding like a grandfather. What I mean to say is from your height it’s hard to see far ahead of you. Now I’m being overly figurative. Simply put, junior high has a way of making life so much more confusing.
Kid who Played Joseph in the Christmas Pageant, this year or maybe next year there’s going to be a day you won’t forget. You will join a soccer camp over the summer, and you’ll be playing shirts versus skins. It’ll be so drenchingly humid and heatstroke hot, not even the yellow jackets will bother to come out of the shade to prey on your Gatorade. The high school coach will blow the whistle and send you all on the bleachers for a break. You’ll clamor over each blinding bleacher till you reach the top.
Your pal Jonah will sit two bleachers ahead, dumping his water bottle over his straight, damp hair. The water will roll down his smooth freckled back, vertebrae by vertebrae until it reaches the last one, where it will soak into the ruffled elastic edge of his already soaked nylon soccer shorts. You will stare, and you don’t know why. No one else will have reached the top bleacher, no one will be talking to you, the wind will be still, and you will look at Jonah and his shorts. You will look away at the field with more dusty dirt than grass left, but you will look back at Jonah until you can’t not see him; even when you look away, you can see him; even in the car back home when you find that moving your legs back and forth with your water bottle in between feels oddly irresistible, and you picture Jonah in his shorts when you are alone in bed and start to move your thighs in and out not knowing why, other than it feels good, unstoppable… euphoric. What the hell just happened? you’ll think. Soiled boxers. A wave of foul odor and guilt permeate the room. I am a pervert for thinking about Jonah, you will tell yourself. You will promise never to do it again that night, and the next, and the next, and the next. You will pray that you stop, and then you will pray that you think about girls, but you will catch yourself watching the newest boy band music videos and replaying the shirtless scenes over and over, until these videos take you to new videos. You will throw your stuffed leopard off your bed because it’s too young for this, and you will cry alone, hiccupping with salt water in your eyes, wishing you were somebody else.
On nights such as these, I wish I could tell you just how lovable you will still be. I know your voice will be cracking. It may not go as low as you want it to. I know that every time you make an adjustment under your belt you’ll swear someone’s going to spot you and know what you were thinking. When one of your nipples grows faster than the other, the boys will point, laugh, and taunt you in the locker room. I wish I could show you a picture of yourself five years later when you will be a handsome young man. I wish I could tell you that it doesn’t matter that you shudder each time a teammate asks you to rate a girl’s tits, and you don’t know how. I wish I could tell you that every time someone says, “That’s so gay,” as an insult, most kids wouldn’t do it if they knew it hurt you.
Kid, just don’t be like me. Don’t lie in bed hating yourself for the parts of you that you cannot change as you gaze at the plastic glow-in-the-dark planets on your ceiling.
Kid who played Joseph in the Christmas Pageant, I’m sorry to break this to you, but there will also be a day when others realize it too. The leaves on the younger maple trees will already be yellow, seesawing back and forth as they flutter to the lawn, leaving their skinny branches bare and unprotected. You’ll be eating lunch outside with ninth-grade girls, sitting in a circle leaning against your backpacks. They don’t talk about girls’ looks; they don’t remind you of how you are different — at least you think. Instead, they will discuss the Fall Dance, which will be fast approaching. Samantha, the girl with black lipstick who’s always doing tech for some theatre show asks, “So, are you going to go with a girl or with a boy to the dance?”
“That’s mean,” some the other girls will say, but they will be laughing too. You’ll curse them. “I’m not gay, dammit,” you’ll tell them and yourself. You’ll hate your voice for giving it away — the way you enunciate consonants at the end of words, the way your voice rises higher than tenor when you’re animated. You’ll hate them for knowing, for confirming your fate.
Kid, maybe you’ll be braver than I was. Maybe you don’t have to eat lunch in the library alone. Maybe you can look Samantha back in the eyes and say, “I want to ask out Jonah. Do you know if he’s gay too?” Their squeals, their “Oh my God’s,” and their arms suddenly around your shoulders are cheers. You could impress them by just being you and no one else. Maybe today, instead of hiding it until your forties, you could let their acceptance, their embraces help you love the wonderful boy you are, and who you will continue to be.
Someone who Wishes the Best for You
About the author: Anthony Everston lives in Salt Lake City and is a member of Gay Writes.
Gay Writes is a DiverseCity Writing Series writing group, a program of SLCC’s Community Writing Center. The group meets the 2nd and 4th Mondays of each month, 6:30–8 p.m., 210 E. 400 South.