Time Travel Conversations with my Teenage Self, part 3
You are GAY. Just accept it.
“You never got married?” He asked with sincere disappointment.
“Girlfriends?” He’s desperate. He’s 17. He wants to get laid. I get that.
“Did you…?” He didn’t have to finish the sentence.
“What the fuck, man?” He nearly shouts. “I’m not gonna die a virgin, am I?” This time it’s my turn to let out a sigh. Not at the f-bomb, but over his frustration. I remember that all too well.
“Look,” I start.
“Do you at least have any friends with benefits?”
“A hooker? You got a hooker?” He was rattling this stuff off as fast as I could breathe. I forgot how the 17 year old mind thinks.
“No. I didn’t ever get a hooker.” Facepalm. I literally have my face in my palm at this point. Picard could not have done it better. As I rub my forehead with my fingers, I let out a sigh. “Gay.”
“Huh?” His locomotive train suddenly derailed as every thought crashed around him. His eyes popped open, and his face contorted into an expression he only got when he was faced with something utterly appalling. His nose curled, and his entire head moved backwards as if trying to run from the thought.
“Dave, you are gay,” I said straight out.
“You do that often enough,” I say as I point to the bottle of hand lotion and kleenex on his bed. “But seriously.” I take a breath. “You. Are. Gay.”
“Bullshit!” He stood up, slapped his knees with both hands, and darn near ran to the door. He stopped. “How is that possible?” He threw his hands up. “What do you mean?”
I remain seated to be as unthreatening as possible. I had already talked to him about Dad, and now I was having the one conversation I wish someone ever had with me.
“Do you have AIDS?” Oh, dear Lord. I forgot how uninformed I was. Again with the facepalm.
“No, Dave. I don’t have AIDS or HIV.”
“Well, you remember what Jay said about Scott.” It was a conversation I had with my best friend a few months before, who knew a man who died from AIDS in the late 1980s. Other than that, my only real exposure to gay people was the owners of a local theatre. “I can’t be a fag!”
More facepalm. The word “fag” hadn’t really become the stain that it is now, so it’s thrown around quite readily in that time. TeenDave was a product of his time, and he was surrounded by people who told “fag” jokes and talked about how bad “fags” were.
“We’re not fags.”
“But you said you’re … gay.” He said it as if it was sandpaper coming out of his throat. It might as well have been.
“No,” I corrected him. “I said you’re gay. Big difference. I already know that I’m gay.”
“Bullshit. I like girls.”
“Okay, can we cut with the brick wall? No one knows you better than me,” I try my best at breaking through his resistance. Of course, it took me until I was 30 and in love to finally come to terms with my own sexuality. Maybe I can spare him some years of frustration.
“But I like girls.” He’s pleading now. It was almost a whine. “I do! They make me horny!”
“Really, David? Really?” He didn’t have a porn stash at that time (frankly, he didn’t buy a Playboy or Penthouse until he could prove he was 18), so I had to dig deep into his memories. I couldn’t waste time. I had to hit hard and hit fast. “Remember the locker room with the Northwest football team after that away game?”
He stopped, and became visibly deflated. His shoulder sagged. His jaw dropped. His hands and elbows dropped. I might as well have hit him in the gut. I continued.
“Do you remember that night?” It was right after a big game, and the guys were all showering. I managed to position myself so that I could watch and pretend I was doing some form of official capacity or something since I was the team’s manager. But seeing those strong, muscular, naked football players as they soaped themselves off in the shower while talking about their game — it was completely intoxicating. I had never before been surrounded by that much raw male sexuality, and I was more aroused than I ever had been in my life before or since. Thank God none of the team took advantage of me, and if any of them were lesser men, I would have been an easy target. Instead, the team members — all of them — either gave me a knowing smile or a click of the tongue as they walked past me. I know some of these men today, and they are genuine leaders in the community. Their good character has stayed true even now.
My heart had raced the entire time, and I had no idea what to do. The entire ordeal had been spellbinding. I was a fifteen year old boy at the time, and I was totally smitten by these older guys who were all so nonchalantly talking about their game while washing their pubic areas with soap. It was a moment that should have awakened my sexuality more than any other; instead, it was a moment I look back on as one of regret — regret that I didn’t realize why I was so drawn to those virile, gorgeous, young men.
“You know how you felt that night, don’t you?” I asked. “I remember it well. I know you do.”
“But I can’t be gay. I’ve never … you know … done it.” He’s stammering at this point.
“I know, Dave. And you don’t have to. But remember that night. You’ve never had that feeling with girls.”
“Well, I do look for R-rated movies,” he said weakly.
“Yes, you do. And you always look for the penises.” Another sulk. He knew I was right. “Remember when you paused the frame on Richard Gere’s penis in Breathless? Over. And Over. And Over again.”
“Yeah,” it was a whisper. I almost didn’t hear it.
“And you kept pausing the VHS of that horrible movie, Gimme an F when that male cheerleader gave a striptease to those girls in that shower.”
Teen David nodded.
“Dave, that was a terrible movie.”
“Yeah, it was pretty bad.”
“And you didn’t even get to see a dick.”
“And you were always drawn to talk with the guys from the Roxy. You know. Tom and Jon.”
“Yeah,” he said. He paused. He didn’t want to agree with me. He didn’t want to admit that I was right. Hell, he had never even thought of it until now.
“Look,” I said. “In a couple of weeks, you’re going to be offered a job at the Carmike. Don’t bother applying, the manager will seek you out.”
“Yep. Of course, you’ll take it.”
“Should I take it?” Oh, I would have loved to tell him no, but I really liked working there. As crappy as the job was in hindsight, it was perfect for the moody kid that I was.
“Yes, take the job, dumbass,” I paused. “Shortly after that, a movie will come out called Torch Song Trilogy.”
“What’s it about?”
“Gay people in New York.”
“Oh, you’ll watch it. You’ll have to. It’ll be late one night, and you’ll sit through it. The first time I saw it, I was taken aback by it.”
“Kind of like you were a few minutes ago.”
“I’m still taken aback by it.”
“I know,” I said. “But seriously. Watch it. It’s a great movie, and the characters are fantastic. Besides, Matthew Broderick is in it.”
“As a fag?”
“As a gay guy.” I take a breath. “Here’s the thing, Dave. I spent a long time pretending that I liked girls, not knowing any better. I hope to save you from that.”
“But, I get called faggot every time I walk down the hallway at school.”
“And those guys can go to hell. You’ll never see them again once you graduate.”
“And for God’s sake, stop being such an asshole to people around you. They notice. And it’s not cool.”
“But I hate it there.”
“I know. And they’re all trying to get through it also.”
“They’re so shallow. I can’t wait to graduate.”
“Have you ever considered that you’re just as shallow?” I pause and soften my voice a bit. “Maybe a little more, even?”
He just looks at me.
“Look, Dave. It’s simple. They’re all good people. Some of them are jerks. Most aren’t. But you won’t hear from most of these people the rest of your life. Well, until Facebook comes around.”
“It’s a … oh, never mind. You’ll find out.”
“Do I ever get a boyfriend?” I smile. It’s the first time he said it out loud. Boyfriend. Of course, the answer is yes, but that relationship ended recently. Should I spare him the pain? No. I shouldn’t. It‘s part of life.
“I tell you what, big guy. Do yourself a favor. When love comes, embrace it. And embrace him. Never look back. Never let the voice in your mind speak of you badly. You’re not a failure. You never will be. Learn to love, trust, and to be a friend. I know you’re hurting right now, but you’ll grow into a man who’s ready to take on the world. And the world is waiting.”
“Is there anyone at school that’s gay?”
“Yeah, but they’ve got their own futures to live. And the one guy I wanted to tell you about graduated and went off to the navy. Maybe you can talk to him when he gets back. I know you always liked him. He was the fish that got away for both of us.”
“You mean …?” He knew exactly who I was talking about.
“Yeah.” We both smiled.
“Will I ever leave town?” he asked.
“Yep. And you’ll come back.”
“That’s not very encouraging.”
“I didn’t think so either, at first,” I admitted. “But I learned so much about myself here. It’s not as bad as you think.” And it isn’t.
“What about tech?” Ah, the nerd comes back out. The walls have fallen, and the inner 12-year-old emerges.
“Oh, I’ve got a device that is a camera, a video camera, a computer, a calculator, a tape recorder, a music library, a movie library, a telephone, and a video phone all wrapped into one.” Reluctantly, I show him my iPhone.
“Looks just like a piece of black glass.” I turn it on. Of course, there’s no service. I play a Tears for Fears song for him, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” It’s a song he likes, but never really knew who sang it.
“Now that’s just fucking cool.”
“Wait ‘till you see the computers. But you’re gonna have to. Wait that is.”
“So there’s hope?”
“So I’ll get laid?”
Oh, to be seventeen again. “Yeah, kid. You’ll get laid. When you’re ready.”
I reach into my satchel and check the time left. Mere seconds remain. Seconds for me to leave a lasting impact on this young guy. “Hey, I gotta go. My time’s up.”
“Hey, David,” he says.
“Lose some weight. I want to live to be 90.”
“Just live, Dave. Live. And love. And for God’s sake, don’t be stupid.”
The room began to fill with a shower of blue light. It was a little different than the first trip, and built on a crescendo instead of a flash. I was on my way back to the 21st century. It was a bit noisier than I remember.
“Hey! David!” He shouted.
“Yeah?” I yelled too.
“What’s the 21st century like?”
“Whatever you make of it, kid. Whatever you make. Make it good.”
“You did. Trust me.” Just as I smiled, the room was overtaken by the bright blue flash and I was returned home. My memories remained the same with the addition of the strange visitor, but I still lived pretty much as I always did.
It was like no other visit I’ve ever made, and it was unquestionably real. While there could have been some kind of paradox, I realized that the visit wasn’t for him; but for me.
After all, hindsight is 20/20. Even when it’s looking into your own eyes 25 years before. Our future is always what we make of it. We’re not governed by destiny, we make our own destiny. And it’s up to us to take the steps to reach that place.
Sometimes a look in the mirror isn’t quite enough. Sometimes we need to look into the past. And it’s enough to say that we are, in fact, quite okay.
DAVID W. SHELTON is a graphic designer, blogger, writer, activist, and author of The Rainbow Kingdom: Christianity & The Homosexual Reconciled. He lives in Clarksville, TN with his better half and their many, many pets.