I had a few (straight) relationships in high school, but I could never reconcile how my thoughts dwelt on the lingering touch of my friend’s hug and the warmth of his leg next to mine when we sat together at the crowded restaurants. One stuffy summer night in the park, I melted when he reached over to wipe away a drop of beer from my face and slid his fingers along my cheek. All we had were those moments, half-hearted but unmistakable, and all I could do was to wait and see if they would ever amount to anything. I wasn’t gay, I’d tell myself. That little word would upend my life. Imagine explaining that to my friends, my parents, my girlfriend! I’m not from a particularly strict or religious household but I treated queerness as a stigma, a mark that everyone could see regardless of the person I presented myself as. Dissonance between both realities started to weigh on my mind, and my behavior turned erratic as I pushed those feelings down and embraced complete and toxic heterosexuality. College brought a whirlwind of relationships and meaningless hookups that would make Future — rapper and noted “icon” of toxic masculinity — blush.
A year and two break-ups later, I was back home. We picked up exactly from where we left off, talking for hours alone about anything, challenging each other on philosophy and politics between hits of his weed pen. We spent this particular night trading shots on one of his video games, blissfully high in his room. He nudged me, I put down the controller, turned and kissed him. He kissed back, pulling me closer. Two years of hints became justified in a second. Falling asleep next to him afterwards, naked skin to naked skin, brought a feeling I wasn’t able to name at the moment, but I later understood it as comfort. Not just with him, but with myself. Maybe, after all, I was gay — what about it? No one else had to know, just me.
He didn’t have a similar experience. An early sun reached through the blinds, shedding light on the undeniability of our clasped bodies. Immediately sitting upright, he asked me to put on my clothes and leave. Every time I would ask him about us after that night he would deflect, avoiding my questions and my presence. Our friend group, similarly, was left in the dark about his mental state as he slunk out of our hangouts and withdrew into his studies and work. For a year his presence was sparse, relegated to occasional responses in the group chat and ten-minute appearances at someone’s house paired with an insincere excuse. I missed him. I missed our talks, our hours in front of the TV screen, his laugh. I hadn’t thought far enough to what our hookup meant in terms of him and I, though I did all the mental gymnastics possible to avoid labeling it a hookup. Despite the silence, that summer I started to contemplate a non-straight relationship for the first time in my life, which brought both relief and unease. What would it mean? Would I have to tell my parents? My friends? I told my little sister first, of course. She hugged me, shrugged and asked if I wanted her to treat me any different. I said no. She replied with a flat “alright,” and continued scrolling on her phone. I wasn’t ready for quiet, though genuine, acceptance. All the ways I planned out the interaction in my head ended differently: some with fury, others with joy. But nothing had changed, though everything had. She was still my sister and loved me so. While initially disappointed by the lack of fireworks, I realized this was her way of telling me that anything that made me happy would make her happy as well. Even three years later, I don’t believe anyone has treated me with more respect and understanding than my little sister.
I came out of that summer renewed, because I’d become a different person. Self-confidence brought more self-confidence, and the thoughts and regrets that seemed to circle around my head dissipated into nothing. I was finally able to feel comfort in myself. No queer experience is the same, and therein lies the beauty of sexuality — it should always be your own. That can mean coming out, like I did, or anything else. It shouldn’t matter to anybody except you. Remember: We’re all on this earth to find comfort with ourselves, and that’s all.
Bonito Applebum is a student at Cornell University. Comments may be sent to [email protected]. Steer Queer of Me runs alternate Sex on Thursdays this semester.