The third in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”
by Matthew Terrell
When I was a kid I had the feeling that the world—those around me—perceived me as off. Not that I was a bad kid—I was a fantastic, smart, active boy. But a little something was off kilter about me. Something was wrong. Something about me was a bit queer.
Today, I know what others saw in me. I was clearly gay.
Children are quite perceptive, and I grew up convinced I was not normal. I was that little boy who steadfastly watched the Mary Tyler Moore Show. I claimed to really identify with Mary. My body, my voice, my interests—every detail betrayed me to others. At age 8, I knew I was marked.
I knew I was marked even when I was too young to grasp what made me different. I knew I would never be what adults wanted of me. I would never become a man.
This is why so many people struggle to come out of the closet. Despite how freeing the act is, you know you are marked as different, lesser than the rest of the world. Before I realized what gay was, I
knew I was bad—bad in a way I could never change. Gay people have been marked for generations— we are the weirdoes, the sissies, the ones who will never be able to recreate the nuclear family.
I don’t know where flounce comes from, but it’s the fabulous little demon that has followed me since my Mary Tyler Moore days. My wrists are limp, my voice is high-pitched, and my style is garish. This is my tea, and I’m ashamed of it. I believe that nobody respects a mincing queer, and I struggle to accept who I am, love what makes me different, and live a life free of the expectations of others.
I struggle because I know I am still marked. When you are gay, you are always cognizant of who you portray. We all want so desperately to pass. I ask myself: How gay do you seem today? Is your level of gayness audience appropriate? Gay men fight to be neutral in the eyes of others. Some of us revel in being “straight acting.” We are convinced people outside our community judge us on how gay we act. How queer we are.
I carry this with me every day.
As an adult, it’s my body—my physicality— that betrays me most. I’m quite body conscious, and I see the flaws in my exterior self as flaws in my inner masculinity. I work out and choke down ill-colored protein shakes and lift and lift and lift weights, but my upper body absolutely refuses to get any bigger. I see myself as a negative being. My shoulders will never be broad enough in my navy suit. My biceps will never fill the sleeves of my polo shirt. Nature robbed me of manliness.
I define myself by what I will never have. The absence of a man’s body, a deep voice, and straight swagger give me away to strangers. I belong to a community defined by the lack of marriage rights, children, and equality. To be gay is to be marked as different, lesser, because we are defined not by who we are, but by what we lack.
But this is a pivotal time for gay rights. A sitting president has came out in favor of gay marriage. Companies now craft advertisements in support of gay rights. Even churches welcome us with open arms and empty offering plates. I want to be able to say “this is it:” this is the year we gain equality.
But gay marriage, rainbow-colored Oreo ads, and queer friendly guitar masses will not solve our problems overnight. Tolerance, acceptance, and equality require deeper, more personal change. I wonder if little gay boys will ever grow up unafraid of being marked as a weird, sissy queer.
I want to live in a world that values humanity over masculinity. Ourselves over the ideal. What is present and real should define us—but so often we define ourselves by what we don’t have, what we’ve lost, and what will never be. This is what we must ultimately overcome.
To be gay is to be marked as different, and there are many things in this world I will never have or be. And I am okay with that. I hope you are too.