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.
TEA 2.1: the artifice and the actual
Probably 21 years old.
He had not yet been ruined by the vodka and weightlifting, cigarettes and Botox that would be foisted on him. He was destined to be one of those beautiful monsters—those gay men who have everything you didn’t know you wanted.
He was so perfect, and he was traversing the beach towards me. In moments, he was the only thing I could see. The electricity between us grew with every step.
But he had three straight friends in tow; all of them oblivious to the connection budding between their beautiful companion and me. I could not just go up and flirt—not with straight people around. What if he’s not gay or not out to his friends? What if they are conservatives or fag bashers? In my world, “What If” leads down dark paths you might not return from.
He unfurled his towel and lied down to face me. Less than 10 yards of sand separated us. He hiked up his shorts and loosened his drawstring. I got a glimpse, a nibble of the paralyzing beauty I search for but never obtain. I stretched my arms out closer to him. He returned the gesture.
To outsiders, we were just another two lazy sunbathers; the space between us empty. But we knew different. Eyes locked, arms reaching out to each other—we were the lovers you could never know about.
Motionless. Our breath—the waves. A “rest energy”—the world outside drops away and what’s between us is all that’s left. This connection is so rare, and often occurs in inconvenient places like this. My sexuality—my tea—would be exposed if I were to make a move.
I couldn’t do it.
I could only lay there and hate myself for not being able to go up to him. I’ll flirt from afar and find guys online, but I’m not brave enough to say “Hi” when others are watching. I need the safety of a computer or phone interface to open up to others, especially when my sexuality is on the line.
In another life we both would have gotten up discreetly, shaken off the sand, and wandered behind the dunes. We’d find a bench to share and chat like brand new old friends. I would follow him to some beach bathroom and fuck him in the stall. I’d leave, alone, and cry about my emptiness later that night in private.
But that’s not how we play the game anymore. I’m too proud to hide my sexuality in dark corners; I’m also too scared to put it out in the open. Eventually the boy and his friends departed. Before he left, he turned back, betrayed that I did not make a move. I could do nothing but look down in humiliation.
This is what I deserve.
I would have ruined him anyway. He would have fallen in love with the idea of me—those lovely pictures, witty posts, beguilingly intimate texts—but he would never know me. I’d text him but never talk with him. I would care more about our Facebook relationship than our real one. The more detached I am by computer or phone or stretch of sand—the better I am.
I’m the real beautiful monster. The artifice of myself—images and posts and texts—is my actual self. My actual self is a distant memory of the way I was.
To read TEA 2: Love Me Never, please download this TEA 2 By Matthew Terrell
About the Author:
Matthew Terrell is an artist, writer, and photographer based out of Atlanta. His work examines the ways in which social media technology alters the way we perceive and project sexuality. To contact him, or to read the rest of TEA, please drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org