I wish I remember the details of what follows, though, really, it’s better that I don’t. I remember enough and I’ll share that with you.
My family had, by now, moved from Spokane to Bellevue, WA. There I finished my last year of high school via Running Start, a state program designed to give high performing students the opportunity to take college courses at the local community college at no charge. Because of this program, I was able to complete high school simultaneously with my AA, no small feat since the schools provided no support in managing course requirements. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at community college. I was, by most measures, a highly motivated and successful student. By my senior year, I had completed math courses through Calculus III, which, had I taken two more math classes, would have led to a BA in Mathematics. I was smitten enough with math that I tutored students part time on the side. In Spokane, I officially worked at the math lab, helping remedial students, for the most part. In Bellevue I struck out on my own. I didn’t have a lot of clientele, but there was one of which I’m particularly proud. He was a student in Calc II, middle aged and blind. Calculus, if you’re unfamiliar, relies heavily on visuals to understand the equations, or vice versa. The school had promised to translate the textbook into braille, but lagged so far behind that I was tutoring him by voice alone. To understand diagrams I often traced his finger in the general pattern, explaining as I went along. I don’t know how either of us made it through. However, I’m very proud to report that this student was able to pass the class with a 3.8 GPA. That rivaled my own grades. I was grateful for the opportunity to help, and happy it worked out successfully.
While at community college, I picked up employment at a tech start-up, back when that was still unusual. I worked the reception desk, with an official title of purchasing agent, being under the tutelage of the facilities department. That meant I had the opportunity to take over ordering supplies and food for the building. With a practically unlimited, unaccountable budget, I had fun, probably abusing my power, but the techies certainly appreciated the dozens of doughnuts, free breakfast and lunch, and the occasional perk of getting some special equipment if they were nice, maybe a good pen or a printer or executive chair. I stayed at this job for two years, vacating the position when my coworker, older than I and with a family to support, was vying with me for the position after a merger. She needed the money more than I did, so I graciously acquiesced. Besides, I had picked up part time employment at Eddie Bauer, first at their corporate campus near Microsoft, then at the store level at Bellevue Square, a high end retail mall for well-to-do housewives whose husbands made enough to obviate the need for them to work as well, so they would stroll around, picking up Prada shoes, Coach bags and little Yves St Laurent outfits for their precious babies. Angels, as they inevitably called them, even while they were drooling all over my merchandise and wreaking havoc around the store. Angels. Sure. Never argue with a woman whose bank account rivals that of some smaller nations.
These jobs along with a full load at school kept me busy for upwards of 100 hours per week. I don’t know how I did it. I would sleep in the tech firm’s boardroom, racing off to the mall after an hour of shut-eye, working the overnight shift dressing windows and mannequins, then grabbing a quad espresso on the way back to a full day at school and work. I think I used up a lifetime’s worth of energy in those two years.
But somehow, don’t ask me how, despite this busy schedule, I managed to find my first boyfriend. This was back in the heyday of gay.com, an Internet chat room that offered group and private chat. This was also the heyday of the growing gay rights movement, in Seattle at least. I remember attending night meetings at a youth LGBT organization an hour south of the city, without my parents knowledge or consent, at least once or twice weekly. It was there that I attended my first dance. It was also there that I first saw Madonna’s “Express Yourself” video. I was shocked but immediately fell in love. Moulin Rouge came out around the same time, and Christina Aguilera was the buzz word of the week. I fall easily for musicals, and this was no exception. I finally felt like I was part of something, something cool, something that validated me and my lifestyle. It was there, I think, that I met my first boyfriend. Truth be told, I’m not sure how we met exactly. It may have been from online chat rooms. Either way, we ended up going to the youth club together on many occasions. His name was Shaun. He was not exactly white, but the exact ethnicity escapes me. Polynesian perhaps. Or Irish. I really don’t know. He was cute, not classically, but good enough for me. My standards were pretty loose at the time, I was happy just to meet someone who would talk to me. Anyways, we ended up dating. In between work and school, we went out to lunch together, dinner sometimes, the youth club others. He was head of the student LGBT group at his college campus, so there were always events to attend.
He was my first. It was unforgettable, the absurdity of the events, but the actual sex was apparently forgettable, as I don’t remember much about it. A lot of fumbling around, I’m sure. I’d seen some porn by then but real life people and events so rarely follow a porn script, despite best efforts, that I was pretty much shooting in the dark, pun intended. My coworker at the tech company just happened to be, outside of work hours (and sometimes caught during work hours) a professional dominatrix. She was a large woman, busty, good with a whip. I don’t know why I took to her so well. Probably because my home life was so sterile and disapproving of any sort of security that I naturally gravitated towards the forbidden. A note to parents: the best way to ensure your child does something against your values is to mark it as “forbidden.” No one can withstand that kind of temptation. Anyways, Jackie, my coworker, took me under her wing. She was determined that I get laid. I was too young to attend her wild and raucous sex parties, and didn’t have the time to go to her nudist retreats, so I guess she had no choice but to bring the sex to me rather than the other way around. I should stop here for a moment and note that it was during this same time period that even found out, or discovered, or decided, that I was gay. Actually, it wasn’t me that decided it. I was told that I was gay. My coworker from my job back in Spokane (I worked two – my first as mailroom clerk at jewelry manufacturing wholesaler, the second as human resources assistant for Spokane School District 81) kept in contact when I left the District and moved to Bellevue. In fact, as I’ll tell later, I continued to go back to Spokane for some time for doctor visits, with the earlier-mentioned psychiatrist, and she would always pick me up from the airport and take me, occasionally letting me stay at her house overnight if I didn’t have same-day return flight. I was attending school at Bellevue Community College at the time (the time of learning I was gay), and taking a French class. I chose French because people were cuter in that class than the German class, plus it was such a classier language than German or Spanish. I fancied it was the language of aristocrats. There was a boy in the class that I was instantly drawn towards. I’d never experienced a romantic desire in my life, definitely not towards a boy. There was a girl at church that I did, then and still now, had a crush on, but I was nerdy, awkward and painfully shy, so it was more of a fantasy than a reality. Bethany, if you’re reading this, you probably already know I’m talking about you. Anyways, I didn’t even know what “gay” meant, literally. I first encountered the word when I was outside the grocery store with my dad, and there was a signature-gatherer for some gay rights cause. Actually, he may have been anti-gay for all I know. Point was, I’d never heard the term before. My dad quickly shuffled us past, saying very little about the event I don’t remember what he did say. It was derogatory, but not in a clearly defined way, not with any four-letter words, but generally giving the sense that there was something wrong with it. I still didn’t know what it meant, though, just that, whatever it was, it was Bad.
Sidenote: somewhere in this time period, I was “experimental” with a friend around my age. We didn’t do much more than exchange titillating innuendos, but there was one time we attempted to touch each other. His mom caught us, after my friend confessed to her, apparently feeling Bad about the incident. I then had am incredibly awkward conversation with my parents about how Wrong that was, expressing genuine concern that I had done a Bad thing, that I couldn’t become one of Them, that was Sinful. I’m not sure the word “gay” ever came up directly. I was just made to feel shame about my curiosity.
Now, fast forward to Bellevue, French class. I was emailing Pam, my prior coworker at the District, and going back and forth about life and school and any other thoughts on my mind. I had no one to really talk to other than her. I was sitting in the computer lab (laptops were still horrid, heavy monsters), when I got The Email. I know I mentioned the French class boy, but I don’t recall saying anything particular about him, especially nothing of a sexual nature. My mind wasn’t there yet. But, as middle aged women, mothers, sometimes do, no, scratch, always do, she told me, not asked, not suggested, not beat-around-the-bush about it, no, flat out told me I was gay. I reeled. I gasped. My mind flashed a million thoughts in the seconds that followed. But the predominant thought, the theme that kept cycling back into my consciousness, was the cute boy from French class. Now I knew why I was drawn to him. Now I understood that he was gay too. Now a lot of things made sense. I never bothered to question her, there was no need. I knew she was right. I don’t know, without her, if I ever would have known, or just stayed repressed my entire life. It was funny, her knowing me better than I knew me. Or, knowing what I already knew but didn’t have the words to use or even the ideas to form. I didn’t stop, at that exalting moment, to think what my parents or others might think. I just remember, maybe for the first time, that I was Happy. I was serene. I was peaceful. I was finally at rest with myself. Nothing else mattered.
The French boy and I drove my teacher crazy, whispering in the corner, passing notes, laughing at inside jokes, the occasional glance or touch to reassure each other we were thinking the same thoughts. My teacher never once said “gay” nor did she reference the matter, nor, even, did she appear discomforted by the matter, beyond the fact that we were frequently disruptive. What an experience! I was heady with delight and happiness and joy. I never even had to “come out,” it was like everyone already knew, and no one cared! I could be blatant about it and still there were no repercussions. The world had come a long way, or, rather, the move of a few hundred miles across state to Seattle had landed me in a whole new world. Gay was the new normal. Gay was the new me.
There was, of course, the delicate matter of my parents. There was no initial confrontation; I didn’t deem it a dinner table conversation, and they, for their part, chose to ignore the ever-blonder hair, the ever-growing collection of jewelry, the ever-increasing use of makeup. I wasn’t subtle, though I may have thought I was. I’m not sure what I thought. I remember sneaking boys into the house late at night, my bedroom literally across the hall from my parents, without ever getting caught. I’m sure at some point they knew, it was just easier to not bring up such sin, to look the other way while I was fucking in the next room, to pretend not to see the rouge on my cheeks, to ignore my efforts to lose weight (I was 6’3 and wanted to be 165 lbs, I came pretty close at times), generally just to ignore me altogether. I was busy anyways, I had dinner in a rush or reheated it late at night, dashed off early in the morning, had lunch at school, etc. There wasn’t a lot of face time with my parents, and everyone kept it that way.
So did I ever tell them? In fact, no. My mother told me. Just like Pam told me, only this time with a tone of reproachment and judgment. I suppose, technically, she “asked” me, but it was one of those rhetorical questions where the answer is already presumed within the question. We were on a car ride, and the event to which I was going, I’m not sure what it was, was canceled, so we were headed back home. And then she asked. I suppose maybe we worked our way up to the topic, in a way, but the question, to me, came flying at me from left field. I could only agree, not only to be truthful, but because the question itself obviated the need for an answer. The next few weeks were nearly comical, as she passive-agressively forced scripture passages on me, and I fired back with quotes and pamphlets from PFLAG. We were at an impasse, which was actually quite common between us. We were both stubborn to the core, no matter how obviously wrong we might be, so especially on this issue there was no backing down.
The day the next event happened was just another day, to start. I was driving around Kirkland with Shaun, walking down the waterfront, playing on the playground, things boys do on dates. When we go back to the car, it refused to start. Well, I’m no mechanic, and he wasn’t either. I learned later that you always should have a lesbian in your life to cover these situations. So I called my mom to come pick us up. There was something odd about that phone call. She refused, citing irresponsibility, neglect of maintenance, failure to be prepared for emergencies, and why, oh why, was I with Shaun in the first place? She knew were dating, though I never told, and he was a constant source of tension between us. There was something more in her voice, though, the tone was different, bleak, almost, desperate but fatalistic, as if she had resigned herself to whatever she was thinking about. Anyways, I called my sister, and she came with a gallon of gas, enough to get home and no further. I was upset because we were on a dare, and why did it have to come to an end, couldn’t she buy a bit more gas, I didn’t have any money, but no, no, no was the answer. My mother had found out I called my sister, and placed severe restrictions on what help she could offer. So I had gas to go home, so I did. It was growing dark, wind blustering, raindrops starting to fall. The kind of night that looks pretty from the comfort of a warm home, in front of a fire, but not something for which you’d like to be outside. My sister had left after giving us gas, so we drove home, me growing ever more uneasy, sensing something in the air, without being able to place it. I got out of the car, went to open the apartment door, but discovered it was locked. I was already in a bad mood, it was a cold night, I just wanted to get Shaun’s belongings from inside the apartment and let him go home. Instead he was just as stuck as I was.
I called my mom, seeing where she was at. She was at, it turned out, at a church prayer meeting at a congregation member’s house down the street, and was not to be interrupted. No matter that I had no key and it was cold out and really she was only five minutes away by car. No matter. It was a bitter phone call. I called the apartment manager next, who knew us well, but she couldn’t break the lock since I wasn’t the name on the lease. She suggested calling the police, sensing my growing panic. The police arrived quickly, but, since I was the age of majority, couldn’t rule it child abuse and, in fact, could do nothing because I had no lease on the place. They left me with a sympathetic look and a pamphlet on domestic abuse. By now I was mad, no, angry, no, furious, boiling, cursing up a storm. Not that it helped the situation. So I reverted back to the passive-aggressive me that always gets results. Not good results, but one can’t be picky. I just wanted inside. I started calling my mom again and again and again, determined to annoy her enough that she would have no choice but to come. Instead, she turned her phone off. Fuck. I knew what to do, though. I convinced myself, and to this day it’s the version of events I believe, despite strong assertions and suggestions to the contrary, that the prayer meeting was about me and what to do with me. I knew whose house it was at, and I’d held long simmering suspicions about what he thought of me, and it just made sense that they would be discussing me. Well, I wouldn’t let them do that in peace. So I called the house, got voicemail, called again; after several times, I was angry and scared and cold and still hadn’t gotten Shaun’s belongings, and was determined to make someone suffer. So I called back, knowing the house phone was in the kitchen adjacent to the living room, and left a series of loud, angry, threatening messages in language that would make a sailor blush. I just knew they were discussing me, and I was determined to upset their meeting. After waiting several minutes from my last call, there was a screech of tires in the paring lot, and my mom emerged from a vehicle I had never seen before. If I thought I was upset, it didn’t hold a candle to the expression on her face. But she remained silent. She opened the door, let Shaun gather what he needed and leave then, in a fateful moment of self-restraint, she whispered, through clenched teeth, loud enough for everyone to hear, with not a trace of sadness in her voice, that I had ten minutes to pack and leave, forever.
It’s a blur beyond that. Some may even dispute the accuracy of the events I just described. What I said, though, was true and real to me at the time, and it’s accuracy, to an extent, is unnecessary, because it was my belief in events that mattered at the time. I remember calling my friend, a young gay couple from the social group I attended, and who I knew well because of weekly Queer as Folk viewing at their house, and asking to be picked up, immediately, and stay with them for a while. I packed everything into two bags and went outside to wait. My dad came out after me and I started running. Just then, my friend, Justin, arrived, and with horns honking, my dad screaming, me running, I leaped into the moving car and we sped off, kicking up dirt behind us, as my dad was yelling, begging me to come back, it could all be talked out. Fuck that. They wanted me gone, so I would go. Forever. Estrangement works both ways.
Well, the rest of this particular story isn’t very dramatic. I lived with Justin for a few months, then Shaun and I got back together and we moved into a two bedroom apartment in West Seattle. I started attendance full time at the University of Washington, took a new job, and was very successful, as these things go. I didn’t talk to my parents for two years, at least. I honestly thought, based on some rumours, that he had moved to the South, or maybe even Russia. Their phone number no longer worked and I had no forwarding address for them, so I was as good as disowned from what I used to think was my family. Anyways, Shaun started acting up around the same time, using drugs (in retrospect, probably just weed, but drugs were drugs as far as I was concerned at the time). I vividly remember the day we had a fight, and he threw my cat over the railing, watching her plunge to the concrete below, breaking her back, spewing blood and guts, a look of sheer horror on her face, and mine. Shortly after, I caught Shaun on the rooftop doing drugs in the hot tub. I called the police. Management kicked us out, but let me move into a new unit since I was an innocent party. So I ended up living on my own in my own one bedroom apartment. Who needed family? I had my own place, my own job, was getting a great education, making friends and having fun. I was doing fine. Or so I thought.
I walk forth, my world crashing and falling all around me
If you listen just right, it’s like a gentle rain
Whispering to me in soft tones of hope and inspiration
The rain picks up
All the Opera seats are full
The patrons lean in, frowning, what will he do with his life now?
Will he recover, and get a job and find his life again?
Or will be listen to the torrential rain, the gentle rain long gone,
And give up hope, as should have been done long ago,
Surrender to the sweet mercy of drug induced happiness
Where the rain never comes and the music never stops
But I can’t decide today
I don’t want to ever decide
The rain will never stop pouring until I’ve made up my mind
Until then, the rain falls,
Just life restoring death
-Rain Falls, personal, 2012
This concludes Part II in which we see me go from school to work to being kicked out and disowned, back to school and work. I purposely left out the critical, life changing moment, however, when I learned the extent of and limits to sexuality, and bondage, and love and trust. These moments deserve their own section. So take a break, this ride is about to get ugly.