I'm sitting on the bus, going to buy shoes and shooting through streams of sunlight at 45 miles an hour.
You can see the mountains and the green trees and spans of iron-wrought bridges and the warm blue spread of a wide open sky. It's one of the rare sunny days, and I'm dying on the inside. Collapsing in on myself like a melting candle, and smothering in the flood of molten wax.
4 months ago I sat on this same bus, with the same goal in mind. I was going to Bellevue, I was going to the mall, and I was going to buy shoes.
I was going to buy some gay-ass shoes.
Because guess what. I was gay.
And I still am. 45 miles an hour over the water on the longest floating bridge in the world or the United States— I don't remember— I'm gay as fuck and I'm buying shoes.
I'd hoped back then that buying shoes would make it easier. That I'd find some pointy toed things with weird buckles or floral embroidery or just something fancy enough to make it clear that I was someone who thought long and hard about footwear. And once I bought them and put them on, some sort of healing would begin. That once I had these gay-ass shoes, the scattered pieces of my selves would begin to suture and mend together. From my feet up to my head, a swelling tide of healing, balanced gayness. Something that would ease the loathing of my conscience and tame the fury of my cravings.
I didn't find shoes then. They didn't have anything in my size, everything was too tame, or too clunky or just not something I liked. I left empty handed and still the same. Still broken and fractured down the middle, like the pieces of a dropped doll, with nothing to show for it but an attempt at a really stupid pilgrimage.
But I'm back again. Still stupid. But now there are holes in my shoes and I don't really have a choice. Or so I tell myself.
I'm still hoping.
And maybe I'll have to put the gayness into the shoes myself, with paint or with thread or gold ink, but I still hope. Secretly, because it's dumb, but I hope that that tide will come, welling up from my feet to the top of my head, some kind of healing, some kind of unity.
And one more time I'm disappointed. one more time I pick up a half dozen pairs and just set them back down. And this time I admit, it's not because there isn't anything in my size, not because they're not gay enough or I don't like them or even because they cost too much money.
I'm just scared.
I'm still scared. I'm still so scared of myself and of what I'm going to be, because I have no idea what the future holds or what I'm going to look like once I'm in it. If I make it that far.
Because when I walk out of the store, when I leave the mall, I think “I can't take this anymore”. I think "just kill me", first as a joke and then, as a prayer: "please, just kill me".
Because I can't take this anymore. I can't take this fractured self and I can't take constantly screwing up one more little thing. I can't take spending too much money at the grocery store; I can't take fucking up dinner again and making something gross; I can't take being 20 minutes late to another appointment because I got off at the wrong bus stop; can't take not being able to keep my apartment clean; can't staying in bed an hour and a half after I wanted to get out; not getting out of bed until 1:00 on the weekends when I woke up at 8:00. Because everything I do feels like controlling a marionette, like I’m carefully juggling this complicated tangle of strings and disjoint limbs, and I can't anymore, I can’t do it, I don’t want to do it, I can’t,
I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't,
I can't, I can't, I can't,
I can't balance this identity, these desires, all these fractured, warring pieces of myself that are all trying to take over completely and that I have no idea how to make work together.
This part of me that wants to be a nice Jewish boy— just gay— this part of me that wants to finally cut loose and stop worrying about anything, this part of me that's so scared, this part of me that's so tired of letting anything make me afraid. And I can't do it anymore. I can't do it, I can't hold them all together, can't try and force them to cooperate when I have no idea who should win. I can't—
I can't do this anymore.
So I'm wearing pink shoes now. Pink high top vans that I painted myself, that I made as gay as I am: a vivid, bright pink, muted and balanced with orange panels; as gay as I'm willing to be.
Pink high tops that were white before I put this into them, that I made pink, painting while I watched Milk and felt weirdly nervous.
And I put them on and I walk, outside, where everyone can see me, see me and my gay-ass hot pink shoes, and I go see Love Simon. You know, the gay movie.
And I like it, part of me loves it and swells with it like I've never swelled with a movie before, never with a romance, because for the first time I see it on screen and it isn’t just cute or heartwarming. For the first time I think “Oh my God I want that”, and jealously and a craving need mingles with the pleasure of seeing them happy. And then I walk home.
And everyone can see me. Everyone can see me.
Everyone can see me.
Just one look at my jacket, at my clothes, at the way I walk, at my fucking shoes and bang, they can put it together, in an instant, they can see inside me, crack apart my ribs like a pair of cupboard doors, open up my head and see: "Ah yes, this is a boy who likes boys. You can see it in his little shoes,
They can see inside me.
Like an x-ray, like a thought bubble floating above my head, my thoughts on the outside, exposed, all by these little gay shoes and this little gay (studio) movie. And everyone can see it.
If I open this door, if I leave it open, what else are they going to find when they decide to keep prying inside. What else will they learn? What other little secrets will they find? What other dirty things, what other pieces of new faggotry.
So I came home from Love Simon, seen, pried in, witnessed by all these passing straight people and creeping, older homos, and everyone could look in, everyone could see me, everyone was seeing whatever the fuck they wanted and I wasn't invisible anymore.
And I came home and had a breakdown, listening to Childish Gambino's 3005, and crying while I sat on the rim of my bathtub. Crying because I was freaking out, crying because I was ashamed that this still freaked me out, that I wasn't as strong as I was supposed to be.
I want this so bad, so badly, I crave it, to be seen, not to be invisible anymore, not to be masked, to walk naked in the earth like it's Eden.
But it burns. It burns and it aches and I'm so scared of it. I’m so scared of people seeing who I am.
I’m so scared of being who I am.
And then two months later I'm going to California to visit two of my roommates from college. We're going to be on the beach, in the sunshine, and the only pair of shoes I have that make sense to wear are this pair of hot pink sneakers.
And I'm nervous, and not 100% sure I can wear these shoes while I'm hanging out with my straight roommates, while I'm walking around a city I've never really been to.
But they're the only shoes I have.
And I want to wear them.
I pack another pair of shoes, ones with holes in the soles, just in case. Just in case something inside me breaks, freaks out, or is reprimanded in a way that really stings, and that I can’t just shake off. I pack these broken down, straight looking shoes with holes in them.
But I wear the gay shoes.
I wear them to the airport, wear them flying out of Seattle and into Santa Barbara, and I'm tense the whole time.
But less tense than before.
A lady in the airport compliments me on them, and I barely know how to respond, barely manage to fumble out some kind of thank you. But I walk a little easier after that.
And when I land and walk through the airport looking for an outlet, I caught people looking at them, glancing at my feet and then looking away when I caught their eye. But something in me stiffens, and I walk taller. Because I'm not really sure what they see, but I know what I want to look like, and you know what, I'm a little proud I'm walking around in my gay-ass shoes.
And when I see my friend he says "cool shoes" and that they turned out better than he thought they would. Because I'd told him about painting them, and why I'd done it.
And I relaxed after that.
And I walked around the beach with them slung around my neck, laces tied together, and I checked out guys in bathing suits and men tanning on the beach. And I wondered if I should feel bad. But I didn't.
And I pointed out the guys I found really attractive, and my friend pointed out the girls he was into, and for once, I felt completely normal, just another person, cheerfully perving on hot people at the beach, with hot pink shoes hanging from my shoulders.
I go shopping a couple of weeks later. For almost three months I've been trying to embroider a sweater, trying to sew a spray of pink cherry blossoms arcing across the front of it, with the goal, at first unspoken, of making a Very Gay Sweater. I thought it would look good. I thought it would feel right.
And maybe I thought that if I could make this, I could craft some kind of identity. Some kind of self that I could slip on and be warmed by.
But I'd been trying for a while, and it wasn't really working. The knit of the fabric was too loose, it was hard to get even stitches. I didn't know what I was doing, and by the time I got something of a grip on it, I'd stitched half a dozen mangled flowers and I didn't want to rip them out. But I didn't want to keep them either. And it was already late spring, and it was getting too warm for sweaters.
So I thought, maybe I'll do something else instead.
A t-shirt, with a ring of flowers around the collar, smaller this time, and on an easier fabric. And with some better equipment.
So I went shopping, to look for a t-shirt, and maybe get some pants while I was at it.
I go to the store, and it takes me a surprising amount of time to find monochrome t-shirts, but, there they are. Gray and white and black. And pink.
And that gives me pause.
I remember a year ago, doing almost this same thing, spending a little of the savings I'd carefully squirreled away as a student, buying clothes for work and the summer. And seeing a pile of pink shirts.
And I'd glanced around, and then rifled through them surreptitiously, looking for my size, wondering what I'd do if I found one. I didn't find one.
And I remember being a little relieved.
There was one my size this time.
I grabbed it. I tried it on. I liked the fit of it. I liked the color. I liked the way I looked.
I wondered for a second if it was "my color", if it made me look too flushed or too pale. I'd never worn anything pink before. Nothing but the shoes. I realized I didn't care. I bought the shirt.
Now I just needed pants.
I'd wanted pants that fit better for a while. In my head, this was one of the standout features of a gay man. He had nice shoes, and his pants fit well. Also his eyebrows probably looked good, but the pants were very important.
My pants just fit ok. And it alternated between frustrating me and embarrassing me.
I needed new pants.
So I grabbed some. Snatching up a pair here and there: because I wanted to try a different fit, because I liked the color, because they happened to be in my size and why the hell not.
I'd wandered into the Levi's section of the store, and looking around, I was teased by this weird, guilty feeling. And then I remembered. When I was a kid we'd been told not to buy Levis, because they were headquartered in San Francisco, and they supported gay rights.
I suddenly felt a lot better. I grabbed a pair of pink skinny jeans. Which are pretty much as gay as pants can get.
And I tried them on and, I didn't like them. They looked weird, like leggings or medieval hose, so tight you could see the pocket linings through the fabric. And as I took them off the thought crossed my mind "I'm just not a skinny jean kinda guy."
I'd wondered— a lot— if the guys I was walking past could tell I was gay. Especially the guys that looked gay to me. It felt really important. Whether I was hiding or hoping they would recognize me, that question was always on my mind— is always on my mind. Do they know? Can they tell? I always wondered.
I went through a phase where I was certain I could spot other gay guys passing on the street.
It was the eyes. Every guy I saw, if I saw those eyes, a little jolt would go through me, a little crackle of recognition. Gay eyes.
I wasn't sure what it was. Something soft and liquid, or hard and piercing, that I couldn't put my finger on. Maybe it was the size of their eyes, maybe it was a certain soulful quality, maybe--
After a while I realized. They just looked sad.
I was certain then that they could see me. I felt like I was still hiding from the straights—from the soccer moms and the nerds in beat up shoes and the heavy set businessmen with mustard-colored ties who smelled like salami—but I thought they knew. That they could see it in my eyes.
I wasn’t so sure now. But I wanted them to see me.
And if I wasn't wearing those pants, could I be sure they really knew? As stupid as it was, some kind of skinny jeans seemed vital in really looking like I was gay. In making sure that they could tell. In making sure I was gay, and this hadn’t just been some huge costly mistake.
But it didn't matter if they could tell. I still would be, I still was. Even if no one else ever knew. Because I am gay. Not because I look like it, or because I act on it. Just because I am.
Porque yo soy.
Porque yo soy gay.
And I didn't have to be a skinny jean gay to be gay. I could be a different kind, a floral embroidery and pink shoes kind. Whatever that meant. Whatever I wanted it to be.
Around the same time I got contacts. I'd never had contacts before. When I first had vision problems when I was 10, I got glasses, and I'd worn them every day ever since. I hadn't even considered contacts. If anyone asked, I had some lines I'd say about comfort, and ease, and looking better in glasses, but the truth was, I was scared.
Glasses aren't sunglasses. They don't hide your eyes from view or make you invisible in the same way. But they are something to hide behind. They are still a little something to keep between you and the world. I don't think I wanted to leave that behind.
And honestly? I was lying when I said I liked how glasses looked. I thought I looked better without them. And that scared me too.
I'd spent most of my life trying not to ever think about looking good. I told myself it was about vanity, about not feeding a fire and stoking a sin I am "so susceptible" to. But I also didn't want people to look at me. I didn't want them to see me. I was worried if they did, if they looked, if they saw me, they would know. And if I looked too put together, like I cared about myself at all? It would be even easier. Everyone would know I was gay.
But that didn't matter anymore. I was free to try. I was free to look gay, if that's what that meant. For the first time I was free to be pretty. So I did. And I liked it.
It feels like I'm building something, buying all these clothes and contacts and even a necklace because I wanted to see what that would feel like.
Building a new skin, one that fits me, that's made to measure, and not someone else's size that I slipped on.
But it also feels like I'm excavating something. Taking off my glasses and removing all the restrictions I put on myself. Slowly peeling back a facade, slowly scraping away too many layers of paint, to reveal what was always there, buried, and always supposed to be on the surface.
I think maybe I'm becoming myself.
I think maybe I might like it.