(Just Round Shapes)
This is part 2
We are going backwards, I'm not sure how far back, because I don't remember my exact age, but I was young. Probably early middle school. This is a non linear narrative.
We had a portable dvd player with a little screen, that one of my sisters had won in a raffle.
My sisters (and their friends, and evidently every pre teen girl in America) had just gone through a phase of being obsessed with Newsies. I didn't share this obsession, I found it annoying, but there was one scene that I was enamored with. It was the opening scene.
I'm guessing you remember it (Every Pre Teen Girl in America) but there's an army of boys, shirtless and sleeping in a pile, and cute AF, because it's a Disney movie and Disney knows how to pick its boys. And there's one boy, with big pecs and suspenders, and he looks like kind of a douche, with a broad "New York" accent that, on reflection, was probably really bad.
And 9/11/12? Year old me is... Hooked, fascinated, enchanted, he is Paying Attention.
I would watch the opening, and then wander away once all the clothes came on. And I remember, vividly, being at a family friends' house (the Rosenbohms, who were not quite my friends, but friends to all my siblings) and watching, on this portable dvd player, with my back very firmly against the wall so no one could sneak up over my shoulder, with the sound very, very low, that scene, over and over, and trying to figure out what I was watching, why I liked watching it, why it made me feel... Hungry, and why I couldn't look away. And having this vague idea of what the answer was.
And trying to tell myself that "my eyes were just drawn to round shapes", like the carved, athletic breastplates of Roman soldiers in history books.
Like my Dad, I'm a boob man, just, dude boobs.
But just round shapes. That's it. That's all.
I knew enough to know that I shouldn't be watching this scene, over and over on almost-mute, that his was wrong and deviant and weird, but I didn't want to admit to myself that I knew why.
Just round shapes. Like the exaggerated suggestions of pectorals and shoulder muscles bulging out of football pads, all these things I couldn't keep my eyes off. Just round shapes.
There was another night, maybe later, maybe before (this is a non linear narrative). All my siblings were gone. I think they were spending the night (at these same Rosenbohm's) and I wasn't interested.
I'd checked out Two Towers from the library, and I wanted to watch the special features. These weren't the extended editions that we all know and cherish, so these ones had different special features.
Specifically, they had a segment where they followed Orlando Bloom through a day of shooting. And they showed him getting dressed.
It was just taking off his shirt, and putting on the nylon/latex whatever he wore under his costume, but I was stunned. At the time, I thought he was a Huge Slut for this, very immodest, very brazen, but still. I couldn't stop thinking about it. And when I saw his chest for the first time, the thought that flashed through my mind was "perfect". He was the most perfect looking thing I had ever imagined. I literally couldn't imagine something that looked better.
I went to bed early, to watch Two Towers on that portable dvd player, or so I told my parents, so I told myself. And I remember getting out the special features disk instead. And loading it up, and navigating, through the menu, to that moment, and watching it, again, over and over, with the sound on very low, and the dvd player burning on my bare chest (tantamount to being naked at the time, I was a weird kid).
I started taking my shirt off differently after that, the same way he did. I still do.
Just round shapes.
And then I was... 12. And for probably two months, I'd had a dirty secret. I read a lot, obviously, I was homeschooled, and I'd stumbled across this phenomena I'd never been aware of. Smut literature.
Or at least, the covers.
That was really the start of a sexual awakening. Not Newsies or Orlando Bloom, not as much, but the covers of Harlequin Silhouette (which I still can't spell) romances on the library website. All of these men, shirtless, or with their shirts open, with gleaming, perfect muscles and strong jawlines. I used to load up a bunch of pages of romance novels, and, with one hand on the minimize button at All Times, I would scroll through, and picture running my hands down their chests, and feel guilty. In my head it was oily. Oily and exhilarating.
And then, one day, I was on, of all fucking things, I forgot about this, Thesaurus.com. And I knew what I wanted to do. But I was too scared, too nervous. So I typed out "thong" (I was thinking about sandals, I SWEAR, I told myself) and looked at the all of the alternate definitions. Which had links. And I started looking at men's underwear. And these men weren't drawings or bad, too brightly colored paintings. They were the real thing. Flesh in photographs, who had been real and were out there somewhere.
And I Thesaurus'd Baywatch (good Lord kid) and scrolled (a little guiltily, already) past the women to stop, staring, at yet more gleaming, shirtless men. And for the first time I felt the dangerous, stomach catching feeling of suddenly being ravenous and suddenly having this feast, out there, online.
And then my mom and my sister came back, and that feeling flushed into panic and I shut it all off, and swallowed it down and tried to act normal (what did normal look like? I couldn't remember) and I treaded water in the warm shame that had risen up to my neck.
And I went to bed that night, and I couldn't sleep. I was hungry. So I got up, and snuck out of bed.
I couldn't use our computer, the kid's computer. It faced our bedroom doors, and I was seized with a paranoid certainty that one of my sisters would get up to go to the bathroom and Catch Me (for some reason my brother doing the same thing was never a concern).
So I crept downstairs through the dark, to my parent's study and my mom's laptop. And I flipped it open and: Thesaurus.com. I was a fucking coward, or just an innocent one, too scared to search for what I actually wanted. I needed a place to start, some place that felt innocent, and clean, and safe.
And from there, I began again.
And hours ticked by, and that hungry feeling never left. I don't remember the trigger, but I remember I panicked, I remember I stopped and I remember I fled back up my bed, and I remember thinking, horrified, terrified,
And I couldn't pretend it was just round shapes anymore. I wish I could.
I felt overwhelmed. I felt like I was slowly being crushed, and I new I needed to Tell, to confess— I think I prayed, I'm sure I did, but I don't remember.
But I remember realizing that I needed to tell someone. And I needed to tell my Dad.
Just a couple of weeks before, he'd sat me down, probably for the most awkward conversation I'd ever had, to talk to me about masturbating. And how it was wrong, but, really, not that big of a deal, and if we were ranking sins, much smaller of an issue than being mean to my sister or my brother.
But, most importantly, he told me that I could always talk to him. That he'd struggled with it enormously, felt crushed and smothered and alone because of it, and he was here for me, and wouldn't judge me. Well now I had something to tell him. But I had no idea how.
I had no idea how I was going to look him in the face and tell him I— Alex, the angry one, the mean one, his oldest son, the writer, the one who liked birds— was gay. But I had to. I was drowning.
So I thought, I won't look at him. I'll tell him, but I don't have to be there. I'll write a note. And I'll write it now, while I'm still terrified, and desperate and brave.
So I got back up, and I went back downstairs. And I got a piece of paper, and I got a pen, and I wrote it all out.
I think I said "I looked at male porn" I don't think I could make myself write "gay" so, male porn. Whatever that means.
And I folded the note up, and left it in his laptop.
And then I turned around. And I opened my mom's laptop. And I don't remember the trail, or the thread I followed to timidly get there, but I remember, vividly, typing in "Male Strippers" (male porn). I even remember the video, a guy in gym shorts, teasing open his hoodie in a lap dance for an embarrassed man while his friends laughed. For the rest of my life I'll think of Montreal as Gay Vegas because of that video.
I remember how adult I felt, while all of this was happening. But I was just a kid. It's weird looking back and realizing how small I was. That I used to be littler, with more narrowed vision and a smaller mind, fumbling with clothes to big for me and problems I had no idea how to juggle, walking through a life that dwarfed me like the Israelites through the red sea.
And I still am. I still don't know how to deal with this, I'm still flanked on each side by these huge walls of dark water, hovering in place by some miracle I don't understand at all.
The next morning my Dad called me into his study and shut the door. And very gently, quietly, stiffly, he asked me about the note.
Because what the fuck is male porn.
And I took a deep breath, my chest like a clenched fist, and I told him. I'm Gay, I'm Bi. I don't remember which label I used, which one I knew to use or when I learned the difference. But I told him. And he said ok. And then he said I love you.
We started trying to figure it out after that. I think he might have stayed home from teaching class to talk to me, I'm not sure. If he did, I didn't know about it then
And we came up with something.
This wasn't a big deal. It was just another temptation. Obviously it was wrong, that seemed pretty clear from the Bible, but it wasn't my fault, or my dad's. I was born gay. So what, I was born angry too. And this was just a normal sin. I wasn't a pervert, I wasn't possessed by a homo spirit, it wasn't because my dad was neglectful or I lacked a masculine role model. It was a sin, just like all the others, no better but certainly no worse. I would be fine.
And I think I still believe that. But I don't want to anymore.
We tried an ex-gay online therapy thing. It didn't work. Oh well. And years went by and it really didn't seem to matter much. I was bi, I had crushes on girls, I thought I only got crushes on girls (nope), but through middle school, highschool, undergrad, it didn't end up mattering much. It took a backseat to porn and to masturbating as issues (doesn't really matter what you're thinking about while you're wanking it, the wanking it's wrong enough) and then that took a backseat to relationship issues (a whole other installment) and career questions (maybe relevant).
I was doing pretty good. I told my older sister a month after I told my dad. She didn't care, would occasionally ask me if I thought a celebrity was hot, and then last summer I told my younger siblings. They were pissed it took me so long. I'd literally just forgotten I didn't have to wait for them to grow up anymore. It wasn't something I was thinking about anymore.
And then I got a phone that could handle grindr.