Coastal Magic was definitely a good time, both for meeting readers as well as other authors, and one of authors I had the opportunity and pleasure to meet was Damon Suede, who, let’s face it, is a hell of a lot more known than me, funnier than me, and… I’ll put it this way, a conversation with Damon is a sudden ride, and you can either try to keep up, or just sit back and ride along. I attempted the former, ended up doing the latter, it’s like a taste of what elevated conversation at a society party would be like. He shines bright and big, that’s the best way to put it.
And before I went to CMC, I did some reading on Damon, read the bit of his bio that starts with “the right wing anus of America”, which I guess is Texas, and as a gay New Yorker, the only thing I really know about Texas is to never fucking go there unless I go to Austin. That’s the rep the Lone Star State has here, you know? New York, well, we’re New York City and a bunch of real estate and parks and a few colleges and stuff, but we’re New York, the Democrat stronghold, a bastion of liberalism. If Damon Suede was ejected from a right-wing anus, than I was ejaculated from a set of genitals that leaned heavily to the left.
And I’m guessing Damon and I had… different experiences when we came out. You would think that coming out in Texas vs. coming out in New York would have a clear winner. It does, it’s just not NY in this case, and community is the big difference. Community is the difference, let’s be honest, between whether you come out knowing you’ll be accepted and that a whole bunch of people have your back the moment someone gives you shit, and being thankful that Ricki Lake had a talk show.
I was seventeen, in Central New York, which isn’t Brooklyn or Queens, it’s north of Syracuse, and you’re raised to think that people from New York City are assholes because they believe by virtue of living in NYC, they’re better people than you. The town I lived in was poor, in the poorest county in NY, and being on any sort of public assistance made you an easy target for bullying. A fixed income plus “child support” (from a deadbeat dad) put me in that category, so I’d endeavored to look as working class as possible. My mom was on disability, so she watched soaps and a lot of daytime talk shows, in particular Ricki Lake, who I only recognized as a “that girl” actor. I wasn’t doing fantastic, my sister was already off to college and it was looking like I had the test scores to get me into a lot of good schools, which didn’t mean anything because I didn’t have the money to afford them. (Luckily SUNY Oswego had a great Writing Arts program.) As a result of that and being seventeen, I was, let’s face it, pissy and bitchy and not the greatest of kids, but I wasn’t a criminal, doing drugs, drinking, smoking, skipping school, or anything like that. Part of it was having a crush on one of my best friends, and sorry, but there was zero chance of him suddenly going all “gay for you” upon finding out I was into him.
I was also going to a high school where “smear the queer” and “bag the fag” were acceptable games in gym class, and the track team that I was on was the athletic haven for nerds, geeks, and outcasts, because running away from aggressive men was something we had a lot of practice at. There was one kid who was known to be gay, and let’s just say it was a public hell and he was too bug-eyed and weird for the girls to take him in and protect him. Having a gay friend wasn’t “in” yet, it was better and easier to hang around the girls and let the guys think I was trying to get them to go out with me. It also meant, to sell it, I’d have to ask one of them out publicly. She’d be embarrassed, I’d get shut down hard, it’d be humiliating for both of us and get around and I’d be tormented, but I’d be tormented for asking a girl out, and that’d buy me a few months out of the critical eye.
And after one of these instances, I got into a fight with my mom, and it was looking like I was going to be kicked out. Most gay guys, if you ask them, plan their coming out, or blurt it out from a place of frustration, or make it funny or entertaining or tearful or something. I don’t know how many come out as a Hail Mary to avoid getting kicked out of their house. But it worked, well, sort of. My mom’s first response was actually, “No, you’re not!” It was incredulous, complete with eyeroll, and then she noticed I wasn’t laughing, I was crying, and it really started to sink in. She stumbled and fumbled through a few sentences and paragraphs, and eventually found her way to an episode of Ricki Lake she’d seen a few days before. The episode had kids coming out to their parents, and the parents that were accepting were applauded, the rejecting ones were booed. Yeah, in the 90s, coming out to your parents was worthy of a talk show episode.
That wasn’t that, though. A few weeks later, she took me aside to ask me if I was still gay, but it was the hushed, secretive way she’d said it that I remember, even though everyone in the house knew. It took her some time, I could mention where she grew up, the year, the attitudes, but if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that everybody’s different, and I came out into a pretty nonexistent community until I got to college. Coming out to my friends was a little easier, and I never told my one friend I was into him, because by that time I was more interested in someone else. The more people I told, the easier it got to tell people, but from what I understand that’s par for the course. Time’s moved on, I guess it’s supposed to be easier now, but one thing I have to give my mom credit for is that she never treats my being gay like a choice. I’ve said out loud that no one in their right mind would choose a life like this, given how you’re treated, but there’s still an element of choice involved: the choice to come out. And I don’t know, isn’t it a better choice to be honest?