My First Confession

Howdy,

Here’s a story: when I was thirteen, I climbed to the top of a Southern live oak tree in the backyard and said the word “gay” out loud. Almost immediately, I knew I had committed a vague sin. Saying it felt like saying a curse word. I said it there so no one would hear me.

The fact that I needed some privacy tells me that I understood what the word meant, but saying it was not a momentous occasion, not a flash of self-identification that comes for some faggots when they watch porn or touch a dick. I knew what I wanted, what I wanted to me, but the word still felt ill-fitting. And if I’m being honest, it still does.

The word came to me as all words come to kids. Other kids said it on the playground. It was the equivalent of calling someone “stupid.” “You’re gay!” someone shouted when a friend fumbled the ball or did something annoying. Some classmates spelled it out, G-A-Y, instead of saying it fully because it was indeed a curse word or close to one. I don’t remember anyone getting in trouble for saying it as they would have for saying words like “shit” and “damn,” but I do remember a horrified elementary teacher reprimanding someone: “Don’t you ever say that again!”

Its true meaning came to me in church. This was Georgia. Accents were strong, lilted, absurd-sounding. Philip, a blond boy who later got arrested for something, was about my age — ten, maybe — and asked about gay people during Sunday School. I don’t remember exactly how our teacher answered, but I know she explained that gay people are men who have turned away from God and have sex with each other. She was visibly uncomfortable about the subject and said explicitly that homosexuality was a sin.

I knew all about sin. My parents had been missionaries and often traveled to other congregations to talk about the Christian orphanage they founded in Zambia, so I got a fair sampling of the various micro-sects of conservative Christianity during my childhood. The general consensus was that gay people were against God. It’s not that they were unaware of the Bible’s mandate, like people in Africa — people who, with white missionary help, could be saved once they heard the Word. Gay people were actively against the Bible. Their lifestyle choice was, by default, antagonistic against grace and goodness. They had heard the Word and abandoned it. They were not lost sheep, nor were they utilized as caricatures of non-Christian people we studied in Sunday school to more effectively share our faith with them. There was an unspoken understanding that one should not try to save a gay person or even approach one, because they were dangerous. They were enemies of Christ, disfigurations of something holy. That holy thing, I later learned, was heterosexual marriage — the purest representation of God on earth.

I was fascinated by all this. I enjoyed theology, even when I was very young. But one day I was in the tree, looking out at the field, some years older from the Sunday school lesson, and understood that “gay” was a step in the right direction for me. It held weight and terror. It was fire and excitement, the taste of disobedience. I would spend the next few years praying over it.

Today, as a self-described gay man, I still struggle with the word. I’m frustrated that I ever had to choose a label, because I have sexual fantasies about girls, like the dark-eyed girl who works in the coffee shop where I read textbooks and do homework, and I don’t know what that means for me.

Most of my fantasies involve men. In fact, the majority of my sex dreams are about men I know. All of my sex, to date, has been with men. I know the word “bisexual,” but “bisexual” seems wrong. It feels like an even split down the middle, and that’s not me. I know the word “pansexual” — I learned it in my first year of college — but I don’t think that’s me, either. I’ve never felt unsure of what I am until now, and now I’m a bit offended that a word so rooted in my identity could be challenged.

A teacher here at college has a saying: labels are tools, not cages. I get her logic, and I see the utility in labels as tools, but what do you do when you don’t know the label? How do you find the right one?

I don’t think I’ll announce myself differently going forward. I could say “bi-curious” or “questioning,” but I feel like that hardly merits an announcement. Sexuality is fluid —everyone is bisexual on some level. I’m gay and just thinking about a girl. It could be that easy, and it sounds like the oldest story: a boy is thinking about a girl. But not this boy. This boy, who prides himself on having made it, on having pulled a powerful identity — gay — from the ashes of shame and faith and anchored his life on it, has not thought about girls until very recently. If anything, I am evidence that the body resists being named, that its hungers live in a place of the mind that knows no boundaries.

Labels are easy tags, over-simplifications. They make dating simple. My label tells guys in my class what I want to do. Naming oneself seems very systematic, very clean. But my identity — whatever it is — is not clean. It’s ruddier, messier, instinctive, impulsive. It wants and wants.

What do you think? You, whoever you are, reading this. Do you have a chosen word?

We are the lost children of the digital age. Words come to us as rapidly as commercially packaged celebrities and social media trends. We are given new ways to express ourselves daily. Doesn’t it all seem a bit much? How do you cut through the confusion and nonsense and land on something definite about yourself? Do people have definite things, definite understandings?

In a person’s journey to self-understanding, I’d encourage them to try many labels. That is clear enough to me from seeing friends evolve from “lesbian” to “Queer” to “nonbinary” over the last few years.  Even our collective label, “Queer,” is a reclamation of an old slur. It, like other words we use, has utility as an umbrella term for everyone who isn’t straight. But what is “straight”? Everything is an identity in response to another identity. Everything is a language invention. If you’re Queer, you may have settled on some specific word that works for you, like “lesbian” or “asexual,” and the most you may be able to say about it is, “This is good enough for me now.” I suppose that’s where I am with “gay.” It’s good enough. It does the job. Mostly.

Take away the words and I’m just another person wanting sex. This need for the company of others feels universal and pure. It should ring true to everyone. I have never understood the animosity some feel against us. We all want the same thing, the same rush.

The only thing I understand is religion. I know the feeling of lifting my hands in a stadium while a band plays a song about grace, while a pastor murmurs prayers into a microphone. In those places, that feeling filled me, made me want to cry, and I walked out of the church willing to give my life to this. How nice it feels to want to believe in something.

If lovely songs and a person on a stage can make people feel loved in such a short time — an hour or two — it must be similarly easy to make them feel hate. I have witnessed that firsthand. I sat for years in places and heard sermons that turned me against my own, and later, I spent years praying to be spared the sin of homosexuality. Christians are not hard to understand. They’re just people moved by words. I have been moved by words also — words like “anarchist,” “erotic,” and “autonomy.” Language is a powerful tool to play with. Creation is not just God’s territory — I do it every day. Today I am a gay man. Tomorrow I might be something else. Who knows what I could be in seven days?

In my freshman year, a lesbian couple explained what a clitoris was at IHOP late one night. One of them drew an illustration on a white paper napkin. I still remember the drawing, a black thing like a bug or a butterfly, resting there, open. Would I be able to approach it in real life? Is one ever able to approach the thing one wants without fear? Would I tell her I was a beginner and needed some guidance? How does a person explore something different? How did I?

I explored my desire for men clumsily. I remember walking through the woods with my father while was trying to teach me about identifying trees and I was not paying much attention. I was thinking about a guy named Johnson who I thought was going to kiss me the last time I saw him. Johnson vanished from my life a few months later — he ran away to California and was picked up by the police near the state line. The memory of his almost-kiss burned in me and nothing else mattered. Someone said he got mixed up in heroin and I didn’t know what that was, but I knew it was bad. I never heard from him again.

He was going to kiss me, and my longing, the absence of his kiss, fueled me until college, through the fights with Dad, through my coming out. In college, many men have kissed me. College has been where I get drunk and stumble home with men in my arms and smell their skin and love them. Every man I have undressed has been a discovery, not of them, but of me. I’ve learned what I am capable of.

The word “rapture” comes to mind. In Christianity, the rapture is the taking of the saved before the last days, something Christians like to agonize over. There have been Christian films depicting this nightmarish event. What a word to use, “rapture” — the thing one feels at the point of orgasm. Once, the word filled me with fear, and now it’s the closest thing I can describe to the experience of being gay.

In each moment of sex, God died drop by drop. He withered into nothing.

I remember my first boyfriend in college — it lasted two weeks, he broke my heart — and the night I fell in love with him. He held me against a tree and kissed me. Later, I realized the tree was a Southern live oak, just like the one I climbed the first time I first spoke the truth.

What word are you?

Love, Beastly

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13 Comments

  1. Brilliantly and beautifully written, as per usual. I appreciate the insight into men, as I feel totally the same but opposite – I understand my fellow women but completely don’t get men, yet as a straight woman I’m totally fascinated with them. The problem with heterosexual sex is that we simply don’t know what we’re doing to each other, and that frustration is part of the excitement. You should try it. 😉

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  2. Hate to break it you young gayling but you are not so much “bi-curious” as pining for the heterosexual life you will never have and managing to dehumanize women along the way. Through in some bad, warmed over gender essentialist BS – women aren’t some alien species that men are doomed to never understand and their sexuality ins’t some prize to be conquered by hyper-masculine men, straight or gay, and magic dicks. Maybe you should spend less time dreaming that you will find this fictional woman who meets all these superficial aesthetic masculine requirements and by some miracle trick your dick into staying hard just long enough for penetration. Then you can finally be free from the gay world you are still so uncomfortable with and maybe bring home some butch girl to make your parents and their god happy that you aren’t like the rest of those poor fags who don’t have the same fortitude that you do to cultivate that tiny sliver of supposed heterosexuality that you are so pleased about. Here is an alternate theory – like a large chunk of gay men, you are hoping that by coming out again as “bi-curious” you are holding out hopes for you and your parents that with enough work, you can live that prized heterosexual life that you still want deep down inside…It will probably take you another few years to finally slay that remaining dragon and embrace your gay identity not out of some fatalistic “I can’t help it” view of gayness but out of an affirmative embrace for all the great things that come from loving another man.

    PS – Do you really think these women fantasy about the great sex they could be having with limp dicked, gay men who hope that they can “break themselves in” by experimenting with her anatomy – nothing more than a human sex toy to hopefully retrain your homoness for that sweet heterosexual coitus?

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    1. ^ Ladies and gentleman, I present bi-phobia at its ugliest. This commenter is laboring under the delusion that bisexuality isn’t real, that sexuality isn’t fluid, and that a self-identified gay man cannot physically desire and fantasize about women. I believe that desires are a composite of fantasy and sincerity, stereotyping and idealizing, confusion and clarity. Desires are messy, and do not fit into these hard labels we have created to quantify them. I am, actually, sincerely, bi-curious, and I am not trying to “shy away” or apologize for my homo attractions by admitting this truth. This bi-curiosity is sexual and physical and certainly objectifying — but no more objectifying than the way I envision the men I would love to fuck. A cursory glimpse of my blog should be enough to convince anyone that I am not “pining” for a heterosexual life, but in case there’s any confusion: I’m queer, which means I resist hard labels and clear definition, although I will say that the majority of my attractions are for gay men. Does this make me gay? For the sake of convenience and a more succinct Scruff profile, yes.

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      1. As I only recently ran across your blog after reading one of your advocate columns about your bisexual boyfriend, what actually surprised me about this post was the striking difference, both factually and theoretically, between the two. The sudden zeal to find your inner bisexual and the seemingly desperate, obsessive logical parsing of yourself to find some glimmer of potential heterosexual desire, was completely absent from the Advocate article, which came across as more sincere and authentic defense of bisexuality. In the Advocate article, the contrasting sexualities of gay and bisexual men came across as sincere, heartfelt, and thus helpful in making the case for gay men to recognize that most bisexual men are not self-loathing gay men still stuck in a partial closet still suffering from the envy of the powerful privileges that society uses to enforce heterosexuality on us. Why no mention of this newfound “bicuriosity” that you are keen to promote on your blog in the Advocate article? Did you strategically exclude this tidbit fearing that that the very gay men you were hoping to persuade may find you less credible? Or is this a reaction to what you yourself noted as your own inability to refrain from cheating? Have you know idealized your former boyfriend’s bisexuality and now want to claim apart of it for yourself? Much of the resistance gay men have had to bisexuality is grounded in the justifiable fear that so long as homophobia and heterosexism are so ingrained in our society, bisexuality can reinforce in gay men many of the evils that still haunt us – the fetishing of hyper-masculinity, the toxic combination of homophobia and misogyny that imposes a hierarchy of beauty and desire with the “masculine” at the top and the “feminine” at the bottom, and finally both overt and subtle association of heterosexuality with masculinity and homosexuality with femininity, both by the heterosexual majority and tragically even among many of the homosexual minority. No discussion of bisxuality, especially among men, can ignore these larger, structural forces when evaluating both the action of individuals and collective norms that can arise in minority communities.
        I have to admit that I left the original blog comment out of anger as I was very impressed and moved by the Advocate article and so I googled you to find your blog hoping to find similar commentary. When I found this blog post praising your own cultivation of something vaguely approaching “bi-curiosity” and the implication that gay men, whom by definition aren’t attracted to women, are somehow less evolved or even biphobic if suspect that there is nothing new here. Most gay men have spouted the same line when they struggle with accepting their own homosexuality and many claim a transitory bisexual identity as they transition to being openly gay.
        Ultimately, no one should really take seriously what anyone says on sex blog as such blogs are really just another form of soft core porn – can be entertaining, even get you off but not dependale in the long run…

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        1. Oh boy. There’s a lot of unpack there, but I’ll attempt to address your points in order. 1. I didn’t mention my own bisexual curiosity in the Advocate article because I had a word limit. 2. You seem to be looking for underlying reasons as to why I may be bi-curious, when I don’t think there need to be any. I just am, and I’m not sure why that needs defending or explaining. 3. You’re inserting a discussion about cultural norms regarding masculinity and femininity that on its own is a sincere and good discussion to be had that certainly has far-reaching implications in gay male culture, but is not mentioned in my blog post, in my article, or anywhere I’ve written about bisexuality. 4. I don’t see bisexuality as a transitional “phase” between heterosexuality and homosexuality, and I don’t think it’s illegitimate or even unrealistic to be bi-curious. Granted, many gay men and women have used the label of bisexuality to this end, which does nothing but hurt bi visibility. I’m not doing that. I’m simply discussing my own bi-curiosity. Is that so absurd? 5. Your final comment makes me completely disregard everything else you’ve said. You’re eloquent and passionate, but that final, prudish, sex-negative dig shows that you’re really not here for a real debate. You’re here to pick a fight. Kid, I enjoy a good text battle, but only with someone worthy of the time. A sex blog, in my humble opinion, can and should be taken seriously, and can be very dependable. What’s wrong with soft core porn? I’d hardly consider my blog that outlandish, but I appreciate the descriptor. Au revoir.

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      2. How butch of you to let us know that you are such a viral man, dare I say “straight acting”? What is more “straight acting” than having sex with a woman? Maybe that is what is really motivating you…

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        1. Where, in the article or in these comments, have I mentioned “straight-acting”? That’s truly an offensive and silly turn of phrase. What is so implausible about the idea that I may actually want to have sex with people of both genders?

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  3. Oh my goodness. Reading this post has my heart beating faster and my imagination afire. Coming up to me and stating you are a beginner is an extraordinary turn on. I love your blog and thoughtful articles and that sentence would bowl me over.

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  4. Oh my goodness. Reading this post has my heart beating faster and my imagination afire. Coming up to me and stating you are a beginner is an extraordinary turn on. I love your blog and thoughtful articles and that sentence would bowl me over.

    Like

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