I’ve been thinking about how my sexuality was born. I think people are born gay, but outside triggers unlock desire and bring them to the surface. I’m thinking about one of those first triggers. His name was William.
My first time happened at an AmeriSuites, a hotel chain that has since been bought out by Hyatt and no longer exists. I was on a church youth group trip. We were visiting the mountains. The hotel was a stop on our way home. I was twelve or thirteen.
I remember the room, the highway outside the window, and the sounds of cars. I was randomly paired in bed with a boy who was a few years older than me. I didn’t know his name. He had bright blue eyes and went to my school.
In the night, he brushed his hand over my boxers and I got hard. Then he put his hand in my underwear. Then he pulled my hand to his body and placed my fingers just inside the brim of his boxers. I moved my fingers forward, felt curly hair below them, then touched another man’s cock for the first time.
When we were finished, I panicked, faked a nightmare, and started talking out loud so he’d think I did everything in my sleep — I repeated the only name I could think of, “J.K.,” the name of a guy I had sexual tension with at Bible camp the summer before. I’m not sure he believed it, but he woke me and said I was talking in my sleep.
The next day, there were snickers and taunts coming from the back of the bus where he and other older boys were sitting. One guy, seemingly on a dare, came up to me and said, “Hey, can I rub you?” I assume my anonymous bed partner told the other boys that I had touched him at night. I sat alone on the bus all the way home, saying nothing.
I later learned his name: William. He left my school not long after that to attend a more expensive school an hour away. I only saw him once again, several years later. My family had started attending a megachurch in Athens, Georgia, and one day we were leaving the service when someone called my father’s name. Dad turned and spoke to a man he recognized. The auditorium was dark. Christian pop blasted out of the speakers. I was looking the other way when Dad put his hand on my shoulder and said, “This is my son, Alex.”
I turned and shook the man’s hand. The man said to me, “You probably remember my son. He used to go to your school.”
The son was standing behind him. I shook the son’s hand. As I did, I realized I had touched this hand before. It surprises me now that in my first sexual experience, I did not make the first move. On the contrary, I was pulled — guided — along the surface of the sheet in darkness and silence.
The cock? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. Big, small, I can’t remember. It was a cock. It was hard. It was better than anything I’d known, better than god, better than worship. But my memory doesn’t care about the dick and I don’t remember it. I just remember the heat of his body, his legs, the hair on his skin, the way we slid closer, spooned, and attempted to push our dicks in each other dryly, having no idea what we were doing. It’s almost comical and perfect, how we tried to make our idea of what we were supposed to do happen. The complicity of it, the way we moved with no instruction, the way we did what we were meant to do — it was pure. We were machines doing the purpose we were made for. And somehow all this happened with other boys asleep in the room around us.
In the megachurch where I shook his hand, people filed out around us. The handshake lasted for half a second, or however long handshakes last, then Dad said goodbye and we left. I’m sure my family fussed over where to go for lunch. I’m sure I played along. But a fire burst inside me, the kind of burning hunger that every gay man in the closet experiences. It haunts you and you carry it around, aching. It nearly kills you, suffocates you. I looked for him every Sunday after that and never found him again.
He dated a girl at the school he transferred to, where he became MVP on the football team. I don’t know if he went to college or where he lives now. I don’t know if he’s happy. I don’t know if he’s come out or even how he identifies. But I do know that he still describes himself on Facebook as a straight man, or at least makes no indication that he is gay. I could reach out to him, but what would I say? What, really, did we share? It was a few moments of heat, nothing more.
But it birthed me. It might have meant nothing to him, but it was my life, delivered in a discreet fumbling under the covers of a hotel room bed. I could fall at his feet and kiss them. My deliverer, my savior: he could be replaced by any other boy — the hotel could be switched with any other, the night any other — and I would still be what I am now. But he was the one who first touched me and uncaged the animal waiting in my body.
William, if you’re reading this, thank you. What lingered in my body was not the action but its residue — after I got off the bus, met my parents at the car, and was brought home, I saw new. When I walked into the house, I was changed. Through everything that followed, the nights lying awake, the daydreams, the many fights with Dad: you are in all of them. In our innocent groping, you confirmed in me something I was not yet ready to see. That’s all it took — touching you.
If you’re gay and still in the closet, the only advice I can offer is this: no one will save you. You must be willing to destroy everything in your life in order to live.
Do not depend on anyone else. You have to do it. You have to claw your way out.
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