I liked Stephen because he was gay.
In our Dealbreakers series, exes report on the habit, belief, or boxer brief that ended the affair.
I liked Stephen because he was gay.
Stephen and I attended the same high school in suburban Maryland. We worked on the literary magazine together, but I only really took notice of him when a mutual friend told me he had come out of the closet. Stephen was now one of three openly gay guys in school, and the sole one with whom I had ever had a conversation. In the view from behind my closet door, that made him my closest chance at a high school boyfriend, which promoted him to daydream-level-attractive.
One evening, at a high school arts event, I found him at a lunch table, drawing a picture of dragons and castles. I hadn’t expected to see him there, but as chorus kids serenaded us on the cafeteria stage, I figured I had stumbled upon my first step toward actually making out with another guy. I wasn’t the fantasy genre type, but whatever—I could roll with this. I complimented him on the drawing. He said something like, "I love dragons, wizards, and secret powers.” I said something like, “We all have secrets, Stephen." I was out, and suddenly, I was in.
I barely knew Stephen, and we staggered through the proceeding conversation. He was an aspiring interior designer with progressive politics and a deep interest in Wicca; I was an aspiring writer with neoconservative tendencies and no sincere spiritual connection. He was a budding gym-gay with respectable coiffure; I ran an 11-minute mile and parted my hair in the middle. He had Pride, and that scared me, both in him and myself.
A year after I came out to him over a dragon illustration, Stephen and I hadn’t unearthed any additional common ground. Still, he was gay. I knew him. And while I still wasn’t out at school, I had come out to my parents in October of my senior year of high school, which found me a little braver in my pursuit of male-on-male romance. Shortly after telling my parents about my sexuality—of which they were supportive—I wrote Stephen a love letter.
“Dear Stephen,” I wrote. “Like Nick in The Great Gatsby, ‘I am slow-thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires.’” I asked him if he would hang out that Friday, where I planned to deliver the note. I didn’t know what would happen after that, though I imagined it would involve a couch and some light groping.
We set off for my default hangout place—an Annapolis Barnes & Noble—and grasped at the shelves for possible conversation aids.“Oh, look here,” I said. “W.H. Auden. Great gay poet.” He pulled out another title, one with ripped bodies and—yes—fangs on the cover. Of course Stephen was a fan of gay vampire erotica. We browsed further.
Stephen picked again, gleefully revealing the cover of some book featuring boys in tight jeans gently but erotically touching one another. I looked away. I had barely set foot out of the closet, and I was still embarrassed to be seen paging through anything less than the most literary of gay reading materials.We proceeded to the periodicals, where Stephen spotted the XY photo issue. XY was a magazine for gay kids replete with pictures of frosted-tipped twinks, silly sex tips, and copious use of the number “69.” Stephen had given me an issue a few months after I came out to him. It struck me as seamy and... liberated. I read it once, then stashed it in a shoebox under my bed, occasionally retrieving it when I felt like re-engaging with some version of gay identity aside from the one I was forming from my own interests and experiences. Every time I took out that issue of XY, I decided I didn’t want to think about that version of gayness any more. So I stood next to Stephen as he pawed through XY.
We must have both have sensed something coming between us, because we turned around to find another member of the XY demographic standing in front of us. He extended his hand. “My name is Dyson Bird. My friends call me Dice,” he told us. “You may have heard of me.”
We hadn't. Dice sat us down on one of the benches in the magazine section and told us why we should know him. He started the first Gay-Straight Alliance at his high school. He touted himself as a ubiquitous presence on the XY Baltimore website. And he had run for student council president. His slogan was "Nothing’s going to stop me from flying.” He was sort-of goofy, sort-of incredible; the kind of guy who makes you re-evaluate your crushes. Dice was also a physical manifestation of the rift between Stephen and I. Like me, Dice was a politics nerd. But like Stephen, he actually liked being gay. It was fun for him.
“What about you?” Dice asked me.
“Andy’s not out of the closet,” Stephen told him.
"Well," I said defensively. “It’s a conservative town.”
Stephen returned his attentions to XY. He and Dice took turns pointing out their favorite models, but I could only stare at so many photos of twinks. “I actually don’t like that magazine,” I said finally.
“Why not?” Stephen asked.
“It’s—exploitative,” I said. “Like, it says the only way to be gay is to be blonde, and with a hairless chest.”
That comment didn’t bring Stephen and I any closer, but it did open up the conversation between Dice and I. Stephen wandered off to the Religion/New Age section to peruse the Wiccan selection while Dice and I discussed future plans to help out fellow LGBTs. I soon learned that Dice was into student government for more than the resume-building; he was actually interested in making real social change. Dice discussed the benefits of political power, while I, an intrepid high school newspaper editor, extolled the advantages of controlling the press. Our power-fantasy bonding was only broken when we heard a British voice announce: “Never be afraid to show who you really are.”
Stephen was standing a few aisles over, gazing enchantedly at a woman at least twice our age. She had something of a friendly witch-next-door look about her. “I practice with a circle of fellow Wiccans in Annapolis,” she told Stephen. “Want to join us on Halloween?”
Stephen did, and the pair spent the remainder of my first gay outing discussing spells, crystal rituals, and tree correspondences. Dice and I chatted between ourselves, occasionally listening in to take in the magic. Eventually, the woman left, Dice and I exchanged phone numbers, and Stephen and I were alone again.
On the drive home, the most memorable part of our conversation concerned directions. I dropped him off. We shook hands.When I got home, I put the love letter I had written him through my parents’ paper shredder. I had officially spoken to another gay boy. I could call him when I wanted. We actually had something in common. I envisioned another couch, more groping. I was done with Stephen. I could have Dice.
It never happened. Dice and I chatted again over the phone a few days later, but the relationship never advanced to the couch cushion stage. I haven’t escaped the closet entirely—I’m not sure I ever will—but I have learned that I don’t have to settle for the first guy who knocks. Stephen taught me that I was capable of going on a date with another boy. Dice taught me that I was allowed to experience dating as it happens—not just through the idealized version I had constructed in my own mind.