Tuesday, July 28, 2009
When Powell was in Decaying State last month as my grandmother’s life wound to a close, I received a telephone call from him.
“BB, there’s this girl you have to meet,” he told me. “It’s my friend Tan Boy’s cousin. He said she’s basically like a female version of you.”
With the issue of my sexuality not yet revealed to him, I didn’t know how to respond.
When he asked my permission to give her my cell phone number, though, what could I say? It didn’t feel right to reveal my homosexuality to him during a long-distance conversation, but refusing his request when I had not had a date in a (very) long time and was ostensibly looking would have been inexplicable, so I said yes.
“At the very least,” I thought to myself. “She could be a cool friend.”
She called me before I left for my grandmother’s funeral, laughing nervously as she told me that her cousin and my brother were “trying to hook us up.”
“Oh, yeah,” I laughed. As with my brother, I felt I couldn’t unmask such a big truth over the phone, particularly not to a stranger who was liable to spread the word in our very small town. “We should hang out sometime.”
I tried to be as noncommittal as possible, but already I felt the familiar sense of suffocation settling over me that had defined all of my previous relationships.
When you’re gay and trying to be straight, a sense of foreboding hangs over any courtship you engage in, propelled by the subconscious knowledge that physical intimacy will be an impossibility and the resulting fear that some great inadequacy will be exposed in you when the partnership fails.
I learned this for the first time in eighth grade, when I briefly dated Blonde Girl, a hilarious classmate who I adored as a friend and thus thought I could adore as a girlfriend. I found a reason within weeks to terminate our coupling, for the entire time I was overwhelmed by a sense of dread.
Most of my readers are heterosexuals, and I would ask them to imagine attempting to force themselves into a homosexual relationship, masking their heterosexuality from a society in which homosexuality was by far the predominant trend. Try to conceive of what it would feel like to press your lips to the lips of someone of the same sex, to touch them, to caress them, to feign pleasure, to attempt the cringing act of making love. It’s horrible, particularly if you can’t admit to yourself the reason for the anxiety.
After I broke up with Sacagawea and came to my own homosexuality, I resolved that I would never again subject another young woman to the profound unfairness of a relationship with a partner who, in a fundamental sense, could never be committed to her, regardless of the affection he might feel toward her as a person.
So, as I made vaguely polite statements to Horse Girl, as she will be known here, I resolved that it was time to tell Powell the truth.
My grandmother died on June 19th, and later that day I was in Decaying State, where, after the perfunctory greetings of family, I pulled my brother aside. I’d been planning on waiting for some time to inform him how things were, but if he was going to be attempting to set me up it would come out eventually anyway, so I decided to forestall any such awkwardness.
“So, I have to tell you something,” I said as we loitered by his car.
“What?” he asked.
He stared at me.
“No you’re not,” he said.
“Yes I am,” I answered.
“BB,” he said, disbelief etched onto his face. “Are you sure? How do you know?”
“I just…do,” I said.
“You’re a virgin, though,” he said. “So how can you know?”
“Powell, you’re a virgin, too,” I reminded him. “How do you know you’re straight? It’s just that when I think sexual thoughts, they’re about guys.”
“True,” he said, then smiled. “Wow. Wow. I seriously cannot believe this.”
“You’re okay with it?” I asked.
“Yeah, BB,” he said. “I don’t care. It just blows my mind, that’s all. I mean, I’ve known you my whole life.”
The rest of the night was punctuated with jokes about “my big, gay brother” and the like, but something real had been accomplished.
Upon my return to Southern State, I called up Horse Girl, and we had a long conversation on the phone, over the course of which I discovered that we had a great deal in common. Both of us were made fun of in school, both despised our Freshman years of college (she actually dropped out in the spring semester), both have somewhat unconventional beliefs regarding the supernatural, and both are literature fanatics. We discussed everything from the merits of the Twilight and Harry Potter series to the losses of family members.
Horse Girl told me about the traumatic murder of her uncle when she was in high school and the way that a horse arrived to save her family’s spirit.
“My uncle was my mother’s twin brother,” she said. “And for a long time she wasn’t functional. Then came the baby.”
Horse Girl lives on a farm just outside of Mountain Town, where her family grow their own vegetables, raise chickens, and breed horses. The foal she spoke of was born shortly after her uncle’s death and was a light to all their lives before it succumbed to disease two years later and passed away.
“She was here just long enough to give my mother a reason to live again, to get up in the morning,” Horse Girl said. “And then she left. I really believe that she was sent to make us better.”
The first time that Horse Girl and I met in person, we stayed up talking until two in the morning. During that conversation, I told her I was gay.
“I just feel like you might like me,” I said. “And I didn’t want to lead you on or give you false hope. I’ve done that before, and I promised myself I’d never put anyone else through that.”
“Well, thank you,” she said, but the hurt was plain on her face. “Thank for telling me now and not being an asshole. Some people wouldn’t care.”
Over the course of the next week or so, Horse Girl and I spent a good deal of time together and she even introduced me to some friends of hers, including Tattoo Girl.
Tattoo Girl is a ferrier, which means she trims horses’ hooves for a living, and she owns a business that Horse Girl works for. In addition to being a twenty-three-year-old entrepreneur, Tattoo Girl is a musician, book worm, and all-around cool person. She and Horse Girl, who is twenty, hang out a lot. Next month, she plans to move to Western City, about ten minutes from here, and Horse Girl is considering being her roommate.
I’m glad Horse Girl has Tattoo Girl, because the thing is this: Horse Girl has been hurt.
She’s a sweet, smart, likeable girl who, because she is literate, because she is passionate about her animals, and because she doesn’t fit the conventional model of Western beauty, was mocked and tormented throughout her high school years, subjected to fake relationships by people who toyed with her emotions as a way of making fun of her.
Occasionally, this pain seeps through.
One late night after I left her house, she called me to let me know I’d left my flash drive there. It was around one in the morning at this point, but I’d only just gotten home and figured I might as well get the device, which I needed. When I arrived back at her house, she seemed strange, withdrawn.
“BB, can I ask you something?”
“What is it?”
“Well…” she stopped and shook her head. “No, it’s nothing. It’s so stupid.”
“Horse Girl, tell me,” I said. I could see tears in her eyes. “It’s not stupid, just tell me.”
She took a moment, but then she asked, “Do you think I’m pretty?”
I’d made a comment earlier in the day that her friend Tattoo Girl was good looking, remarking that even though I was gay I could recognize an attractive person of the opposite sex.
The truth is, I don’t find Horse Girl very appealing, but as I looked into her misty eyes, I searched for any compliment I could think of to give her. I’m usually not very good at lying, so I try always to say something I really believe.
“Well, Horse Girl,” I said. “You’re really healthy. You’re not too big, you’re not too small, and you take really good care of yourself.”
I was trying to say something that was based in fact but didn’t also sound incredibly lame. Luckily, I had the presence of mind not to tell her how wonderfully hygienic I thought she was.
The water started to leak from her eyes, and I suggested we take a walk.
“I’m sorry,” she said, rubbing the moisture from her cheeks. “It’s just that I can’t stop myself from having feelings for you.”
That stopped me in my tracks.
“Horse Girl, you know I’m gay,” I said. “And if I could change that, believe me I would, but I can’t. I spent twenty years trying to be straight; if it were possible, I would have done it.”
“I know, I know,” she said. “And I don’t want you to feel bad. It’s just that when my cousin told me about you, I thought nothing would come of it. Then when I started talking to you, and you were so great, I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘This time it’s going to be different.’ And when I realized it wasn’t, it was terrible.”
“Horse Girl, there is someone out there for you,” I reassured her.
Her tears came forth with harsh intensity and her voice broke, “That’s what people have been telling me for my entire life.”
I wanted to hug her, but didn’t want her to have to touch me.
“Horse Girl, I’m sorry,” I said. “Believe me, I’ve thought about it, too. It seems unfair that we should be so alike, so compatible, and not be able to be together, but I know exactly what will happen if we try, because I’ve done it before. There will be a point we won’t be able to get past. Sex is an important part of every relationship. It wouldn’t be fair to either one of us.
“I could never be fully faithful to you, because I’d be trying to go against my nature, and there’d always be the risk that I’d fall for some guy and leave. I’d be trapping myself, and I’d be making a mockery of you.”
“I know, I know,” she said, quieting herself.
The sound of grasshoppers chirping filled the night.
“It it’s easier,” I said quietly. “I can stay away. I don’t want to be an open sore to you.”
“No,” she said, adamant. “I want you in my life. Either I have to get over my feelings for you or cope with having them, but I don’t want to lose you as a friend. I want you in my life in whatever capacity you can be.”
This relieved me, because I didn’t want to lose her as a friend either, though I would have left if she’d asked it. I can’t tell now if she’s better or not. I hope so. I wish she could find someone, but I know it can’t be me.
As it is, we have become close, but as friends. Last night, she, Peruvian Girl, Tattoo Girl, and I went out to dinner at a local pizza restaurant, then returned to Horse Girl’s farm to ride her horse Snickers.
Horse Girl held onto and guided the animal for most of the time, though at one point I was directing it by myself. It was great fun, as are many of the times I spend with Horse Girl, whom I sense Peruvian Girl is growing to like.
I want Horse Girl to be happy, and, short of compromising myself, I will do whatever I can to make that happen. I will not, however, make the same mistake I’ve made countless times before and take a course of action just because I think it’s expected of me or it’s what other people think I should do.
That time in my life is over.