Dressed Just the Same

It’s not like I thought buying a tube of Wet n Wild would magically cure me of years of ingrained heteronormativity, but you have to start somewhere, and for me that somewhere was a deep red, a shade called Blind Date, that I thought and hoped would go decent with my beard and Lynchian undercut.

I go months between expressing my nonbinary-ness, vacillating between feeling like a fraud when I’m not and being self conscious when I am. To know that I can do these things and look this way, but that there will be that part of myself that was raised the way that I was, that I can be separated from that time, put hundreds of miles between myself and the old neighborhood, but the old mental constructs still aren’t so easy to shake.

The endless yearning, the wanting, the disparity between the me in pictures and reflective surfaces and the me in my head. How I come alive with makeup on, the wig out of the box, a flowy dress and a leather jacket. How my favorite movie going back to my childhood was always Rocky Horror, how something clicked into place when I heard Tim Curry’s Frank croon Richard O’Brien’s words, namely “Whatever happened to Fay Wray? That delicate, satin-draped frame? How it clung to her thigh, how I started to cry, ’cause I wanted to be dressed just the same.”

Even back then, knowing that I was different, that I wanted to look different, but never going beyond watching that same old VHS over and over again, till the tape was worn out from overuse and even then I still played it, could point out all the minute differences between that first home video release and all subsequent releases.

Then the midnight screenings as a teen, and diving headlong into glam, discovering T Rex with a friend, wanting to be Marc Bolan, watching Velvet Goldmine and being scandalized in the best possible way, playing that soundtrack out the same as I did with RHPS on VHS all those years ago, but now with CD skips the main degradation culprit, and part of me insisting to myself that I just love the music, that there’s nothing more to it than that, but good luck making that stick in the long run.

Even acknowledging what and who I am now is as freeing as those screenings were all those years ago. I am queer, I am bi, I am nonbinary. These are just facts. I might be a late starter, but at least I’ve started. So if it’s just the occasional Blind Date for now, well that’ll just have to be enough. The rest can come later.

goodbye, goodbye, goodbye

Translucent plastic box in the basement, plastic and lidded, light filtering through it, plants on top of it, sitting idly next to an old Windows 95 behemoth. Coming back home after so much time, now masked, taking precautions, and the last of your personal effects are in this box, the stuff you couldn’t sort through before leaving, the things that reminded you of him. Now just color values and physical description–blurry shapes of belongings past thick plastic, years of dust, incomprehensible lengths of time that don’t correspond to calendars, appointments, birthdays. You have moved on and yet here are these outcroppings of a you who hasn’t.

Opening the lid and starting right away, piles separated between keep, trash, and burn, and you’re surprised by just how quick that last category is filling up. The unending process of self-uproot, plant, water, uproot again. Of having no land to ever truly call home. Your roots are spread too thin, atrophying beneath you, crackling through sidewalk cracks in desperation.

When it all comes through, you’re lighting a barbecue of photos, mementos, hand-written love notes. Sketches of the two of you, his beard snuggling yours, not caricatured but on the cusp, and browning, curling paper, shifting down to deep black, ash clippings sprinkling themselves into grill ash, gray in all that red. All the little rituals we put ourselves through.

If you could find a way to Eternal Sunshine your way out of having to remember him, you think you’d do it, but it’d probably be an in the moment thing, impulsive, the Clem to his Joel, and even that movie is tainted now because of all the viewings the two of you had, watching it every few years, after the inevitable breakup and getting back together, seeing your mirror images committed to film, and vacillating between siding with Joel or Clem depending on the viewing, the season. Siding with neither, and wanting to erase your brain, to take it all away if it’ll mean you don’t have to live with this pain of being stuck in his mental and emotional orbit.

The early days, pre-coming out, when he was a good friend, then thinking it was “just” that you were gay, as if that would ever be a “just” where and when you grew up, and finding other people, other bodies after each break up, learning to fit yourself into the configurations you thought were expected of you, the shifting serpent of sexuality, probably looking just like the one from CCD as a kid, when they tried to convince you that we’re born doomed and need external help to be saved. You haven’t sat in a pew since the mid-2000s, have no desire to, but there’s that familiar old Catholic orisonic muscle in you still, even now, trying to get you to pray it away, give it over to god, and even turning that over in your mind makes you laugh away the sting, the frustrated tears, the way he made you feel and how that could be divorced from how much and how often he hurt you, what that consistent betrayal did to you in the end.

Or maybe it’s the change itself. The changing of colors, of minds. Taking something from one form to a very different other, and to be, somehow, surprisingly okay with it in the end, if that’s what it’s going to be for now. Because it’s as much the final shot as it is the repeat, over and over again, of that shot. It’s curling your farewells into the burning, till it’s all just goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

Slipstream Living

It’s slipstream living here, in the wake of Stonewall’s fiftieth, and I’m thinking of this year’s Pride, only maybe the third or fourth I’ve been to, it being as many years since I gave voice to something I always knew but tried to hide, maybe tried to ignore. And in going to these parades not knowing what to expect, what it would mean for me, if anything. Looking at people dressed however they wanted to be dressed, singing, dancing. The pageantry and glitter, makeup and candy. I was still self-censoring then, still outwardly heteronormative at all times, so I didn’t dance or anything, didn’t dress up. I wanted to, but I didn’t.

And the inevitable protesters, with signs reading “Born that way? Burn that way!” and “LGBT” spelling out “Let God Burn Them.” The initial disbelief that people like that still exist, then the realization of tangible, real-world intolerance, of something beyond the jokes and insults when I was a kid, when “gay” was synonymous with “stupid” or “bad,” when “faggot” was the worst thing you could be called. Something more sad, more dangerous. One of the protesters was there with his kid, the girl no older than 11 or 12 and already forced to spout the same soundbites as her father, looking like she didn’t want to be there but having no choice. Enforced bigotry. The strategy was split between two camps, generally: those who argued with the guy and those who refused to give him the attention he wanted. And that’s fine, commendable even, but I was raised to never back down from a fight, to always answer an insult–a vestigial behavior from childhood, where what was enforced then was a caricature of masculinity. Old habits really do die hard.

I want there to have been some big Rise Above moment for me, but there wasn’t really.  I got myself between him and the people he was trying to bother, and he casually used the word “faggot” as he argued his point, and all I could see was douche kids from elementary school, all I could think was to hit him, and if not for the strategically-placed cop standing next to him making sure no one did just that, then I would’ve.

I went to my first live performance of The Rocky Horror Show that night. I’d seen RHPS on VHS hundreds of times, then DVD when the technology changed, then midnight showings at theaters with shadow casts, but I’d never seen a performance of the play that started it all, and it just seemed like the right time to do it. Back at home, after Pride but before the show, my girlfriend was the one to suggest I show up with my makeup done, legit, like something Frank would wear. She’d do it for me. I’d like to say I jumped at the idea right away, but that wouldn’t be true. I brought up concerns like the makeup smearing when I’d put my motorcycle helmet on, that it might take too long, etc. etc. I was happy that Harmony poked holes in all my excuses. So I agreed, and sat for her, my face her canvas.

Being there among fellow fans, receiving their compliments and comparing our histories with Rocky Horror, none of them batted an eye at my makeup. If anything, they admired it. The actor playing Frank-n-Furter personally acknowledged me in the front row while singing “I’m Going Home,” and I sat there with tears in my eyes even though I’d heard the song a thousand times before. And then, when it was over, we all stood up for curtain call to join in on a reprise of The Time Warp. And being there, finally, with my makeup how I wanted, dressed the way I wanted, singing and dancing without a care in the world… It felt like coming alive.