By Wes Frisby
Welcome to 2018, a year when a show about drag queens competing for further stardom turns bars in the City of Angels into standing room only arenas on any given Thursday night. A big part of my young heart was beyond happy that this was a fact that was readily accepted in many major cities across the U.S of A. That may be a huge contributing factor as to why one of my closest friends and I rushed to see “Love, Simon” on opening weekend. As we looked around the filled theater that was almost sold out on an early Saturday afternoon, it was safe to say that we were not the only ones who had a good amount of excitement.
Sure enough, the movie certainly delivered. Audiences loved it. Rotten Tomatoes granted the film a 91%. Ten days after its released it grossed over $23,000,000 in its domestic sales. For all intents and purposes, the movie was a hit. On top of those accolades, it is genuinely entertaining to watch. It eloquently takes on the awkward teenage years of being a closeted gay man and misses most of the frivolous camp, does not play up a stereotype of what a gay man should be (aside from the absolutely hilarious Whitney Houston daydream, go see the movie to understand), and focuses a lot more on the wonky interpersonal dealings that tend to crop up when people go to any lengths to keep their sexual identity hidden in the shark infested waters that is the American High School System.
However, while I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I knew all too well that it was far from my story. I did not have a “totally normal” upbringing (if normal is having a bed nook equipped with a chalkboard and balcony, then no, I most certainly was not normal by anyone’s standards), no mysterious pen pal existed that I had a year long infatuation with while not ever seeing him or hearing his voice, and I most certainly was not blackmailed under any circumstances because I was afraid to let those closest to me know about my sexuality (a twisted blessing that took me a few years to realize). As the 50 feet tall individuals on the screen played out in front of me, my friend sobbed at how much he connected to the film (sorry Jonathan), and the row of five friends in front of me swooned over Simon’s several possible love interests, I felt myself slowly beginning to reflect on my own coming out story.
To say my childhood and pre-teen years were tumultuous would be an understatement. I have most of the regular unspoken traumas that you can come to expect from most millennials can identify with after years of therapy. There was my mother’s creepy boyfriend, a huge extended family with a dynamic that resembled nothing short of the cut throat and shady environment of RuPaul’s Drag Race, any form of abuse that you could think of, and yet all the while I was holding in a secret that I was pretty sure would be the end of me if anyone found out.
However, in my favor, my older brother of six years came out at the ripe old age of sixteen years old. I will not go into detail of his experience, but waking up hearing my mom screaming into a phone and then crying after she hung up left an impression on me to say the least. From that instance, from that trauma that I inadvertently picked up on at the age of ten, it was ingrained in me that if I came out, I would let everyone down and have nowhere to go. Great. Even at that age however, I knew that while I could never come out, I could and would always stand up for people like myself. So very quickly I became a fierce opponent to anyone that I had even the slightest inkling may be somewhat homophobic.
That was however until I met my father for the first time two years later. At 5’7” and weighing in at rough 150 pounds, he was nowhere near as intimidating as I remembered him. Sadly, at 10 years old, a loud-voiced-stomps-with-every-step-crack-addicted parental figure seems much more of a super villain that should be feared than a sick individual with a rather obscured outlook on life. So, for a subsequent two and a half years, I kept quiet, kept my head low, tried not to make too many ripples, and slowly died on the inside. I wanted so badly to just BE, but with my current living situation of living in a relatively large home with my father in question, my great-grandmother, both of my dad’s parents, and my uncle who suffered from severe mental illness, I figured I would be one of the kids who went off to college and then successfully ran away from home never to return again as a means to live my best life. All I had to do was wait a few more years.
The abuse, both physical and mental, from my father got worse. There was an added kidnapping attempt with my mom that while I cosigned it initially was still in hindsight 100% illegal. I became more and more aggressively reclusive, and numb. At 14, I completely stopped caring about my own well being as my mental health deteriorated. I welcomed any sort of intervention to the current recurring nightmare that was my daily life.
One morning, my dad’s voice was especially loud for some reason as I woke up to get ready for school. I remembered trying to make out what was being said while laying in my bed. Upon listening for a few seconds, a very clear picture displayed itself in my mind’s eye. I was sure that my grandfather was sitting at the head of the kitchen table while my father paced back and forth angrily yelling to prove his point to his dad that he was right about something political that must have been on the news or in the paper that my PopPop (very liberal) and my dad (conservative but fancies himself a democratic) did not agree on.
As if in a dream, I slumped into the bathroom and got ready for my school day. Roughly fifteen minutes later, I was decked out in jeans that were way too baggy for me, a belt that could have afforded to be a size or two larger, my Gir from Invader Zim t-shirt, and hunter green and horizontal striped hoodie (the epitome of high fashion). I came down the steps and was able to better make out the ‘conversation’ between the two men. I became confused.
The year was 2008 and it was in the middle of Fall in Southern New Jersey. Yet, there were two full grown men arguing about marriage rights, how things were an abomination, and that it’s a sacred matrimony (which confused me since my dad had both me and my brother out of wedlock from the woman he was divorced from, my mom, before I was born). At first I chalked it up to being too tired to understand or care about what they were talking about. That was until, my father said one key term.
“These faggots believe that they can step on a holy bond. Marriage is between a men and woman, dad. That what GOD says,” he yelled before stopping out the side door into the garage.
I remembered being frozen in the foyer at the bottom of the steps in front of the door getting ready to go wait for my bus at the bottom of the driveway. My eyes welled up with tears. I literally broke the skin on my palm with the nails on my left hand from squeezing a fist as tightly as possible. For two years I refused to make ripples out of fear for what would happen. Now, at a time where I almost welcomed death so that I would not hurt so much, I genuinely did not care about who knew who I would prefer to be in bed with. I wanted to make sure there was no confusion, as my blood boiled. I no longer cared. In my head, if I was going to hurt, I was going to at least be in enough peace of mind to know that I was not holding myself back from who I really was. All of the after school specials on self-acceptance and love that plagued my generation must have worked.
Next to the foyer was the dining room table, a room that was always pristine so anything out of place would be noticed quickly. As calmly as possible, I took a notebook and pen from my book bag, tore out one page, and wrote a very simple note to my family:
I left it on the edge of the dining room table, collected my stuff in my book bag, shouted a farewell to my my granddad, and opened the door as normally as possible. As soon as the door closed, I burst off my porch like a bat out of hell, laughing to myself hysterically as tears streamed down my face. It was the first time I had ever felt a rush so amazing. I had never before once felt as scared and overjoyed as I did that day. The rest of the day went by in a blur. I remember blurting out my new found freedom to quite a few classmates. I vaguely remember the fallout from my family. I kind of remember feeling a little bit better than normal (as mentioned before, it took quite a bit of work on myself to get out of the rut I was in, but this was a good start). Sadly, I do not remember waiting on a Ferris wheel for my in-school pen pal to finally come and profess his love for me. I didn’t even have my first real boyfriend until college and that title is still a bit shaky.
My coming out story was nothing like the story of “Love, Simon” and that totally okay. When you take a wider look at my life, it much more resembles “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls than any sort of love story. That is the beautiful part of 2018. I can still watch a movie about someone who’s coming out story is existentially different than mine and still be able to enjoy, praise, and connect with the story on a different level. The gay community is made up of an almost infinite amount of moving parts. The variables that go into making just one individual are vast and ever changing. I am happy that with all of that acting as a differential, I am still able to connect and love people just like myself.