I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Depictions of gay people were not flattering. It seemed to me and from what my mother told me (She was a public health nurse.), all gay men had AIDS. The very few gay men I knew did die of AIDS, though it was rarely spoken about. Other depictions of gay men were flamboyant queens, sissy effeminate men, etc.
Early on, I had hints I was gay, but I ignored them. I remember being enthralled by Harry Hamlin in Clash of the Titans which came out in 1981; It was years later, though, when I first saw it on TV. When I started middle school, there was a new guy in my class. As usual, people were picking on me, and he told them to stop. He was the kind of guy who you knew immediately was going to be the leader of the pack. He was athletic, and my classmates didn’t question him. He was blond and had beautiful blue eyes. I had a crush, and I didn’t even know it. We were friends all through the rest of school; not close friends, but enough that when someone tried to bully me, he’d scare them away. Even the older kids didn’t mess with him. He was not a bully, but people respected him. He was just a nice guy. I had all sorts of fantasies about him. He was my masturbation material in my teenage years, yet, I did not realize I was gay.
When I was in college, I wanted to learn more about being gay, so I went to Barnes and Noble. Not only did I know this is where a lot of gay men hung out, but B&N also had books on the subject. I had to be discreet, though. The first “gay” book I bought was Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. In hindsight, that was not the best choice. It’s a good book, but it has a tragic ending. Early gay fiction nearly always had tragic endings. This kept the realization I was gay at bay even longer.
Slowly, however, I was coming to the conclusion I was in fact gay. I got some gay videos through the mail, and I read Brad Gooch’s Finding the Boyfriend Within: A Practical Guide for Tapping into Your Own Source of Love, Happiness, and Respect. Apparently, I had to learn to love myself. In college, I had a girlfriend. When we broke up, I realized I didn’t want to date girls anymore. Yet, I still couldn’t admit to myself I was gay. One summer I was housesitting for the dentist my aunt worked for. My college roommate (We lived together all four years.) was taking summer classes and living in the dorm. Therefore, we were both in Montgomery. We decided to get together at the house I was staying at and have some beers. We were getting drunk and started playing truth or dare. During the game, I admitted I wanted to suck a guy’s dick. I knew I was basically asking if I could give him a blowjob, but he didn’t take the bait. Eventually, we both went to sleep; me in one of the bedrooms, him on the couch.
It was during this time of housesitting when I got to really play on the internet for the first time. It was dial-up so it was slow, but I was able to find lots of pictures of naked men. I printed out a few to keep. This got me into trouble because my mother found them and confronted me. It was an ugly scene; I denied I was gay. I said I was only curious. From then on, she suspected I was gay, and it made me go into the closet even further. I wasn’t about to admit I was gay at that point.
I don’t know which book I eventually read (I did a lot of reading on the subject of being gay, and I have always been a consummate researcher.), but I remember reading you had to come out to yourself before you could come out to others. You had to accept yourself for who you were first. This was a difficult thing for me to do. I just couldn’t be gay. I couldn’t be all the horrible things I had been called growing up: fag, faggot, queer, homo, sissy, etc. I didn’t want to be that.
But then things began to change when I went to graduate school. I was finally on my own and away from everyone I knew. For the first time, I was safe. The move was only from Alabama to Mississippi, but it was so different being on a liberal university campus. I felt free.
I think my first honest moment of realization came sometime during the year 2000. The British show Queer as Folk had come out. Plus, there was an American show about sex I had been watching. It may have been Real Sex on HBO; I can’t remember. But whatever the show, it was discussing this shocking scene from British TV in which a guy is rimmed. I’d never heard of rimming, at least not being called that. I remember hearing one of my female friends talking about a boyfriend of hers who would move from eating her pussy to eating her ass. This fascinated me, but I never knew what it was called. So…when this show featured the scene from the first episode of Queer as Folk where Aiden Gillen licks down Charlie Hunnam’s back and reaches his butt, and there is a look of total ecstasy on Hunnam’s face (Yes, I know it was acting.), I was so turned on. I knew I desperately wanted to have that done to me. That’s when the realization hit that I might be gay.
Sometime in 2001, I finally admitted to myself I was gay. I was reading a lot about gay people. There was a story on Nifty Archives, an online site for posting stories (Do any of you remember it?), called “Educating Alex.” I remember I read the whole thing in one night and then couldn’t wait for future installments to come out. I joined InsightOut Book Club, a gay book-of-the-month club. I read all I could get my hands on. I mostly read in the summer months, though, because I just didn’t have time to read anything non-school related during the academic year. Reading positive stories about gay people allowed me to realize I could be gay, and, I could be happy.
Lately, Twitter has had people posting when they realized they were gay. It’s usually pictures of TV or movie scenes. Most of it is somewhat lighthearted. If I were to answer that question, it would be with the picture above of Charlie Hunnam’s face when Aiden Gillen first teaches him what rimming is.
So that’s my story. When did you realize you were gay?