? SLAB | Sound & Literary Art Book

Issue 1

Creative Nonfiction

James Crowley

The Name on the Door

    I'm not sure who perpetuates the idea that coming out is a one-time shot. It's not like the confessing homosexual busts down the door, a memo is sent around the world, and it's over. It started when I was seventeen, and has happened about twice a week for twenty-one years. That's approximately 2,184 times. So far. At this rate, if I live to be eighty, I'll have come out of the closet 6,552 times.
    The first time, I was a senior in high school, and I told my best friend.
    I said, “Umm, I've totally got a secret.”
    She said, “Like, duh, you're gay.”
    I said, “Oh my God!”
    She said, “I'm so sure! I've known you since 8 th grade.”
    And then we went to the movies. To see “Flashdance."

    I've always envied the visible minorities in America . Black people don't gather their friends around to announce they're black. Mexicans never send their parents a letter telling them they're Mexican. Asians don't need to agonize over their families' misconception that they're really Puerto Rican. Being a minority without any apparent genetic features holds no advantages—it just allows you to build your own closet.
    I used to wish all homosexuals were born pink. I was young then, and didn't fully understand the clichéd stigma of that color. But now I do, and I'm aiming for gay-mocha. If heterosexuals would stay out of tanning beds, a pair of eye goggles and three twenty -minute tanning sessions could quite possibly eliminate the closet altogether.
    But that will never happen. So, the fear of being ostracized will continue for gay teenagers, and hiding their sexuality will seem like a viable option. It did to me. I started college wanting to keep my attraction to men a secret. Instead of seeking out people like myself, I joined a fraternity, and slapped two Greek letters on my chest to convince the world I was straight.
    That is, until someone I knew in high school ran into someone I knew in college. It was the 34th time I came out, but the first time I'd been outed.

    No one ever outed me to my family, and no one in my family ever asked. They assumed I was straight, while I played along. It took the first man I fell in love with to convince me I needed to end the charade. I was thirty. But you don't live for three decades wondering who won't love you anymore, and then open yourself up easily. It's why growing up I turned bitchy. And funny. If I could make you laugh at a distance, you wouldn't ask any questions.
    I told my parents in a letter I never meant to mail. A letter that was my way of getting down on paper everything I'd say to them if I could, which I couldn't. They were my 1,248 th and 1,249 th times.
    I had joined my boyfriend in South Beach for a vacation. I brought the letter to show my progress, and get him off my case. To prove my sincerity, I went so far as to address an envelope. And stamp it.
    I read it to him. He liked it. We went out dancing.
    On the walk back to the hotel, I was in heaven. Palm trees, sand, stars, a big-blond-boyfriend-with-muscles. Actually holding hands in public in the gayest place in America.
    He pulled out the letter, shoved it into a mailbox, and kissed me.
    I bit his lip, and tried to yell. But it came out sounding pathetic, more like a question. “Crap?”

    I don't love musicals. I think the gay pride parade is embarrassing. I get self-conscious when the effeminate man in church reads the petitions. If the man of my dreams is a flight attendant, I won't date him.
    I don't know my dress size. I've never worn panty hose.
    I never pick up, or hug, a child unless the parent suggests it first.
    Those were my thoughts the next morning as I stood in front of the mailbox trying to will the letter back out. To this day, I want the people I love to know these things about me, and I hate that.

    I was back from South Beach for a week and a half, and the phone kept ringing. It wasn't my parents. I didn't expect a party, but being ignored was a surprise.
    “Hello.” I always answered with a planned, fake ease.
    “Have you heard from Mom and Dad?”
    “No! Quit calling me.”
    Although I appreciated the enormous support I was getting from my sister, my two brothers, and the rest of the people in times 1–1,247, it just didn't matter. My parents' opinion mattered. Very much. I am theirs.
    By day ten, with no mail mentioned by my parents to anyone, I'd given up. But the phone hadn't. It rang.
    I said, “Hello.”
    He said, “Jimmy, why haven't you called me?”
    Dad? Shit! I thought. Wait, call you?
I said, “I figured you'd call me.”
    He said, “I called you last week and left a message with your receptionist.”
    Receptionist? Shit! I thought . My receptionist was on vacation last week! The most important call of my life, and some temp didn't give me the damn message!
I said, “I'm sorry, Dad. I never got the message. I would've called you back right away.”
    My father told me that he loved me. He'd suspected. But knowing would still take time to accept. He told me that my mother loved me too. But she was surprised. And needed a few more days before she'd call. He then confessed that the prospect of me being childless made them sad. Finally, he asked if I was still going to mass—leaving unspoken their Catholic angst about gays being sent to hell.
    I'd played out the possible scenarios enough times in my head to have expected all of this. But there is no adequate rehearsal for this kind of conversation—for either side, I assume. Though it was much harder to hear out loud, I respected my parents' reactions, and disappointment. I'd had thirty years to come to terms with my sexuality. They'd had ten days.
    When I hung up the phone, the relief I'd hoped for didn't show. It never does. No matter how many times I come out, I can't get used to swallowing the guilt of having misrepresented myself to people I love. What I hope they understand is that in loving them so much, my fear of their rejection made me do it.

    The first time I met my future sister-in-law's family, I got them thrown out of a bar. We'd been partying all afternoon by Wrigley Field, and I got drunk. After excusing myself from yet another round of shots, I dashed into the restroom. Ladies' room. I didn't pay attention—which according to the bartender, you must do near the hallowed walls of America 's favorite heterosexual pastime. Something about the police shutting down the bar if I got caught, which I disputed by shouting that I always use the ladies' room in the Manhole. No matter what the sign says, isn't a toilet just a toilet? Don't we all get in there and do the same thing?
    I prefer to use the women's restroom, actually. There are more stalls and the lighting is better. In a gay bar, the term “women” is loosely defined and the name on the door is meaningless. It's a culture that views all gendered words as interchangeable. Standing in line you'll see boys dressed like boys calling each other “girlfriend,” girls dressed like boys calling each other “sister,” boys dressed like girls looking for their “husbands,” girls dressed like girls in silence. Sometimes you can't define who's what by looking or listening. How do you police that?
    I'm not sure what the bartender accomplished by banning me, my family, my future sister-in-law, and her family for my indiscretion. None of them seemed to care. But the confrontation had yanked me from the closet for the 1,456 th time.

    Faggot. Sissy. Queer. Child molester.

    I bought a book called 15,000 Baby Names . And Dr. Seuss's Oh, Baby, The Places You'll Go : A Book To Be Read In Utero . I picked them up for one of my best friends—who was pregnant with her first child—on the way to grab some dinner. My parents had always hoped that I'd marry this friend. Now , she and her husband have my place in my parents' display of family wedding pictures. Well, that's not exactly true. I am on the table. A picture of me, by myself, at my brother's wedding.
    I was browsing through the baby name book while I ate my chicken salad sandwich, when the handsome, friendly, straight couple next to me asked when the baby was due. “May 1 st ,” I replied. Which was true. Then, they asked me if I'd picked any names. I paused.
    “Faith, if it's a girl. I'm not sure, if it's a boy.”
    I understood it was technically wrong to pretend this baby was mine, but I'd lucked into a moment of pride I never thought I'd get. Total strangers were happy with the idea of my impending fatherhood, and I liked it. The 1,977 th time was going to have to wait.
    “Can I make a suggestion for a boy?” the man said.
    I nodded.
    Hmm. If someday I'm blessed enough to be a father, I won't care if my son is called Astor. I won't care if my daughter is called Faith.
    Names are just letters.

    This is how I see it. After I die, when I get to the gates of heaven, God will ask me to account for my life. I will come out of the closet for the 6,553 rd and final time. The time I'm most confident about being accepted. The time I get the relief I have waited for…
    “Yes, Lord, I did love men. I was how You made me.”