Boy Meets Boy

Page 3


“But that's not how I feel,” I protested. My attention was a little distracted because Ted was now pulling up Greg Easton's shirt, and that was kind of cool. “How I feel is what's right … right?”
“For you, yes,” Mrs. Benchly told me. “What you feel is absolutely right for you. Always remember that.”
And I have. Sort of.
That night, I held my big news until after my favorite Nickelodeon block was over. My father was in the kitchen, doing dishes. My mother was in the den with me, reading on the couch. Quietly, I walked over to her.
“GUESS WHATI” I said. She jumped, then tried to pretend she hadn't been surprised. Since she didn't close her book—she only marked the page with her finger—I knew I didn't have much time.
“What?” she asked.
“I'm g*y!”
Parents never react the way you want them to. I thought, at the very least, my mother would take her finger out of the book. But no. Instead she turned in the direction of the kitchen and yelled to my father.
“Honey … Paul's learned a new word”
It took my parents a couple of years. But eventually they got used to it.
Besides my parents, Joni was the first person I ever came out to.
This was in second grade.
We were under my bed at the time. We were under my bed because Joni had come over to play, and under my bed was easily the coolest place in the whole house. We had brought flashlights and were telling ghost stories as a lawn mower grrrrred outside. We pretended it was the Grim Reaper. We were playing our favorite game: Avoid Death.
“So a poisonous snake has just bitten your left arm—what do you do?” Joni asked.
“I try to suck the poison out.”
“But that doesn't work. It's spreading up your arm….”
“So I take my axe and chop off my arm.”
“But once you chop off your arm, you're bleeding to death.”
“So I pull off my shirt and tie it around the stump to stop the blood.”
“But a vulture smells the blood and comes swooping down at you.
“So I use my right arm to pick up the left arm that I cut off, and I use it to bat the vulture away!”
Joni trailed off. At first, I figured I had her stumped. Then she leaned over, her eyelids closing. She smelled like bubblegum and bicycle grease. Before I knew it, her lips were coming near mine. I was so freaked out, I stood up. Since we were still under my bed, I crashed into the bottom of my mattress.
Her eyes opened quickly after that.
“What'd you do that for?” we both yelled at the same time.
“Don't you like me?” Joni asked, clearly hurt.
“Yeah,” I said. “But, you know, I'm g*y.”
“Oh. Cool. Sorry.”
“No problem.”
There was a pause, and then Joni continued.
“But the vulture pulls your left arm out of your hand and begins to hit you with it….”
At that moment I knew Joni and I were going to be friends for a good long time.
It was with Joni's help that I became the first openly g*y class president in the history of Ms. Farquar's third-grade class.
Joni was my campaign manager. She was the person who came up with my campaign slogan: VOTE FOR ME … I’M GAYI
I thought it rather oversimplified my stance on the issues (pro-recess, anti-gym), but Joni said it was sure to generate media attention. At first, she wanted the slogan to be VOTE FOR ME … I’M A GAY, but I pointed out that this could easily be misread as VOTE FOR ME … I’M A GUY, which would certainly lose me votes. So the A was struck, and the race began in earnest.
My biggest opponent was (I'm sorry to say) Ted Halpern. His first slogan was VOTE FOR ME … I’M NOT GAY, which only made him seem dull. Then he tried YOU CAN’T VOTE FOR HIM … HE’S GAY, which was pretty stupid, because nobody likes to be told who they can (or can't) vote for. Finally, in the days leading up to the election, he resorted to DONT VOTE FOR THE FAG. Hello? Joni threatened to beat him up, but I knew he'd played right into our hands. When the election was held, he was left with the rather tiny lint-head vote, while I carried the girl vote, the open-minded guy vote, the third-grade closet-case vote, and the Ted-hater vote. It was a total blowout, and when it was all over, Joni beat Ted up anyway.
The next day at lunch, Cody O’Brien traded me two Twinkies for a box of raisins—clearly an unequal trade. The next day, I gave him three Yodels for a Fig Newton.
This was my first flirtation.
Cody was my date for my fifth-grade semi-formal. Or at least he was supposed to be my date. Two days before the big shindig, we had a fight over a Nintendo cartridge he'd borrowed from me and lost. I know it's a small thing to break up over, but really, the way he handled it (lying! deceit!) was symptomatic of bigger problems. Luckily, we parted on friendly terms. Joni was supposed to be my back-up date, but she surprised me by saying she was going with Ted. She swore to me he'd changed.
This was also symptomatic of bigger problems. But there was no way of knowing it then.
In sixth grade, Cody, Joni, a lesbian fourth grader named Laura, and I formed our elementary school's first g*y-straight alliance. Quite honestly, we took one look around and figured the straight kids needed our help. For one thing, they were all wearing the same clothes. Also (and this was critical), they couldn't dance to save their lives. Our semi-formal dance floor could have easily been mistaken for a coop of pre-Thanksgiving turkeys. This was not acceptable.
Luckily, our principal was cooperative, and allowed us to play a minute or two of “I Will Survive” and “Bizarre Love Triangle” after the Pledge of Allegiance was read each morning. Membership in the g*y-straight alliance soon surpassed that of the football team (which isn't to say there wasn't overlap). Ted refused to join, but he couldn't stop Joni from signing them up for swing dance classes twice a week at recess.
Since I was unattached at the time, and since I was starting to feel that I had met everyone there was to meet at our elementary school, I would often sneak out with Laura to the AV room, where we'd watch Audrey Hepburn movies until the recess bell would ring, and reality would beckon once more.
In eighth grade, I was tackled by two high school wrestlers after a late-night showing of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at our local theater. At first, I thought it was a strange kind of foreplay, but then I realized that their grunts were actually insults—queer, faggot, the usual. I wasn't about to take such verbal abuse from strangers—only Joni was allowed to speak to me that way. Luckily, I had gone to the movies with a bunch of my friends from the fencing team, so they just pulled out their foils and disarmed the lugheads. (One of them, I've since heard, is now a drag queen in Columbus, Ohio. I like to think I had something to do with that.)