Think of Her Fondly – Memories of a Closeted Bisexual Teenager

on

I watched a DVD of The Phantom of the Opera, starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum, in my family’s living room when I was in high school. Not only is there something about that musical that moves me inexplicably (a couple of years later I watched a live rendition and sobbed like an ancient Greek widow mourning at sea), I was smitten with the performances in the film. Emmy Rossum. What a beauty. Sigh. I probably wanted to both be her and be with her.

Magnolia Pictures

Magnolia Pictures

Anyway, my mother walked into the living room and I gushed at her about how lovely it all was. “This song, her voice, that dress!” I rambled along those lines. It went too far. I said something like, “She’s so beautiful!” with too much lust in my voice, I suppose. Whatever it was, it flew out of me innocently and without a hint of self-consciousness.

Whhooaaa!” my mother growled.

Okay. Here I’m going to struggle to describe this. First of all, my mother is Brazilian. This was not an English “whoa.” It wasn’t even a “whoa,” really. It was an impassioned, guttural assemblage of sounds that vaguely resembled a “whoa.” It was even a bit of an “ai.” You know how when you know your parents as intimately as a child does, they can scold, berate, shame, warn or cajole you with so little as a grunt, or a sigh, or a gesture?

That’s what this sound was. I knew it by its resonance and inflection. It came from a then-new family of sounds reserved for matters of sex. It was the punch-in-the-gut exclamation when she learned in the gynecologist’s office that I was having sex with my boyfriend; it was her own cackles of discomfort and titillation when an R-rated scene got racy on movie night. One second I was soaring down the stream of a Phantom-induced fantasy, and the next, my mother was cracking a whip that halted me in my tracks.

Whhooaaa!” or “Aaiii!” or whatever – the message came through loud and clear: Watch it. That was gay.

I felt it instantly. It hit me like a dart in my side. I’d confessed to my diary a couple of years earlier that I was bisexual, but it wouldn’t be another couple of more years until I was muff-diving headfirst into lesboland. I didn’t know that my rainbow-striped colors were starting to show. I didn’t even think I ran the risk of them slipping out, as pretty and feminine and horny for my boyfriend as I was.

Shame swarmed my body like a fire.

“What?” I laughed, high-pitched and squealy.

The moment passed, but I felt exposed. Had I swooned for a girl openly, without even realizing it? Kids express all kinds of feelings with degrees of attraction and sexuality attached to them, and in moments just like these, the way that the adults they care about respond to those expressions can have profound and lasting effects. The effect that my mother’s guttural exclamation had in that moment was simple. It produced gay shame in me.

“The effect that my mother’s guttural exclamation had in that moment was simple. It produced gay shame in me.”

So to the parents who have these moments of recognition – maybe a boy gets a little too excited over a poster of his favorite football star with his shirt off, or a girl insists on playing husband to her girlfriends in their game of house, or whatever – and respond with nothing but a loving smile, and maybe a note-to-self to start rehearsing the heartfelt acceptance speech that’ll be needed down the road when some kind of “coming out” happens – thank you. You’re changing the world, one shame-free kid-turned-adult at a time.

All parents have the power to do this.

Four years later I took my mother out to dinner and told her I was in a serious relationship with a girl. She reacted as I imagine she would’ve had I announced that I had terminal cancer. That event sits on the list of occurrences in my life that broke me irreversibly. While my mother later went on to PC-up and fly the PFLAG, I never recovered a sense of having legitimacy in her eyes. Worse than that, I still struggle with the feeling that my very sexuality is disgusting or diseased.

“That event sits on the list of occurrences in my life that broke me irreversibly. While my mother later went on to PC-up and fly the PFLAG, I never recovered a sense of having legitimacy in her eyes. Worse than that, I still struggle with the feeling that my very sexuality is disgusting or diseased.”

When I think back to that bright-eyed, theater-loving, 17-year-old girl swooning over Emmy Rossum, I just want to give her a hug. A younger Emmy would’ve been lucky to have her, and they would’ve made a gorgeous couple. Ain’t nothing disgusting about that. In fact – why are we talking past tense? Is Emmy Rossum single?

More you may like