Years before coming out as queer, I was a suburbanite who would say, "That's so gay." I was in an unofficial clique of The Blossoming Queers with Complicated Home Lives, and though our homes were hard, sometimes entering public space was even more complicated.
Most often, we took refuge in quiet places — basements, the bridge over the imaginary creek, the little hallway between the round-table cafeteria and band room, in the embrace of each other's borrowed jeans, in the excess of mix CDs titled with inside jokes, in late night chats on AOL Instant Messenger. Alone together, we were each other's shelter, offering permission to exhale, to take up a little bit more space.
It was only when we were in public spaces, I would spit out the words, "That's so gay." The mall was under the guard of Mounty-hat mall cops in golf carts and angry missed calls from our parents. We felt the barricade of the typical shop-keeper who had their own customer-service way of saying, “Oh shit, these Tripp pants kids back in our store again.” They looked at us as if shops went out of business every month because teens stole too many Happy Bunny keychains and spiked belly-button rings. For all they knew, we might have been there to serenade each other with love songs from The Lion King. For all they knew, we were related to the midwest-rich owner of that one restaurant in downtown Livonia that’s not the other restaurant in downtown Livonia. The former is 100% true.
We gathered in Parisian, the department store at the end of the mall that likely supplied 70% of homecoming dance dresses and took its coupons very seriously. The cashiers hung heavy over their walkie-talkies. I felt what they saw: Gay. These Gay kids pulling at each other’s hands. Gay. These Gay kids trying to share dressing rooms. Gay. These Gay kids with the Rent soundtrack etched into their arms with Sharpie ink. Gay. I swallowed that word and spat it out like it was nothing: That’s so gay. If I pushed the word out with hate, maybe they wouldn’t call my house and say This Is What She Is. I muttered, “That’s so gay” to my friend Nina in the Parisian purse section so the cashier wouldn’t think I put anything into my pockets.
Nina snapped, “Don’t say that!”
I didn’t feel ashamed. I just felt empty. She looked at me as if I slammed a door in her face.
If I had had simply looked down, I would have found the lyrics as a Sharpie-ink tattoo on my arm,
Open your door, I’ll be your tenant
Don’t got much baggage, to lay at your feet
But sweet kisses, I’ve got to spare
I’ll be there and I’ll cover you
I just wanted somewhere to stay, I just wanted to trust the mall cops. We just wanted a place to go that wasn’t home.
The door of every public space felt closed; why would anyone let us in? We even managed to even get kicked-out of a kiosk, the one next to the funeral casket display and Victoria’s Secret. It sold pun shirts that said “God Hero” instead of “Guitar Hero.” "You can’t be here," the manager barked — too close to his God. We kept a five foot distance every time we walked by.
I felt so empty, yet full of someone else’s words. The Blossoming Queers With Complicated Home Lives sometimes attempted to cover each other by going undercover and repeating the very words thrown at us in the hallways at school. I attempted to protect myself and the people that I loved by hating the thing others hated about us. An internal battle of: That’s so gay. I’ll cover you. That’s so gay. I’ll cover you. I’ll cover you with my reactive words and the rest of my body left behind.
Top photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Quang Nguyen
More from BUST
Writer, performer, INFJ, and breakfast advocate based in Queens, NY. Currently working on their third anthology, Written on the Body, full of letters that trans survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault have written to their body parts. Also freelancing with Teen Vogue, Bitch Magazine, and other feminist outlets, much of Lexie's work revolves around themes of bodies, homes, cyclical violence, and queer foreshadowing. Say hi at www.lexiebean.com or @oklexiebean on Instagram.