Just write it, she said.
I knew she was right. Why can't I just hammer on the keyboard and get this thing out? I can crank out an article like a machine. Why does this stupid non-fiction piece seem so hard?
The class had just ended and I drudged back to my car. The effects of the rain were evident on the soaked bottoms of my jeans. Lovely, I thought to myself. Once in my car, I dropped my forehead on the steering wheel. I closed my eyes and breathed. That went... okay, I told myself. I expected something else. Walking to the podium, I had prepared myself for a just-don't-go-there response. Instead, I got a lets-see-how-this-goes response. I drove home and fixated on it all night.
Last week, I thought up a great blog entry. I wrote it out and gleefully relived the experience. As I re-read it proudly, those damn words caught me again.
The more I thought about the blog post, the more I fixated on my "so what." Maybe I didn't handle that very well. Maybe he resented my "so what."
I talked to Susan Goldberg. I needed approval, and I refused to move forward without it. I anxiously approached her podium and laid it out. I told her I didn’t know how to write about a person who is gay without risking being offensive; without becoming a villain for my “so what.”
“Just write it,” she said. "Sometimes it's better to make take these risks." She suggested I write about this—the struggle to write this post. I deleted my old draft and started new, but the puzzle was missing something. Still, I couldn’t let myself write.
Some people don't like talking about sexuality. I think people fear confronting it because they don’t know how to respond. To talk about who people sleep with and love is to risk saying something intrinsically offensive. People think it’s safer to “not go there.” I know what it's like to hate these thoughts, and sympathize with them at the same time.
Despite this, I know my experiences are my own. I am a straight white woman given almost all the privilege in the world. I don’t understand how it feels to be gay. I am just me. I can only be honest with my own feelings.
Eighteen year old versions of Matt and I sat in his red Jeep outside of the Fat Cats on Red River that night. The yellow light from the signage flooded his car, dying both of our faces like the Simpsons. He was looking away from me, holding back. I could tell he was concealing something. I didn't want to pry. I guess he'd tell me if he felt like it.
"Stace, I need to talk to you about something.”
Finally, I think to myself. “What is it?”
He locks his eyes on the ground and murmured. “I'm... that thing."
"You know, uhh… that thing," he mumbled and shifted his feet a little. “Ummm, I, uh, play for the other team…”
To this day, Matt still won't say the word "gay." In fact, he won't say penis, vagina, or anything sexual unless in a medical context. I tease him for this constantly, and he readily admits to his own prudishness.
I look up at him. I say the first thing that comes to mind.
Oh. My. God! Did I honestly say that?! My inner voice shrieks at me. My chest swelled with anxiety and my throat closed. Instantly, I moved onto the defensive.
“I didn’t meant that. Well, I did, but not the way you think…” Verbal diarrhea poured out as I scrambled to explain myself.
“You really don’t care?” he questioningly responded.
I didn’t know the right thing to say. I tried to determine what he expected. Did he want me to jump up and cheer? Be shocked? Appalled? Confused? I didn’t know. All I could give him was honesty.
“No, I don’t care. It’s great, but you’re still Matt. You’re my best friend, this doesn’t change anything”
When we drove home that night, the pink elephant was gone. We talked about how he felt about it and what his fears were. I liked letting him talk. It opened the door to greater honesty; to an unspoken bond between the two of us that still keeps us strong.
Still, the “so what” haunted me. I will likely never know what Matt felt like, as it’s simply assumed that I’m straight. The term for this is heteronormativity- the idea that the "norm" is straight. This didn’t bother me as much as the idea that I may never know how it would feel to hear “so what.”
This post choked my creative mind. I let the document sit open for days. A few days ago, I got a call from Matt.
"Hey Matalina!" I sing into the phone.
"Stacey, my love, how are you?" he said, as his cool baritone voice flooded my Blackberry.
This was my chance. I let some small talk pass and eventually I dove in: "Matt, were you happy with how I responded when you came out?" I held my breath until he replied.
"Pleasantly surprised," he said flatly. "You were definitely one of the good ones."
Phew!! I breathed in and out. "Really? You weren't off put by my 'so what?'" I prepare to explain myself, but Matt cut me off.
"No, I knew what you meant,” I hear him smiling through the phone “You know, I’m not the person I was a year ago,” he tells me. “I know who I am and I love it. If people don’t like that, then screw them.”
I hung up the phone and went to my lap top. My fingers moved faster and my heart beat slower. I stole his confidence to write this. Just write it, I said to myself.