I grew up wanting to kill the thing inside me. Through religion, through self-brainwashing, through various substances and sexual encounters with young ladies my age, I devoted the bulk of my youth towards willing an act of self-conversion that would enable me to walk free of my secret burden: the fact that I yearned for and actively masturbated about other dudes.
Looking at my senior class photos, you’d see a late-90s twink with clipper-cropped hair and frosted blond tips. He’s a dead ringer for Brian Littrell from the Backstreet Boys. It’s virtually impossible to see that young man and not think, “We’ve got a homo here!” Though I was desperately trying to be someone, anyone, other than a twink, my acts of self-rejection were (with the gift of hindsight) ironic acts of self-definition that pulled me closer and closer to the orbit of cock.
That was teenage-dom, for me: Five-knuckle-shuffling in my bedroom and then crying and promising the Lord it would be the last time and then getting hard because I’m 17 and the wind touched my arm and then praying over my dick and five-knuckle-shuffling again. I look back and shudder. I wasted so many years not being a prime cut of meat on the male marketplace. Even when I moved to New Orleans, I suppose a part of me still presumed that my Midwestern, late-90s, teenage oppression was the overarching experience for teens everywhere. (I know, messed up.)
So when my husband Ryan told me that the youngest member of his gay Mardi Gras krewe, an 18-year-old piano prodigy, was hosting a drag salon where his parents would also tend bar, I was suddenly, overwhelmingly, jealous. I couldn’t help remembering my dad hating my frosted blond tips the day I came home with them. They were, in his words, “pushing it.” He wouldn’t let me stay out past 10pm or see an R-rated film, much less sling drinks at a function in which I’d glide down a staircase with such unabashed queerness that I had to wear women’s clothing.
When we arrived at the venue early to help Ben, the piano prodigy, and his family set up for the salon, I was immediately taken by how his parents were fretting over all the details – the seating, the king cake, etc. – getting them just so to be in line with their son’s vision of a drag piano function. They beamed Pride in their laser-like focus. They acted like they were hosting a high school graduation. And it was a graduation, I suppose, for a brave young man whose heart and talents merited celebration.
Their child was not only “out” to his peers but also making his “out-ness” an example for the city he adored. His Mom and Dad were so delightful it hurt me, a 38-year-old queen, especially when I considered what my parents hadn’t given or couldn’t have given a son that same age in another decade when I only tasted such queerness behind a locked bedroom door—alone and naked and crying and afraid.
Sometimes it’s tough to reckon with the reality that for some queer kids, in some queer havens of the world, we’ve won. Our efforts flourish. Our hopes live in every smile and pucker of their bratty little faces. They were babies when we fought to open the world for them. But open it we did, and they toddled through, eventually strutting, never quite knowing or understanding the past that would have crushed their spirits.
They’ll probably never learn the names of the ones whose bodies and minds paved the way. And here’s what’s hardest to fathom in a world of uneven advancement: they don’t have to. We must not blame the ones who taste the lives we merely fantasized.
I leaned against the john door as the DJ announced the prodigy over the speakers. I pulled my husband to my waist as the crowd inhaled. And we watched a young wunderkind emerge down the staircase in a pink Mozart wig, flesh-colored corset, and white stiletto heels. He looked like a gay Amadeus, a reference his generation likely wouldn’t get. Amagayus. He hadn’t even learned to walk in those heels yet. Toe first, I hissed into my husband’s ear, toe first. He clomped his way up to the piano as the room cheered.
Then he kicked his lithe legs over the seat and stretched out his elongated fingers. I turned my head as he pressed the keys and felt the air tremor and vibrate with the notes of Debussy, Verdi. I honestly don’t even remember the composer.
It was behind the bar that I found them holding hands, his parents, their mouths agape. They were staring in veneration at the person they’d created. There s/he is, their faces seemed to say.