Our kitchen cupboards are filled with airtight containers and every one has a label.
There isn’t any confusion about where rice, flour, or the granola bars go. That’s helpful for the kitchen right? If I’m making a valiant attempt at making dinner I don’t have to guess between the pastry, white, or brown flour — the labels tell me exactly what that container…contains.
Growing up, I did what I believed all little boys did — got messy, played with fire, kissed girls, made mischief with the neighborhood kids. One of my favorite things to do was play house with my best friend Sarah*. I always was the ‘dad,’ Sarah my ‘wife,’ and her little sister was our ‘baby.’
Playing house with Sarah was fun – I liked the way it felt to have our own space, shared time, a place to practice and try things out. We would pretend sleep, wake up, send our daughter off to school, come home, levy unfair punishments on our daughter (because we felt like the world was being unfair to us,) put daughter to bed, and then go to bed ourselves. All within the span of 20 minutes.
Fastest day ever.
As latchkey kids Sarah and I had a lot of time to practice what felt good for us and at age 8, Sarah was my first kiss. Well…whatever ‘kissing’ must’ve looked like to 8 year old Romel (hint: not good.)
Although I don’t remember what it looked like, I vividly remember the feeling. It’s the same one I get when I’m in the middle of a cheering crowd — fireworks. Elated. Blood rushing. Body tingling. I wanted to kiss Sarah all the time and she wanted to as well. Playing house was an almost daily activity until I moved away from her at 10.
I was sad. She was sad. I made promises to visit so we could play house. She smiled. I never visited her.
Picture the next 4 years filled with teen angst bullshit – raging hormones, leaving love notes for girls in primary school, being a real pain in the ass to my teachers, getting bullied for always being ‘a little different,’ starting middle school and aggressive switches between loving and hating everyone.
My poor mom.
My favorite time during these years was Sunday afternoons with my mom and aunt. All three of us would hang out in my aunt’s guestroom and they would paint their nails as I watched intently. I felt mesmerized by the ritual, by the art, by the community they built with each other. I remember working up the courage to ask them if I could, just once, paint their nails for them. I’m not quite sure why they ever said yes to a teenager painting their nails but they did anyway.
In those moments I felt loved, accepted, a part of. I belonged. And so every Sunday for a long time I painted their nails and I think I got better…think. Then one afternoon my aunt said, “This is all fine. Just don’t go over to the other side.” “The other side? Of course I wouldn’t paint the other side of your toe…” “No…like over the rainbow!”
Confusion set in. What rainbow is she talking about and what does it have to do with me? They both decided to drop the subject but I couldn’t. I remember walking away from that day searching my brain for answers…and then there was a moment where it hit me like a ton of bricks…and it was true. Kinda.
My awkward middle school/early high school self had no way to express that. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask. It’ll also help you to understand that hearing messages about Gay people going to hell or that they should die was a daily occurrence. I don’t really know what Gay is…but that’s not me. Sorta.
Another move across the tiny island later, I found myself with an hour+ commute and I wasn’t alone. Many of us made the trek together, waiting for each other, saving seats in taxis. It was during these trips that many couples showed their affection for each other – no parents, no rules, right? I didn’t have any of these.
One day after a club activity my friend John* and I got together for the trip home. We spent a lot of time together and I knew that I felt differently about him – he reminded me of Sarah. I remember being so afraid to tell him how I felt and I think I dragged it out for at least half the trip. I whispered to him, I think I like you. He took my hand and said “good. Because I like you too.”
Fireworks. Elated. Blood rushing. Body tingling.
WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING?
IS THIS GAY?
WHEN SOMEONE FINDS OUT, WILL THEY HURT US?
There was a safety with John. He was nice, warm, could make you feel loved just by being near. He gave me my first mixed CD (just missed the tape era) that had these timeless ballads belted out by the likes of Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston…I don’t remember them all but it was SO good.
When we first kissed – yeah. That was good too. Very.
Whatever John and I had was short-lived because just a month or two after we realized our feelings for each other, I moved. Again. This time to the great North – U.S.A. Fifteen year old Romel had a little more confidence about who he was – boys, girls, that didn’t matter – there was a recognizable feeling of love – Fireworks. Elated. Blood rushing. Body tingling. That’s what mattered.
I was lucky that the high school I got to attend was in (The People’s Republic of) Cambridge, MA. My high school had all the things that your high school probably did – just that mine had more (2000+ students.) Labels there were important. It was how folks knew where you belonged — theater, goth, skater, jock, etc. and although there were some folks who were able to navigate multiple groups, many opted to stick to theirs.
I chose the group(s) that accepted me however I showed up. Some of my best friends to this day are from those years, the girl I consider my sister because her family took me in so often, the small tight-knit group that I watched “Heathers” with too many times to count, the guy who sat with me on a park bench every night for a summer to contemplate the meaning of life. They all made sense to me. I made sense to them. Because none of us made sense. We didn’t quite fit.
I joined a local youth group I heard about through my school. This group – a place for GLBT youth – is one of the reasons I made it. Here’s why: they made it okay to not be okay. They made it okay to not fit. It was okay to just be yourself as long as your self was safe, respectful, willing to learn, and authentic. I remember sitting in one of our meetings and hearing the word “queer” for the first time.
Queer (adj.): non-heterosexual
An umbrella term to refer to all people with non-heterosexual sexual orientations.
That hit the nail on the head for me – it spoke truth to my existence. I made it my label. And in my labeled existence, I somehow felt free because having a name is sometimes easier than having no name at all. But people felt caught on ‘queer.’ Why not bisexual?
I don’t have a ‘reason’ other than the label doesn’t feel right. Bisexual is limiting – it seemingly limits my partners to a container, that in my opinion, is too small. What is clear to me is that my partner’s gender presentation did and does not matter to me. It’s the feeling that matters.
My high school partners fell all over the spectrum and that felt real for me. I was living my truth. Using my voice, I became an advocate for my LGBTQQI+ community. I attended rallies, staged protests, and signed petitions. I started working for a national organization devoted to creating equality for my community. I knocked on doors, trained volunteers, lobbied legislators, I became an active participant in making my world a safer place for everyone no matter the container they fit into.
In college no one cared. Yes, people were at times slightly confused about bisexual vs. queer but it didn’t stop people from loving me. One thing is true I wasn’t hiding anymore. My college partners, flings, one-nighters, all knew that they mattered to me – that we shared something special.
With every relationship, the questions came, the confusion set in for my friends because I believe we’re inclined to want to put things into a container with a label – I mean, look at the internet firestorm that was the
white/gold black/blue white/gold dress – labels matter to us. While dating my first college girlfriend, “aren’t you gay?” was a regular occurrence. My response was always “I’m queer,” which was typically met with a “Oh, you’re bisexual!” with this ‘knowing’ exclamation. No. Queer. With the beginning and end of every relationship, with the change of genders, more questions, more confusion.
I own some responsibility for this. Other than this post, I haven’t gone into detail about what love means to me. How my sexuality ‘works.’ And that’s okay because love and sexuality is inherently personal. What I want is to share as much of this journey as possible – respecting that this is real. This is authentic. This is wild.
So, dating a person I’ve fallen in love with is part of who I’ve always been. That I continue to feel those feels that have become intrinsically connected to love and connection –
That we got married after 2 years of knowing each other and 2 months of dating is what following our passion and love for each other looks like.
In our kitchen, in addition to countless labeled containers there are containers with(out) labels that aren’t currently holding anything. They’re at once empty and full of space for what could be. There is likely no existing container for my experience before Michelle nor is there one for our future and I know that we’re not alone. We can’t be.
I hear stories about love at first sight, about knowing when you know, about doing it the way you feel is right. My friends have committed to being a part of my life for the long haul. They’re stuck with me – on this journey of doing things just a little “queer.” I haven’t ever quite fit in and that’s okay.
In the whirlwind of the past few weeks I’ve unintentionally left many people, some of the closest – friends, family, etc. – out. Some barely knew I’d started started dating someone new, much less that marriage and a family were quick to follow and as a result of this momentary exclusion I get to begin the work of rebuilding trust. Having a son or friend blow the lid off a container is not easy.
Over the last 3 years I’ve held on to this: my life is filled with friends and family who want to support, who want to love, who want to show up for me, for us.