I was at a dear friend’s house the other day. Her younger brother Brandon was home, and he had also invited a friend over, a male friend we’ll just call Matthew. My friend went upstairs to clean her room, so it was me and the two boys. I didn’t talk to them much, not knowing what to say.
After a while Brandon had to duck out to take care of something, so Matthew stood up and hugged him and went to the door to say goodbye. Then, as soon as the door closed, Matthew turned around, saw me watching him, and said quickly, “I’m not gay.”
For a moment I was surprised. But after that all I felt was a deep sense of sadness.
I was sad, because we live in a society wherein men are told they cannot show any form of affection to their same-sex peers, and if they do show affection they are immediately labeled as gay. And I was sad because whether or not Matthew actually identified as gay at the time, he felt it urgent to clarify to me that he was not, because he knew that being perceived as gay could threaten his safety.
I just looked at him and shrugged and said, “So what if you are?”
But I wish I had also said, “Compassion doesn’t dictate sexuality.” I wish I had said, “It’s okay to show affection towards your friends, and it’s also okay to be gay.” I wish I had told him he was safe with me either way. And I wish I had applauded and thanked him for being willing to show emotion in a society where it’s violently suppressed.
I didn’t have the right words at the time, but I do now. So, Matthew, here’s to you. And here’s to all the gay teens, and all the questioning teens, and all the guys who daily demand the right to show affection to other guys without it being judged as a component of their sexuality. Keep on living, just the way you are.