From She of the Mountains. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2014. Vivek Shraya, author of God Loves Hair and other works, is an artist working in music, performance, literature and film. He lives in Toronto.
The first time he said the words aloud, I think I’m gay, he ducked, expecting retribution from his brother or the ceiling or the walls around them.
Oh. That’s cool, Shanth said.
It is? He looked up.
I mean, you’re my brother. I love you. It doesn’t change anything.
It just means now you can tell me if my butt looks good in jeans.
After telling his brother, each time he said I’m gay it felt a little easier. He found that all of the characteristics that had set him apart from the other boys were conveniently explained and compartmentalized under
Tori Amos fan/Watches Beverly Hills, 90210/Wears eyeliner/Shops at The Gap/Likes to cook/Adores Mom/Has mostly female friends/Sings all the time
No justification necessary. Just a simple I’m gay. There wasn’t much more that anyone wanted to say or do to him once he used their language.
When he told Sophie Reinhart, I’m gay, she squealed as though she had unwrapped her dream present on her birthday, and said he had to meet her friend, The Only Other Gay in Edmonton.
You will have so much in common!
The Only Other Gay loved being gay. The Only Other Gay had his own apartment and his own gay boyfriend and a stack of gay jeans that hit the ceiling. This made him feel even more self-conscious about his single pair of Levi’s. Orange Tabs. Social suicide.
The Only Other Gay knew everything about being gay. Conversation generally centred around words like top, bottom, cut, uncut and questions like Who does your hair? and What is your favourite Madonna CD? He found out that he was a bottom because of his slender build and feminine features and would get used to having penises up his bum even if the thought terrified him. He wondered how gay he could really be when he couldn’t relate to anything he was learning about his supposed self. For instance, what did circumcision have to do with being gay?
He also learned that a gay with no community is a lonely gay. This had to be true because he often felt incredibly lonely, even for friendship. Community meant going to The Only Local Gay Bar every Saturday night, where apparently, even more gays existed. It wasn’t until he went to The Only Local Gay Bar with The Only Other Gay and watched as head after head turned and eye after eye stared at his new friend that he understood exactly why The Only Other Gay loved being gay. This place was the exact opposite of the world outside the bar—here it was possible to be liked.
Since he had been given the impression that The Only Local Gay Bar was exclusively for men, he was surprised to see women there.
She is pretty … I kind of want to talk to her, he said.
About what? Where her shoes are from? The Only Other Gay snapped.
Do you think she likes boys? he asked, ignoring The Only Other Gay’s sarcasm.
The Only Other Gay laughed.
Honey, we all liked girls at one point. But the Bi Highway always leads to Gaytown.
Perhaps The Only Other Gay, who was clearly an expert on Gaytown, was right. He never mentioned women again. Instead, he focused on becoming the best gay he could be: his T-shirts got tighter and brighter, and he hoped that he too could one day command the same approval The Only Other Gay received.
Lately, though, something was happening inside his body, despite the I’m gay. He didn’t immediately recognize it as attraction because transitioning from you’re gay into I’m gay had also allowed him to stop having to think about, question, and sometimes be ashamed of his desires. I’m gay simplified them, reminding him that he desired boys and could wholeheartedly trust his renewed centralized hardening as The Measuring Stick.
But his body walked a bit faster every morning, the closer he got to work, hoping that the office would be empty so he could enjoy a private, deep inhale when he was welcomed by the lingering citrus scent of her perfume.