Today, Gentle Reader, I am asking you to travel back in time with me. I would like to discuss elementary school, specifically my year in fourth grade. So long ago, but so influential in who I was to become…
In fourth grade, when I was only 9 and 10 years old, my best friend’s name was Bruno. Bruno was Italian, handsome, confident and popular. For that entire year, I walked home from school with him every day. We spent a lot of time together, and in the social structure of 9-year olds, this meant that we became best friends.
Bruno was not just a guy I played tag with after school. Bruno was the person who introduced me to comic books, one of my passions to this day. He was obsessed with Superman. He had an entire closet stacked full of comics. He introduced me to the R.L. Stine children’s book series Goosebumps (which to this day were some of my most exciting reads ever). In many ways, he was responsible for my falling in love with story telling and character development. But more than that, Bruno was as fascinated with magical possibilities and dreams coming true as I was. We were young, innocent and full of hope.
Up until that point in my life, Bruno was the coolest kid I had ever known. He was my first real best friend. And at the time, I didn’t understand it, but he was my first major crush.
All these years later, I still remember how he stood. I remember his posture. I remember how his shirts hung off his body. I remember the gold Italian horn he always wore so proudly around his neck. I remember the part in his hair and the small scar on his forehead from an out of control chickenpox when he was a toddler. I can still see his smile. I can still remember how he made me feel.
In my friendship with Bruno, without my even realizing it, I had begun a pattern very common among gay men growing up in a straight world. A straight world where we are literally not taught that gay crushes exist. The only crushes that exist are between little boys and little girls. So, since we are literally developing our social skills and learning about peer interaction at these young ages, we may misinterpret a crush for a same sex friend to be what strong, heterosexual friendship feels like.
At 9 years old I personally didn’t understand what sexuality was, let alone that I had developed a crush on my friend. In my world at the age of 9, growing up in western Pennsylvania in the 1990’s, gay people did not exist in my scope of view. I had no idea that men even loved other men sometimes. So, I interpreted my feelings towards Bruno as society told me to. He was my buddy. He was someone I played video games with, wrestled around with and who slept over my house on weekends.
At that young age I was taught that these crush feelings, butterflies in your stomach and all, were how all guys feel towards their guy friends. I came to think that the urges, longings and feelings, which I barely understood, were common in platonic male/male friendships. Of course this was false, and Bruno, being straight, did not place the same emphasis on his friendship with me that I did on my crush towards him. He had as little an idea as I did about what was going on between us. He thought I was just his friend. The same as all the other guy friends he ran around with.
Bruno was the first time I felt that torturous feeling in my gut. That feeling which comes from caring more about hanging out with someone and spending time with them, than they do about spending time with you. It confused me as to why Bruno didn’t feel compelled to spend every waking moment with me. Why did he not feel this internal urge pulling him towards me like I felt it pulling me towards him? And since I began thinking this was how friendship always felt, I blindly fell into this tortuous, confusing and frustrating pattern with every straight, guy friend who I eventually developed an unknown crush on. I continued this awful habit the entire way through college until I finally figured out that I was gay.
I am not lying to you when I say that I did not consciously realize until my sophomore year of college that the huge crush I had developed on my then best friend and roommate was contributing to us fighting all the time. Call me naïve or just delusional, but it wasn’t until I started to observe how he acted towards girls, how he became obsessed with them and always wanted to spend time with them, that a huge rainbow colored light bulb went off over my head. Suddenly it occurred to me why everything always felt so tortured and wrong. I realized why I always felt like I was banging my head against the wall while feeling so unloved and unappreciated. I was in the self-defeating pattern of loving men who could not love me back in the same way.
I now know that I am not the only person who has ever suffered from unrequited love with unavailable, heterosexual male friends. In fact, it is very common, in the predominately straight society in which we are all raised, for gay men and women to not even realize this is happening to them. Especially when we are children and teenagers.
If I had understood what I was feeling at a much younger age, do I think I would have come out of the closet earlier? Absolutely. If I had understood why Bruno was so important to me as I was developing, I could have dealt with all of this sooner and realized that there was nothing wrong with me so much earlier.
You hear opponents of LGBT rights saying they feel it is detrimental and abusive to speak with children about the existence of gay people. They feel that this knowledge will confuse their young minds. I ask you, after reading my story, would realizing that gay people existed have helped make me less confused? I think so. Another ridiculous argument is that making children aware that gay people exist, will make them gay. Completely Absurd. I didn’t know that gay people existed and I still turned out gay. Knowing that straight people exist certainly didn’t make me straight.
Knowledge can only help children to be more informed about the world they live in. So if one day they look around and realize that they do not fit into the small, cookie cutter, societal norms that surround them, they are not filled with fear but with a feeling of possibility and liberation. Romantic crushes happen to us all. It is a part of growing up. I’m just glad I finally realize that my forth grade crush on Bruno was just as meaningful and important as the crushes that every straight, little boy in my elementary school was feeling. I hope one day all LGBTQ children feel just as validated immediately, right from the start, from the first moment they notice the way that handsome boy stands, with his gold Italian horn, and his amazing smile…