Soon as we step into the high-ceilinged red-carpeted lobby my pulse quickens, breathing goes shallow. I might have walked smack dab into a scene from a gay sexual fantasy. I want to stay and watch. I doubt I’m allowed. I don’t know what to do with myself, where to look, how to appear nonchalant.
“Don’t be shy, gentlemen.” She slides a finger down my arm. “Come join the pah-ty.”
Egads. That’s exactly what I want to do. Well, not exactly. What I want to do is carry off the blond with the dreamy eyes, hear him say “Sir, yes, Sir.” I want to lick the finely sculpted chest of the dark-haired man with the bright smile. I want to feast my eyes on each and every one of these men without appearing to do so. I want very much not to drool down the front of my blue sweater. I wish I felt more comfortable with myself.
Although it’s late, we’re early. Show time is 11:00 p.m., an anomaly for our sleepy midwestern burg. Decent folks are abed by then. Maybe that’s the point. This is a burlesque show, a one-night-only benefit performance for the civic theatre. All-volunteer cast. And what sexy volunteers.
Probably I’m gawking. I do that sort of thing. Dave quietly suggests we go in and sit down. I follow his lead. At least my sweater will stay dry.
We find seats before the auditorium fills. As I scan the largely college-age crowd, Dave leans my way and says, "What strikes me is how comfortable they are with themselves. With their bodies. And at their age. Can you imagine? Maybe we could just forget our pasts."
His words land like a hypodermic needle, slip in under my skin. I’ll think about them for days to come. At the moment, I nod. "Maybe we could. And why not? After all, I'm the one who lugs my past around with me. Who else in the whole world really cares that I drag it along? What if we created new histories for ourselves?"
The lights dim, the show begins. Song, dance, show tunes, strip tease. Most of the performers are university students.
If I were to fashion a new history for myself, it would be like those I imagine I see unfolding on stage. Young people at home in their own skins, able and willing to cut loose, have a good time for a good cause.
That would be me with the new past I envision for myself. In this new history, I grew up embracing my sexual orientation, affirmed and supported in being myself. I now fully inhabit my body, celebrate my sexual self.
This new me walks taller, feels more confident, more self-assured, welcome in the world. Is more decisive, focused, more of service to others. More healthy in myriad ways.
Imagination is a wonderful thing.
And I’ll count it wonderful if today’s lgbt youth grow up accepting themselves, live into a world that values diversity. It’ll make a big difference for us all.
We’re not there yet.
I’m surprised that tonight’s show includes so few overtly gay-themed routines. Surely the performers chose which acts they wanted to audition. Yet most selected numbers that reenforce traditional heterosexual mores. Maybe I give these young people more credit for being self-accepting, self-celebrating than they are. More to the point, I can work on these issues myself, not shunt them onto others. If I can’t redress my past, I can start reshaping my present and future self. It’s time to take off.
This essay appeared in the November edition of The Community Letter