I Hate Kitchens - A Young Woman Tells a Gay Love Story (Gay Short Stories)
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No one else could recognize it as a smile, but I know. Her eyelids are raised, lips slightly curled at the edges, her thumb grazing her chin. I cock my head to the side and pretend to be interested in a box of Corn Flakes selling for thirteen dollars. I smooth one eyebrow and draw my finger down my cheek. This is my way of smiling at her, telling her that I wish I could touch her face, hold her hand as we shop, whisper futile fantasies of what we wish was but cannot be.
Slowly, I move toward her, ignoring the bony elbows, gaunt faces, tired old women sucking their lips. My heart pounds and with each step, the sharp twinge between my thighs melts into a gentle throb. I should stay away, but I am feeling rebellious today. I enjoy torturing myself with this dance of being so close yet so far. When I am finally next to her, I carefully inspect a handful of patterned beads with my left hand, my right loosely by my side, two fingers reaching toward the worn pink fabric of her dress, one of only three she owns.
She leans into me and I can feel the light pressure of her thigh against my finger, her bare arm against mine. She turns and I can feel her staring at me.
I force myself to look forward but it feels like she is reaching inside my body with her eyes, reaching past skin, bone, and blood to my heart. I slide my fingers upward, along the round edges of her hip to her waist. In another time, or another place, or if I were another person, I would stand behind her, graze the back of her neck with my lips.
I would wrap my arms around her for a moment of comfort before taking her hand to continue strolling through the market. But since we are here and now, I step away as I notice a group of young, angry men walking toward us. I doubt that there is any particular reason for their anger. It is the anger that most men feel these days; they are angry about their impotence and their desires and their reality. It is an anger we all feel.
But it is an anger only men can freely express. I start walking in the other direction and though I want to turn around and whisper I love you, I keep walking. We are less than shadows, more than ghosts. We are the women people ignore because two women loving each other is an American thing — not the sort of behavior god-fearing island folk would engage in.
There are a few people who live openly, men mostly, artists who are indulged in their bright-colored sashaying about town because their work is so brilliant. But even they meet with contempt now and then; an insult hurled here, a sharp rock thrown there. And when they get sick, they are greeted with smug smiles, a harsh reminder of all good things, as their bodies waste to nothing. It was late at night and we met in the dark shadows between our houses. Our mothers were asleep; our neighbors were asleep. It was a moment when we were the only two women in the world and we felt a certain freedom — a freedom to do as we pleased.
Even beneath the cover of night it was so hot that we were sweating.
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There are nights in Haiti when it feels possible that the moon burns just as hot as the sun. She was wearing a T-shirt and worn sandals.
I was wearing my housecoat, the top three buttons open. I ran my tongue from the tip of her chin to the hollow just beneath her throat. I tasted the salt of sweat and could feel her breath humming just beneath the surface of her skin. We said nothing, but there was no need for words.
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Everything that could possibly be said had already been spoken between us over the course of so many years. She clasped the back of my neck and lifted my head, bringing my lips to hers and she kissed me so hard, I imagined she could swallow me whole. Our lips were so dry and cracked I tasted blood. My tongue pushed past her lips, running over the sharp edges of her teeth, meeting with hers. And then she pushed me lower, pulling her T-shirt over her narrow shoulders. I took her breasts into my hands, and the soft mounds of flesh spilled through my fingers.
The earth beneath our bodies was warm, inviting, generous. And then, we heard a gasp, and I knew if I moved, my heart would fall from my chest and into the ground. I knew all my fears were about to come to pass. I have had many such moments. Slowly, I turned my head and saw my mother beneath a thin shaft of moonlight, and the look on her face was so horrified, so distant, I hardly recognized her. She turned and walked away. The rum is watered down. We have to pay ten dollars to get in, and the entire time, we try and pretend we are in New York or Miami or Montreal, at a club with friends.
We try and show each other affection. On a strangely cool December evening not too long ago, a group of men, boys really, raided our private party. We could smell drink on them—we could smell hate. One of them, tall, fair-skinned with wide features, threw the stereo on the floor and began beating it with a baseball bat. But for some reason, the music played on. The air was filled with their taunts and the tinny of the music playing. For a moment, we froze, eleven of us, hoping our passivity would bring the moment to an end. And then we were running through the house and out the back door, away from that place.
I mourned for his pain. It was simply one more shame to bear. The same could be said for all of us. But we continued to meet, continued to defy the rules , because we knew that such stolen moments are the one small thing we have in this big, big world. When I arrive home, my mother is in bed asleep.
For the past several years, she has spent most of her time sleeping and her slumber is an understandable one. I stand in her doorway, listening to the sound of her breathing. It is shallow and timid. The wrinkles in her face are sharp. And to wake her would do just that. I see the pain in her face when she looks at me.
Love Narratively? So do we.
There are times when I think of settling down with a man, any man. It would please my mother to no end. In our lifetime, the gay community has made more progress on legal and social acceptance than any other demographic group in history. As recently as my own adolescence, gay marriage was a distant aspiration, something newspapers still put in scare quotes. Public support for gay marriage has climbed from 27 percent in to 61 percent in Gay people are now, depending on the study, between 2 and 10 times more likely than straight people to take their own lives. And just like the last epidemic we lived through, the trauma appears to be concentrated among men.
In a survey of gay men who recently arrived in New York City, three-quarters suffered from anxiety or depression, abused drugs or alcohol or were having risky sex—or some combination of the three. This feeling of emptiness, it turns out, is not just an American phenomenon.
All of these unbearable statistics lead to the same conclusion: It is still dangerously alienating to go through life as a man attracted to other men. The good news, though, is that epidemiologists and social scientists are closer than ever to understanding all the reasons why.
Travis Salway, a researcher with the BC Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver, has spent the last five years trying to figure out why gay men keep killing themselves. Salway grew up in Celina, Ohio, a rusting factory town of maybe 10, people, the kind of place, he says, where marriage competed with college for the year-olds. He got bullied for being gay before he even knew he was. He had a girlfriend through most of high school, and tried to avoid boys—both romantically and platonically—until he could get out of there.
By the late s, he was a social worker and epidemiologist and, like me, was struck by the growing distance between his straight and gay friends. He started to wonder if the story he had always heard about gay men and mental health was incomplete. Gay men were being kicked out of their own families, their love lives were illegal. Of course they had alarming rates of suicide and depression. And then he looked at the data. This might be the case in the U. We struggle to assert ourselves.
We replay our social failures on a loop. Since he looked into the data, Salway has started interviewing gay men who attempted suicide and survived.
The first time a man hurt me, I was 8. My story isn't unusual
If you stand up to your boss, or fail to, are you playing into stereotypes of women in the workplace? For gay people, the effect is magnified by the fact that our minority status is hidden. John Pachankis, a stress researcher at Yale, says the real damage gets done in the five or so years between realizing your sexuality and starting to tell other people. James, now a mostly-out year-old, tells me that in seventh grade, when he was a closeted year-old, a female classmate asked him what he thought about another girl.
Immediately, he says, he panicked. Did they tell anyone else I said it that way? This is how I spent my adolescence, too: being careful, slipping up, stressing out, overcompensating. Once, at a water park, one of my middle-school friends caught me staring at him as we waited for a slide. But he never brought it up. All the bullying took place in my head. But if you experience years and years of small stressors—little things where you think, Was that because of my sexuality?
Or, as Elder puts it, being in the closet is like someone having someone punch you lightly on the arm, over and over. Growing up gay, it seems, is bad for you in many of the same ways as growing up in extreme poverty.
A study found that gay people produce less cortisol, the hormone that regulates stress. In , researchers compared straight and gay teenagers on cardiovascular risk. Annesa Flentje, a stress researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, specializes in the effect of minority stress on gene expression.
Even Salway, who has devoted his career to understanding minority stress, says that there are days when he feels uncomfortable walking around Vancouver with his partner. Because while the first round of damage happens before we come out of the closet, the second, and maybe more severe, comes afterward.
No one ever told Adam not to act effeminate. But he, like me, like most of us, learned it somehow. My parents thought it was cute, so they took a video and showed it to my grandparents. When they all watched the tape, I hid behind the couch because I was so ashamed.
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I must have been six or seven. By the time he got to high school, Adam had learned to manage his mannerisms so well that no one suspected him of being gay. I had to operate in the world as a lone agent. He came out at 16, then graduated, then moved to San Francisco and started working in HIV prevention. That ended up being a crutch. He worked long hours. He would come home exhausted, smoke a little weed, pour a glass of red wine, then start scanning the hookup apps for someone to invite over.
Sometimes it would be two or three guys in a row. It went on like this for years. Last Thanksgiving, he was back home to visit his parents and felt a compulsive need to have sex because he was so stressed out. Before this, the longest he had ever gone was three or four days. It was a way of not dealing with my own life.
But over the last 10 years, what researchers have discovered is that the struggle to fit in only grows more intense. A study published in found that rates of anxiety and depression were higher in men who had recently come out than in men who were still closeted. But it was really horrifying. But I just felt like a piece of meat. It got so bad that I used to go to the grocery store that was 40 minutes away instead of the one that was 10 minutes away just because I was so afraid to walk down the gay street.
And then you realize that everyone else here has baggage, too. But that meanness is almost pathological. All of us were deeply confused or lying to ourselves for a good chunk of our adolescence. So we show other people what the world shows us, which is nastiness. Every gay man I know carries around a mental portfolio of all the shitty things other gay men have said and done to him. I arrived to a date once and the guy immediately stood up, said I was shorter than I looked in my pictures and left.
For other minority groups, living in a community with people like them is linked to lower rates of anxiety and depression. It helps to be close to people who instinctively understand you. But for us, the effect is the opposite. Several studies have found that living in gay neighborhoods predicts higher rates of risky sex and meth use and less time spent on other community activities like volunteering or playing sports.
A study suggested that gay men who were more linked to the gay community were less satisfied with their own romantic relationships. Rejection from other gay people, though, feels like losing your only way of making friends and finding love. Being pushed away from your own people hurts more because you need them more. The researchers I spoke to explained that gay guys inflict this kind of damage on each other for two main reasons. It has to be constantly enacted or defended or collected. We see this in studies: You can threaten masculinity among men and then look at the dumb things they do.
They show more aggressive posturing, they start taking financial risks, they want to punch things. This helps explain the pervasive stigma against feminine guys in the gay community. According to Dane Whicker, a clinical psychologist and researcher at Duke, most gay men report that they want to date someone masculine, and that they wished they acted more masculine themselves.
A two-year longitudinal study found that the longer gay men were out of the closet, the more likely they were to become versatile or tops. When he first came out, he was convinced that he was too skinny, too effeminate, that bottoms would think he was one of them. My boyfriend noticed recently that I still lower my voice an octave whenever I order drinks.
So, his sophomore year, he started watching his male teachers for their default positions, deliberately standing with his feet wide, his arms at his sides. These masculinity norms exert a toll on everyone, even their perpetrators. Feminine gay men are at higher risk of suicide, loneliness and mental illness. Masculine gay men, for their part, are more anxious, have more risky sex and use drugs and tobacco with greater frequency.
One study investigating why living in the gay community increases depression found that the effect only showed up in masculine gay guys. The second reason the gay community acts as a unique stressor on its members is not about why we reject each other, but how.
In the last 10 years, traditional gay spaces—bars, nightclubs, bathhouses—have begun to disappear, and have been replaced by social media.