As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to notice my friendship pool shrink in small but mighty increments. Not because I’ve cut people out of my life or they’ve tossed me aside like yesterday’s Kardashian headline. But because death is a cruel and unforgiving mistress. I’m 31, and it is the most confusing time. I’m too old to act like I did in my 20s, a spoiled, testy, naive brat (with a mental illness, to boot)⎯and I’m too young to pretend I know anything and everything about the world. Within those parameters, just out of my uneven, troubled youth, I’ve grown into a man I unhealthily hope my dad is proud of⎯as he looks on from some after-life waiting room, decorated in far too much camouflage and deer statuettes and greatly lacking in plastic bottles of Mountain Dew. His death in 2014 was just the beginning.
Over the past two months, two incredibly rare and electric individuals have also been ripped from this earth, their mortal coils decaying into dirt once again. One 44. The other 25. And I can’t deny how much hurt is coursing through my bloodstream right now. There are things I wish I would have done differently; and there are things I wish I wouldn’t have done at all. And as much as I don’t want to admit it, I deal in regret on a daily basis. I shouldn’t…but I do.
I remain here. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I must carry that. Knowing I’m still here and their shadows are fading on the sidewalk, which crumbles every time I pass by. Their resting places quaking under my foot. I don’t know what’s on the other side, but I know they know it was all worth it. Because they lived. They scoured the earth for some higher feeling, whether that was through the next quick fix, their sheepish, child-like grins or in the way they were ever-present in their skin. They weren’t scared. They were fearless. In this life, you get what you give. And they gave it their all. Damn it.
That’s not the point of this tale⎯but it helped lead me here. I want what they had: freedom to be and own who I was. When actress, director, champion, activist and all-around badass Natalie Morales wrote her poignant coming out story last month, my heart throbbed in my throat. I was choking on the things I lied to myself about. I couldn’t breathe, and I knew I had to face my own personal truths, somethings I had ignored or wanted to forget, hidden behind labels and my own distorted and misplaced insecurities. I was caught with the devil himself pressing his fists down hard onto my chest.
I identified as cis homosexual for a little over 11 years. Coming from a small farming community in rural West Virginia, you learn to suffocate those parts of yourself that are different or, at the very least, throw down some misinterpreted Bible verses as a shoddy paint job and move on. When I first came out in 2006, I was studying acting at West Virginia University. It was my first exposure to any kind of diversity, from students of color to bisexuals and homosexual men and women. Theatre is naturally liberal, so I felt at home for the first time in my life. The “cis homosexual” label felt right at the time. But I knew there was something else going on in my mind, just below the surface. I mean, I fucking lived it every single day. I was me but not me all at the same time.
Like I had done for 20 years, I just bottled it up. And now, it’s time for me to finish my story.
I liked to smear on lipstick by the time I was 5. Corvette red, thank you very much. The rustle of chiffon, the smell of Aqua Net and the feeling of teetering around in high heels gave me such a thrill. There’s a photo of my sister Katrina and I floating around somewhere⎯we’re both done-up like two cool chicks from the ’80s, my hand on my hip, sass for days and bright red smudged all over our faces. We’re holding a sign which read: “Don’t hate us because we’re beautiful.” And it’s true. That’s stuck with me for my entire life. I barely remember the day itself, but that photo is burned on my memory⎯and it aptly defines who I truly am. It was so innocent. I was not yet jaded by the world, unscarred by the many tragedies and sexual abuse which would soon befallen me (bombshell No. 1). I was free to be who I needed to be, and my sister knew that. “I always knew you were gay,” she later told me when I came out decades later.
During the summer of 2006, I had my first boyfriend and lost my virginity. I still cherish it, even if the guy turned out to be a total dick wad. When I returned to college that fall, all my friends and close acquaintances were shook, so to speak. But they all accepted it as fact, loved me even more for it and dared anyone challenge it. It was liberating and felt like I was finally⎯finally⎯coming into my own. During the next two seasons of Halloween parties, I took home my fair share of “trophies” for Best Female Costume; once for a Lady Luck costume complete with a neckless made out of furry dice and another as the Queen of Hearts in thigh-high, yes corvette red, boots. There’s photo evidence to prove it, too…somewhere on Facebook, I think. But things aren’t exactly as they seem, are they?
First off, I am not transgender, although I did question it after seeing The Danish Girl back in 2015. When Eddie Redmayne’s Einar Wegener pulled the elegant gown of his then-girlfriend closer to his chest, the look on his face struck me, profoundly. That same vigor shoots through my skin and bone, too. Those glimpses of femininity are the life-blood of my human fibers, and it goes much deeper than you could ever possibly imagine. There was once a point I thought I was legitimately insane and needed committed to a mental ward, destined to be that guy in the corner mumbling to himself with a hairbrush in one hand.
All while I was coming to terms with my sexuality, from skipping around in dresses and women’s skirts as a kid to identifying as a cis homosexual in 2006 to severely questioning my core identity in 2017, I was living a double life. There’s another person living inside of me. Well, two people, really. There’s Jason, as you everyone knows him, the boy in these photos who has a cat named Jake, adores Parks & Rec, eats way too much ice cream and chugs merlot by the gallon⎯and then there’s Britney. She is me, and she definitely partakes in the wine drinking, too. I can’t even remember when she first emerged. The earliest I can recall, I was hitting puberty. I must have been around 10. And Britney popped into my mind. Jason and Britney are never present at the same time, though. Some days, Britney is throwing sass around in shady tweets and posts, and other days, Jason is calm and collected. She’s inspired by Britney Spears, of course, who happened to splash onto the scene at an incredibly transformative time in my life and puberty was hitting me like a ton of bricks. I was experiencing everything a male undergoes at that age: the exponential hair growth, the changing voice, new sexual energy. That’s when I knew I was different.
So, what does all this mean?
Well, I am genderqueer. Non-binary. I am both male and female (bombshell No.2). I am also androsexual, attracted to males and masculinity. There are vast resources out there for you to peruse, process and understand. Google is your friend, my friend. And this changes very little about who I am, but I am free, light as a bird soaring overhead into the rosy sunset. This is me. Hi, me!
Oh, for the record: I prefer the ze/zir pronouns, but I won’t be offended if you continue to use he/him.
Let’s make this life a good one, yeah? Because I sure am.