The Things I Wish I Could Tell You


Every time Pride rolls around, there are a lot of things that I wish I could tell you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a stranger on the street or a family member, I wish I could tell you all about how I’m one of the happy, fully formed gays. I wish I could tell you how good it feels to be bi and non-binary and all the words along the rainbow that I am. I want to sell you the idea that each year I feel more me. I want you to believe, as much as I want me to believe, that each year is growth and that my life is like a Pride commercial – all rainbows and upbeat indie jams.

I wish I could tell you that I love my queerness all the time. I wish I could say it doesn’t hurt so bad that I don’t want it sometimes. I wish I could be brave like I was as a boy with scraped knees, pretending nothing happened. I wish I could tell you that it doesn’t scare me. I wish I could tell you that I’m not so afraid sometimes that I forget who I am and what the image of me means to people I love. I want you to believe that I’ve conquered my queerness, that I’m not repressed. I want you to see me free of shackles, living vibrant and fabulous everyday. I don’t want you to know how many pieces of women’s clothes I’ve bought only to not wear because the fear hangs heavier than the fabric. I don’t want you to know how hard it is to rep and how weak I feel when I finally do it.

I wish I could tell you I was a committal queer, one of the fierce ones that’s better than their fears. I wish I could be as flamboyant as Liberace so at least I wouldn’t get side-eyed by both sides. I wish I could tell you that my whole existence was set and strong as the stones of a fortress and not fluid and wild as a river. I wish I could tell you what I am, was, and will be in simple words. In the darkest moments, I wish I could tell you it was all a phase and that every man in my bed was a happy accident.

I wish I could say the sunny things young queers could use to hear. I wish I could tell you that there were no nights where I cried, no nights where I wished it away, no nights where I looked at the thin lines of myself in a dark mirror and wondered who was there.

I wish that I could say I picked up all the beautiful things in femininity and left behind the toxic masculinity, that I’m the clean figure of androgyny. I wish I could tell you that no bad things come out the closet door when you open it. I wish I could tell you that all the pictures of gayness won’t make you feel fat when you’re skinny, ugly when you’re beautiful, scared when you’re safe. I wish so much that I could tell you how we leave every single hang up behind us when we step out of the closet.

I wish that I could tell you that I don’t understand why people like me die early, suicide or otherwise. I wish I could tell you that the thought of suicide has never crossed my mind. I wish I could tell you that thought of suicide hasn’t stopped in my mind, laid down roots, built a home, and spoken to me like a neighbor. I wish that I loved myself enough to never want dissolve in the middle of the dark night, molecules reassembled into a different, happier person. I wish I could tell you about the nights where I wish I had disappeared and the mornings where I was so happy that I was still here.

I wish I could tell you that gayness is easy. Hell, I wish I could tell you that it’s hard, but in some beautiful, self-sacrificial way that you could respect – that makes your kids and their kids and their kids fear it less.

What I can tell you is it’s hard in an ugly, real way. It’s hard in the way crying over something at night, by yourself is. It’s hard in the small, consistent ways that age your skin and organs. It’s hard in the boring, bitchy way that most adult things are. It’s hard like taxes, hard like career changes, hard like job applications, hard like sitting in line for food stamps, hard like holding shit together, hard like getting extra shit thrown into your lap that you have to deal with no matter how much other shit is already there. It’s not hard in a pretty, glitter-coated way. It’s not chasing a rainbow, at least not for me.

What I can tell you is that I’m not the loud, beautiful, strong queer you want me to be. I never was and I never will be. I wake up with not half the strength to fight like an icon or carry myself like a martyr. I wake up with just enough to drag myself through the hot June sun long enough that I can get my day done. I don’t wake up with enough to tackle all my thoughts. I wake up with enough to tackle about half of them in the dark before I go to bed and let the rest run wild in my dreams. I don’t wake up with enough to tackle the worlds problems, I wake up with enough to think about one issue and write about it in a few months.

What I can tell you is that all this struggle is what pride is for me. I can tell you that pride isn’t a parade, it’s a riot. Internally, externally, it’s one continuous struggle that you hope to get better at. It’s a battle that you can’t always win but you can lose at any point. I can tell you that it’s not pride for the queerness your given, it’s pride for the living with it. I can tell you I’m not proud of being bi or non-binary or anything else I had no role in picking. I’m proud of how I find peace and fulfillment within it when there’s cultural war all around it. I’m proud for thinking about suicide and choosing to stay alive. I can tell you that I don’t have enough to make that kind of pride shine like a pageant in summer, but I do have enough to keep it alive.

~Austin R Ryan

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Between Two Homes 5: Airplane Bathroom


It is a few hours into the flight and I’ve just woken up from a very fitful sleep. When I woke up everything in the airplane was gentle with the quiet shifts of people in light sleep and quiet engagements that cut small shadows out from the soft light. My head had ran up against the arm rest and mussed up my hair pretty badly. For a while I did not notice but eventually my hand ran through my hair and something did not feel right. In the reflection of my phone I saw the full damage and quickly decided to go to the airplane bathroom to fix it.

The plane had no turbulence and no one but some flight attendants were paying attention. It crossed my mind that I could maybe just pat or comb the hair down in my seat and not draw any attention, but I was bored. The airplane was dim, littered only with little movements, and my long arms wanted to yawn large out on the open of the dark blue aisle carpets. I pulled out a bag of product and swiftly slipped out from my seat and into the aisle. My eyes flickered toward the attendants and a few other sleepless people to see if I was being noticed. I clutched my bag tight. My memory is spotty and sometimes I think some people looked at me, but only in that passive way that people use to track some new motion – besides, I wondered why it mattered anyways that I caught any attention.

Hair is an odd thing. Recently I had got mine cut into a shape entirely new for me where the sides and back are short and the top is long meaning it requires some kind of product to maintain. I know that this is a pretty normal style but I have always cut my hair short then let it grow again. My hair is uncooperative generally, forcing itself to fall straight in one direction so that it sproings up against any product and challenges what I try to do with it so I was hesitant to have to make a working relationship with it where I actually asked something from it. Maybe two months prior I’d not known how to use hair gel and in the small space between then and now I’d had my eyebrows trimmed and a quick routine with hair wax down pat.

Hair is an odd thing because of how core it can be to identity. Even just a bit ago I’d had different standards for my hair; I hated for it to be dirty and coarse and generally wanted it hygienic and conditioned but I never dared step past cleaning; the path seemed treacherous and time-consuming – which at first it was. Now I was working with two tins of product and trying to make it stand in a way that wouldn’t hide my features and my hands plied fast to the management of the unruly strands. I dipped into one tin of styling clay meant to stem rebellion and swiftly after into another tin meant to style follicle society into something smooth moving and sweet smelling.

I used to simply not want another thing on my hands so I kept on an easy pattern with my hair that involved about as much laziness with comb as you could manage. To be fair, the adventure into styling is a bit risky and I feel unless you have the compliant wires of some kind of a celestial model shining in the disgustingly kempt way a distant star does you are bound to have a bad hair day at least once while learning the ropes. Hair products exist in plethoric abundance fit to all sorts of niches and designs. When you first wander into their aisles odd names strike out in italics laced fonts focus tested to get your attention – they say hello. You say hello back but it’s an abortive greeting – it is not exactly what you want to say! Who you are? What do the words on you mean to me? You’d ask all that but the words are upfront and ugly in front of pretty things.

At the start most folk only know about a sociable fellow named gel and that was my only point of contact too. Gel, if you’ve never made the acquaintance, is a nasty and formidable beast that can do perhaps more than you want it to – a creature that you know to seek out for the same reason others know to avoid and treat with caution. In my first reckoning with it I knew nothing of it but what it did to the aforementioned blazing celestial model bodies plastered on the packaging, so I smacked a dollop into my hair without even rolling it into a thin layer across my palms and fingers first; this is a recipe for disaster. I tried in earnest to spread the clear and heavy solution across the outer ends of my hair and lace it into something and it turned out a half-organized mess of lopsided strands hardened into odd directions. Only after a few hours eagerly listening to words of YouTube-based hair sages did I realize all the other strange materials you could spread in your hair – I picked up some conversation topics for when I returned to all the brand names; I knew how to cut the curves of the question marks so they were smooth. I realized there was a whole weird world outside of gel – which was good because even when spread right, my gel was a thick and all too forward kind of slime; even when my hair stood up just right, it felt wrong.

In the airport bathroom I felt confident in slicking the styling clays – that I’d come to know on my own and through mutuals – from root to tip across hairs and riding it all as it were a wave toward a tight end at the back of my head. In fact I had come to love the pure motion of it; there’s a pleasant smoothness to swishing all those individual threads into a single fabric with one loose pull toward an end. I’d always liked running a hand through my hair to feel the smooth sensation of several separate things entwining together and I had worried rightly gel wouldn’t allow that; gel does not allow it, but all the other shadowy figures and strange foreign names in the hair aisle do.

What still vexes me a bit is how I got here, to this conversation. It was a bit dizzying to jump from lowest effort hairstyles to one of these low cut back and side modern things that extend out from a wider whirl occurring deep beneath hair follicles. I could apply that same question to where I stand generally too. I’d picked up a lot of things I never worried about before – applying past hair; Collagen moisturizer for my dry shoulders that itch on winter nights showed up in my bathroom one day; right next to it a sleek and futuristic looking black and blue container repairs the damage done by facial cleansers and razors; my two blade razor had retired quietly and a fancy orange striped five blade one replaced it. Something behind all of these things felt curious and fun; I chased these things ultimately because I wanted to. Had I always wanted to? If so, what stopped me?

The chase at first felt a bit heavy, leaving dripping thoughts on the proper masculinity of moisturizers. Perhaps the roadblock was as plain as that. At this point I probably still give a damn how things seems, but a sizably smaller damn than I used to give; why not look the cashier in the eyes while I buy two flavored lip balms? What’s there that I can dodge? Would I dodge it by getting a ChapStick with MEN plastered all over it? That’s entirely more homoerotic… I had one of those flavored lip balms in my hand now and applied it easy, in that same smooth motion of pulling hair into place. The moisturized feeling is plenty fine and so is the shine that comes around the lips.

So how did that barrier go down? Masculinity is a tricky thing to wrangle. It’ll kill you if you aren’t stern and careful with it; I am genuine – it has sharp and phallic horns that penetrate and gore. My bisexuality’s a generic answer but not one I discredit; I can’t deny trends began changing when I started stating plainly to myself and others that I liked sex with men; first I stated that to myself and then spread the news from there where it felt natural – or just awkwardly obligated. There’s a bundle of nerves and oddness that goes in taking on that identity and it’s a bundle I’ll write on when I’ve untangled it (hey – maybe never). Even now it feels a little foreign to claim it – a social contact I definitely know but can’t quite tell what to call when I cross it on the corner. No matter how many alternating romantic fantasies of each gender I indulge, no matter how it goes in reality, it feels in an instant I could fall to either side of the line. After tipping over to a side I’d regret ever saying I straddled the middle line as I fed old sayings I’d heard: “rooting for the other team” “looking for attention,” etc. It is all tired words that make me tired too. Well, one thing I can say early was that something about slipping on the moniker made adding some trappings that went with it easier.

Adding the trappings was a somewhat unconscious action with only correlating relationships, which makes the precision of it harder to detect. I asked a gay friend why men put on the kind of lispy affectation – the stereotyped gay voice – and he said he didn’t really know. Now that I stood with an I-give-a-shit hairstyle and clothes that I had selected based on whether they actually match, I couldn’t say why any bit of gayness made that – or the pairs of paints that fit slicker to the long slimness of my legs – more compelling. Maybe it was always compelling but now it was easier to admit and become swallowed up in; maybe it was not even fair to lay it out in that way, with that kind of question to him or to myself. There is nothing inherently homosexual in a sleek and clean of a tight-fit image. All I could really say was that I made changes out of enjoyment, a sort of fullness of embracing outer as well as inner and I want to make more changes as the same enjoyment arises.

As I sized myself up and smoothed out my shirt so it could get crumpled up against the airplane’s seats again, I’d remembered what my Mom said. When friends asked about the new style or when I told it, I’d often blame it on the bisexuality. Only my Mom challenged that laziness in slipping into a generic thought. “It is also because you are growing up.” She said. And I realized how my haircut resembled my Dad’s, how he’d apply ChapStick in the car, or even employ a mouth spray; I remembered buying him cologne one holiday – though that’s always been a masculine read for perfume. If all this primping existed as a manly thing to hover inevitably toward, why did it feel so disguised? Was it just me missing the new issues of GQ? Maybe the memo was there in my inbox and I just never read it. It is obvious now as I grow up that apathy’s a great path to a crap end and you ought to put your image together for yourself if no one else; I am not exactly sure why it wasn’t obvious then.

Stepping out of the airport bathroom into the quiet airplane I felt unsure of exactly how I arrived at the conversation I was having but I felt as sure as ever of what I was saying. With my black flip comb stuffed neat in my pocket and a hand running along the swivel in my hair. At the end it boils down to the feeling of dragging all those hairs together, patching all that dry skin into one smooth surface – a feeling I like. In the end it is just the look and feel of things in the odd low-light glow of a sleepy international flight.

~Austin R Ryan