I Am…

Describe something you learned in high school.

Here’s the link to the audio. You might have to download it into your own media player or the Mega app. SoundCloud wants me to pay because I “upload a lot,” and I get it. I just didn’t know the space limit was so incredibly low. I’m searching around for options, and most of them rely on using my desktop, of which I am not a fan… mostly because I’m not really using SoudCloud to increase the popularity of my blog. The audio is just a convenience.

High school is divided up for me in two segments. The first is that I spent my freshman and sophomore years at High School for Performing and Visual Arts as a trumpet player. The second is that my junior and senior years, I didn’t. I went to a regular American high school. I was still in the music program, though. My junior year I was in varsity choir and varsity band at the same time, the first in the history of the school to do so. I learned how to be in a marching band. My symphonic band was better than the one at ‘PVA (no judgment, it’s just true).

Then, my counselor suggested that I drop one of my music classes because if I took Microcomputer Applications, I could get what was called an “Advanced Diploma.” The band was gearing up to go on all these trips my family couldn’t afford, and it was an easy out to drop band because I knew I couldn’t sell enough fertilizer to pay my own way. Yes. Really. They asked us to sell shit to people.

I dropped choir because I didn’t like the new director coming in, because I knew other people that had her and it wasn’t my bag. I was not a “show choir” person. I do not think that if you can sing, you should automatically be capable of dance as well. I liked great repertory, and pop music wasn’t it (for me). If that sounds persnickety for a teenager, remember that I was a classically trained singer from being in an adult church choir since I was 13.

I didn’t care about Britney Spears. I loved Bach and it showed.

For the record, I care about Britney as a listener. She’s great. I just wouldn’t sing her stuff unless I was doing it as a joke, because I couldn’t pull it off where people would take it seriously. It’s a totally different type of training.

I think I’ve said before that Beyoncé left HSPVA because she didn’t want to be classically trained, and that I continue to be devastated that it did not work out for her. But same vibe, we’re just opposite. She didn’t want to learn everything I’d been taught about being able to blend into a choir, breath control specific to that kind of music, etc. It’s a lot. By the same token, I didn’t want to learn the proper breath control to sing whatever it is the Star Spangled Banner is now in professional football. Whitney Houston doing it in four was the high point. ::looks pointedly at other pop stars:: No one will ever be her, and I knew that I’d only be a cheap imitation. I don’t want that for me, or anyone else. Do what you do and make it count.

Since my dad had left the church, I also got a job in hopes of getting my own spending money. I was 16, so no one thought anything of screwing me over to save themselves, like making me pay things back when I was short on the register when they’d been stealing from the drawer. I’m bad at math, so of course it was all my fault when the drawer was missing $50 at the end of the night. Of course it should come out of my paycheck. It’s what a teenager owes a national corporation, right?

I would never sue them over lost wages, but I would get a kick out of it if they sent me a product and swag box if someone is reading who thinks such a thing could happen at the company. I once proposed to Zyrtec on Twitter and told them they were paying. Then, they later kidded me about forgetting our anniversary and I said, “how do you think I feel? You didn’t get me anything.” The proposal rocked, though….. that I had 99 problems but a itch ain’t one.

I worked for SuperCuts, and in this instance I am not talking about the company. I am talking about the sleight of hand with my own team, not every employee who ever worked there. I mean, I was great at my job in retrospect. They had me, so you’re definitely safe in giving them as much money as you want. I still look back on my time as magical because things that are commonplace today were introduced while I was an employee, most notably, American Crew (for which I am grateful… white people pomade). I think the Paul Mitchell Tea Tree line came out then, too, a total game changer. It was also amazing learning the jargon of how to tell people I want my hair cut so that there’s less room for a mistake.

It doesn’t always work, but it helps.

By the time I graduated from high school, I had set myself up for life in terms of my opinions on everything that is still true about me today. The only thing that’s changed is that I call myself out as I am, bisexual, instead of telling the world I’m a lesbian while not thinking that way, because that label wasn’t something I gave myself. I just have to be louder about being bisexual in a heterosexual relationship than I would if I was actively partnered with a woman, because you can see it with every kiss.

The one thing I didn’t see coming that I didn’t know I needed was dating a bisexual man. That way, we still have all the same cultural references, though I’m older and have more insurance. He doesn’t care whether I look high femme or butch because in one outing, we’d look depressingly heterosexual and in another, it’s a whole bear/twink mood without all the lights, drum & bass, and Ecstasy.

To stop joking, we’ve both been bullied for being queer. That trauma for him is a different playing field, because mine is rooted in embarrassment. I’m either gross and wrong or a plaything given to men, because why wouldn’t women being with women be nothing but a male fantasy? Why would women have agency in this society? Straight women don’t even have it.

Men harass me by seeing me with my then-wife (Kat, in this example) and asking us to kiss in front of them, or come home with us, or any number of things that hurt way more than they would have if it was original. Those examples aren’t all Kat, when it was 2000, or even Meag, when it was 1996. It’s all picking at the same scar every day of my life, because I heard about it before I experienced it. Being an empath made me experience that trauma before it was direct. I felt it on my skin when it happened to my friends.

For men, it’s horrible that they want to be female, their tormentors’ perception and not reality….. but seriously…. As if being female was the worst thing that could happen to a person…… hello…. All connected. Except men don’t stop with horrible comments with other men. It often leads to outright violence and death. I only say this because it happens to men more frequently, but violence against lesbians exists.

It’s a shared understanding, a shared library of images that create empathy. To me, it is especially important because the one thing I really hated about dating Matthew had nothing to do with him at all. It was gaining heterosexual privilege for the first time and rebelling against it hardcore. I remember one instance we’d gone to meet some of his friends, and someone did that thing where they looked around before they told a gay joke, and I wasn’t the picture of volatility you see here.

I said nothing, and just felt all of it. I know now that I should have ripped the dude a new one, but I didn’t want to upset the apple cart when I was meeting my boy’s friends the very first time. I was also like, 24, maybe 25. I was older than Matt, but still a child in my eyes now. I didn’t know what to do, and I was scared.

So now I can look at that and say I’m in a better place because Zac has probably been there. He’s just as out and proud as me. On Wednesday, I noticed right off that his nails were painted teal and he was wearing flowy pants. He’s the head of the queer group at his intelligence agency. I don’t know how he sees himself, but I see him as George Smiley if he had grown up like us. (Smiley is the protagonist in John Le Carre’s most famous series about MI-6.) I showed up in a black t-shirt, jeans, and tie-dyed pattern Crocs. I later put on a navy hoodie and my CIA baseball cap- some of you will remember that was a gift from Zac because he has the badge that allows you into Langley, but not the capability to escort visitors. I wear it almost every day like I’m pitching the afternoon game. Now do you see how we’ve inverted the binary? From the outside, I’m the butch and he’s the femme…. And no one would ever guess that we were into each other unless we weren’t holding hands or being cute to the point of nausea (our MO most of the time).

Editor’s Note: I learned that it was important on the train Thursday, when a young girl at the Franconia Springfield Metro said, “I want to be CIA, too.” I told her that I wasn’t CIA, I just had cool friends, and to call me when she got there. 😛

“Grown up like us” is emotional shorthand for Zac and I having to deal with the perils of being queer from a very, very young age. Zac entered the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” At the same time, I’m not dating a gay man and he’s not dating a lesbian just for kicks. We’re not playing at anything, just being the most authentic versions of ourselves.

I have always been that in some capacity, but I have graduated. You don’t learn that you are brave and unique until someone tells you. In the moment, you’re just doing what you have to do to survive.

In high school, I learned that I would HAVE TO be unique.

My freshman year, I told one person I was gay and by the end of the day, everyone knew. In retrospect, it was the best decision I ever made, because any bullying that came my way was tiresome. They couldn’t blackmail me anymore, and they couldn’t get away with anything more original because they weren’t that clever.

Because I was moving out of the gay neighborhood in Houston to a suburb where everyone knew each other, I went back in the closet…. To save my father’s job according to my mother. My father didn’t care. He knew me. We’d met. But guess which message I heard?

Being in the closet for a school year was amazing and gave me the worst panic attack of my life. Both of those things were true. I would not have wanted to miss the chance of being in marching band, would not have traded my conductors (Mr. Matysiak and Mrs. Bueller [really]) for anything in the world. I would never have wanted to miss learning that I was not only a singer, I was damn good at it. I stood on the shoulders of giants, and my mother accompanied me through it all, literally.

She played the piano for my solos no matter what she was doing, and in seventh and eighth grade, she played for all my friends, too. This was not a small feat, as most piano accompaniments for solos are orchestra reductions. So, my mom hurt me a lot, and she also came through in equal measure. Not only was the piano our lighthouse when we were ships passing in the night, she left it to me in her will. She didn’t give me a setting. She gave me the main character.

In terms of hurting me, all of the panic I’d been feeling that year came to a head when my senior best friend asked me to come with him to his prom. He was literally on the way to pick me up, my hair and makeup done to perfection, when I melted down physically. It caused a monster reaction, a rash, shortness of breath, everything- so the doc came over and gave me a shot of Depomedrol and off we went.

That was the first time that I learned everything can be fixed before school, you’re going. It only backfired once. I had the flu, and Tamiflu was YEARS ahead in the making. If it had, I would have been going to school without spreading it. To be perfectly fair, I’d woken up feeling a little miserable and bloomed at school. It wasn’t a big deal right up until it was.

Actually, that leads to a really funny story. One of our parishioners while I was at HSPVA was a Republican judge, so I went to their convention in like, ‘92, before they were complete nut jobs. While I was there, I bought a button down that was made of real American flag material, and the colors were very dark. It looked sharp…. Or so I thought. I was really sick on my birthday, and nothing would have stopped me from going to school that day in my new threads. I get there and first period was band…. And if Jack Lucas had been there, he would have been SO PROUD OF HIS STUDENTS.

Editor’s Note: I also went to St. Martin’s Episcopal as a teen, where I was unimpressed with President George H.W. Bush….. and thrilled to meet a former Director of CIA (of course). Therefore, it always thrills me that Jonna Mendez managed to fool him, because of course now I know we have mutual friends…. And I am laughing so hard that I can’t even breathe right now.

Those motherfuckers broke out in four part harmony, because they were musicians. They could sing their parts blind. Then, they get to “free,” and Dan Kovaly hits the fucking *cymbals.* I was just as self-deprecating then as I am now, so I thought it was absolutely hilarious while still mortifying. Later, my mom and dad brought me my favorite food, cherry chicken from Ruggles. We got to eat lunch together in the commons, and it was sad that there wasn’t a Happening that day.

Happenings at HSPVA are code for what would now be called a flash mob, probably. You never knew when they were coming, and it was always unique no matter which art area was on showcase. It’s one of the core memories that made me who I am.

Back in high school.


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