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Identification of Self as a Queer Boy    

Identification of Self as a Queer Boy

Art by FISK

By Sam Culp 

Identification of self as a queer boy, being born and raised in rural Ohio, came to fruition via several turbulent waves, through endless battles with society, my Self, God, and the Church. There were moments of grasping pain, lifting joy, destructive anxiety, and utter clarity.

I came out of the womb queer,  blue eyes and jet black hair out to meet the world. Always the gentlest boy in the village, I had an affinity for my mom and my Mammaw, the latter of whom who always caught the classic hetero-Midwestern flack for “molding me” into a homosexual with her antics and protective affection. I wore her heels to the grocery store and she let me cry whenever I felt like it.  All of this was to the chagrin of my father, who I would later find out knew that I was gay at this time. 

I had little time for societal norms. I loved to perform in dance and fashion shows with my sister, dressing in drag to mimic my Aunt Mary, and belting out Britney. Sports were of little interest to me, and I despised the arbitrary belief that I must be involved, even at the age of four. 

The societal norms I did take to were centered around kindness and love, the ones taught to me by my community and the Baptist Church.  I felt safe and loved within the congregation. My photographic memory served me well to earn endless badges for memorizing passages, and I set the church record for fastest recitation of the books of the Old & New testaments. With two parents that grew up in the village, one a well known-teacher, everyone in town knew me. 

Things started to change around age ten. I began to hunt with my father and grew closer with him. On our rides to soccer practice or the grocery store, conservative talk radio would play. I came to hear about the gay community for the first time, outside of random sprinklings of condemnation from my pastors, through the vitriolic rants of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Neil Bortz. All of their beliefs were backed by my family. 

At age ten, I searched “boys making out” on YouTube for the first time. Guilt, fear, and excitement rained over me. Concurrently, everyone in my life seemed to catch on that I was different. The keen perception of the other boys at that age is something I will never forget. I was called faggot for the first time on my trampoline; despite never hearing it before, my body knew exactly what it meant. A need for survival told me I could pray the gay away.  I began to burrow myself deeper into religion and joined Mammaw at her Southern Baptist church in the next town over. 

Two servings of fire and brimstone a week. The pastor saw right through me and my striped Abercrombie & Fitch button-down. When the sermon touched on the bestiality of homosexuality, I’d dip my eyes down at my Bible and feel the gaze of Pastor Keen burning through my being. One night a guest preacher came and screamed to the crowd that the U.S. was losing two wars, one in the Middle East to Al-Qaeda and another one at home “to the homosexuals.” At age eleven, I was carrying the weight of eternal damnation and separation from my family, with the memories of strutting around the grocery store in velvet green heels haunting me. I was living in terror at the church and outside of it. 

 At the end of my sixth-grade play, I quit theater at the advice of my father. The other kids would think I was gay if I continued, he said. The same year, the bullying started. I was outed every week by the jeers of classmates and the first boy I liked. God and conservative theory became my beard, and I prayed to them both that my yearning for other boys would pass.  At lunch and recess, I would listen to Rush Limbaugh on my Sony Ericson. When I got home, I would turn on Fox at four with Neil Cavuto, watchthrough The O’Reilly Factor and into Hannity & Colmes at ten. Whenever a gay couple was depicted on TV, it would be met with audible disgust by my parents and a change of the channel.

The following years of adolescence were marked with unending anxiety. I developed a gastrointestinal disorder from it that had me vomiting every day. I bought heavily into capital-M masculinity where I could, getting more involved in sports and hunting with my father. I espoused my conservative doctrine whenever I could,  condemning the gay community and all that it stood for.  By portraying this false self, I felt alone in a village of 3,000 people, and in the entirety of the world. 

Music and art were my only true reprieve and connection to my true self that I had. My trauma manifested itself in every song I listened to. “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon & Garfunkel played incessantly, as the larger ethos of sexual scandal being made public struck a nerve. Tears welled up in my eyes at the lyric “Laugh about it, shout about it / When you’ve got to choose / Everyway you look at it you lose.” My fear of Hell was mixed with the fear of losing the community that loved me so much. At the same time, I would secretly croon “Cowboy Take Me Away” by the Chix, dreaming of the man that would one day sweep me off my feet. 

In 2009, I discovered a man that would come to save my life on multiple occasions. I had known of Elton John, but not until reading the blessing that is the “Personal Life” section of Wikipedia did I know he was gay. The concept that a celebrity in the ‘70s could have been so publicly known, yet so queer, changed my outlook. An obsession began and down this rabbit hole I came to understand how many queers were in the music industry: Little Richard, Bronski Beat, Dusty Springfield, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie. The entire gay history of disco. Then it was down another rabbit hole to find out about great queer artists like Haring, Leibovitz, and Warhol as well. Hours spent reading and studying these icons led me to study the struggle of the Queer community in the U.S. and a new light was lit inside of me that brought my childhood struggle to a climax. 

While I was in high school, my sister went off to college in Columbus, Ohio, and began to liberalize. Although publicly I was not showing that my facade was breaking down, her transformation internally chipped at my backing. I openly went to Gaga’s Monster Ball, adorned in a gold jaw piece matching her lover in the “Bad Romance” video. In the four hours spent gallivanting with 10,000 Little Monsters, I felt my first hint of liberation. In my senior year, the fact that I was gay became undeniable to myself. I began finding other gay boys on Instagram and forging friendships and an online relationship with a boy named Ben. 

Resentment for the trauma that the church caused me began to boil. The words on Fox News and on talk radio pierced me, but still resonated with my internalized homophobia. Every day seemed like an eternity in my village and I longed for the day I could escape to the city. My relationship became strained with my family from both my yearning to leave and the realization that my queerness had been on the table for my entire life. 

Nevertheless, my outward-facing self remained in the masculine conservative mold I had created. I carried this identity with me to college at Ohio State, telling all my new friends that I was straight. On off-nights, I would sneak away to the Short North and run around the gay bars. I found myself immersed in a new world and dove in. My first drag show, my first real kiss. The nights would always be from a dream, the mornings more like a nightmare. In the light of day, the memories of Pastor Keen flashed back, while the disappointment of proving my bullies “right” and the thought of losing the love of Mammaw destroyed me.

My sophomore year brought an inward loneliness and separation from most of my friends. I found solace in studying the Beat generation and the seeds of American counterculture. A wannabe-Kerouac, I spent the following summer flying and driving across the country to explore the queer corners of the US. With the power of anonymity, I was free to be my true self at every destination, from singing with drag queens in DC to square dancing with boys in cowboy boots to Nicki Minaj in Phoenix. I walked down the streets of NYC holding hands with the boy I was seeing and on our trip to Coney Island, I laid on his thigh in front of everyone on the train. With the sun beating down on me and my head rocking in his lap,  I had never felt more like myself in my entire life. 

It was in this moment I came to realize the resentment that I held was not for my queer self, but the contrived persona that I had been sharing my energy with. The shame and guilt started to fall away. The harmful and hateful beliefs that I had been carrying were not mine. I had always been the gentle, loving boy from the village. I had always been my true self at my core – and this true self had carried itself through Hell and back. 

Sitting here now, looking at the beautiful life I am living, I am at peace with my journey. With who I was, and who I was not. Every day is a test to understand yourself, and to advance the truest version of yourself. It is so often said that queer people have an innate understanding of their being because of the various trials they have overcome, and today I know that to be true. 

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