“I’m gay,” I said.
Adam’s smile faltered as we continued to walk down the street. “Wait, you mean bisexual, right?”
I frowned slightly. “Nope, I meant what I said.”
There was an awkward pause between us, the first of many. The air was thick and the palm trees swayed slightly. The sun was blinding.
Adam broke the silence first. “Oh, well I’ve never had a gay friend before. I guess you’re the first. Yeah, I’m completely fine with the gay thing.” (Important note from the author: he was not completely fine with the gay thing.)
It was only a few days after our first real conversation when I heard the rumors that he liked me. It started with the freshman class that he was a part of. Then, it spread to the sophomore class I was in at the time. It wasn’t long until seniors would wave at me in the hallways then whisper to each other.
At first, the rumors were laughable. I had come out to some friends and family back in my home state only a couple of months ago with nothing but positive reactions. They accepted me, but I’m not sure I was too accepting of myself.
When I was 14, I was uncomfortable being gay. It was unexplored territory. I lived in a small town in California where That Word was a vile insult used daily. Hate crimes weren’t unheard of and a lot of students and teachers alike wouldn’t even say That Word aloud. Many students were still proud of their identity, but I was not one of them.
It wasn’t long before I fell back into my old heterosexual habits.
In August, Adam and I went from being friends to being boyfriend and girlfriend. It was safe and familiar. From the outside, it also had a great effect on my life. My stepmom was ecstatic when I told her about Adam over the phone. My mom was wildly confused at first, but grew to tolerate him. At school, I went from eating alone at lunch to eating with Adam at a different table everyday. The staff and students alike gushed at what a cute couple we made.
Focusing on Adam himself, he wasn’t a bad guy at all. He was tall and looked like a younger version of Usher. He was a classy gentleman, always wearing a sweater vest and loafers and holding the door open for me. He even drove a cherry red moped to and from school. His family was well off and his dad owned a business that sold custom hoverboards. (Trust me, the whole custom hoverboard thing was the epitome of coolness when I was in tenth grade.)
Adam and I had a golden relationship until both of our true colors began to show.
It was November. I sat at lunch with Adam and a table of his friends, and the one sitting across from us was talking about his weekend. I wasn’t listening though. A girl was walking towards the main office. She was a student in the school’s alternative program and only came on campus once every few weeks. She was stunning. The makeup she had on made her skin glow and she walked in a way that radiated confidence, one high heeled foot in front of the other. Her long hair flew behind her and into the sunlight, making it look like auburn with a golden undertone.
I didn’t get to admire much more because Adam’s friend threw a balled up napkin at me.
“Are you just gonna let Adam check her out,” he asked as he gestured at the golden-haired girl I had been in the middle of checking out myself. “I’d be angry if I were you.”
“Sorry, she was cute,” Adam mumbled as he bit into a chicken sandwich.
I wasn’t angry at all but I wanted to look normal to his friends so I put on a straight face.
“So you think she’s cute, huh,” I said indignantly with my hand on my hip to top it all off. The table went quiet.
“God, you’re so insecure!” Adam threw down his chicken sandwich so hard the top bun bounced off. He walked away to play football with his friends. I desperately wanted to call out to him or anybody, “No, I’m just very gay!”
Yet I remained silent with the rest of the table.
The year went by and soon it was January. My relationship with Adam was doing fantastic because we had an unspoken deal. I would ignore the obvious fact that he was cheating on me and he would let me continue enjoying the popularity that came with dating him.
It was “twin day” at school and he had brought me one of his sweater vests to wear. It was blue and beige with a crisp white dress shirt underneath. I paired it with black pants and oxfords to match him. My hair was slicked back into a bun and I didn’t have time that morning to put any makeup on. I also didn’t have the time to change into my normal clothes before I went home and had to go to the store with my mom.
I felt uncomfortable being in public and not looking as feminine as I usually did. As I walked up the street, I made eye contact with a girl waiting for the bus. Her blonde hair was in a ponytail and she was also dressed in men’s clothes. A backpack sat on the bench next to her covered in various pins and patches. She smiled at me and I put my head down, feeling strange in my sweater vest.
When my mom and I got in the store, she said something that surprised me.
“Did you see that girl checking you out as she was waiting for the bus,” my mom asked as she picked up a can of beans.
“Mom! She wasn’t looking at me like that. Was she?”
“She definitely was,” my mom said. “But nevermind, forget I said anything.”
I was in shock. I don’t quite know why the idea of a girl checking me out felt so revolutionary. I simply had never thought about that being able to happen. I suppose I had always viewed my sexual orientation like a one sided mirror, as if no other girl could see me glancing from the other side. I realized that just like Adam looked at me and pursued me, I could do that too.
I realized I didn’t have to settle for dating a guy.
I immediately knew I needed to break up with Adam, but I didn’t know how.
Two months later, I no longer needed to worry how. Adam opened the door for me one last time and sat me down on a bench. He couldn’t say the words aloud so he typed the message on his phone and slid it over for me to read.
I think we should break up.
I quickly put my head down on the lunch table and covered my face with my hands.
“I know you’re going to miss me,” Adam said sadly. “I know how hard this is.”
He continued to comfort me until the bell rang for first period. Once he was out of sight, I put my head up and let myself smile. I had been smiling since the moment I saw the message and just didn’t want Adam to see. I was happy to be free from the relationship I felt pressured to be in from the beginning.
Admittedly, I cried in a bathroom stall five minutes later. I didn’t miss him, but I knew I would miss the safety of being in a straight relationship. I was scared. Would my friends choose sides? Would I have to eat alone again? Who would help me deal with what was beyond my one sided mirror? Who would hold that door open for me?
It’s been two years since that day at the lunch table. I can’t say I haven’t struggled with my identity, but I can proudly say I haven’t dated an Usher lookalike who sells hoverboards since then. Even on the worst of days, I know who I really am.
I no longer exist in a space where I need a boy to hold the door open for me in the name of chivalry.
I open the door for myself nowadays.
Yasmine Duncan is an emerging young writer from the Pittsburgh area.