Pride was never about labels nor an obligation to define oneself. In the age of the internet, where everything and everyone is connected and boundaries are more often than not violently trespassed, it is sometimes easy to let ourselves forget that. I hope today’s Pride Nights at Queen’s post, written by author C.M. Caplan, helps you realize the vastness of the queer experience, and somehow inspires you, whether you relate to it or not, to uphold the tenets of Pride: multitude, acceptance —especially— of the unfamiliar, respect.
C.M. CAPLAN IS the author of The Sword in the Street. He’s a quadruplet (yes, really), mentally disabled, and he spent two years as the Senior Fiction Editor on a national magazine – while he was still an undergrad in college. He has a degree in creative writing from Salem State University and was the recipient of the university’s highest honor in the arts. His short fiction also won an Honorable Mention in the 2019 Writers of the Future Contest. Caplan’s introduction to fantasy came through J. R. R. Tolkien and George R. R. Martin. He has a tattoo that roughly translates to Valar Morghulis, as written in Tolkien’s Elvish script, in an acknowledgment of that fact. He currently lives in New England and is writing his next book. If you enjoy his work you can rate it on Goodreads or Amazon.
“What if I’m attracted to men? I think I might be.” I am saddled in the back of a gray van in the summer, early 2000s, when I say this.
The broken air conditioning and a family member both wheeze hot air, mechanical half-syllables stuttering their way out of the throat. Eventually, one of them comes to grips. Finds something to say—and as we stew in the soupy summer oven, they get it out. “Connor. Come on. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I know you. You’re not.”
“I have thoughts,” I say. “I think about it sometimes.” But I have reached age eleven—that magical time when OCD tightens its fist around the mind, vexing the vectors of my concentration with unwanted images of genital mutilation that I’ve asked adults around me to put me in a mental hospital for. I am under the mistaken belief that the Saw-Movie-Dreamscapes of concepts adults have only just begun to explain will go away with the right lab coat watching over me. Some guardian angel hanging on by a stethoscope.
The family member knows this. “You’ve told me the thoughts you have. Remember what the doctor told you. They’re not reflective of anything you’d actually want to do. Just because you get them doesn’t mean you’re not attracted to women.”
I stumble on this sometimes—how did we get here, I wonder? I don’t remember ever saying otherwise. But the conversation’s over. No debate, no time to think. I barely notice the second thoughts that take up residence in the unexamined haunts of my subconscious.
I will learn to evict them eventually. But it will take over a decade to learn they’re there.
The subject does not even merit my attention again until age sixteen.
* * *
“Come on. You’re at least bi. We talk about cute boys all the time.” My friend fixes my attention on the subject as we sit outside one early summer lunchtime, a few weeks before the end of the school year. The death of May is near, and the calendar is prepared to vomit up what is, in my sixteen year old mind, a confused slurry of half-memorized acronyms whose meanings are as yet still murky to me. The only accessible definitions are doled out in dry, alienating, utterly academic language that I’ve not time for. I have other things on my mind.
That’s what I tell myself. “I can appreciate aesthetic attraction without being gay.”
My friend fusses with the scarf I’ve stolen from her. Purple and gray and, evidently, evidence. “You steal accessories from me all the time.”
Her muddled meanings make for hazy implications. I can’t follow the pattern of her thinking. “That’s for fun. Why would that be sexual? You’re my friend.”
“I just think you act sassy and gay sometimes.” She shrugs.
I wonder what these words could mean to her. She has already explained what acting gay means. In explicit and horridly exacting detail. “You’ve seen me fucking people up the asshole?” The mere mention of it conjured up mental images of sharp weapons and sawed through, serrated skin. But I’ve long since learned to reroute these thoughts. To shift their focus to the corner of my mind’s eye, out of the way so I can get on with my day. “I’ve told you I don’t like that stuff. How could I be into men if I don’t do that?”
She raises her eyebrows. “You’re getting sassy. Are you going to do a z-snap?”
It’s a cringeworthy comeback. So innocently awful it’s almost cute. Or could’ve been if it were not so fetishistic.
Not that I knew this then. I only knew enough to be offended. Though I was not sure why. At least—not yet.
Lunch time is over anyway. I jail my tongue behind my teeth and head inside without giving it more thought.
* * *
I’m 23, everyone and everyone is staring. English wing, a semicircle of a half-dozen fellow students make confused faces, full of map-crease wrinkles, eyebrows touching. “No,” I am told. “They don’t.”
A breakthrough. A crack curtailing the foundation. “What are you talking about? Everyone thinks about hot guys. You know? I don’t entertain the idea for long. It’s not like I swing that way. I just have the thought and dismiss it, since I’m not gay. I have a girlfriend, y’know what I mean?”
“Could you be bi?” A friend suggests.
This evokes anxiety I did not expect. The word hits with a wince. It feels like a responsibility I am not qualified to maintain. “I wouldn’t go that far. I don’t think about it long enough. Often enough. You know? It’s not a regular thing.”
“Well of course it isn’t. You just said you push them away. Why would it be?”
I’m not sure why this concept is surprising. I stretch a single silence longer than is reasonable to do. “What do I do then?”
“There’s nothing wrong with entertaining them if you want to.”
Five months later, obeying this advice will coagulate into the beginnings of what will become my debut.
* * *
I am 24, and I’ve published a book. Reviewers, bloggers, community members tag me. Call me #ownvoices.
I’m not sure why.
I’ve never said how I identify. Why assume?
I wrote a novel about two men trying to figure out a relationship without a positive model for what relationships should be. With no good examples that they could rely on.
It was partly an attempt to answer questions about myself. But I walked away with more than I started with.
No label sticks that way I need it to. But none are useful. Maybe they can’t be. Or at least, the versions of them I know are too ensconced in narratives that don’t speak to me. They come packaged in assumptions, narratives, and definitions. Even the parts that fit cannot hold when parts of them aren’t neat enough. Like flap of dead skin flagging on the attention. I cannot wear a rainbow comfortably.
Sensory input cannot stand such scintillations. This is not the only spectrums I contend with. The others muddle meanings. That’s how mine express themselves, at least. Narratives don’t fit neatly into me.
That’s why I made one. I’m comfortable with the book. There’s that at least.
I guess for now that’ll have to be enough.
If you’d like to get in contact with C.M. Caplan, you can find him on social media:
Check out Caplan’s latest release, The Sword in the Street.
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