A Smooching Story

How I Experimented with a Boy I Felt Neutral About and Managed to Move Past Beards

So in high school, I was a bit of a late bloomer. Like, I dated a few girls, and we held hands and kissed and stuff, and one time someone let me, like, graze her boob over her shirt — but for the most part I wasn’t that interested in sex with girls. For example, I was dating a girl for about a year and thought that the above-the-shirt stuff was the perfect amount of touching.

I was 16 years old and I had recently seen two boys kissing

on the ABC dramedy Brothers and Sisters (and later two boys fucking in Brokeback Mountain), and as I was watching, I started to think that maybe that would be kind of fun and that maybe I would be into that.

I feel like, in retrospect, I should have known this already — my first-ever kiss with the girlfriend was when we were backstage waiting for our cue to go on for a scene in a local community theater production of a musical version of The Hobbit, the Bilbo Baggins Tolkien story. We were both wearing fake beards — because we were both playing hobbits — and so my first kiss was actually with a bearded lady.

Anyway, I’m thinking, ‘Well, how do I know? How do I know if I even like boys if I’ve never done anything with them?” and so because this was pre-smartphones and I couldn’t just get on an app and send someone a photo my vaguely pubescent dick, I did the next best thing — I finally embraced the affections of the only openly gay guy I knew in my small suburban Pennsylvania town.

We worked at a golf course together…I was on the bagroom staff cleaning clubs and carts and riding that ball picker-upper that assholes aimed at on the driving range. He was a chef in the kitchen. We sort of became friendly and started chatting on AIM, where he confronted me about how I was a big homo, and I said no not yet, and he said yes you are let me prove it to you, and then I said that’s kind of rude you’re sort of being a dick man, and then he didn’t reply to me — so I relented a few days later and I was like, hey, fine, let’s hang.

So we tried to go on a date, but it wasn’t great.

It was my first time out with a guy, but I was still closeted, and in my anxious imagination, every single person in the restaurant and movie theater where we went looked at us and only saw rainbow boas, mesh tops, and face tattoos that read “GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY” in decorative font, like probably Curlz MT. And beyond that, he was pretty into himself and on the drive home he just jammed to classic rock and sang along to all of the words and refused my recommendation that we listen to the Spring Awakening cast recording. Also, we saw Sweeney Todd with Johnny Depp and that was kind of disturbing, so that just led to more anxiety about the whole thing. So we just hugged goodbye, and then later, he would occasionally hit me up on AIM, but I wouldn’t see him at work because it was the off-season, and that was that.

But a few months went by and I wanted to give it another shot to see if I liked dating boys and kissing boys and even if he wasn’t the perfect boy I figured if I liked kissing him I would like kissing other boys even more.

So I logged onto AIM and messaged him about hanging out and he told me he played every Thursday at this open mic in the town over from mine, and I said that sounded fun and I would meet him there.

He sent me a winky-face emoticon (because emoji didn’t exist yet), and then I realized that Thursday was February 14, Valentine’s Day, and I felt really great about choosing that specific day to reignite things with this guy.

I swallowed that little Cupid diaper full of shit though, and I went on the date, and it was decidedly awkward. Again, he was super into himself, and when he came to greet me he stopped to talk to like 3 other people and then throughout our initial conversations he kept pointing at people and making gestures like “Call me” and winking even though there weren’t that many people in the room. Like, I got it — you’re a regular here, you’re really cool, good for you.

Because it was Valentine’s Day, the theme of the open mic was ~*Love*~ and everyone seemed to interpret this to mean ~*Heartbreak*~, so I sat through about 10 people performing terrible original work, and there was a guitar player and a marimba player and a singer and a spoken word poet — and it was all very My Chemical Romance pre-Black Parade and Avril Lavigne “Losing Grip” era, and all I wanted was a good cover rendition of “Sometimes,” by Britney Spears.

I started to get anxious again because the guy kept reaching out for my hand at the table, and I kept pulling it away, and then for a minute I allowed his to rest on mine, and that was OK I guess, but then I realized I was on this thin little anxiety branch — and I was so over the performers, and also there was an episode of Lost on, and this was back in Season 4, and I don’t know what came over me but I just excused myself and said I had to leave, which I know was rude.

He was bummed but ultimately said, “Well, I have to go get a lighter, let me walk you out,” and so I followed him out but I immediately became even more nervous because I figured this was when we would kiss, and so we were at his car and he grabbed his lighter and then turned to me and said, “Oh hey.”

And then he went in and held my cheek and kissed my mouth,

finding my lips in the street light like an underrated Carly Rae Jepsen lyric. It was a really, really good kiss and I hadn’t ever felt anything like that, not even with my girlfriend in full Hobbit makeup.

But as great as that feeling was, it vanished almost immediately when I opened my eyes and saw a pink-haired girl from my high school and she started laughing and said, “I fucking knew it!!!!” and then ran away.

I panicked and started breathing heavy. I told the guy that she was from my high school and wasn’t my biggest fan and was probably going to tell everyone what she saw.

I’m sure the guy said something supportive and to the effect of, “If they tell someone, they tell someone! It’ll all be fine,” which is actually good advice, but I couldn’t hear him because I just began imagining my life as the first forced-out-of-the-closet gay guy in my high school, being called a fag and having my locker defaced and the books knocked out of my hands on a daily basis. I started getting upset, and I said I had to go, and later that night when I got back to my parent’s desktop computer I found her screen name on AIM and begged her not to tell anyone and I included a lot of exclamation points and a lot of “please”s and a few too many ellipses — but she didn’t respond to my chat, and so I stressed myself to sleep.

I don’t think she ever told anyone, or at least no one who gave me shit about it. But ultimately, everyone at my high school found out because in college I became a big gay champion by interning for an LGBT blog and writing articles with titles like “The Big Gay Bible Belt” and working for an organization devoted to winning marriage equality for gay people.

I think they got it.

(Actually, I know they got it, because at my five-year high school reunion everyone kept coming up to me and saying it was “good for me” that I did “something you care about,” in that way where it was pretty clear that they didn’t think I was getting paid for what I did and that they perhaps were not personally supportive.)

Anyway, a lot has changed since then.

Now I have kissed many boys and I like most of them a lot (but also some of them I like very little, because people’s mouths can sometimes be too big, and that’s hard to kiss).

I think it’s also clear that the world has changed a lot, and this can be illustrated like this: Earlier this year, I was on a second date that was going well, and to wrap up, we stood under the enchanting lights of a deli in Park Slope and smooched. As I started walking away, a big black SUV swung around the corner, and the passenger side rolled down their window. I braced myself to be heckled, since it had recently happened to a few of my friends, even right here in New York.

But instead of heckling us, the guy — a 40-something, presumably straight dude, popped his head out the window, and I’ll never forget what he roared.

“YEAH, that shit’s what I’m TALKING about! LOVE is fucking LOVE man! Love is fucking LOVE!”

So I guess moral of the story is, if I could go back, I would sit my 16-year-old self down and prepare him for this date and tell him that love is fucking love…even if you don’t really know and/or like the guy you’re about to kiss.

So stop stressing out, and go kiss some real bearded dudes, and it’ll all be fine.

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