It’s so hard to designate a moment in time when you realize you are gay.
From my experience, it’s something I thought about from a young age and basically… always was. It’s not like I thought about girls until one day in tenth grade I caught a glimpse of a cute guy and pow, in an instant, I was a homosexual.
It didn’t work that way for me at all.
Throughout my years growing up, I had crushes on both boys and girls pretty much equally throughout high school. My crushes on the boys were always a little bit stronger, for sure. Strong enough to make me strongly consider early in high school that I might be gay.
But I liked girls here and there too, even dated one in middle school, and came very, very close to dating one in high school.
So I didn’t come out of the closet.
There were other factors, too. A conservative father I was scared to say anything to. An extended family I was worried to let slip I was feeling attraction toward boys.
The late ’90s and early 2000s were definitely a different time.
Now I see boys in high school walking hand in hand down hallways, and that fills my heart with such glee I can barely stand it. When I was in high school, I knew of exactly one gay kid in the entire school. When I was in high school, gay marriage was barely on the horizon. Homophobia surrounded me often.
And for most of high school, I found myself questioning if being attracted to other boys made me broken in a way.
I thought I might grow out of it. I thought maybe at least by the time I got to college this “phase” might be over, and I could be “normal.”
I pushed through the rest of my high school experience focused on being creative.
I put all my attention on filmmaking and writing and watching films and reading books and just doing things to take my mind off “romance” in every sense of the word. People asked me at times if I liked anyone at school, and my go-to response was always, “I’m just too busy making my movies.”
Sure, I would have loved to have a boyfriend in high school. I would have loved to take a boy to my senior prom.
There was a boy I directed in five movies in a row over the course of two years I had the biggest crush on in the world, but I couldn’t say anything, to him, or to anyone.
So I just made movies with him instead. It was enough at the time.
I was eighteen years old. I had my whole life ahead of me.
Then, right after high school graduation, there was a moment.
It’s one of the most moments that will be ingrained in my mind forever. I will never forget the image, the thoughts that ran through my head, the euphoric feeling that ran through my body for that minute and for the rest of the day.
No, it’s not what you think. This isn’t the story of a first kiss, or the first holding of a hand, or anything like that.
It’s more subtle than that.
And on reflection, the moment actually didn’t mean anything significant in the long run.
It was how I felt in that moment that mattered then, and still matters now. I’m still not sure if it was love necessarily.
But it was absolutely the moment I knew I was gay.
It happened at my college orientation weekend in June 2003. On a Saturday and Sunday I was to take part in dozens of activities at my new college, Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where I would be attending starting that August.
I didn’t know anyone at the school, so I made it my mission that weekend to meet as many other incoming film production majors and strike up a conversation. I made a few friends that weekend I continued to spend time with through my time at LMU. I talked to a few people I never spoke to again.
And I also talked to somebody that weekend who was, by far, the most beautiful person I had ever seen.
His name was Alex. He was a screenwriting major. I first caught sight of him as our big film school group walked over to the quad to do some lame get-to-know-you activities. I didn’t care what activities were coming next. I remember pushing past at least three or four people to get close to him.
I introduced myself, shook his hand, and he shook my hand back, awkwardly if I remember correctly, his head dipped forward, thick sunglasses on.
Within minutes I found out he loved the films of Stanley Kubrick. I love Kubrick, too, so we instantly had something to bond over. He also told me about a short film he had recently directed, and he got excited when I told him I had made a few films and was in pre-production on a short I was planning to start shooting the following week.
There was one event after another. Discussions about the film and television program. A presentation by the theater program. Visits to the dorm buildings. Talks about safe sex. I believe there was even a chat about how LMU was a super friendly community to the LGBTQ community.
Alex stayed by my side throughout all these events.
For hours and hours. We had lunch together that day, with a big group, and then we had dinner with a few other incoming freshmen we had made friends with. I really enjoyed his company. And boy, oh boy, did I think he was cute.
Oh my God, he was a whole different reality kind of cute.
And you want to know the craziest thing? Late in the day, after we had been chatting for hours, we learned of our roommates for the night in the north dorm building all the orientation people were staying in.
Wouldn’t you know it — my roommate for the night was Alex.
What in the world were the odds of that? Neither of us could believe it. Here was the one person I was chatting with regularly for the entire day, and he was the person I was randomly put in a room with?
I still to this day kind of marvel at that one.
Again though, the moment I knew I was gay is not what you think.
No, we didn’t kiss in the room later that night. No, he didn’t wake me up at 3am to slip into bed with me and hold me close. Nothing like that happened. He stayed on his side of the room. He even stayed in the room for awhile to read while I went downstairs to a small gathering and met a few more people (and awkwardly danced to my heart’s content, if I remember correctly).
We both went to bed at a late hour, and then we had to get up super early, at like 6am or so, to begin the second day of activities.
And then suddenly… Alex disappeared.
I was put into a group early in the day for some kind of dumb activity, and we were suddenly separated, and then my second and last day at LMU until late August was flashing by with no more Alex. I remember eating lunch, looking around, waiting for him to maybe show up, but he didn’t.
Finally, I went to a computer room to sign up for my classes for the fall, and there he was across the room.
As soon as I sat down to begin the scheduling process, I watched him finish, get up, and leave, without noticing me, without telling me good-bye. The events were done for the weekend, and people were already starting to leave campus.
I remember being one of the last ones to sign up for fall classes, and as soon as I was free to leave, I rushed back toward the dorm building, hoping Alex hadn’t left yet.
I was running like a person runs at the end of a cheesy romantic comedy.
I didn’t need to kiss him, or hug him, or anything like that. I just wanted to tell him good-bye, have a good summer, it was really nice to meet you.
I didn’t know if Alex was gay (he‘s not), and even if he had been, there was no guarantee that he would’ve liked me back. But we definitely had a connection, and the attraction I had toward him both physically and emotionally couldn’t be denied.
I raced up the stairs and down the hallway, and then I opened the door to the dorm room.
My heart dropped. Everything inside me began to hurt.
The sheets on Alex’s bed were absent. His suitcase was missing.
He was gone.
And I didn’t get to tell him good-bye.
It seemed like such an unfair ending to the weekend. To spend so much time with him, and then be chosen to share a dorm room together… only to have him leave without me getting a chance to talk to him one last time?
I took a seat on my bed and looked out the window. I could see the beach in the distance. I could smell the ocean water. I could see myself on that warm sand soon, when I would make this magical city of Los Angeles my home.
I could see possibility still to come at this school in the next four years.
But in that moment, I had lost the one thing I wanted. And so I buried my head in my hands and began to cry. It came out so fast and fierce I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t sure if I had ever cried that hard before. It was almost like years of anguish about my sexuality was being released, and there was no way I was ever going to stop it.
I remember pushing my back against the wall and trying to get a grip. I had to leave soon, after all. Had to get to the airport soon to fly home to Reno.
I cleared my throat. Breathed in deeply. Wiped a few tears away from my face.
Then I saw it.
I had been in the room for at least two or three minutes, and I hadn’t even noticed it until now. I moved to the other edge of the bed and got a closer look at the top of my suitcase.
Alex had left me a note.
I didn’t pick it up at first. I was too stunned to think, to move.
But finally I did grab it off my suitcase and read it. I can’t remember it exactly, but it went something like this…
Brian, hope you have a good summer. E-mail me, OK?
Below that was his e-mail and his name, Alex.
This was the moment I knew I was gay. This was the moment where everything became so crystal clear to me.
I was gay. I might have even said the words out loud.
Because I knew, at that moment in time, I couldn’t possibly feel this strongly, this intensely, about someone after just two days, and not be gay. It was the only thing that made sense to me.
The sheer joy I felt in that moment I’m not sure if I have ever felt since. I couldn’t stop grinning. I probably danced around a little bit, I’m not entirely sure, but what I can never forget, now, sixteen years later, is the euphoria I felt in that one glorious moment.
He wished me a good summer.
And he wanted me to e-mail him.
It truly was the equivalent of a cheesy romance movie ending.
And Alex wasn’t even in the room with me.
There’s more to the story with Alex. Maybe I’ll tell it one day.
For now I wanted to focus on the moment where everything truly changed in my life. The way I looked at my future, about my potential relationships. From this moment on I didn’t doubt the feelings I had toward other guys. The attractions that came so naturally.
I was eighteen years old. I was gay. And there was absolutely nothing wrong with me.
As soon as I embraced the person I was, I could finally be the greatest version of myself, the person I had wanted to be for the longest time. It’s the person I’ve been now for sixteen years.
And I will always have Alex to thank for that.
Brian Rowe is an author, teacher, book devotee, and film fanatic. He received his MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English from the University of Nevada, Reno, and his BA in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He writes young adult and middle grade suspense novels, and is represented by Kortney Price of the Corvisiero Agency.