My brother’s eyes were bloodshot. He must have smoked some weed just then. His stare was off. He was gyrating ever so slightly.
Should I do what I planned to? I was exhausted. That was going to be the night. I approached him.
“What’s the matter, Ri?” His speech slurred slightly.
I paused, hesitated. “I’m just wondering. Do you love me no matter what?”
His face shifted. He was surmising what would come next. What fucked up thing in this world has corrupted his little brother? He looked stunned. He hates difficult conversations and I put him in one.
“Of course. What’s the matter?” he said, finally breaking the silence.
I was 17 and that exchange marked the beginning of my authentic life.
Being attracted to the same sex is not like any other quirks that can happen to a person. Unlike physical disabilities, we have no need for a tool – a cane, a braille chart, an earphone – to aid us in our quotidian lives. Unlike many brain disorders, we do not generally get episodes after a trigger is activated, even if we sometimes find it hard not to stare at that hot bartender across the bar. It is therefore quite easy to hide your attraction and live in the normative, one-man-and-one-woman way that society expects. This is how a lot gay individuals choose, many times involuntarily, to live. People often go their whole lives not knowing that their close friend or relative is a homosexual.
The proverbial closet can be comfortable but it is not a place for anyone to live in. Just imagine literally going inside your closet. At first, you might feel far removed from the stresses nagging outside – no phone calls to attend to, no essays to write, no stale interactions with your shallow friend. Life can feel secure inside.
However, after a while, bad thoughts start to gnaw at you. Deprived of the light, you begin to notice that you cannot recognize who you are. You would not be able to see that scar left by cutting a butternut squash, nor the gracefully sturdy fingers you developed after countless hours on the piano. You are detached from your own self. You begin to wonder whether you exist. You start to question whether the dearth of excitement is really worth the safety.
Being a gay man in the closet is like this. It can feel safe at first. But in the dark you avoid conversations about your desires, your burning love, your silly crushes. You juggle a double life, and manage your secrets as carefully as a consulting firm. It is exhausting. Many people develop mind-crumbling anxiety because of this. It is no wonder that gay and bisexual men are overrepresented in any statistics on suicide. It is not AIDS that is killing these men, it is the demons they keep to themselves.
I had to struggle with similar demons. My deep insecurities, mixed with an unhealthy dose of guilt and shame, manifested itself in the perpetual rage that I let out to the world around me. I was a reticent child. I broke glasses and lashed out on everything. I was only someone my family tolerated simply because blood is thicker than water. The young me was an awful one – I had to exorcise it once and for all.
Being a gay man in the closet can feel safe at first. But in the dark you avoid conversations about your desires, your burning love, your silly crushes.
The revelation that night was the act of purging I desperately needed. We carried out talking and talking until the early morning. I told him which actors I lusted for, how it felt to be different from the others, when it all started, how my school environment could be psychotically homophobic. He told me how he had gay and lesbian friends, but he had never really thought about it. I thought we had mutual understanding when he blurted:
“So, what do you mean by gay, you mean you like fashion?”
I guess baby steps apply in everything in this world. I had to be content with this new confidante, I would educate him another day.
It was only when I heard a story about him that I knew that it was all worth it. My brother hates conflicts, this is almost an axiom. He withdraws from incendiary situations. This one day he was dining with his date’s circle of friends at Union, the most happening restaurant at that time – thank their red velvet cake. He sat beside this flamboyant man, J. Another guy, a stereotypical alpha male was making allusions about J’s “gayish” actions. Noticing this, my brother slammed the table and barked “Do you have a problem with gay people?”
It went awkwardly silent. It must have been difficult for him, but this story made me realize that he is not only my protector, he is also a reliable ally for people like me. He is that voice we need in a country choking in its own fears.
Living in secrets can be chronically devastating. Who are we if not for our identities? A pure kind of love tries to fathom this. It is liberating. It helps you push the boundaries of your own existence. My brother’s path of understanding has rescued me from the prison I was in. He was a healing force. He helps me metamorphose.
One of these days, we will have to say: “Enough is enough!” Smash the door of that closet, and bask ourselves in the glorious light of day. And shine – shine until people are inspired by our brilliance. Shine until we overshadow the fireworks at night. Shine because we deserve to, just by being who we are and no one else.
Farid Hamka has a predilection for the unaccustomed earth and is an avid believer of the redeeming power of literature. Graduated with a BSc in Government and Economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science, he believes in how things can be improved by taking an interdisciplinary lens – it is exciting to find the links between gender theory and economics, philosophy and prose, etc. Follow his trivialities at @leviathan93 on Instagram.