Boys of Mon­treal

Hello Mr. Magazine - - CONTENTS - Justin Abraham Linds

Fif­teen years af­ter you quit high school and the thought of you still makes me tense. Thank­fully, I don’t think of you of­ten. It’s just that I’ve bumped into Steve, and we’re talk­ing about old times, and how we’ve all turned out, and he men­tions you. He says that he’s seen you in here a few times. The rev­e­la­tion stops me in my tracks, as I won­der what it means, and won­der what I’ll say to you if you come here tonight.

Un­til this evening, I hadn’t been here since the bar went gay. In the ten years or so be­tween then and now, I some­times thought of com­ing here, but I was scared of be­ing seen, scared of word get­ting around. I was scared to be my­self. I didn’t come out un­til af­ter I left this home­town of ours. But now, ev­ery­thing’s changed: I’m con­fi­dent, I’m open about who I am, and I don’t care who sees me walk­ing in here (or stag­ger­ing out a few

hours later). You wouldn’t be­lieve I’m the same guy as that ner­vous lit­tle kid you used to bully.

I spot­ted Steve while or­der­ing my beer. You’ll re­mem­ber that Steve and I were in­sep­a­ra­ble in high school. But I moved away, lost con­tact, and haven’t seen him in years. I can’t help but laugh at the irony of en­coun­ter­ing him just mo­ments af­ter I walk in here: I re­mem­ber his bet. Years ago, Steve bet me that I’d turn out gay. I re­futed it then, but more than a decade later I fi­nally step into this joint and there he is, as if he’d been wait­ing. There’s noth­ing to do but to ad­mit he was right, and buy him a beer. That drink leads to sev­eral more, and Steve up­dates me on years of gos­sip about all the peo­ple we used to know. Which is when he men­tions you.

Back in high school, you made my life mis­er­able. Not you alone, but you re­ally helped get that ball rolling, didn’t you? I don’t re­mem­ber you ever call­ing me gay, but you made sure that ev­ery­one saw me as “dif­fer­ent”; You high­lighted all the points of dif­fer­ence you could spot, dressed them up as faults, and flagged them as grounds for hu­mil­i­a­tion by any­one need­ing to boost their ego by shred­ding mine. You opened the flood­gates and a tide of abuse flowed in, shat­ter­ing my con­fi­dence. When words weren’t enough, you’d add a spit or a kick.

I was timid and book­ish. In­ter­ested in na­ture, art, and clas­si­cal mu­sic. You were ma­cho, ag­gres­sive, swag­ger­ing. In­ter­ested in foot­ball, fight­ing, and (you claimed) girls. You knew how to throw your fists, and made some pretty big (bull­shit?) boasts about your adventures in the bed­room. You cre­ated an im­age for your­self that im­pressed the meat­heads and in­tim­i­dated the rest of us.

Even­tu­ally, you quit school. I stayed on, then went to col­lege and moved away. I never saw you again, but you left scar tis­sue. Ner­vously I forged new friend­ships, but with in­suf­fi­cient self-es­teem to al­lay my anx­i­eties. When I be­gan to re­al­ize my sex­u­al­ity, I was ter­ri­fied to talk to my friends about how I felt. But even­tu­ally I did. Dis­cov­er­ing that they sup­ported me, and still loved me, fi­nally al­lowed my con­fi­dence to blos­som. Which helped me through the process of com­ing out to my fam­ily and made it pos­si­ble to walk in here with­out fear of be­ing seen for who I am, with­out fear of word get­ting around.

But what about you? Why have you been hang­ing out here? Have you, like me, come to terms with your sex­u­al­ity later in life? Are you still try­ing to work it all out? The im­age you pro­jected in high school, your ag­gres­sive hetero­sex­u­al­ity; your dis­gust for dif­fer­ence…was all that just an im­age? The prod­uct of a trou­bled kid, strug­gling to ac­cept that he was “dif­fer­ent” too? You wouldn’t be the first guy to con­vert his se­cret long­ings into ha­tred (of self and of oth­ers). There’s a bridge be­tween ho­mo­pho­bia and the closet, well trav­elled by clos­eted bish­ops and “fam­ily val­ues” hyp­ocrites.

Maybe you’re just a straight voyeur, like a hol­i­day­maker vis­it­ing a vil­lage of ex­otic tribes­men. And maybe that would be bet­ter, be­cause if all of that crap at high school was crap, you must have been pretty screwed up. It is hell to be so scared of one’s truth that you cre­ate a fic­tion, and it is dif­fi­cult to step out of that fic­tional closet char­ac­ter and into one’s real self. It must be even harder when it in­volves climb­ing down from an epic pedestal of machismo, like the one you built. For all the pain you once caused me, I ad­mire the courage it must take some­one like you to walk in here, to pre­pare to be seen in here. And I won­der now whether there might have been a very scared and very lost lit­tle boy trapped within the ag­gres­sive bully you were back then.

What­ever hap­pened in the past, and how­ever long it has taken, I’m happy now. I’m at peace with my­self and with you. Maybe I’ll see you in here later tonight, or next time. If I do, I’ll buy you a beer. Be­cause while I’ll never for­get what you did, I also know what it is like to feel scared and lost, liv­ing a fic­tion. Maybe I didn’t do it on quite such an epic scale as you, but I un­der­stand, and I think you need to be un­der­stood.

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