Thomas is a Homosexual In Hiding
Thomas never wanted to be gay. In fact, for the longest time, he didn’t know that he was. There was plenty of evidence pointing to it, but for over 16 years of his life Thomas never acknowledged that he liked boys. Sure, he spent a little too much time in the Wal-Mart men’s boxers and briefs section, stared at handsome classmates more than the whiteboard at school, and cried when his dad wouldn’t buy him an American Girl Doll when he was ten, but he wasn’t gay.
He wasn’t gay.
He was Thomas, your average looking, B student, typical American boy. A smooth face dotted with pesky pimples, teeth that were straight long before his braces came off, and a $12 Great Clips cut that, years later, led him to delete all his profile pictures prior to 2012. Thomas stood taller than most of his classmates, but his presence in the halls of Greater Hills High School was subtle. He didn’t draw much attention to himself, and for good reason.
The other boys knew he was gay long before he did. Teenage boys are like that; they can smell it like a cloud of Axe body spray. Thomas wasn’t bullied, but picked on from time to time when the teachers weren’t looking: his agenda was often stolen from under his desk, the occasional penis drawn on his math homework moments before turning it in, and the occasional 'fag' thrown his way under the breath of the popular kids. In spite of this, Thomas wasn’t miserable, mostly because his size and general likability curbed the worst of it. The true agony was saved for his less than lucky classmates whom Thomas chose not to associate with.
Thomas found refuge in the kindness of the girls at school who he grew to love. His friend in art class who teased him for the way he drew, the girl in Spanish class who only made fun of his mispronunciations because she couldn’t speak the language correctly either, and all the girls who surrounded him with the divine understanding that this boy needed protected from the world. His guardian angels came to Earth in the form of high school girls wearing boot cut jeans and American Eagle.
Thomas’ best friend, Mia, lived on his way to school, and Thomas had picked her up since the day he could drive. His didn’t tell his parents since he had only just gotten his license and couldn’t legally drive with anyone in the car. Thomas didn’t care, though, and Mia hated the bus, so Thomas was in her driveway every day at 7:45am, picking songs on his iPod he knew Mia would love.
Thomas and Mia first met their freshman year at the homecoming football game. Thomas really didn’t want to go, but his parents talked him into it, telling him he had to do certain things to make friends. Thomas desperately wanted friends, so he put on his only Greater Hills Hikers sweatshirt and went to the game. After purchasing his ticket, though, he had nowhere to go. Sure, there were empty seats throughout the student section, but each and every one of them were seemingly labeled “FOR THE LONERS,” so Thomas chose to stand in line for concessions to delay the inevitable.
As he was paying for his Skittles and Diet Coke, he felt a tap on his back. Behind him stood Mia, who he recognized from Algebra, and a couple of girls he’d only seen in the halls. “Hey, Thomas!” Mia’s voice was raspy as if she’d already lost it yelling at the game. He didn’t know she liked football. When he told her that, she simply replied, “I don’t.”
“Are you guys… sitting anywhere?” Thomas placed the Skittles in the pocket of his hoodie and took a gulp of his Diet Coke. The bubbles tickled his nose, but he’d often been told his sneezes sounded like an elephant trumpet, so he scrunched his face to fight it off. The girls didn’t seem to notice.
“Well, we’re kind of just walking around. You can walk with us if you want!” Thomas wasn’t sure why they came to a game to walk around, but he wasn’t going to let the opportunity to belong pass him by. Thomas barely spoke the remainder of the night, but walked with the girls as they wandered aimlessly on the perimeters of the football field. He was acutely conscious of what they must look like: a gaggle of stick-thin girls who all had matching eye shadow and one gangly boy trailing in their steps. He tried not to think about it and live in the moment, as his dad had said before dropping him off earlier that night. Thomas guessed he’d read that on a chocolate wrapper.
Eventually, the group found a row to occupy in the student section high up on the bleachers. A sea of students and cellphone screens stood between them and the game, and Thomas was finally feeling comfortable. He was positioned between Mia and her friend Dana, when Dana started talking about how her mom never let her stay out past midnight. Thomas wasn’t allowed out past ten, but he wanted to contribute to the conversation, so he decided to go with a tried and true response that always got a combination head nod and laugh: “That’s so gay.”
Dana nodded her head and laughed, telling Thomas that he was 'so right.' Mia wasn’t as easily impressed. “Thomas! You shouldn’t say that. It’s offensive.”
Dana leaned forward to face Mia, and out of her mouth tumbled, “he’s allowed to say it, Mia.” She looked proud of herself, like she’d just stood up to an act of injustice, but Thomas couldn’t figure out what she meant. He’s allowed to say it. Dana’s face quickly dropped when Mia glared at her, and the conversation ended. The girls spent the rest of the game texting people who weren’t there, and Thomas ate his skittles wanting the night to be over.
Mia was anxiously kicking rocks in the parking lot as she and Thomas waited for their rides. Thomas had started to say something about how his parents were always late when Mia blurted: “Dana didn’t mean it. She doesn’t think you're-- she’s a good person. Sometimes she just says what’s on her mind and its no use stopping her. Try not to hold it against her?”
Thomas was left utterly confused as he watched Mia climb into her mom’s car and disappear out of the parking lot. The whole ride home he kept repeating Dana’s words to himself: he’s allowed to say it.
One year later Thomas was in Mia’s driveway, putting an Alexi Murdoch album on shuffle that he had recently downloaded from LimeWire.
“Your chariot awaits,” Thomas half-shouted out the window as Mia locked her front door behind her. Her entire family was still home, but she had always been paranoid of burglars. Thomas told her she watched too much Forensic Files.
“Thanks, Joe,” Mia replied on cue.
Their favorite movie to watch together was Princess Diaries, and since Mia shared a name with the protagonist Mia Thermopolis, Thomas couldn’t help but quote the movie around her as much as humanly possible. On her 16th birthday he gave her a bouquet of pears (the national fruit of Genovia) speared with chopsticks that both of them ate down by the river after school. Thomas didn’t particularly love pears, but he loved Mia, and he loved making her happy. His parents often asked why they weren’t dating, and he always told the partial-truth: they were just best friends.
That day on the way to school, waiting in line to turn into the parking lot, Thomas noticed that Mia had been quiet; since getting in the car she had barely looked up from her phone. Sure, she was always clutching her pink Razr, flipping it open almost before it buzzed with a new text from a friend. She was also a talented multi-tasker and could always hold two conversations at once, one digital and one in the passenger seat, sitting in the desk next to you, or eating in the booth across from you. Today she was silent except for the sound of her fingers on the keypad.
Thomas walked into school with an uneasy feeling in his stomach. Mia always walked to first period with him, but today she said something about the restroom and walked away before he could respond. When Thomas turned around, however, she passed the restroom and walked toward the senior hallway. Where was she going?
Thomas found his seat in English and, sitting down, instinctively placed his books on the desk next to him, saving it for Mia. David Fischer sat in front of him and asked how his weekend was, but only so he could tell Thomas all about his own. David annoyed Thomas, but he liked looking at his broad shoulders, so he tolerated him.
“My parents took me into the city to buy me a new car. I wanted something big, like a Hummer, but since my parents drive exclusively Volkswagens, I had to settle.” David pulled out his phone and showed Thomas a photo of a shiny red car. Thomas couldn’t care less about cars, but pretended to be impressed because David was wearing one of his tight shirts. “When are you getting a new car?” David looked expectantly at Thomas as the bell rang. Mia still wasn’t there.
“A new car? I don’t even have a job, so probably never.”
“Your parents aren’t buying you one? Weird.”
Thomas rolled his eyes as David turned to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, just as Mrs. Wake was getting class started, two things happened almost simultaneously: Thomas’ phone buzzed three times in his pocket, and a few seconds later Mia walked into the room. She apologized to the teacher for being late, accepted the tardy, and sat down across the room. Thomas’ books sat on a now empty desk.
Mrs. Wake began to write the title The Odyssey on the board, and posed a question that only an English teacher would: “what great adventures has your life taken you on?” At 16, Thomas thought about all of the adventures to the Greater Hills Mall that he and his family had taken, or that one time his mom was almost late to an orthodontist appointment because of an escaped cow roaming the highway. He liked Mrs. Wake, and he liked English, but eye rolls were becoming his specialty, and no one was safe from his wrath.
As Ashley Parcel began describing her family vacation to Disney World, Thomas slowly slid his phone out of his pocket. He knew he could get detention for having his phone out, but Mrs. Wake never let anyone go to the restroom, and he couldn’t wait until passing period to see what Mia had texted him. He knew it was Mia since he rarely texted anyone else. Flipping his phone open under his desk, he was careful to keep his head angled toward the board, looking down only with his eyes. There, as he predicted, were three new messages, all from Mia.
Thomas opened the first message.
He began to bounce his right leg nervously. Mia never started a conversation like that, and why was she texting him after they were literally just together? He clicked to the next message.
“Stacey told me something last night that she heard at volleyball practice… she said u were gay. Is that true?”
Thomas’ stomach dropped to the seat of his chair as he read that word. Gay. A ringing swarmed his ears, completely blocking out Ashley’s never-ending retelling of the longest line ever for Space Mountain. He looked up from his screen and over at Mia who was feverishly drawing in the margins of her notebook. He could picture her lying in bed, talking on the phone with Stacey. Since when had they been friends? Is that why Mia went to the senior hallway? What the hell was going on? He returned to his phone. There was one more message.
“… If u r gay that’s totally cool but plz tell me. I don’t know y u would keep this a secret from me?”
Thomas couldn’t believe what he was reading. He was so confused by Mia’s accusation and had no idea where all this was coming from. It only took three short text messages in first period English class to totally shatter everything he believed about himself. He was immediately on the defense, thinking about how he would respond to Mia. He obviously wasn’t going to text her back now, and he could never verbalize the things he wanted to say. His brain moved too quickly, thoughts running faster than he could catch them.
I’m not gay.
How dare she.
Oh my god, David’s stretching. Don’t make it obvious you’re looking at his stomach. Wait, no, not gay.
How the hell did Stacey know?!
How dare Mia text me and not ask me in person this morning.
Thank god Mia didn’t ask me in person this morning.
First period crept past, and by the time Mrs. Wake gave them their homework Thomas felt like he’d never be able to get up from his seat. Mia had never, ever mentioned anything like this before, and had even defended him a few times when people asked. In less than thirty seconds his identity and his trust in her had come crashing down, as if the structural integrity of his entire existence relied upon staying hidden. Mia ran out of the classroom before Thomas had even gathered his things, and by the time he had filed out she’d disappeared. He wouldn’t see her again until the end of the day.
It wasn’t until lunch that Thomas found the right words to respond to Mia’s text. Sitting in front of his cardboard pizza, fries, and chocolate milk, Thomas worked his phone out of his pocket. Students weren’t allowed to have it out in the cafeteria, but the resource officer only had one working eye, so it was pretty easy to get away with it. He had thought of the perfect reply to Mia, but after he typed it out, he couldn’t hit send. He physically could not move himself to press the button. It felt like doing so might start the next World War.
He looked up from his screen, trying to muster courage, when he noticed his lunch group darting their eyes in his direction. Their conversation was typical for a Monday at lunch: embellished weekend stories and gossip about the newest couples in the sophomore class. But every now and then, as if punctuating their sentences, pairs of eyes jumped to Thomas. He caught his friend Bethany as her gaze lingered a little too long, which prompted her to ask: “Thomas, are you… okay?”
Her pause gave Thomas time to consider the worst possible scenario: was she about to verbalize Mia’s accusation? Reading it over text was one thing, but having it said aloud was so much more real. He didn't know if he could handle it. What a way to go: a heart attack in the school cafeteria. First period felt so long ago, and Thomas had though of nothing else. Not in History, Geometry, and not in Health. Well, he might have been distracted in Health. They had started a new chapter on male sex organs. He had had to hide an erection while he and his partner completed a worksheet.
“Thomas?” Bethany questioned again. Now, the exchanging of eyes around the group confirmed his worst fear: they knew. He knew they knew. He didn’t know how they knew, but he knew they knew. Maybe Mia had told them, or was Stacey gossiping to the whole school?
“My dog died.” A blatant lie. His dog was alive and well, and now none of his friends could ever come over again or else he’d be exposed. To his relief the lie worked, and the rest of lunch consisted of ‘here, take my fries!’ and anecdotes that began with ‘when that happened to me….’ They hadn't heard the rumor. He wasn’t really listening to them, and his finger was still hovering over the send button. One click and the his life would change. He had decided to tell Mia the truth: that he was confused and scared and angry. She was his friend, and so what if all this was a really shitty way for this to go down? Maybe it was supposed to happen.
‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ Last night’s youth group meeting popped into Thomas’ mind. He had enjoyed playing four square in the church basement, but that Bible verse stuck with him long after the imprint of the four square ball on his palms. Maybe this was God’s plan?
No, his past reminded him. It’s not.
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. An abomination. He was 12 when he read that, and he cried afterward. He didn’t know why he cried at the time, but he read the verse over and over and over again until he committed it to memory, letting it loop continuously in the background of his daily conscious for years to come. Did God really believe some people were abominations? His heart sank.
When the bell rang at the end of lunch, he got up with the rest of the table and threw his untouched food away. Walking to his next class, he erased everything he had typed out to Mia and instead simply sent:
I’m not gay.
Mia didn’t sit next to him in last period, and he was shocked when he saw her walking to his car in the parking lot after school. They didn’t speak on the drive home, and it was only after Mia got out of the car that she turned around and said, almost in tears, “Thomas, I’m sorry I thought you were gay. I told Stacey she was wrong and a bigot for assuming that you were and to stop spreading rumors. Pick me up early tomorrow and we can run into town for donuts?”
Thomas immediately felt relieved. The tension from the day began to melt away, and his secret was safe. He had convinced Mia, and in turn himself, that he wasn’t gay. “Fine, but you better buy a dozen donuts just for me.” Mia laughed as she shut the door behind her. He desperately wanted to ask why Stacey told her he was gay in the first place, but he was happy that the conversation had ended, so he kept quiet and drove off.
Thomas was home before anyone else. The sound of the dishwasher running and the floorboards creaking below accompanied him as he walked through the empty house. He thought about how, no matter how full the house was during parties or at holidays, it always felt this empty to him. He always felt this lonely. He had barely made it to his room before collapsing onto the floor, sobbing into his sweatshirt. These were tears of grief; tears for innocence lost, and he swore he would never, ever tell anyone his secret.
Something buried deep inside rose to the surface, and he knew this would be a lingering pain. It would walk with him in lockstep wherever he went, one arm around his neck, and the other pointing out things he would never be able to have.
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
He didn’t leave his room for the rest of the night.