We had both just graduated from high school and were on tour together in the northeast with a Christian drama team.
Seven shows a week, a different church every night. I was seriously crushing on this guy from upstate New York, although I didn’t have that word for it then.
He was always the trouble-maker – both for asking too many questions and for trying to make out with the girls – and I was the do-gooder of the group. By half-way through the summer the team leader was pairing me with him each night to keep him from causing issues with our host families. And that was cool because we were already pretty close. We usually sat together on the bus and would sleep on each other… shoulder to shoulder, head on lap, whatever could be made comfortable on those often four hour drives through nowhere.
Each night we were assigned to someone’s queen bed in their guest room.
“Hope you guys don’t mind sleeping together. We just have the one room.”
“It’ll be fine, ma’am. We’re used to it.”
We’d stay up late most nights talking and telling stories. He’d walk around in his boxers. He was lean and strong and dirty blond with this dark trail of hair that started on his belly and disappeared into his boxers… But I digress.
One morning we were talking and laughing and he started tickling me. It was one of his favorite things to do. I was crazy ticklish, and he loved to annoy me because I would laugh and try to stifle my screams so as not to disturb our host family. We were both in boxers and he was on top of me and I was wiggling and laughing and hyperventilating and trying not to make noise and to get him off of me… He flipped me over and… Hello! An unavoidable tent in my boxers stuck up from my scrawny frame. He jumped up pointing and laughing hysterically. I was mortified.
In retrospect, I was lucky. I could’ve gotten punched. Or called a slur. He could have gotten everyone to start praying for my abomination. But we were sheltered. I mean the crazy kind of sheltered that didn’t go to movies or listen rock music and went to Christian Schools that didn’t teach sex ed and he… I guess he must have been as nice as I remember him, because nothing changed. We never talked about it. We still hung out and slept in the van – my head cradled in his lap. He held me while I sobbed uncontrollably when I got the phone call that my grandmother had died. I do think he was straight, although I didn’t have that word for it then. But he was a true friend.
The subtleties of masculinity and orientation can be complex. Growing up in my Christian bubble caused a lot of guilt and self-hatred and confusion, but it also gave me the innocence to be comfortable with other guys. To be vulnerable with them, even. What a rare gift.
I’d all but forgotten that little episode until I started working on the play “Choir Boy” with The Limbic System and Norfolk State University. Content in the play brought it roaring back.
“Choir Boy” is such a great script – the type we don’t see produced often around here and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney handles the coming of age of both straight and gay males at a black parochial school with beauty and grace. It’s a script that connects disparate ideas and themes and rubs them against each other in the way that only great storytelling can do.
This play reminds me what I love so much about theatre. A few moments in the dark.
For more info on the show, click here.