As I’ve aged over the years, I’ve come to ponder the possibility that my elementary math teacher had some kind of redneck book of clichéd, incoherent quips nestled between her sagging breasts.
I never ceased to be amazed at her endless repertoire, such as “Go fly a kite in a mud hole!” or “Don’t be such a sissy!” while I suffered through that wretched subject. To a sensitive, reflective young homosexual, those quips would often sting like the welts left by a good flogging — no doubt like the ones portrayed on the pewter corpus of the giant crucifix looming over the chalkboard. But one cliché always seemed to ring as consistently as the bell that signaled the end of each period.
“The grass is always greener on the other side!” she would snarl, in between her nose picking and exploratory swabbing for ear wax with her pencil eraser. This gem was usually unearthed when we were caught whining about how the other class seemed to have more fun or how we were made fun of because we weren’t in the “smart class.”
Now I look back on those days, some 20 years ago, and I can’t help but see the wisdom in that overused saying.
I’ve recently had a rough couple of months. Nothing tragic, or even unsuccessful — just selfish pity for not being the most popular, sought-after person in all the land. I had the feeling that I was the only person who had problems and occasionally felt frustrated in the daily musings of life.
A friend of mine wrote in his play that our evolution as human beings is a “sort of painful progress, a progression towards something.” My eyes undoubtedly rolled the first time this dialogue, which sounded like it came from Angels in America, was uttered to me, but it is exactly what I have experienced these past few months. Despite my logical realization that I am in fact very lucky and have a lot of things going for me, I decided that my psyche required further reassurance.
But where would I find a resource to have this sociological, psychological dialogue?
An institute of cultural studies?
Actually, it was Facebook.
Yes, I turned to Facebook. Not to start comparing how many “friends” I had to how many other people had. Rather, I found myself landing on the Facebook page of a local model and “hunk” whom I vaguely knew named Kyle Huber.
This reassurance was to be revealed by someone in a similar environment to my own, a homosexual, and someone with the characteristics that we associate with popularity and sexual desire. Just to clarify, Mr. Huber has deep blue eyes that can cause short-term memory loss. He is tall, thin, masculine, with arms to write home to Mom about and abs that are packaged in six and then some.
So I e-mailed him, asking if I could meet him for coffee and discuss the very issue of this column. Much to my surprise, he accepted this rather dysfunctional invitation.
A few days later, there we were in a coffee shop close to our respective homes. We sat on opposite sides of an ornate, round table more conducive to a game of chess than to a deep philosophical discussion about the struggles of adjusting to personal development as a gay male. But despite this imperfect arrangement, the moment that Kyle spoke, the layers of crusty depression that had scabbed over my optimism began to flake away. Here I was, sitting with someone who ran in a circle of the gay community that my square did not belong to, but who was genuine, kind and reflective, much like I was.
We chatted for a few hours, and our conversation had the ease of a slumber party — without the footed pajamas, ice cream, and prank phone calls. Kyle talked about his frustration about being constantly judged for his body. “Hmmm, interesting parallel,” I thought as I listened.
He spoke about how he can’t complete a shift at work without gay men puking up clichéd flattery. He talked about receiving random, overtly sexual phone calls and Facebook messages from people he had never met. Somehow, they felt as if he would oblige their random offers because they went through the trouble of stalking him. He talked about his constant need to seek out something more than the now, of his quest for perfection and his dissatisfaction with mediocrity. “Weird,” I thought, as my neurons continued to fire and draw connections between his and my own journey.
When he told me that he is studying graphic design and that he thinks sports are a waste of time, I tried not to let my shock show on my face. Could this be the prophecy revealed to me in reruns of Seinfeld? Was this my “Bizarro” equivalent? He told me about his senior project for design school in which he was creating a social awareness project about the risks of contracting HIV through carelessness. Then we concluded our talk, so that he could go “enjoy time by himself.” “Wow, another one!” I thought, as we parted ways.
As I tossed and turned that night from my sleep disorder that won’t stop giving, I reflected upon our talk. I had approached this encounter seeking reassurance in my “painful progress” and had achieved success — and a lot more.
I realized that, in fact, other people do have problems, but further, I realized that I did have the potential to connect with someone with whom I would assume I had nothing in common. I mean, sure, I have done that many times before, but never when I was on the cusp of self-loathing.
It seemed so much more special for me to assure myself that we all have problems; they are just relative to our own person. It confirmed within me that you can’t force a stocky person peg in the spot where a skinny person’s peg belongs. We all have a “progression” toward something. Whatever that might be is personal, but the purpose is all the same: survival. Survival may be for the fittest, but that doesn’t necessarily mean chiseled abs. Rather, it could mean having abs at all. Kyle’s just happen to be prominently displayed, and mine are tucked away behind a cushy exterior.
I may not have appreciated my old math teacher’s words at the time, but she had the right idea. No matter what obstacle may lie ahead in your journey, all you have to do is look at it and overcome it with whatever tool works best for you, even if that means … a cliché.
Thanks, Kyle, for a life raft to weather the troubled waters. I can confidently say that I made it to the other side, dry and safe. Should you ever be in a similar situation, I’ll be there ready to pay you back anytime.