Gay is the boy who just started working with flowers
and gestures so immaculately that everyone has always known
that he is a gay boy. He loves his job, you can tell.
Gay is the thin guy who has no use for the gym.
He’s fine and good for the man who loves him. Starting out,
a new love and so animated in their discussions at the bar.
Gay is the old man walking around shirtless because he loves
the attention, with a far-off boyfriend somewhere, ready
to visit him one more time and be together, embraced in a kiss.
Gay is Allen Ginsberg and his young boyfriend. If only we could mirror
their relationship. I wish I was half the poet and had the following
that he had. Laurent and I could tour together and celebrate our love.
Gay is the big guy in the “Daddy Issues” T-shirt or dozens
of other beefy bears, secure and confident in their image and eager
to meet more of their own kind, blocking the way and laughing in their groups.
I grew up in a household
where it was probably allowed,
but unspoken, so I would read
my sister’s teen magazines
and watch Davy Jones
of the Monkees
in his rare shirtless appearance,
frolicking and enjoying
the other guys around him.
Tarzan was on every Saturday afternoon,
with sometimes a double feature.
Or we’d go outside and play soldiers
or Tarzan or cowboys and Indians.
Anything to be male and young boys,
grow up male
and as normal as we could,
with three brothers and one sister,
Midwest gay developing.
Gay can be skanky and as sleazy as you can imagine, in dark
alleys and hallways and businesses built around carnal activities.
It’s embarrassing but sometimes necessary for quick releases.
Gay takes your breath away when it’s a crowd out for Pride,
partying and celebrating and truly proud of being who we are,
taking over the city or the world as one large group in solidarity.
Gay is just out with friends, frivolous and inconsequential,
dancing the night away, sipping cocktails, oblivious to any struggle
or history. Put the movement away for a Saturday night, and have some fun.
Gay comes creeping up on boys and girls, unsuspecting. Sometimes
their families know, maybe even before them, but they realize it at long last,
accepting, or sometimes rejecting, but it’s there to do with what they want.
Gay is the emotional roller coaster that grabs people and makes them find
whatever their identity will be. When they finally find love, it will be the high
of their lives. When they meet with the bullies and persecutors, take cover.
My youngest son is gay,
but was afraid to tell me.
I hope he was fine with it
because I never had a problem with it.
We shared New York City Pride
together around 2012.
Father and son bonding? Perhaps.
At least it was gay generations together.
My wife knew about me soon after we met.
Bizarre, but true, in the interest
of total transparency and honesty.
I came out to her and one other guy,
who took it weirdly and acted strange.
She handled it well, and we went on
to live together, marry, and have
three wonderful kids. My first
true love, my partner.
Gay is S&M culture, pain and power dynamics, Sir and boy,
Master and slave, and dozens of other roles to capture the imagination.
Play it out in private or public, any sort of fetish or interest.
Gay is the most tender of feelings for the man I love. It took me too long
to meet him, but now that I have, we want to be together every moment
of every day. He’s alive and young and the most beautiful of boys.
Gay is a history of Oscar Wilde, Liberace, Dom DeLuise,
and Paul Lynde. Hiding in plain sight and setting off the radar
of all but the least astute of observers. Obvious and undeniable.
Gay is Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, and James Dean,
and the list goes on, known to those in the industry, leading men,
keeping it under wraps as best they could.
Gays have always been around and always will be, and are even present
in the animal kingdom. Each new generation figures it out anew,
with the full support of the ones who went through it all before.
John was my first love,
my best friend, who
happened to be straight.
It could have been beautiful,
but it was a beautiful friendship
instead. Two teens sharing
and growing up together.
Trusting and loving nonetheless.
Now I have Laurent,
the new love of my life.
Sharing in all that is great
in my past and my present,
there for the long-term future.
He’s young but mature,
caring and complete,
and totally in love
with me as I am with him.
Gay is the plague, ignominiously originally named for us,
but shared with Haitians and drug users swapping needles.
It’s not over yet, but it has moved on, still a worldwide epidemic.
Gay are the smartphone apps for cruising and meeting,
quick hookups and maybe even something long-term.
The place I met my young lover, against all odds.
Gay is the 40-year-old married man, finally figuring it out
and the lesbian couple finding each other in the oddest of places,
love surfacing and surviving against the harshest of obstacles.
Gay is marriage at long last and an end to discrimination
in some places, but not all. Bathroom bills are a cynical ploy
and adoption and hospital visitations remain in jeopardy.
Gay is the guy still in the closet, living in a small town
and driving miles to meet someone where he won’t be recognized,
in fear of being discovered and the presumed dire consequences.
The closet is an odd place,
basically learning to lie
and covering your tracks,
making up girlfriends
or telling your parents
the same old straight male friend
time after time.
Coming out is so freeing,
sometimes gradual, but for some
all at once. Exploding forth!
Like my son who
told everyone within a few days
and helped me reveal
my Clark Kent identity
to the last of my relatives.
Gay are the old couples who have fought the long battles
and won the rights and privileges that we can almost take for granted.
Secure in each other’s arms, fending off any new attempts at oppression.
Gay are the poets Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, writer James Baldwin
and many others. Playwrights, writers, actors, and designers,
any creative outlet to burst forth with that pent-up energy and frustration.
Gay is the Stonewall Inn and the night of fuming desperation,
when drag queens, transgender people, and black boys finally fought back,
to claim what should have been theirs all along, safety and security.
Gay is years of meeting guys in bars and speakeasies just under the radar,
easy to find if you know what to look for. Now rainbow flags and Eagle bars
are welcoming sights, an oasis and refuge whether in a strange or familiar city.
Gay is the Pulse nightclub, just out to let loose and some drugged-up dancing,
gunned down senselessly and targeted shamelessly
for daring to love and party with the people who share their lives.
I’ve frequented many bars
and nightclubs in my time.
I can tell you the gay history
of so many cities.
Looking for a soulmate,
satiating my thirst
and the interminable quest
for the next conquest.
and helped where I could.
Likely with only minor impact
in the overall scheme.
Phone hotlines, organizing,
recruitment of volunteers,
contributor and friend.
Gay is over the top, flamboyant, feminine affectation,
prissy and sissy, the queer queen boy. Everyone knew
why he was picked last for every team in sports and first in theater.
Gay is sedate and quiet, bookish and studious, serious
and turned inward, studying Michelangelo’s David in exquisite detail,
going to see David Sedaris and laughing out loud.
Gay is looking back at your family tree, noticing that unmarried uncle
and spinster aunt who still seemed happy and fulfilled. The unspoken stories
and details of their lives that were just glossed over.
Gay is lusting for the high school athletes, the pretty jocks,
and whoever was on the cover of whatever muscle magazine,
and everyday guys at the beach in their Speedos, showing some skin.
Gay is hyper-masculine like Superman and Tarzan, G.I. Joe,
or dozens of super-defined heroes designed for us to admire
more than we will ever know. Feeding our young gay thirst.
When I was 15,
my family went camping
as we often did, set up
next to a family with a
muscular older teen boy
who loved posing and
showing off his body.
His dad apologized to my dad.
I read my Superboy comics,
of his perfect body,
totally surprised to find
my hero in real life.
I’m sure my glances
were as obvious as
his strutting and teasing.
Gay is finding an outlet when everything is suppressed and repressed,
brothers, classmates, neighbors, friends and circle jerks.
Not always healthy, often illicit, experimenting, curious, innocent and natural.
Gay is out there so obvious that everyone knows. Nobody dares talk about it,
but if only they could. Stories guarded, left untold and unfulfilled.
Pent-up energy for the most futile of reasons, locking up a secret.
Gays are trampled and crawl out in the oddest of ways,
not always ethical or mature. Priests and pedophiles and guys
under bridges. They’ll be there but can be easily and safely avoided.
Gay is misunderstood and attempted conversions to anything but that
by supposedly well-meaning but sanctimonious preachers of love,
practitioners of hate and intolerance. Pray they fail every time.
Gay is deep hurt leading to suicide because the world is harsh,
intolerant, and unforgiving. Bleak and lonely when people can’t find welcoming arms.
Violence and Matthew Shepard and people with targets on their backs.
There are so many gay lives
I could have lived.
So many places
I’ve discovered and explored.
Each one might have been
exquisite and true,
happy and fulfilled.
Each path a different adventure.
I had fantasies
and still do.
I’ve lived out some of them,
proving the power
of hope, confidence,
and most of all persistence.
Looking for love.
Finding it at long last.
Gay is every man’s dream according to our deepest fantasies, yearning and pining.
Step up. You’re next. Every innuendo an invitation to experience it with us.
Straight is just a point on a spectrum, shifting all the time.
Gay is gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, queer, inquiring, and so many other things.
Gender-fluid and an encyclopedia of sexual interests and proclivities.
Finding our own, fitting in and figuring out exactly what turns us on.
I suppose gay is Dorothy, musicals, show tunes, and drag shows,
and code words like “Friend of Dorothy”, awkward but effective,
pink triangles and rainbows of their day, emblems to find your tribe.
Gay is The Castro, Boystown, and Montrose, gayborhoods when the trod-upon
needed their ghettos to inhabit, gather, and coalesce, only to lose to gentrification.
Success and upward mobility slowly eroding communities.
Gay is Pride month and all its celebrations, now throughout the year
as you travel across the globe. Parades, festivals, low-key performances in a park.
More like protests and political movements when and where it’s most oppressed.
There’s a comfort
in having our own world,
not exactly a refuge
Like a foreign traveler
relieved to find an enclave
of others who speak
the same language.
We haven’t shared
than what it’s like
to be gay.
Raised that way,
surviving and finding
a niche that feels right.
taking each step.
Gay is drag, puppies, and swishy boys, not everything making you as proud
as you’d like to be, but testing your tolerance, whether you identify with them or not.
They don’t have to represent you as long as you represent yourself.
Gay is an attitude, a resolute confidence to mask all insecurities,
to walk among your fellow men and hope your fellow man notices you,
even if he’s straight but especially if he happens to be gay.
Gay is maybe genetic or possibly environmental or developmental.
In any case, it’s a condition without an origin, or any need to explain or justify,
so let it be and let it flourish to blossom as it can.
Gay is Harvey Milk, Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, Frank Kameny,
Dustin Lance Black, Ellen DeGeneres, and so many others paving the way.
PFLAG, allies, and rainbow umbrellas providing shelter and support.
Gay is sex, erotic stimulation, love and tenderness,
caring and affection and building lives and families together,
relationships with the same vagaries and joys as everyone else.
Gay has always been and always will be. For now, it’s both squashed and supported,
driven out and allowed to thrive. Nothing is needed to keep it alive.
Gay is around us, between us and among us. Gay just is.
This is a reprint of work originally published on http://getoutmag.com.
Stephen Schwei is a published poet with Wisconsin roots, now living in Houston. A gay man with three grown children and four wonderful grandchildren, he can be a mass of contradictions. Poetry helps to sort all of this out. His website: https://www.stephenschwei.com.