It's getting to be about time for me to climb into a Delorean and travel back to the year 2000. When I was a sophomore at Columbia, slouching out of the closet and deeply depressed, I used to fantasize constantly about time travel. Though I had declared an English concentration, I was unabashedly majoring in Marty McFly Studies. I was, and still am, obsessed with the film Back to the Future, and its two sequels, particularly the dystopian digression in the second film. It seemed to me that all of life’s problems could be solved by exemplary skateboarding skills, a proliferation of manure, tech vests, and, above all, the ability to go back and right what once went wrong (apologies to Sam Beckett).
Despite the fact that I was miserable in the present, I had no desire to go backward or forward in time. I wanted the future to come to me. My plan was brilliant. All I wanted was for a future version of myself to show up in my dorm room, turn off the sad Sarah McLachlan music, do my homework for me and tell me what was going to happen. I needed a little reassurance that things were going to work out.
I imagine it would’ve started off something like this:
Current Me: Hey boo!
Young Me: Oh no! I lose my hair in the future?
Current Me: If you liked it you shoulda put a hat on it.
Young Me: [Silence]
Current Me: Believe me: that will be very funny in like 8 years. Do you even know what a Beyonce is? Nevermind, let’s get down to business. The future! It’s amazing!
Young Me: You’re wearing a shirt that I currently own.
Current Me: Spoiler alert: you don’t win the lottery. Also, Felicity cuts her hair and it’s awful.
Young Me: Do I get married?
Current Me: Still illegal.
Young Me: Am I famous?
Current Me: You have a blog.
Young Me: What does that mean?
Current Me: Can we move on?
Young Me: Um… am I happy?
Current Me: Beyond your wildest dreams.
Allow me a digression…
I have been hesitant about wearing a purple shirt today. (This relates, I promise.) I have been hesitant because I don't quite understand the gesture; because I don't plan on coming in contact with any bullied high schoolers today; because my purple shirt is wrinkled; because things don't automatically get better.
See, the purple shirt campaign came about in reaction to the recently publicized suicides by bullied gay or gay-identified teens. Wearing a purple shirt on October 20th is supposed to be a symbol of solidarity against abuse, as well as a memorial. I want to wholeheartedly believe in it, to participate without reservation, but something about it sticks in my craw and so I’m hesitant.
I’ve been hesitant, also, about making an “It Gets Better” video, even though I know that it’s important for those in bad places in their lives to see others who have gone through those same places and come out on the other side better for it. I believe it’s especially important that I do this on the off chance that mine is the only video that some young person finds with which he can identify, be it because of a shared race or religion or experience or just a shared feeling. Still, I’ve been hesitant.
I’ve not made a video and I stand at my closet door contemplating purple for the same reasons: because it doesn’t just “get” better. Not through any magical property of time. And bullies grow up to be bullies with bank accounts or bullies with badges or bullies with pulpits or bullies with political offices. Which is not to say that it’s not better. For me, it’s much better. “It” is beyond my wildest dreams.
I don’t know what “it” is, actually. I don’t know what “gets” is. All I know is better. I know that I stood on the subway platform at 72nd Street in New York as the 9 train bared down--lights on, horn blaring--with my leg hovering over the track and my heart in my throat. I know that I stared into the Schuylkill River for hours trying to muster up the courage to erase myself beneath its surface. I know that I've been struck, fists against face, for no other reason than my sexuality. And I know that those things don’t happen anymore.
I know that something pulled be back from the train track, that something whispered in my ear, that something brought people into my life that loved themselves and supported me when I couldn’t love myself for who I was. That something brought me to here, where “it” is “better”.
I concede: It got better. It, also, got worse, it got hard, it got easier, it got ridiculous, it got funny, it got fat, it got fit, it got in trouble, it got drunk, it got flamboyant, it got blessed, it got dumped, it got accepting. It kept going.
And somehow I can’t figure out how to say that with a garment or even within a video. But I know now that I need to say it. I got an amazing response to a piece I wrote on National Coming Out Day about the first gay friend I made and it reinforced the idea that the best thing that I can do to help someone else is continue to be honest about who I am.
So, I kind of want to stand outside of every high school and middle school in the country. Just to be there, to show that I'm alive and happy and that people who are like me can be, too. I want to just stand there and press my fingertips against the windows. Which, in my head, is a beautiful idea. But, in reality, it's creepy. Super creepy.
Why am I so creepy?
Long story short, I’m dressed now and I’m wearing a purple shirt. And I know that it’s only a gesture but it’s a gesture that I didn’t see in those terrifying, awful days when I was younger and closeted and felt alone.
Looking back, what's remarkable is this: In those dark times I believed that my fate was irrefutably grim, that secrecy and shame were my only options, that my family would lose all love for me, that God wanted nothing to do with me, and that I would undoubtedly go to Hell when I die. I felt lost and trapped and isolated in overwhelming waves. And yet, there was within me a nugget of hope that allowed me to create and perpetuate that fantasy of time travel. I truly believed that there was nothing better available for me in this world and yet I had enough hope to imagine a visit from this person who was comfortable in his skin, who had joy, who felt accepted, who was free. I'm taken aback today by the realization that I have become that person.
And so it's become imperative that I find a Delorean. I would like nothing more today than to speed back to 2000 at 88 mph and shock my younger self with the person he will be. I can't do that, of course. I am permanently stationed in the present, traveling through time forward and at a normal speed. Today, my story is my only flux capacitor. I speak at 1.21 jigawatts. I tell the truth about what it was like, what happened and what it's like now because that's the most powerful thing that anyone can do. I tell the truth today because the life I save is my own.