Tag Archives: skylar baker-jordan

On Phillip Schofield and remembering my own coming out

 

In a very moving statement released on Twitter this morning, and in an equally moving segment on This Morning, Phillip Schofield came out as gay. Married for 27 years to his wife Stephanie, they have two daughters. By Schofield’s own account his wife and children have been nothing but supportive. This can’t have been easy for the 57-year-old ITV presenter, who has worked in British media for over 30 years, but he has handled it with grace, humility, aplomb.

I am always curious about gay men’s journeys to self-acceptance and, in many cases, self-awareness. I think I always knew I was gay. One of my earliest memories is, aged five or six, getting butterflies when the boy next door grabbed my hand. Of course I didn’t know what that meant or have a name for it, but I knew I felt differently about him than about my other friends.

Later in childhood, I had what I can only retroactively identify as a major crush on my best friend Kyle. He spent summers with his dad, who lived down the street, and I would count down the days until he arrived from Arkansas. My other friends would get jealous and angry as, all summer long, I neglected them for Kyle (an unfortunate pattern that would, shamefully, continue into early adulthood). He and I would spend hours playing with other children, but often alone as well. It was all very chaste and innocent—we couldn’t have been older than ten—but when he would “rescue” me as we played Power Rangers I always felt a tingling, sinking feeling in my chest and stomach which (again, only later in life) could I identify as “puppy love.”

I came out to myself around 14, and to the rest of the world—including my family—at 15. This was in 2001, when teenagers coming out was still a rarity and depictions of LGBT people in popular culture even rarer. Yet there was very little angst around my decision. Once I realized I was gay there was no self-torture, no self-hate. It was almost as though realizing, for the first time and to some mild surprise but no great consequence, that I had a freckle on my leg. “Oh, never noticed that before. Wonder when that happened. Oh shit, it’s almost time for Dawson’s Creek, don’t want to miss that!”

Coming out to my family was not easy—I don’t think it’s every an easy process—but as I would learn from LGBT people in later years much easier than most comings out, especially as a teen and especially in the early 00s. I was out at school, which meant my brother (who was in the same year as I) was the first to know. He shrugged it off and, actually, never brought it up until I finally did about a year after he found out.

The decision to tell my parents was a weighty one. We had gone to an amusement park the Saturday before. My mom and my little sister commented on the attractive boys they saw, while my dad and my brother talked about girls. Realizing I could never have a conversation like that with either, and feeling like I was missing out, I decided to tell them. I went to school that Monday, discussed it with my friends and, plucking up the courage from them, told my parents that evening. They took it well—as well as two working-class Midwestern parents could take such news in 2001—and that, save for a few further conversations over the next few weeks—really was that. (As a bit of trivia, it was Monday, 10 September 2001 – the day before 9/11. There’s a personal narrative to be written about that week in my life, I’m sure.)

At the time, it took a lot of courage. I was trembling as I sat them down. No matter who you are, coming out is never easy. In the back of your mind is always a fear of rejection and hate. Looking back on it now, though, after nearly two decades and hundreds of conversations with other LGBT people who have come out, I see that it was a relatively painless process for me. Over the years, I have wondered why my coming out was so easy compared to so many others. There were no other gay people in my family, at least not that we knew of. My family wasn’t particularly leftwing. My parents didn’t have gay friends—though they liked Ellen DeGeneres, and I always suspect she helped a lot. So what made the difference here? I have a few ideas:

  1. I was raised to be self-assured and independent: my parents and grandparents instilled a confidence in me that has served me well through life. They always encouraged me to do what I want, to take risks, to not be afraid of the consequences (within reason), and to make my own way.
  2. I was deeply introspective, even as a child: I’ve always lived in my head, even as a kid. I had friends, but the bulk of my time was spent playing alone. When you spend so much time with yourself, you can’t help but to get to know yourself on a deep and intimate level. I once knew a man who, at 23, only just realized he was gay. He saw a sex therapist because he couldn’t perform in the bedroom with women and even entertained that he might be asexual. That he was attracted to other guys never crossed his mind. I couldn’t imagine not knowing such a basic truth about yourself, but for many gay men same-sex attraction is so buried in their subconscious they don’t recognize it until years later. (It’s important to note that I’m not saying this is Phillip Schofield’s story. I don’t know what his story is, though I’d love to one day hear it.)
  3. I knew other LGBT kids: The autumn of 2001 was a tumultuous time in my life – among other things, I came out, 9/11 happened, and I moved from Ohio to Kentucky – but when I came out I was still living with my parents in Dayton. I was not the first student to come out at Walter E. Stebbins High School. My freshman year there was some drama when, if I remember correctly, a bisexual senior girl left her girlfriend for a football player. There was a sophomore who wore nail polish and lipstick and was openly gay. There were others, too, who blazed the trail for me. And then of course, there was the internet. AOL chat rooms, TeenOpenDiary, message boards—they all helped me find community with other gay people, some of whom were just coming out like me and others who had been out for years. I knew that coming out wasn’t the end of the world, but the beginning of living authentically, because I had others who lived that truth.
  4. We weren’t a religious family: We believed in God, I think, but we were not devout Christians. The one time I remember my parents talking about God was when, one December, my mom got mad at me and my siblings for not wanting to watch a program about God. It was about God promising to come for Christmas, then never showing up, except that He did three times in the form of three different needy people. I didn’t want to watch not because it was about God but because the thought of God showing up on my doorstep terrified me. We never went to church as a family, though my sister and I did go to church with friends, but being raised outside a faith tradition meant that I had little fear that my parents were going to beat me with a Bible or send me to a conversion camp or throw me out. I didn’t have the anxiety of grappling with my “mortal sin” because I was never taught that being gay was a mortal sin.
  5. My family believes in fairness and kindness: I think this might be the most important. Despite all the teenage “ugh I hate my parents” temper tantrums, I knew they were ultimately kind and decent people. I mentioned Ellen earlier. My mom and I used to watch her sitcom together. When she came out, I was upset because the character had never been gay before. Later I made a homophobic joke about her name, calling her “Ellen Degenerate” – a word I didn’t know what it meant but must have learned from some bigot on the television or radio (I don’t know who, but I’ve always blamed Rush Limbaugh), because I knew it wasn’t good and had to do with her sexuality. My mom snapped at me “don’t call her that,” the message being “gay people aren’t degenerates.” That stuck.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I was relentlessly bullied in my Kentucky high school. My father worried I would get AIDS. My mother said “obviously we are disappointed” when I came out (though she has since apologized profusely for the hurt those words caused and doesn’t herself remember saying them). There were stumbling blocks and learning curves for all of us. But we got there quicker than most.

Every LGBT person’s journey is different. Mine is but one of millions, and this short essay is far from the entire story. Some people had a much harder time of things than I did. Some probably had it easier. Certainly, the cultural circumstances in which we come out matter a great deal, and I benefited from coming out at the beginning of what was to be a rapid shift in public opinion on gay rights which began with Ellen and Matthew Shepherd and continues right up to today with Pete Buttigieg and now Phillip Schofield.

Ultimately, the only point of this is to share a little of my own story, which I’ve been thinking about since Schofield’s announcement. My life got a lot better after I came out. I hope Phillip Schofield’s does too.

Answering the same questions at 34 I answered at 17

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I recently rediscovered the online diary I kept as a teen. While I don’t have access to all the entries I wrote (the Internet Archive didn’t archive most of them), some of them I do.

One of those old diary entries – this was before the term “blog” was popularised – included this “survey” that I took in the summer of 2003. I was 17, had just finished my junior year of high school, and was living seven miles outside the small town of Hyden, Kentucky. Suffice to say, my life has changed a lot since then. As I stare down the barrell of 34 (my birthday is later this month), I thought it would be fun to answer the same questions I did as a teenager. Let’s see if 17 years has changed anything.

1.How many times have you had pizza delivered to your house?
2003: That’s like asking me to count a google.
2020: That’s like asking me to count a google.

2. How do you like your toast?
2003: Toasted.
2020: Pretty crispy.

3. What kind of milk, if any, do you drink?
2003: I’m not a big milk fan, unless it’s chocolate!
2020: I will not drink milk, even if it’s chocolate.

4. What do your dishes look like?
2003: Aww hell, I dunno. Flowers and white and stuff methinks.
2020: So my dishes are black and red, but they’re in storage. Those “flowers and white and stuff” dishes? My grandmother still has them.

5. What utensil do you eat mac ‘n cheese with?
2003: A fork.
2020: A fork.

6. Do you know what anti-aliasing is?
2003: No, but the girl I stole this survey from sure did. It has something to do with taking away the jagged edges of circles on a video game.
2020: Not a fucking clue

7. Have you ever been in an airplane?
2003: Yes.
2020: Oh God, more times than I can count. For a while it felt like I lived in the air.

8. Have you ever played a full game of golf?
2003: Uh, no.
2020: Still no.

9. Describe your feelings toward Microsoft Windows:
2003: I’m impartial. Don’t like the monopoly bit, but…yeah.
2020: At this point I wouldn’t want to use anything else. It’s the only OS I’ve used for 25 years. But that monopoly bit still bothers me

10. Do you usually remember your dreams?
2003: Yeah, I do.
2020: I’ve noticed that as I get older I remember them less frequently and in less detail, and that when I do remember them it isn’t for as long.

2003

The author in the summer of 2003, aged 17. Photo: Kathy Jordan

 

11. How big is your bed?
2003: Twin size, because I like it small and cozy.
2020: You lying bastard, it was not because you liked it small and cozy, it was because that’s the bed your grandparents gave you and it was sleep in that or on the floor. The bed I have now is a full sized bed. Largest I’ve ever had was queen sized. One day I’ll get that California king

12. What’s the coolest thing on the surface of your workspace?
2003: My fiberoptic lamp and pictures.
2020: My workspace is wherever I want it to be. Right now it’s my bed, and the coolest thing on my bed is probably my John Lewis duvet cover

13. Describe your current hair style:
2003: The Federico! lmao
2020: Long, shaggy, pushed back

Federico_Martone

Federico Martone, a contestant on Big Brother 4 (UK). Apparently I once had his haircut.

14. Where is your computer?
2003: The living room.
2020: This is one of the biggest changes over the past 17 years. Laptops weren’t unheard of in 2003, but at least where I lived, they weren’t the norm. I got my first laptop in 2004, when I began university. Right now my computer is in my bedroom, but it can be literally anywhere I want it to be. And if you count my phone, I always have a computer on me.

15. Are you an avid gambler?
2003: To an extent. A few bucks every now and then.
2020: I never gamble, save the occassional lottery ticket.

16. Quick! Say a fantasy of yours!
2003: To be in [Ryan’s] arms tonight…more than you’ll ever know. ::sigh::
2020: To publish my debut novel. Of course, I wouldn’t kick Leonardo DiCaprio out of bed.

17. What web site(s) do you visit on a normal basis?
2003: TOD, channel4.com/bigbrother, yahoo.com, beliefnet.com, jimverraros.us, FOD, Google (I love to play with the image search!)
2020: Wow, remember when Google image search was a novelty? Anyway, now it’s Twitter (hands down the biggest waste of time I’ve ever found), the Independent (natch), Washington Post, Digital Spy (I read their EastEnders coverage obsessively), and Instagram

esq060119cover004-1558471471

Daddy. (Photo: Alexi Lumbomirski/Esquire)


18. Who’s your daddy?

2003: Steve?
2020: I’m actually kind of relieved that I didn’t understand this question at 17. It shows I still had some innocence left. Anyway, I wouldn’t kick Leonardo DiCaprio out of bed.

19. What’s your favorite Jackass segment?
2003: I still crack up about the part in the movie where the guy shoved the car up his ass.
2020: I haven’t thought of this show in years, and I’m mortified that I once admitted to enjoying it. I don’t actually remember watching Jackass very often. The only thing I remember is that Johnny Knoxville got papercuts on the webs of his toes once. I’ll go with that.

20. Do you watch sports on TV?
2003: The horse races, but that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll order a Chelsea or Manchester United game on Pay-Per-View, too.
2020: No. I did watch the Super Bowl, and I like the Olympics. So I guess sometimes.

21. When was the last time you were sick?
2003: During the Louisville trip with FBLA last month.
2020: Last winter. I didn’t get a sinus infection this fall, which I usually do. Touch wood, I’ll stay well.

22. Describe the jewelry you are currently wearing:
2003: Class ring, shell neclace, watch, St. Sebastian neclace.
2020: No jewelry. I haven’t worn jewelry in years. I lost my class ring in 2004 (somewhere in my Dad’s house, but we never did find it). I lost that St. Sebastian necklace the night of my senior prom. Dustin Sizemore and I were in a car accident after prom, and I had to go to the hospital. I lost it somewhere between the accident seen and the emergency room. I’ve always assumed St. Sebastian stayed with me just as long as I need him and then went to help someone else. (As an aside, Dustin himself passed away in 2011.)

23. Do you like 80s music?
2003: OMG Yes!
2020: OMG Yes! Except now I have a deeper appreciation of it and how pivotal an era it was in the development of modern music and popular culture.

24. If you drive, how often do you speed?
2003: I don’t drive; that’s part of my problem.
2020: I drive, but I don’t speed. Two speeding tickets in college cured me of that.

25. Are holiday lights seasonal?
2003: Oh my gosh you’ve hit on the biggest pet peeve I have! I can’t stand it when people leave their Christmas lights up past 1 January! I mean, it bugs me so much! I flip out on them and I don’t know why! It’s just so tacky. I love Christmas, but to leave lights up all year is just WRONG. I mean, if they’re white lights inside, that’s okay. Cute, even. But outside or in a living room or something? Nope, it’s tacky. And it kills me. It absolutly kills me.
2020: I have remained remarkably consistent on this. I’ll allow your holiday lights to stay up maybe until Epiphany, but after that, you need to take them down. It’s tacky.

26. How often do you floss?
2003: Floss? I do that sometimes…I guess.
2020: Floss? I do that sometimes… I guess… okay not really. I don’t floss. There. I’ve said it. Don’t @ me.

27. Do you spill often?
2003: Not nearly often enough. 😉
2020: Gross, teenage Skylar. Fucking gross. God, teenage boys are awful. But no, I am not a toddler, I don’t spill things very often.

28. How many windows are in your bedroom?
2003: One
2020: One

29. What’s the most disgusting food you have ever eaten?
2003: escargo or however you spell it. Screw it…snails.
2003: Still escargot. #NeverAgain

30. Does you breath smell?
2003: Yeah, I just drank a Pepsi.
2020: Yes, I just smoked a cigarette

31. In a perfect world, we would have no:
2003: religion. I know that sounds horrible, but religion has caused more problems for humanity than anything else. In a perfect world, we’d all worship the diety (for I feel the diety is the same for all religions) in an unoranized fasion, in our own way, on our own accords. No organized religion.
2020: …racism or misogyny. This one has actually changed a lot. I still think religion has caused a lot of problems for humanity, but I also think it’s one of our greatest gifts. At university I found the Episcopal Church – and thank God I did – and, through it, religion. I find peace in reading the Bible and comfort in prayer. I think religion, even organised religion, can be a force for good. It can also be a force for bad, but I wouldn’t want to eliminate it from the world.

32. What’s your favorite shoe color/material?
2003: I like brown leather sandals.
2020: I still like brown leather sandals. Also Sperrys.

33. When do you usually eat lunch?
2003: Depends on when I wake up…
2020: I frequently skip lunch.

34. Do you have a cellular telephone?
2003: Nope, and I don’t care for one either (who in the hell would call me?)
2020: WOW. No answer could more represent just how different our world is now than this one. In 2003 I didn’t have a mobile phone and it didn’t bother me. In 2020 I can’t imagine 1) not having a mobile and 2) someone calling me on it. I just bought a new iPhone 11, and it is always on my person. Wow.

That’s it. What memories do you have of 2003, or of being 17? Do you think you would answer these questions the same, or has your perspective shifted as an adult? Let me know in the comments below!

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

Skylar reads… Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

“Skylar reads…” is a new series of book reviews by writer Skylar Baker-Jordan.

By now, most people will be at least passingly familiar with André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name. The story of two young men who fall in love on the Italian Riviera, it was turned into an Oscar-winning film in 2017. The novel, like its setting along the northwestern Italian coast, is lush and beautiful and inspiring. Bittersweet like an overripe peach, Call Me By Your Name is part romance novel, part bildungsroman, and—like the passion between protagonist Elio and his beloved Oliver—all-consuming. I enjoyed being transported from a dreary winter in Tennessee to the scalding hot summers of 1980s Italy almost as much as I enjoyed reliving what it feels like to be young and in love.

Indeed, I want to talk about that, partly because (as I said earlier) the novel has been out for so long that any review I provide here is unlikely to add anything new to the cultural conversation. One could write entire essays on the symbolism of the peach and the poo (if you don’t know, read the novel) or of the frequent references to feet and the tactile language Aciman uses to evoke the electricity even the slightest touch can spark between two young people in love. I’ll leave it to the literature scholars and critics to do that, though. I’m more interested in what feelings this novel evoked in me, not because I’m a narcissist but because I suspect they’re universal.

If you’ve ever loved and lost, especially if you loved and lost at a young age, prepare to have those old scars heedlessly cut open. Aciman’s novel takes place in the mid-80s, but Elio tells the story from, doing the math, the mid-00s (which makes sense; the novel came out in 2007). The distance of decades allows him to tell the story of his adolescence with the perspective of an adult, replete with the hindsight, wisdom, and nostalgia that invariably entails.

All of us, at one point or another, have looked back on our teenage years with a sort of longing tinged with regret—whether it’s for a life choice we’d like to change, a lover we might not have even realized we miss, the general loss of innocence, or some combination thereof. Younger readers (say, anyone under 25) might not fully appreciate the wistfulness that thinking about your deep past can evoke, but older readers certainly can. Aciman captures the languor of lifelong regret in a way few authors have.

For me, this meant harkening back to a time ten years ago when I met the man who would become the love of my life. Like Elio and Oliver, we had a tortured will-they-or-won’t-they relationship which culminated in a passionate love affair and ended far too soon because he wasn’t ready to accept his same-sex attraction. Like Elio and Oliver, there was a not insignificant, but not unreasonable age difference between us (I was 24 when we met, the same age as Oliver; he was 18, a year older than Elio). Like Elio and Oliver, I suspect that age difference was insurmountable, though; six years might not matter at 34, but it matters a lot at 24.

We were the inverse of Elio and Oliver, though. I was the one who fell head over heels in love and he was the one who saw us for what we really were—two lonely people who found one another at precisely the right time, but who would never work outside the bubble in which we then lived. He had his demons, to be sure. He wouldn’t come out publicly until seven years after we broke up, and he’d have a child along that journey to self-acceptance. But, looking back now, I suspect that he was always more levelheaded about us than I was. I think he always knew that the life I said I wanted with him would never be enough—little things he said, like “don’t you want to move to London?” or “what about your writing? Why don’t you write more?”—and that he was in no position to give me what I craved, at least not for more than a few months.

Indeed, it was only a few months—the most confusing and logical, the most agonizing and joyous, the most tender and most callous, the most I’ve ever been loved and been loved and the most I’ve ever loathed and been loathed few months—but it still haunts me to this day. I can’t see an orange crewneck or a zip-up hoodie without thinking of him, and the one I used to steal from him and wear around because it was warm and comfortable, but mostly because it smelled like him, his musk and his cologne. To this day the scent of Old Spice reminds me of those nights spent lying in his arms.

Whenever I fall and scrape myself, I think of that first night we met, sitting outside his dorm room while I bled (having fallen, drunk, as we walked) and he insisted on getting a first aid kit. The symbolism of this is not lost on me now. I had no idea how much I would hurt myself for this boy.

We sat up all night talking about life, about books, about music, about art. As the sun rose, we walked to Waffle House—another thing he took from me. I walked home, across the entire desolate length of campus and down College Street to my apartment at about 8:00 AM; by noon he was at my place. We were inseparable from then until we weren’t anymore.

Reading Aciman’s novel made me long to be in Europe, to walk down Roman alleys and sun myself on Monet’s berm. More than that, though, it made me want to go back to my own past, back to Bowling Green, Kentucky. It made me want to walk the length of campus again, as I had that sunny, late summer morning, like a pilgrim walks where Jesus walked. It made me want to go back to the yard where we first met, back to steps where we first kissed, back to the picnic table where he, a student, and I, an alumnus finally said our goodbyes. It made me wonder where he is, what he’s doing, who he’s dating, and if he’s happy.

It also made me consider the passing of time and the wisdom of age. I recently found my high school diary. One entry was about the boy I had a crush on at the time. “He smiled at me. Twice!” I exclaimed. The innocence of youth. The boy who wrote that is a stranger to the man I am today, yet we are inexplicably one and the same. I don’t think I’d get so excited over a smile today, and I certainly wouldn’t take it as irrefutable proof that the object of my affections reciprocated. I wish I could be that naive again.

I remember that boy fondly too. He was a nice boy. It’s been even longer since I’ve seen him, to the point I don’t even remember what his voice sounds like. There were others before my Oliver, who was also my Elio as I was both to him as well. There have been a few since. None have compared to him. None hold a candle.

I don’t suspect he feels the same about me. I imagine plenty followed me, more than one more beloved than I ever was. I hope he thinks about me, though. Undoubtedly, he does; I was his first. You always remember your first. I hope it’s with kind thoughts, though, or at least not all regrets.

How is it that one person can change your life so completely, and that even after a decade leave your heart in tatters by simply coming to memory? A question for the philosophers. He was that to me. Is that to me. No one as ever compared, and as I approach my 34th birthday, I suspect no one ever will.

Why him? I ask myself that whenever he comes to mind. He was cute, but he wasn’t hot. He was nice, but he wasn’t always kind. He wasn’t dumb, but he was no great intellect. His opinions were pedestrian and shallow—a product of his age, perhaps, and an intellectual immaturity which doubtless four years of college could have solved. I only knew him for one.

So why him? He made me feel safe. Whenever he was around, I felt like I could conquer the world. He made me feel valued. There was no shame in working in a coffeeshop, all writers do, he’d say. Your value isn’t measured by your bank account, Skylar, shut up this ramen is fine. He made me feel attractive at a time I was painfully insecure. He made me feel needed a time I felt useless. He made me feel hopeful at a time I felt despairing.

He made me feel loved. He loved me. He told me, but more than that, he showed me. In the little ways—bringing me a slice of pizza when he came over, because he correctly guessed I hadn’t eaten; showing up at the coffeeshop and sitting for my entire shift so I’d have someone to talk to; playing a song twice in a row because he knew I liked it. In the big ways, too, supporting me as I had to institutionalize one of my best friends and never leaving my side when another old friend passed away.

He’s the only man I can say that about. For as little as we knew one another, it’s remarkable what all happened. Six months. I met him in August 2010. We broke up in February 2011. Six months I knew him. A lifetime I’ve loved him.

Unlike the film, Call Me By Your Name ends with a reunion 15 years after the main events of the novel. Then it flashes to five years after that, back in Italy, our two protagonists still longing for one another but unable or unwilling to bridge the time that has now come between them.

I haven’t seen him in nine years. I suppose that means I only have to wait another six.

★ ★ ★ ★☆

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.