“And I think Jesus would want me to tell you all, right now, that I’m gay,” I said from the pulpit of the church.
What followed was the deepest silence of my life — 200 bodies coming to total stillness and shock as I walked trembling back to my pew. It was the fourth, final day of the sacred retreat called Kairos that I’d attended with my Catholic High school Senior class. We’d been told that morning to “Live the Fourth,” and express our newfound selves. I volunteered to give the Homily at mass and then publicly came out of the closet. My peers were for mostly supportive afterwards, though the priests told me that while they were very happy for my ‘life discovery,’ Jesus would want me to be celibate…advice I did not end up taking.
I had been in the closet for 17 years.
I lived for fantasy stories growing up. By the time I was in fourth grade, I didn’t have any real friends; my friends were Frodo, Gandalf, and the High Elves. It all started when I found my dad’s copy of The Lord of the Rings. I finished the entire trilogy in a month and was so enthralled by Middle Earth that I started writing my own version of The Lord of the Rings, a not-so-original tale entitled The Blue Star — about a blue necklace that turned the wearer invisible. One necklace to rule all necklaces!
My story had everything: a pair of adventuresome hobbits named Faren and Talen, a white wizard named Sonotour who rode a white steed named Diamondaire, and a creature named Golum! Finally, I wanted to show my story to someone, so I took it to my school librarian, who taught me a magical new word…plagiarism. Whoops. I had been doing something bad. But wasn’t it fan fiction? Homage? Either way, my first episode of queerness got torpedoed, and I fell into a depression and shelved my writing.
By sixth grade, my parents decided their heavy-set, sullen, growth-spurted son needed some fresh air. So they sent me to Lavin Basketball camp. I imagined this was a camp for fellow nerds like myself to learn how to play with a ball! What I didn’t know was Lavin Basketball camp was a Nazi training ground for the future NBA. A month-long sweatshop for over-achieving aggressive boys who knew how to dribble.
Lavin Basketball camp existed in an all-vegan town in rural California (yes, those actually do exist). This was the beginning of my hatred of all-vegan and sports-related. A siren would go off every night for some reason and we joked that it was the “meat siren.” And when I say “we joked,” I mean the voices in my head, because no other kids wanted anything to do with me. I got sick with a 102 degree fever and begged to go home, but my parents decided that if I stayed, it would help make me “a man.”
It culminated on the last night when my roommate decided to throw a pizza party. I offered to pay for the pizza, and as I was tipping the delivery guy, my roommate slammed the door and locked me out of the party. As I sat, crying, slumped against the door, I created a ritual in my mind. I started roleplaying…at first under my breath, then shouting loud enough for the whole basketball camp to hear:
- “Beam me up Enterprise! Beam me up. Beam out of this this hell!”
- “I’m the white witch of NAAARNIA…would you like some pizza boys?”
- “It’s a trap, Frodo! Don’t be a fool of a Markle!”
- “The black riders are coming! And they’re bringing MEAT!”
- Neo! You’re living in The Matrix, also known as your head!
- “(Lightsaber sounds!)”
- “YOU SHALL NOT PASS, BASKETBALL BOYS!”
- “7 of 9, you are my sister.
That last reference was a combination of famous lines from Star Trek: Voyager and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back intertwined. I had combined all these fantasy stories and characters into a single intergalactic history in my mind. A universe of fan fiction that I would weave every night before I would go to bed, eventually spanning over 10,000 years. It sounds insane, but at the time it saved my life. It was a meditation. A shield. An escape pod. And though those basketball boys never got busted for bullying, this boy had found a magic carpet to take him boldly, where no boy had gone before.
By 7th grade, everyone got girlfriends. So I thought…why not! I courted and obtained the hottest Asian girl in school: Oanh Tran. We did everything together. We held hands at lunch, got after-school Slurpies at the 7/11, played Lemmings the Computer game in the Mac Lab together. Finally after six weeks, it was overdue for me to make a move. So at the 7th grade school dance, while they were playing KC and Jo-Jo’s “All My Life,” I asked if I could kiss Oanh…at the end of the song. So we danced at arm’s length for 3:41 minutes until I leaned in and we touched lips to lips.
We broke up 6 weeks later. What can I say…that kiss didn’t do much for me...or her. I felt like I had wasted Oanh’s time. But for me, it confirmed something I already suspected.
Suddenly, I was a Freshman in high school and lonelier than ever, except now I had found a powerful new means of escape — a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game called Everquest. An M.M.O.R.P.G!
It was the virtual fantasy world I had always dreamed of! And that was where I created my alias, Aleolin, the African-American Wizard on the Prexus Server, who would become one of the most powerful wizards in the history of Everquest.
I would rush home from high school to play every day for up to 14 hours. While I got fat and bleary and red-eyed in the real world, in Everquest I engineered a new way to use a wizard spell called Manaburn. By invoking all my wizard friends, upwards of 30 of them, to cast the Manaburn spell simultaneously, it created an explosion of magic so powerful it could kill Dragons. Dragons! And this is without the aid of warriors, clerics, or even a Shadowknight! I had done it with weak wizards, and the game was being overturned…that is, until the makers of Everquest, a corporation known as Verant, nerfed the spell. Meaning GONE, badda boom, nadda no more. This affected millions of users worldwide, in China and elsewhere, all because Aleolin, the Wizard from the Prexus Server, had found a way to cheat the system. Outrage ensued! Strangers wrote posts on the EQ forums like graffe.com, keepersofthefaith.com, Prexus.com, defending Aleolin, defending me. I would login to the high school computer lab at recess and read new posts strangers wrote about me, feeling validated at a time when I felt invisible to my real-life peers. And the internet gave me a moniker. They started calling me The Pink Pansy. Pink, for the flaming pink robe my wizard wore in the game. And Pansy, for the way my delicate flower was being crushed by the man. This is still the most internet famous I’ve ever been and likely ever will be: as a 14-year-old boy masquerading as an epic wizard in a computer game.
In the midst of my fame in Everquest, I made intimate friends. Our avatars did everything together. Hung out. Sang songs. Drank electronic ale. Slew dragons. Flew our winged steeds through the clouds. And I remember, one day, as I sat under the Tum-Tum Tree in the Plane of Power with my best wizard friend Livec, I typed into the chat box, “I am gay.”
Yes, the Powerful Pink Pansy was gay. Who would have guessed?! Livec wasn’t surprised, though he said I was the first gay man he’d ever talked to. And he was the first anyone I had ever told I was gay. We then went and raided a dungeon together.
It wasn’t until three years later that I finally summed the courage to come out in real life. I hadn’t meant to do so when I volunteered to deliver the Homily. I remember starting my speech mumbling things like, “Jesus believed in love and tolerance and acceptance.” I remember there was polite listening, some fidgeting, occasional yawns. And then, with Sonotour the White plagiarized wizard on my left shoulder and Aleolin the Pink Pansy on my right, I decided to Manaburn that church.
And that’s how I came out twice: first as a gay wizard avatar, and then as myself.