Why are you moving to Portland?
It’s the question that terrified me in the month leading up to my move a few months ago. Not because I wasn’t excited or confident it my decision. It’s because I had to use the b-word.
“My boyfriend got a job up there,” I would tell them.
It’s not a word I’ve relished. It seemed to catch on my throat every time I used it, and came stumbling out of my mouth in a tangle of syllables people couldn’t understand. I think half of my friends in California think I’ve moved to Portland for my boy band.
While I’ve been “out of the closet” for a number of years, I was still in the bedroom, crouched behind a chaise lounge. I wasn’t forthcoming about my personal struggles, and I even relished the comfortable distance at which I kept people. A friend once accused me of being the most guarded person he’d ever met. I said thank you! He was right, though: If my sexuality didn’t come up directly in conversation, I didn’t offer information about it. I was living a don’t-ask-don’t-tell lifestyle.
So when I began revealing to people the reason for my moving, I was effectively coming out to all of the friends in the outer circles of my life. Every day. Over and over again. It seemed invasive, as if people were forcing me to reveal something I’d held as intimate and personal. I felt vulnerable. It was like those dreams where you’re somehow naked at school, and there’s a pop quiz that day, and you’re chosen last for kickball...again. Sorry, now I’m just reminiscing.
During that month before I moved, I was constantly anxious. No joke, I developed an eye twitch—the kind where people give you a wide berth on the sidewalk. It was an emotionally exhausting season in my life, made all the more stressful because Tino had already moved to Portland. There was no one to talk to but the lady at the local taco truck who didn’t speak English. I ate so many burritos that month.
It has taken months, but I’ve come to appreciate the word “boyfriend.” It’s a way for me to reveal something personal about myself without having to use the words: “I’m gay.” Boyfriend has become shorthand, a tool to let people in my outer circles in on my story without having to actually have a conversation about my sexuality. It makes the walls around me a little bit shorter, enough at least for people to peek over and see that there's someone on the other side who wants to be known but is afraid.
Now that Tino and I are engaged, I’ve encountered a whole new problem with the f-word: Fiancé. It’s a fancy word, isn’t it? When I picture someone saying it, it’s a 25-year-old woman dangling a 10-carat diamond on her finger in front of her girlfriends at a Manhattan luncheon. She snaps her wrist down and says, “Look at what I got from my fiancééééééé.” She drags the word out, relishing the sound of it. In my mind she always has a Mid-Atlantic accent, like Katherine Hepburn. Man, how I hate her (the imaginary girl, not Katherine Hepburn—she’s delightful!).
But that’s not even the real issue. The problem is that fiancé has the opposite effect of boyfriend in that it allows me to hide my sexuality. Although the masculine and feminine spellings are different, in spoken conversation it’s a gender-neutral word. So all of the progress I’ve made in using boyfriend is now lost with fiancé. It allows me to slink back into the closet. Either that, or I have to be deliberate with my pronouns: “I’m meeting my fiancé for dinner and he doesn’t like me to be late. Did I mention my fiancé is a man? A MAN, I TELL YOU!”
The solution? I’ve decided to drop fiancé altogether. Tino is staying my boyfriend for now. He’s my boyfriend, and we’re engaged. Tino’s OK with that language; in fact, he still uses “boyfriend” as well. We don’t want to diminish the significance of our betrothal, but this feels right for us. For me. When the time comes, we’ll skip straight from boyfriend to husband.
UGH, husband. That’s a whole new eye twitch waiting to happen.