December 3rd, 2007


Saying the word

Last night I went to Cracked Christmas by The Trevor Project. I will admit: I was expecting a fun time out with friends, and to that end it delivered. I drank with friends. I stood about a meter from Jodi Foster as she walked in. It was, by all accounts, a fun, gay evening out in the City of Angels.

Alec Mapa's bit had me rolling on the floor laughing. In fact, I don't think I've laughed that hard at a live performance in a while. There was, however, a payload I wasn't expecting, and I've been left distracted, in deep thought since.

It started when Jodi Foster gave an impassioned eulogy for her friend Randy Stone, creator of the movie Trevor. I sat amazed at how many lives this person whom I'd never heard of, producer of a movie I'd never seen, had touched. I couldn't help but wonder what the fuck I've done to make a difference.

But it was an emotional Ground Zero for me when T.R. Knight got up to introduce and give the Trevor Life Award to Ellen Degeneres. He was one of the few of the day's talent who did not read his lines. He spoke from the hip, often in unfinished sentences—his voice cracking as he was visibly trying to maintain his composure as he spoke of the coming out episode of Ellen on April 30, 1997, and how it affected him.

If I hadn't seen the episode, I probably would have cynically and defensively made a joke or gotten up to get another drink. But I remember the episode—vividly. I remember the day. It was a day after which I was never the same person. So I sat there hanging on his every word, somewhat shocked because, unless he was acting, the experience he echoed could have been my own. In fact, it was. I knew how much the episode meant to him as he was explaining it, because it meant that much to me.

I've been asked, as I'm sure every gay person has, "When did you know you were gay?" I always felt weird answering. Friends would tell me, "I knew all my life." But me? I had no such definitive answer. I'd secretly fallen in love with a guy, and even had kissed a guy before I knew. At the time, I couldn't figure out if I were straight and confused, bi, gay, or what, and I'd have happily taken a blood test to find out just to know.

When that Wednesday evening came around, I hung out with friends. When we went our separate ways, I snuck back to my dorm room, turned the TV on as low as it possibly could go and still be audible. I put a towel under the door so no one could hear, plopped myself down centimeters from the TV and hit PLAY.

I watched intently as "Ellen" wrestled with the issue. I remember my right hand was over my mouth, tears welling up in my eyes, as her character rhetorically asked, "Why can't I say the word?"

After the episode was finished, I remember getting up to look in the mirror. I didn't recognize the person looking back at me. I have to tell you, if you've never experienced it, it's an eerie feeling. I saw this fag looking back at me, and I knew. I finally knew. I tried to mouth the words "I'm gay," but had a hard time doing it. When I finally got the word out, I felt relieved, but immediately broke down feeling completely overwhelmed. It was the day I came out to myself, but I couldn't help but know that the life I thought I knew was over, and that I would never be the same person. I never was.

Years later, I found myself sitting right next to Ellen Degeneres at a party. I always had told myself that if I ever had the opportunity to, I wanted to tell her what that episode meant to me. I'm rarely star struck, but that night I was. I wanted so badly to turn to her and just say, "Thank you," but I couldn't. I didn't know if she'd know what the hell I were talking about, and I wasn't sure I could say it without breaking down. Last night, T.R. Knight said the word I couldn't for me—and for all of us, really, who were watching that night that feels like another lifetime ago—to Ellen:


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