In 1998, I sat in a middle school art class in a town in the south of France, idly painting abstract water colors while talking to my best friend about the only thing that truly mattered to our 13-year-old lives: MTV. We were positively addicted to music videos. On a regular day, we would rush home from school, call each other on the phone, and provide a running commentary on whichever videos were in rotation that afternoon, excitedly discussing Janet Jackson's new choreography, or the validity of Madonna's latent religious leanings. Unsurprisingly, we were both gay, although, like most children marooned in early adolescence, we lacked the emotional maturity to quite realize it ourselves. That day, I clearly remember us talking about Marilyn Manson's video for "The Dope Show," a major touchstone in our never-ending quest to differentiate ourselves from our uber-preppy surroundings. One of our classmates overheard us pouring over the details of Marilyn's alien breastplate and blood-red contacts, and with a flip of her paintbrush, commented: "Sure, that sounds crazy, but it's nothing compared to George Michael."
This was shortly after the release of "Outside," George Michael's musical commentary on his infamous arrest earlier that year for cruising a public restroom in Beverly Hills. I've never forgotten what that girl said to us, because it taught me a valuable lesson: that to most straight people, simply being gay in the real world is way stranger than pretending to be a gothic sex alien from outer space. I don't need to try and make myself different, nature and society have done that work for me, and my new reality will be navigating through a world where my innate way of being will be, at best, a source of curiosity. At least that's what it felt like at the time, when sexuality was like the corner of a treasure chest, peeking out from under the dirt of puberty.
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