It’s a choking feeling, as if you’re being surrounded and removed of all oxygen by an inescapable black fog. At the same time, it’s also like being put on a stage, with the blinding lights obscuring all but the wooden panels below your feel. Choking and exposing. Constricting and far too revealing. And why?
It was a slip of the tongue, not intentional in the slightest. Your friend had said something innocuous. Something about a particular character on the TV being “kinda cute.” And because they are your friend, and such company tends to make one drop their guard, you had responded with an equally innocuous comment: “yeah I guess, just not my type.”
Then the choking and revealing sets in, and time slows to a terrorizing crawl.
Your brain begins to reel back, evaluating the statements in play. Its initial reaction is panic of the “oh no what did I just say!?” variety. Its first instinct is to roll back time, wish you can change the words that spilled out of your unthinking mouth.
Not having the ability to warp space and time, your mind instead begins to catastrophize. “Will they figure it out?” is the first step, followed by “What will they say?” Like all catastrophizing, it’s a series of steps, starting at two reasonable conclusions or questions; but then it begins to spiral. “Will they be mad?” is the next, followed soon by “Will they feel betrayed?” Like a falling down a set of stairs, the results get worse with the more steps taken. “What if they’re actually homophobic and just hide it well?” is the next painful step, then “What if they don’t want to be my friend anymore?” and “Will they feel betrayed because I never said anything to them?” are the next. Beyond those steps, even your paranoid mind can scarcely categorize the spinning horror. Thoughts of your friend telling all your other friends, and then your family, and then maybe even your coworkers or fellow students. What will they say? Will they disown you? Go far enough down the steps, and you can even arrive at conclusions of homelessness and death.
Your mind manages to avoid the worst of that though, and instead pulls itself out of catastrophizing and into a more “reasonable” form of analysis. Mostly with regards to how stupid you are. How silly it was to slip up like that. You could’ve just said “Yeah I guess” and stopped there, or even said nothing, nothing was a perfectly acceptable response. In fact, it was your usual response when it came to someone observing the beauty of the gender you’re supposedly not attracted to. Silence was easy, and in those circumstances, easily overlooked by everyone except the small voice trapped within you which yearned to be free.
After enough mental self-flagellation your mind begins to wander into sadness instead, another well-known friend of yours. The sadness of not being able to be open with your friend. The defeat and fatalism of forever being locked into a mental prison that will always hold part of you back, even if it seemed a small part at times. An awareness that, deep down, even some of your closest friends didn’t know the “true you” simply because you denied them access out of an abiding fear of what would happen if you did. Being safe but uncomfortable seems less risky than open and possibly disowned. It doesn’t matter that there was no shred of evidence that your friends and family would treat you any differently, the mere threat, and the stories of those who had thought the same only to become friendless and without family, hold you back on their own.
When it comes to the closet, logic is not in play, fear is. Fear and sadness.
Sadness becomes anger once again; a terrible coin being flipped. Not at yourself this time. But at your friends, your family, the world, all of it. The outside forces and pressures that make the prospect of truly owning who you are a threat. The world is unfair, this you know, but the fact that it seems that it won’t even let you be who you are due to preconceived notions and opinions you had no chance to help shape in anyway seems uniquely cruel rather than simply unfair. The world is filled with misery as is, and it can’t even do you the favor of allowing you to be yourself while dealing with its many challenges and hurdles.
The world can be kind though. You know this too. The world isn’t entirely unfair, it has its beauty and majesty in measures. Finally, a positive emotions swells, if dimly, in your heart. Hope. This isn’t how you would’ve chosen to do this, but maybe it’s for the best. You just admitted yourself to your friend on accident, no chance to overthink your confession, no endless worrying beforehand. The word was out, delivered, and you couldn’t take it back now. You’d known your friend for what felt like an eternity and trusted them implicitly with everything else about you. It was silly to think they wouldn’t accept you for who you were, and all the fear and doubt was as unfair to them as it was to yourself. This could be the moment where it all turns around. The choking lessens, the oppressive stage lights dim. A crack in the closet door, warm light pouring in.
All of these thoughts, a whirlwind of ideas and images, of emotions and personal expression, happen in what feels like an eternity, but is in reality but a moment. Time has no claim on the nightmare of panic, and it is only your friends quiet and even chuckle that breaks you own of the storm of feeling.
With the same emphasis one may give to stating the weather, your friend says: “Yeah of course they aren’t, you’re straight.”
Your heart is gone.
It was punched out, and the person punching didn’t even know they did so. In fact, they’d probably be mortified to know that they had.
All the emotions, the panic, the self-hatred, the sadness, and promise of catharsis, all gone. Replaced with only a hollow numbness that spreads throughout your body. The numbness is the confliction of two emotions: relief that your friend did not notice, and pain at the world’s denial of you.
Like all the other emotions, you are used to this one too.
The numbness of your body is only amplified by the haunting statement. Statement may even be too strong a term, it was two words after all.
The ultimate denial. As if the world itself is reminding you of what it perceives you to be. A confirmation that your disguise is so perfect that even those who know you best cannot see through it.
After all, if one does as a thing, and that thing is perceived by the world, is that thing not true? Thoughts are intangible, but actions are reality. All your friend did was remind you of what your actions told, reminded you of the mask you constantly maintain.
So, you settle in. You let the adrenaline and pain drain from your body. You let the numbness pass over you. It shall pass, it always does.
This is your daily reality. A reality that shall be until you make it otherwise; if you can make it otherwise. If you’re safe to do otherwise.
This is your life. This is many people’s lives. This was my life.
This is my worst nightmare.