I grew up terrified.
When I was 12, I wasn’t particularly afraid of clowns or monsters or troubled ghosts, but as puberty hit at the start of middle school, I was terrified of myself.
I was a gay boy in the early 90s and though I didn’t quite have the vocabulary for it, I knew that I wasn’t like any of the other kids at my all-boys prep school, where masculinity was modeled, crafted, and policed in very specific ways; ways I feared I did not—and could not—match. I knew the game “smear the queer,” and played it as the smearer and the smeared with a knot in my stomach, because it taught me the inevitable violence attached to being different in that way. Smearer or smeared, those were the only options. Though no one ever said so explicitly, every message I received told me that if I was gay, I was doomed.