So there I was at 10 a.m. one Tuesday morning last August, sound asleep. I had returned home to New Orleans only a few days earlier after a summer internship in New Haven and was looking forward to a week or so of total leisure with few reasons not to sleep past noon. Until that morning I had found none.
I finally got one in the form of my sister Emily, who I could hear bounding up the staircase to my room. (I knew it was Em because my brother Matt was asleep, my Dad was out of town, and my Mom hardly ever comes up to my room, and if she did she would never bound.) Startled, I sat up. What could she want so early in the morning? This was her vacation, too.
She pushed through the door of my room without knocking.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“We have a problem.”
This was highly unusual for a Tuesday morning in August, so I immediately worried that it could be serious. We had been robbed? A car was stolen? My Dad had a heart attack? It could have been anything, but the heaviness in her voice told me it was bad. As she took a seat in the large armchair in the corner of my room and leaned forward, Emily spoke.
“Mom got a cease-and-desist letter from our internet provider. They found a copyrighted file on a computer coming from our house.”
I couldn’t believe it. Just the day before, Mom had forbidden my brother and me from downloading music while at home on account of something she had heard on the news about the RIAA filing suits. We had obeyed, grudgingly, and apparently too late.
Emily handed me a slip of paper with an IP address on it.
“Is this your computer?”
I nodded. It was indeed my computer.
“Shit, Em, I’m so sorry. Of course, I’ll take the fall,” I added, shocked at what had just come out of my mouth. Take the fall? Where was I? Apparently in the land of shivs and bitches and nailfiles baked in cakes. It was all too absurd a situation to wake up to — but I meant it. It was my fault, and I was prepared to own up to it.
“Well, here’s the thing,” Emily went on. “It’s not music.”
I froze, then shuddered as I comprehended. I think a lot of information-age males have this nightmare — that their moms will find out they’ve been using the family internet to download porn — but for most it remains just that, a nightmare. At twenty-two, a week from starting my senior year in college, I felt like the most unlikely person to suddenly be living it. And this was a man-sized nightmare. This was gay porn, and I hadn’t yet come out to my family.
“F–k,” I said. It was all I could say to her. No situation has ever seemed more appropriate for expletives. I realized, though, that this particular expletive was a bad choice when I remembered what we were talking about. It’s what they do in porn, after all.
“This is the file in question. Do you have it on your computer?” my sister asked in her best Ally McBeal, handing me a slip of paper with a filename on it. My slender hope that perhaps our internet provider had not revealed the nature of my porn was dashed when I looked at the filename. A Mormon girl might have found the movie’s title perplexing, but to everyone else its meaning would clear — Debbie may have done Dallas, but in this kind of movie, she’d be lucky to get a job as a production assistant.
I looked up at her, pouted and whined. My sexuality had been laid on the table — slammed, rather, like the King’s prize pig — and I had no control over it. I felt I was being examined — look at the dirty gay boy! My immediate reaction was to try to revert to my pre-pubescent self, to act like a child. I wanted to show my sister the insecure boy who knew nothing of Diesel, Kylie Minogue, and hooking up with guys. I wanted to testify, “I’m no pervert!” I wanted to scream, “It’s not fair!”
But I couldn’t. It was fair. I had been a sexual being for years, and everyone was in on it but my family. I guess I felt I didn’t have to tell them. I’ve been gay all my life, and they must have known that. As a child I displayed so many tell-tale markers of being gay that my parents were on to me very early. I was sensitive. I found it difficult to relate to other boys at school. I was “crafty” — not in a “con-artist” way, but in a “needlepoint-owl pillowcase” way. I was fashion-conscious. Like a proto-Carson Kressley, I scoffed at the ridiculous t-shirts my older brother wore in middle school. (The baggy one that said “Shaggy and Scoob” bore the brunt of my contempt.) My own taste in clothes was extravagant by my thrifty mother’s standards. I baked, preferred “Bushel and a Peck” to “Luck Be A Lady,” and called the end-zone the “touchdown” until I was fourteen. How could there ever have been any doubt in their minds?
These, of course, are all stereotypes, but together they were enough to convey what I didn’t actually want to say — that more important than all that other stuff, I’m sexually attracted to guys. In ways that Walt Whitman didn’t cover, ways a Will & Grace script will never touch. It’s something I never had the courage to say. And now the porn said it for me.
I got out of bed, resolved to make things better. I clearly had some owning up to do. I limped down the stairs to the computer room, just as my Mom was finishing her conversation with the internet provider. I stood leaning in the doorway, my arms wrapped tightly around my stomach, my face in a plaintive frown.
“Great!” she said into the telephone, “thanks,” and then hung up. She turned to me. “The guy at Cox” — another word I wish hadn’t come up in the conversation — “says our service won’t be turned off!”
Her nonchalance about the whole episode was surprising. Didn’t she look hard at that filename? Her little baby, who burned his hand on a hot glue gun when he was eight, her favorite dance partner at family weddings, liked to look at guys doing it. He might even be doing it himself. Was she in denial?
“Mom, I’m so sorry about this,” I said, not willing to let her get away with things so easily. Things couldn’t get much more awkward, so I thought we’d knock it all out at once. Didn’t she have questions? Didn’t she want to tell me to be careful? Wasn’t she the slightest bit mad.
“Oh, Rico, sweetie, don’t worry about it. You didn’t do anything a hundred thousand other boys your age aren’t also doing. You were just dumb enough to get caught.”
It sure didn’t feel like a hundred thousand to me, but if that was my Mom’s calculus of just how normal my sexuality was, I wasn’t going to argue. Somewhat more satisfied, I decided to drop it. My sexuality had been out of practice for quite some time, so we wouldn’t really have much to talk about anyway. She handed me the cease-and-desist letter.
“Follow that link. You get total amnesty if you buy the video. It’s out of your own money, though. I looked it up — it’s not cheap.”
And that’s how the whole episode ended: with Mom lamenting that the gay porno I was now legally obligated to purchase wasn’t cheap. I guess some things don’t change.
Eric Eagan is a film buff.