Here you go… The final installment of Better Than Pride. In less than 24 hrs Better Than Friends will be released! Thank you all for your support and kind words. I can’t wait for you to finally read Curt and Jack’s story! 😉 In the meantime…back to Aaron and Matt. * Fun fact…The photo above is Provincetown, MA.
The four of us walked into town the next morning for breakfast. The plan was to get something to eat and do a little sightseeing before the parade started at noon. As we turned on to Commercial Street, the main drag in town, I was transfixed by visions of rainbows. Large rainbow flags literally draped every business and though the streets weren’t crowded yet, most of the people out and about were bedecked in Pride-themed clothing of some sort. I looked down at my boring white T-shirt and khaki shorts and wondered if I looked too… straight. I felt uncomfortable for no real reason. Was it the clothing? Unlikely. I tended to dress more conservatively than Aaron but that had as much to with my job as a lawyer at a prominent DC firm as it did with the fact I wasn’t as adventurous as he was. However, I rarely felt out of place the way I did now.
I didn’t realize I had become quiet until Peter nudged my arm. We were walking side by side while Aaron and Jay chatted animatedly a few steps ahead of us.
“You okay?” He looked over at me with an amused, teasing grin.
“Hmm. Just soaking it all in.”
“I bet.” Asshole.
Two buff body builder types passed me on my left mumbling a quick “excuse me” when one of them accidentally brushed my shoulder. I looked up to say “no problem”, but ended up staring after them instead. They were two large muscular men, easily taller than my own six foot one, dressed in matching snug, light pink T-shirts holding hands. Peter barely glanced at them but I couldn’t stop gawking. In my defense, no one could deny that seeing those two same men walking down Main Street in most towns across the USA would turn heads. On Commercial Street, no one seemed to notice but me.
I’m not proud to admit it but I felt odd and out of place. Everyone seemed to belong here but me. What was my problem? While it’s true I wasn’t accustomed to seeing homosexual men and women so freely express themselves out in the open on a beautiful sunny day on a main street, I wasn’t exactly sheltered. I lived in DC, for Christ’s sake. And I lived and slept with a beautiful man every night. I talked about equal rights with as much passion as any of my friends.
But this air of freedom was new to me. It wasn’t about vigilance. It was about acceptance.
It made me think about the difference between politics and our fundamental rights as humans. The call to fight for empowerment versus the quiet knowledge we deserve the same respect and freedom as our peers. I grew up knowing my place and expecting equality as my due. For the first time, I acknowledged I was part of a minority simply because I loved a man. However, I still expected to be treated equally. It was as much a right to me as breathing.
I was quiet during breakfast. I knew Aaron sensed my inner turmoil. I wanted to reassure him I was good so he wouldn’t think I was uncomfortable for the wrong reasons. He suggested we take a walk on our own and leave Peter and Jay to shop in town. When we stepped back out onto the street together, we walked without speaking until we reached the boardwalk. Then Aaron stopped suddenly and turned to face me with a look that was equal parts irritation and serious concern.
“Matty, you’re being weird. Are you all right?”
‘All right’ was code for something deeper. I’d been with Aaron long enough to understand the intricacies of communication with my sometimes volatile boyfriend. His sunglasses hid his eyes, but his posture and tone told me I should tread carefully and choose my words wisely. I’m not good at finding the right words when I need them most, so I stalled for a moment, taking off my flip flops and moving toward the warm sand. I jerked my head toward the beach.
“Walk with me?”
We made our way silently to stroll on the wet sand near the water’s edge. I didn’t know how to explain my feelings to Aaron or where to start.
“So, is it too strange being around so many gay people? Are you sorry you’re here?”
I looked down at him and almost tripped on the uneven sand.
“To be honest…yes, it is strange for me. But no, I’m not sorry I’m here. I’m really glad I’m here. With you. And Peter and Jay too. I just… I feel caught between feeling a little uncomfortable in one way but thinking how cool this place is on another. That probably doesn’t make much sense. I guess I’m just not used to it…um, to being around so many rainbows.” Lame. I shrugged knowing it was the best I could do at the moment.
Aaron nodded and stopped suddenly to pick up a shell. I waited until he resumed our path along the shoreline. When he spoke again his tone was low and serious.
“This may be difficult to understand, but in a way I live everyday feeling a little uncomfortable. It’s better now that I’m older, but until I could figure out what was safe and who was safe, I was always a little afraid.”
He stopped suddenly and this time motioned for me to join him on the dry sand.
“Your shorts will get sandy, babe.” I warned hoping to inject a little levity. I had a feeling this conversation was going to be a little heavy.
“Matty, these are swim trunks. They’re the special kind that look like regular shorts. Cool, huh?”
He modeled his cool shorts, and I felt myself stir when he lifted his shirt showing off his toned tan abdomen. God, I was insatiable. I had more sex than almost anyone I knew, but I could never seem to get enough of him. The littlest things turned me on. I adjusted myself and took a seat beside my smirking lover. He knew exactly what he did to me.
“Matty, I and every gay person, male and female, come from the same world you do. We aren’t from another planet. We have families who may love us, but have expectations about how we should act and who we should love. Probably because theirs had the same of them. My own parents had this saying about how our behavior as kids was a reflection of them. When you’re told you’re lacking somehow or another you end up trying to hide the parts of you that embarrass the people you love. You begin to hide and pretend to be something you aren’t or live a life that isn’t fulfilling because you ultimately feel the real you is unworthy. I wasn’t the type of kid who could hide easily. I gave myself away just by looking the way I did. A little softer and more feminine than other boys.”
Aaron straightened his legs and wiggled his toes in the sand before continuing. “That’s the past. Everyone goes through their own crap where they come to terms with their sexuality. Gay or straight. But not everyone has to worry about being safe because they were born loving differently.” I watched him as he looked out to sea, his brow furrowed. “I’m not saying anything you don’t know on some level. The difference is that for you, this coming to terms with loving me… a man, came later for you. Maybe you always kind of had the hots for guys too, but you didn’t do anything about it, because it wasn’t safe. Right? You were afraid to really be you.”
I nodded in agreement. It was true. Until Aaron, I had been able to successfully talk myself out of any attraction I harbored toward men. Aaron… I couldn’t deny.
“We live in a pretty progressive city, at least when you compare us to the rest of the US. But there is so much inequality still. So much ugliness and prejudice. Here, in this little town… I can be me. Period. There are other places like it, but the truth as far as I’m concerned, is that every place should be like this. We should be able to hold hands in public in broad daylight without people thinking we’re weird or disgusting. We should be able to show simple affection without being accused of indecency. I would love to see a world where every teenage boy or girl who finds him or herself admiring someone of the same sex, doesn’t feel ashamed or unworthy in any way.”
He took a deep breath.
“Those rainbow flags back in town? They’re a symbol. A symbol for equality. Symbols mean more to some people than others, but to me, those colors mean we are the same as every single hetero person in the world, but for how we love. I love men and … ”
I shot him an irritated glance. He chuckled and pinched my arm.
“I love you, Matty. You know what I’m saying. I’ve always been this way. A little odd, a little different than other boys I went to school with. But the frustrating thing is that it took me so long to realize I wasn’t that odd and I wasn’t alone. There were many many other boys out there like me. I hope in our lifetimes we see a day when towns like this are one of many. This town’s rainbow colors should bleed into the next town and the town beyond it. Maybe different can be normal.”
He turned to face me, setting his hand on my knee.
“I know you love me, Matty. You make everything in my life better. You make me feel beautiful and special.”
Aaron smiled sweetly and lifted my hand to his mouth to kiss.
“The more you’re around people like me, who you don’t know… intimately or otherwise, the more comfortable you’ll be with who you are as far as your sexuality is concerned. You can say it all day long, but the fact is… just because you sleep with me doesn’t mean that you aren’t still tied to those old ways of thinking. That’s why it’s still weird for you to see two men holding hands, or two women kissing.”
“So you’re saying I need more gay in my life?”
He smirked and lowered his glasses down his nose to give me his best “doesn’t everyone?” look.
“I think you’re right. I mean, I am comfortable on one hand, but there is a side of me that grew up, I don’t know… programmed differently. I’m working on it.” I leaned over and kissed the side of his mouth. “But just so we’re clear, I am proud. Proud of you and proud to be with you.”
I stood up and pulled him to his feet, holding out my hand in invitation. Aaron beamed one of his glorious megawatt smiles at me.
“You want to hold my hand?” His smile was shy and a little vulnerable.
“Yeah.” I kissed his hand briefly before wrapping him in my arms and breathing him in.
Proud didn’t begin to describe how I felt about Aaron. It was a woefully inadequate adjective in so many ways. He’d turned my world upside down and nothing was the same for me. I couldn’t imagine going back to a life where I didn’t have his rainbow-infused magic painting every piece of my life. He made everything more vibrant and beautiful. I was beyond proud. I was grateful.