It’s National Outdoor Sex Day—a little-known holiday filled with risqué fun, questionable impulse decisions, and liquid motivation called alcohol. Not thinking, I casually mention the novel holiday to my coworkers, all of whom are male, and the jokes begin. For a surprisingly long moment, the conversation stays mature. But, inevitably, the comments veer into ribald territory, and, as the mid-level retail manager on duty, I redirect the conversation back into HR-friendly territory. My staff tease me, saying I don’t want to talk about it because I don’t have a girlfriend. I smile, nod, and say nothing like usual whenever the topic of relationships arises.
Sure, I’m single, but women aren’t the problem—it’s men. I’m gay and in the closet. Just a few friends and family know.
My college classes are done since it’s Friday, but the weekend looms. My hip jangles as I walk to each department in the store, the bundle of keys on my beltloop evincing authority I have little true power to assert. I’m handing out pricing lists for the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend Extravaganza! sale in a couple weeks to black-shirted employees whose names I won’t remember in ten years. By the end of the summer, most of them will be promoted to customer for being late too many times.
Handing over the paper stack, my left wrist twinges with pain. Velcro straps on a black brace are pulled tight and stretched out from constant use. The brace has been a companion for about a year and will be for a few more until two surgeries finally conquer a deep and stubborn ganglion cyst.
But the holiday sale and wrist pain aren’t what I’m thinking about—school finals are impending and math isn’t my strong suit. The elderly algebra teacher redefines “gruff” and “nitpicky” in a should’ve-long-retired-by-now sort of way. Quadratic functions and Pythagorean theorems are interspersed with repetitious complaints about the old man’s ex-wife and her “new” husband of eight years. The professor wants her back but the likelihood is extremely low and the man sadly isn’t doing his own math.
I empathize with him in my own lonely way, but, just like the ex-wife, I’m ready to escape and move on to better things. I must finish final exams and complete the Associate’s degree next Fall, then transfer to Pacific Lutheran University in Washington to finish my Bachelor’s degree. And, before I move, I must have an honest conversation with myself about my homosexuality and the anguish concealing it causes. I’ll force myself to no longer hide behind lies of omission, which is easy to do because I’m straight-acting. When people ask me if I have a girlfriend, I will still answer “no” but eliminate any understandable-yet-inaccurate assumptions of my heteronormativity by following up with “I’m gay.” It’s a phrase I will find incredibly uncomfortable, but ten years later, the edge will mostly be lost.
And ten years later, it will be National Outdoor Sex day again. I still won’t celebrate, but I’ll still find the idea entertaining. Those better things I desire will have been achieved: a calming sense of identity and self-acceptance, a healthy wrist, an MFA degree, and a new, invigorating career-path. I’ll be back in these same community college classrooms—a teacher instead of a student, sans-gruffness and hopefully far less nitpicky. I’ll see students sitting in these same chairs nurturing dreams and goals of their own, holding personal secrets and hidden truths, striving and growing and overcoming. And it will be an absolute privilege to help them start their own ten-year journey.
Phillip E. Dixon is a writer, musician, and college English instructor living in Las Vegas. He holds an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University, and a BA in English Literature from Pacific Lutheran University. He plays guitar and mandolin, speaks poor German, and is definitely stuck in traffic right now.