There is a man I sleep with from time to time who is very concerned with the possible existence of other partners. I lie to him. As far as he must know, there is only him; he is, after all, the only one who asks about others. I don’t lie to many people, in fact, few would call me a proper liar, but his concern belies my usual tendencies. He has never asked that I stop sleeping with other people, nor has he broached the possibility of a relationship and I doubt he possesses the fragility necessary to discuss those subjects. I don’t start those conversations because although I find him charming and even a good lay, he isn’t exactly someone with whom I would like to do anything else.
I like our little game. We sit on my couch, smoke cigarettes and drink tea. I let him speak to me about whatever he wishes, be it his love of Miley Cyrus or the most recent fight he had with his mom. Then I suggest we head to bed where we snuggle and fuck and then after we cuddle into a round two, he leaves. Now, is a good time to mention two things about this man, let’s call him P. He isn’t out to his family, whom he lives with, and we are in Belgrade, Serbia.
One time, I saw him after a few weeks had passed and I had slept with two other men in the interim. I considered telling him when he asked, but I said “Nope, none.”
“Yes you did, you slut.”
And he pushed me into my bedroom. That was the first night he stayed over, lying to his parents about where he was over the phone, as I kissed his chest and scratched his back to distract him. Round two.
Silence of queer identity is a common phenomenon in this part of the world. P says his mother knows, but they don’t talk about it. Once I gave him a hickey about his Adam’s apple (lord forgive me for taking a bite) and I suggested it may cause a problem when he arrived home. He promised me his mother wouldn’t say a word to him about it.
My neglectful emotional intelligence and my sex life aren’t interesting unless I think about why they matter.
Scholars call this a “transparent closet” and it is a regional phenomenon. In these societies, families recognize their children as queer, even accommodate partners in family gatherings, but rarely discuss the actual issue of “coming out.” The idea of “coming out” represents a relatively new one, a project that tracks with the outgrowth of neoliberalism here. Until maybe thirty years ago, coming out, as such, in the West meant taking a wide variety of risks from the social to the personal, and for some, risks still loom large, grinding people to a fine powder. But heterosexism and homophobia are world problems, not ones limited to the non-West, even if politicians now accommodate queer rights within the framework of “Western values.”By jumping in this rhetorical way, political actors have made heterosexism and homophobia cultural problems, but, the disease of heterosexism is one of politics and there its answer lies, not in culture or values. However, as much as I would like to believe in my individual ability to act in politics, only a mass movement could shatter the closet’s doors be they solid, opaque, or transparent.
I don’t think P considers himself closeted. I might; though, I waver on the efficacy of that status, in or out. It’s a bit binary isn’t it, and don’t queer folks not want that? And yet, binaries present themselves to us nearly every day. Top or bottom, butch or femme, in or out, Pride or Dyke March. I have my own answers to these binaries, and indeed a 0 or 1 system of identification smooths over many social interactions. I quite like these binaries for their order and system; they simply identify who I am, what I want, and who my enemies are. Some people wish to move beyond these boundaries, but transgression bores me, in fact, transgression may just be trolling; to paraphrase Billy Idol, all that Tweeting and all those slay queens, and we still got Trump.
But P doesn’t necessarily fit into these binaries, which whether or not it is a good or bad thing, represents a fact of life. People live their lives within matrices of choices, not in 0’s and 1’s. P could “come out,” but what would that do necessarily? He has queer folks in his life, he exists as a queer person, whatever exactly that means, without ever saying those two words, “I am…” Might that mean he is lying, is it deception, lying by omission?
It is worth then revealing more of myself. I am an American living in Belgrade with such a big ole, fancy, grant I dare not name it. That would be too confessional, and this isn’t Church. In relation to P, I am out. I am here in Belgrade studying queer and Trans culture and politics, my family knows about my identity, and I am open about my sexuality in situations where such questions matter, which are few. I find it rather sexy then, that P is relatively closeted, there is a feeling that we are doing something secret.
Secrets, secrets are no fun/secrets, secrets hurt someone. Yes, I do lie about my sexual history to him. We use condoms. I get tested. My lying wraps a cloak around our relationship, keeping it if not warm, at least safe from unnecessary concerns or distractions. Maybe these lies make me a bad person, which is fine. But, he must know there are others. He knows I use Grindr but I’m trying to quit, I swipe on Tinder when I’m drunk, and I attend all the right parties to meet other queer people. I don’t tell him because my time here is limited and it’s not worth the possible pain I may cause by revealing my body count. I also think that’s a lie. The truth is I don’t see anything with P beyond our little game of cigarettes, tea and sex, but I like that.
I consider myself someone destined for the long slog of monogamy, although I don’t bemoan “those types of gays” who don’t. Another binary: those gays and these gays. Those gays only drink and do blow and fuck in bathrooms. Those gays are dangerous, even though they use PreP. Those gays are messy. These gays are good people. These gays have 401(k)’s and stable jobs. These gays wear khakis and are mayors and run for President. I worry if I tell P the truth, he will label me “one of those gays,” and I will counter with “No, I’m not!” instead of the more obvious issue: what’s wrong with them? They seem to be having fun.
Real life is far more interesting than the binary. P and I attended a party together at one of the few gay clubs here. He vomited up yogurt on the way there, but demanded we proceed. Yes, sir. Upon our arrival, another man approached me and hugged me. I don’t remember this man’s name, but he knew mine. P proceeded deeper in without me and when I found him he asked, “Is that another one of your Serbian boys?”
“Long ago, yes.”
“You don’t have to lie.”
The idea that P thinks of me as a princess up in a tower, virginal, untouched is far more pleasurable than the truth. Men need to be lied to from time to time, tricked like the fragile beings we are. These lies create self, which we create from the Other, sometimes other men. I need P to think of me as someone, who is, if not special, at least someone honest and strong. He must think I don’t use Grindr to smooth over my loneliness in this foreign country. He must think that I don’t want him, that most of the time, I don’t even need him. He must think I don’t like waking up to him curled in my bed, his olive skin accenting my plaid sheets, and he must never know I think about what could be when I make him eggs and brew coffee. He must never imagine I think these things because if that dream comes to life, I must be honest with him, which doesn’t fit my fantasy.
We live in precarious, lonely times and I am a precarious, lonely person. My fantasy may hurt P, it might even hurt me, but now, right now, it feels good, it feels great. I don’t want a relationship with P, in fact, I don’t want more than my lies and fantasies, those feel far greater than reality. Actually, that’s not true. If we had met months ago, when my year long stay in Belgrade looked endless, when I played with the fantasy of a Serbian boyfriend before they lined up and disappointed me, as men do, when I wanted an Old-World, stable man, whose family possessed a history and lineage deeper than that of my own country, then maybe I’d have been honest.
The other fantasy I entertain places me in the transparent closet with P, snuggled up but available for the world to see. We are on display like the Fag Collection at IKEA, take your pick, instructions for care and assembly are in the warehouse. I wonder, if I had not felt the individual desire to declare “I am…” by smashing open those solid closet doors with a Facebook status and loud declarations throughout college, then would I be in there with him? I fantasize about the person P would have met in me, if I had not been so boisterous and loud and proud in college, then subsequently embarrassed when I realized that was all I had when I placed my graduation cap on my bulbous head. All that yelling at people and you still graduated alongside them. In this fantasy, I am honest, a little quieter, a little more generous to my friends and family.
P represents a fantasy as well, a lie. He and I don’t have conversations about our emotions, our hopes or dreams. We only sleep together in my bedroom from time to time. We dance together and kiss at the right clubs, then he comes home with me. In a few months, all I will have of P is this essay, our long nights of giggling and kissing mined for content and ending with this word.