Less a Closet Than a Hall of Doors
Behind a door, beneath an organizer, there is a tupperware box. Squat, blue, with a coating of dust grummied by the occasional fingerprint. Few humans have heard the comforting ffffffwip that comes when you open it, because this box contains one of my most dread secrets.
It is full of Dungeons and Dragons books.
Not simply the $4.95 Dragonlance serial novels that spent at least 80 books raping the core storyline - that would be almost forgivable - but manuals and campaign boxed sets and the velvety Crown Royal sack full of enough shiny, multi-colored dice to distract a small legion of ferrets.
The small consolation in this personal geekery is that I was never much of a player. No, I really only liked the idea of playing. I spent hours writing campaigns and reading the various spell descriptions in the player's handbook, fantasizing about the chaos I could create if only I could web the senior hall between fifth and sixth periods. Soon I had spiral notebooks full of lists: lists of magic items, and plots, and deities.
Given that I was a fairly centrist teenager - not a nerd, not a jock, just kinda sorta there - there was no ready means to actually play the game. Those who did and were fairly open about it were a frightening sort. All emaciation and pale skin, wild, dandruff-ridden hair, and great bulging eyes forced to evolve outward to grasp light in a world accustomed to the angsty, gothic darkness of a curtained bedroom with only a computer monitor providing warmth. When you're middling on the high school social totem, the wrong association can consign you to that week's sacrificial pit, and I was always keen to avoid it.
Still, I harbored my secret as best I could, hiding my notebooks deep within folders within folders. I stole surreptitious glances at other people's notebooks whenever I passed the players' table at lunch. Every few Mondays, I would sit quite near them, eyes fixed forward as I idly listened to a harrowing account of how they rescued the hot daughter of the local duke, and she was only too willing to repay the characters' kindness in multiple sexual favors that were well out of the reach of the actual players.
Though I couldn't because of the fear of social consequences, I wanted to say something. I wanted to leap up and shout "You know, if you contingency a fireball on an hourglass, you could so create a time bomb!" With a need to share that great, it was only a matter of time before I let slip little comments that, had anyone been listening, would've let anyone know where my secret passion lay. When it finally happened, it became a nightmare of epic proportions.
It was a typical class in Honors British Lit. We had been assigned to write a satirical story in the spirit of Jonathan Swift, though the teacher gave no outline and few instructions about what he wanted. I was in the middle of a tale about downtrodden townspeople forced by their pompous lord to build a statue using no materials and no blueprints - because I've always been a smart ass like that - when a guy we'll call Mark began muttering to himself and furiously scratching out, drawing, and scratching out again something he was working on in his note book.
Glancing over, I whispered "If you leave a hollow space in the middle of the spiral stairs, you can make it so a false step will send the party into the spike trap below. Maybe even create a magic arrow trap to tip them over the edge. Use a dexterity check." Though I bent over my paper and continued writing, I was fully aware that his large, protruding eyes were watching me, seeing me in a different light. I finished the paper and continued on with my regularly scheduled existence.
But the slip had been made, the small admission. Suddenly, Mark was in the library when I was in the library. Mark would stand quite close to me as we lined up in gym. He was always behind me in line at lunch, watching me with hopefulness. Two weeks after the initial incident, I surrendered and asked how the trap worked out.
"Great! But only the half-ogre and human in the party fell into it," he replied despondently.
During the days and weeks afterwards, I made small talk now and then, but always careful never to seem too eager. Still, it was not long before I found him lurking around my locker between periods, notebook at the ready, excited to show me the latest horror he wanted to unleash upon his players. I'd glance around nervously, taking careful note of whether or not we were seen.
Finally, he committed the most unforgivable of sins; he approached my lunch table as I sat surrounded by friends. They looked to one another in confusion and alarm, the silent, flickering questions passed like notes over the lunch trays. With an expression more distasteful than the salisbury steak, I dismissed him as rapidly as possible.
From then on, I treated him with a nonchalance that went far beyond the borders of cold. I did all but shout, "For the love of god, go away!" He'd slink off into the passing crowd between periods, and I'd swallow the awful feeling that had traveled from stomach to throat. But, still, for another day at least, I had staved off the public realization that I was part geek.
Not long after this, I'd find myself standing at that same locker with the same frosty attitude as a lispy, limp-wristed blonde swimmer talked excitedly to me after I'd made a different admission. Instead of a small comment in English class, I'd made a rather large statement with my mouth and hands during a rum-fuelled party.
Today, I stand around balconies and gay bars, surreptitiously listening to various comments, waiting for the unlikely moment when someone says "Fuck Michael Moore!" or "I voted for Bush." As then, I still let little comments slip and see the same raised eyebrows and questions in response. The high schoolers may now be grown gay men, and the notebook now a blog, but I still write away, looking around, full of the same passion.
Today, I hope that another Mark or blonde swimmer will come along, knowing I'd give them anything but a frosty reception.
Gay men know more than enough about closets, as we've opened door after door after door. Conservatism is just another door, and as with the others, flinging it open brings with it a certain freedom to be just who we are, proudly and unapologetically.