This is the third and final part of My Time in Tuscany memoir. In case you have not read the first two parts, I recommend reading them first.
In my final year at school, when I was very much aware that I was gay but did not dare to tell anyone, the school hosted ‘The Gimpelfest’. It was the most anticipated event for teenagers at my school. Especially the girls were excited about which boy would ask them out for the dance. It was a very traditional ball, the closest thing you would get to a prom in Austria. And by ‘traditional’ I mean conservative and straight.
The opening of the Gimpelfest, was a dance where boys in a suit would dance the waltz with girls in a white dress. Of course, Maria was one of those girls. She looked absolutely gorgeous, ready for a wedding. A boy and a girl but no other way.
Luke Turner wrote in Out of the Woods: My school had over 900 pupils, yet in my seven years there I never knew of one out gay or bisexual boy, only the bullying that was directed at anyone vaguely suspected of being a ‘poof’. I had to laugh when I read this. I could have written this line. It applied exactly to my school. Only that I was there for eight years and there were about 1300 pupils.
Events like the Gimpelfest where straightness was celebrated did not make it easier to question one’s own sexuality or come out. Like I managed to avoid Facebook for a time, I managed to avoid going to the Gimpelfest up until the last year when I had to go because traditionally, the senior pupils host the Gimpelfest in their final year. In that year and in the year before I was asked out by two girls to open the ball. I declined both of them because I said I hated dancing. I was impressed by the girls who asked me out. It should have been the other way around. A boy should ask out a girl but no other way. Again, I felt jealous and ashamed that they could overcome their fear, but I could not.
I arrived after the opening of the ball and left shortly after midnight. It was an okay evening but a night I truly wished I could have skipped. I was embarrassed to have attended an event I was unable to associate with at all.
The year of the Gimpelfest was the same year my family and me went back to Tuscany in summer. One evening after dinner I went back to the hotel early because I wondered how I could come out to my sister and my parents. I stared out the window and watched the waves. The moon and the stars shone brilliantly over the dark sea; the foam illuminated by the moonlight. The shapes of the breaking waves looked like mermaids emerging from the depths of the sea and then disappearing within blackness again. To stop myself from thinking about coming out, I thought about my stories. I have not written anything in a couple of months. Suddenly, the door opened behind me. It was my sister. She kicked off her red high heels, fell on her bed and smiled at me.
‘You missed some fun tonight. Mama was so drunk by the end of it. She had two cocktails. She is such a lightweight.’ She giggled and I looked at her, wondering if I should tell her that she too was a lightweight. She continued: ‘You know what funny thing she said tonight?’
‘What did she say?’
‘She said, once you start studying in England you will probably get an English girlfriend. One that looks like Kate Middelton or that ugly Princess Eugene!’
I laughed and reassured her that I would not.
‘And then she said that you probably won’t get a girl like Kate Middelton, you’ll probably get a boyfriend.’
For a moment I froze. My sister went quiet and looked at me. Within this moment panic erupted within my brain like a tidal wave. I wanted to freeze time and run away. I knew it was time to talk to my family. All my best friends had boyfriends by now. I had remained single. My mother and my sister could sense what it was. I felt not ready to say it out loud. I just laughed and said: ‘Yes, you are both drunk. Do you want to go to the bathroom first or me?’
‘You can go.’ she said, sounding tired.
She switched on the little television of our two-bed hotel room, to end the conversation, knowing that I did not want to talk about this any further tonight. But I knew the time to tell would come soon.
Coming out was like an anti-climax. Nothing really happened. Nothing really changed. Originally, I wanted to write a scene where I would come out to someone. But none of them were worthwhile to mention. My best friends, my sister and my mama suspected it anyway and were just happy for me. My papa did not really mind but in personal matters he had always been like that. In Gay Bar Lin quoted Mark Simpson: If coming out isn’t a coming home, then it would mean that homos were still lost souls who have to face the universe alone. And that would be a bit of a downer, really.
I thought coming out would mean something, like an epiphany which would state that from here onward everything would be better. But everything continued as it was. All the shame that had accumulated inside of me did not go away but turned into anger and into the realisation that I had to come out in the first place. I had to go through all this pain, only so people would absolve me, respect me. I was out and I was still lost in a straight universe.
At the end of summer, before I would go to England to study at the University of York, my best friends and I went to a house party. I had come out to family and close friends and by now it had trickled down to their friends and their friends that I was out of the closet. I had become the only one to have disturbed this otherwise straight place. Lee Edelman wrote in No Future: –so the queer must insist on disturbing, on queering, social organization as such- on disturbing, therefore, and on queering ourselves and our investment in such organization. For queerness can never define an identity; it can only ever disturb one.
At the party, a guy from school walked over to me. We had never talked to each other. But here he came, all friendly, putting one arm around my shoulder. His breath smelled of alcohol and he said: ‘I just wanted to tell you, I accept you, the person that you are. It is okay to be that way.’
I nodded and then took his arm off my shoulder. I walked over to Maria, she smiled, and I sat down. She had not noticed it, otherwise she would have said something. Since I had come out, she has become very protective of me. I loved her for that. She and my other friends talked about something, but I wasn’t listening. I had listened enough. In this town my identity was now the ‘gay one’, the one who had disturbed a straight place, and everyone could accept me. It made them feel happy about confirming that they were not homophobic. It now felt like, as Edelman said, my queerness did not only disturb the town, but it disturbed me too. Queerness was not my identity. I was a person with more than just a sexuality. But it was now the one thing I had to be so the straights could be accepting, confirming how wonderful this accepting straight society was.
Loud music, the beats of Lady Gaga and rainbow flags were all around me. Two friends of mine and I were on the pride parade in Vienna. I had asked a couple of other friends too, but they had made excuses. By now I understood I was accepted by them, but once the gays would take over Vienna for the day, the straights preferred to stay at home. Some of them said it made them feel uncomfortable to be surrounded by so many gays.
Thousands of people had flocked to the city centre. People stood by the side of the street watching us or cheering us on. I could sense a divide between them and me, us and them. While gay pride was a wonderful thing to have, it confirmed what the straights allowed us to do. For one day we would celebrate. The straight society would smile and respect us. Then for the rest of the year the city would be theirs again.
It was an endless cycle: causing a disturbance, being a sensation and then gaining respect. I was tired. I was just a person. There was little point in respecting a person just for being born in a different way than society wanted.
Sometimes I wished that I could be relieved from all this disturbing and respecting. And while I walked along the pride path in Vienna, I was reminded about a walk I took on the beach in Tuscany. It was the day after I had the conversation with my sister in our small hotel room. I realised that the solution to overcome all of this might have been already there from the very beginning. My mermaids were not by the beach anymore, but they were with me in my mind.
The waves had turned silver- purple as the sun was setting dipping the world yet again into a honey gold. I could think clearer, I felt the freedom like when I was a child. I had to think about all the stories I had created here on the beach, the mermaids, the starfish librarians, the driftwood people, the prince and the princess. How I naturally decided that there would be a prince and a princess, a boy and a girl and no other way. But also, how I had naturally favoured the young surfer instead of his girlfriend. It has always been there. What if I could change the narrative from the beginning? What if I could create my own society with my own rules. I pictured a sandcastle kingdom by the green waves breaking. In my world, it was ruled by a prince and a prince who were in love. And no one would mind.