It was 3:30 a.m., the Vancouver streets freezing and windy. I was moving my feet frantically. I tried to run, but stumbled, wiping the tears running to my chin. I was alone. There were not even ghosts around, only two people begging for money on the corner of Seymour Street. I was more pathetic than they were, I thought.
I went to PJ last night with Melek. Then we went to Odyssey. Both gay bars. It was my first time in a gay bar. When we walked into Odyssey, the whole two stories were shaking with Neon Trees’ “Animal.” The lyrics fit my mood very well. “Here we are again. I feel the chemicals kickin’ in. It’s gettin’ heavier. I wanna run and hide… What are you waiting for… What are you waiting for… I won’t sleep tonight.”
I chucked down my third El Jimador tequila shot and jumped onto the dance floor. “I won’t sleep tonight.” I was singing at the top of my lungs. My feet were stamping on the floor and pushing me into the air. The harder I hit the floor, the higher I jumped. I loved the feeling of being free of gravity even just for one second. I was shaking my head, my body, and my spirit. My hands waved around, with my shoulders moving up and down like an animal. I tried to bend my knees and swing some dance moves I saw in the movie Step Up 2.
“Nice moves.” A guy turned to me. With his red hair and beard and boyish face, he looked like Mitchell from Modern Family, especially with his waving hands.
“What?” I yelled.
“Nice moves!” He leaned his head closer to my ear. A breath of warm air flowed on my sweating neck, a brief tingling feeling. I could not see his face well with the disco lights flashing. But his breath tasted like alcohol. I danced even harder.
After Lady Gaga’s “Telephone,” I danced myself off the floor to take a break. The alcohol started wearing off. Melek brought me another shot of tequila. I downed it without salt or lime.
I grew up in a family where nobody drank or smoked; the number of beers I had had in my life could be counted on the fingers of my right hand. Now, I just kept pouring tequila down my throat. The strong fiery liquor sent me to another universe. It felt good. I felt good.
I grabbed a bottle of Blue Moon and started exploring Odyssey. The rapidly flashing lights. The blast of dance music. It was like a thunderstorm with the howling wind and sideways rain of lyrics making me want to break free and let go.
Melek and I went upstairs. It was full of bright red leather couches instead of the tall bar stools of the first floor. The music was less brain-piercing. I scanned the room quickly. Way fewer people than downstairs. We found a couch in the far corner and sat down.
“Okay?” Melek put his muscled arm around my shoulder and gave me a squeeze.
“I feel amazing! Thank you for bringing me here.”
“Okay!” Melek smiled. I met Melek yesterday. He was from a Middle Eastern country that I could name neither in English nor Chinese. Short dark hair. Perfectly trimmed beard. His weathered skin sent out waves of warmth and safety. His words were few, but the deep voice added resonance.
After hearing my story of never having been to a gay bar, he brought me bar-hopping tonight. I was excited, thrilled, like a six-year-old boy waiting for Christmas. I wasn’t using my brain, my traditional Chinese values, or my eighteen years of education to guide my behavior.
I was soaking up every second and every mixed alcohol and cologne smell. A guy sat down on our table. “Nice choice of beer.” I turned my head at the strong Australian accent. He waved at me with his Blue Moon. With his completely shaved head, he looked like he had just come back from Afghanistan. His shirt was perfectly unbuttoned to reveal his chest, a little hairy and firm. The Gio Armani smell was familiar and not overpowering. “How are you, mate?”
“I am great! I feel wonderful! I feel amazing!” I couldn’t hide my excitement. I finally felt that I was not different than everybody else. There was nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of.
Maybe it was his wild Australian accent, or his white teeth when he smiled. Our conversation progressed. His name was Zack. He loved traveling. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines… the mention of all those countries brought back wonderful memories. I had traveled almost the entirety of Southeast Asia when I was working in Shanghai. He talked about his job. He was in the technology industry as well.
He said he knew he was gay when he was seven years old. He told me he liked Asian guys, especially ones from America. As I was wondering whether I qualified since I had lived in America for only three years, he put his warm hand on the right side of my face and whispered, “I like you.” My heart was in my throat.
He asked me to go back to his hotel with him. Five minutes away in a taxi, he added. I hesitated. I turned to Melek, who told me I was crazy.
My head was spinning with Neon Trees’ “What are you waiting for? What are you waiting for? I won’t sleep tonight.” I told Zack to wait a second. I rushed downstairs and gulped another tequila.
A few minutes later, we were in a taxi on the way to his hotel. Zack kept talking about how wonderful and beautiful I was. He barely knew me. I had listened to his stories in the bar, but I wasn’t making sense of anything. My logic had surrendered when I entered Odyssey. This was supposed to be a night to let go of who I was and explore who I should and could be.
Zack leaned into me and started kissing me. It was passionate. The taste of alcohol and the scent of his Gio Armani devoured me.
When we entered his hotel room, he turned down the lights and pushed me onto his bed. Jumping on top of me, he continued kissing and touching me. He was forceful. He ripped off my jacket and pants and threw them on the floor. What’s going to happen? A light flashed through my mind. Am I going to have my first ever sex with this guy that I met barely an hour ago?
He moved up to my ear. “I want to fuck you so bad.” The F-word that turned me on when watching porn now quenched my excitement. What was I doing here? I was still drowned in the five El Jimador tequila shots and two Blue Moons, but my last shred of conscience made me say no.
He pushed me down further, pressed his body on me. I struggled. He tried to pull my underwear down; I held on to it tightly. I said, “No.” He didn’t stop. My NOs were getting louder and louder. I writhed around and finally flipped him over. I grabbed my jacket and pants off the floor and charged out of his room.
The shots of tequila that led to so much laughter and fun and brought me to his room suddenly turned me into an emotional wreck. I was shaking. I couldn’t stop sobbing.
Maybe it was from the alcohol wearing off, or the realization of the dangerous situation I was in, but my heart was pounding so fast, like I was running the hundred-meter race for my life. My heart was aching, as if a heart attack was ten seconds away. Was that even possible?
Age twenty-eight, I was still a virgin.
Where was my hotel? I started wandering. I always used Google Maps for guidance even from work to home. There could be new roads worth exploring, or the real-time traffic data could guide me home faster. But now, completely lost inside, I didn’t bother to pull out my phone.
A cold wind blew my hair, pierced my body, made me shiver. What am I doing here? What am I doing in this lonely city where I don’t even know anybody? I didn’t know the answer, and I was too cowardly to search for it.
I thought about Melek, the only person I might call a friend. I should have listened to him. A friendship established two days ago was destroyed by me abandoning him. I thought about him telling me that he was homeless back in his country due to civil war. Was that feeling similar to what I felt now? Lost? Scared? Didn’t know where to go?
There was a girl who took him from the street and married him. They had a boy who was twelve years old now. Then, his refugee application was approved by Canadian Immigration while being rejected by the U.S. and other Western European countries. He was reborn in Canada. Living in the free land, he also found out that he was gay. He started to date guys and experienced something not possible to him before.
“Did you know that you were gay back home?” I asked him.
“He he,” Melek laughed. “I was barely surviving!” He paused. “But somehow I did feel different with guys back then. I always had some urge, or current, that ran through my body when I talked to guys. I knew there was more I wanted.”
“Interesting.” I always said that when I didn’t know how to respond.
“I am openly gay now here in Vancouver, but I haven’t told my son and his mom. They won’t understand,” Melek continued.
Listening to his story, I was amazed, stunned, and inspired. Was this what my life was going to be? Was that why I moved to the United States? My education overseas was just a cover for a human survival instinct to find out who I was? Was that why I came to Vancouver – a place where I didn’t know anybody – so that I could be myself, be gay?
Thanks to my Chinese education, I never really needed to face my sexuality. In a system where parents and teachers cared mostly about test scores and rankings, I buried myself deep in my mind and heart and focused on what could get me glory – high-ranking scores and getting into a good college.
I grew up to be a “perfect” son and student. Never dated in middle school. Graduated as number one from my high school. Went to a top college in China. And found a great job upon graduation. I was used to not talking about my sexuality, let alone knowing myself well. I was just the perfect son and student that Mom, Dad, and my teachers wanted.
I continued the journey and became a “perfect” employee. I found great careers at SAP, McKinsey, and Microsoft, and gained more education at Duke University. I loved this game so much that I even wanted to print out all the logos of the schools that I went to and companies that I worked for and put them as stickers on my car. The naive me thought that the glorious names of the schools and companies could define me, shelter me, and save me from ever having to search for the real me.
I had no need, no reason to interrupt my quest to build the perfect resume and live a perfect life. No reason until the passage of time made the battle of my sexuality impossible to ignore.
The confidence I gained from my presentation at work was followed by tears and doubts about who I was at home. The happiness of talking and laughing with my friends during the day was replaced by the pleasure of turning on my computer to watch gay porn at night. I had barely had any real physical pleasure with anybody until the age of twenty-eight, and then the first time was with a guy in a bar pickup that almost ended in the worst situation ever.
Thinking of what just had happened made me shiver. I continued wandering the empty streets like a fly without a head.
“Stop lying! Yes, I am gay,” I told myself one more time. I needed to say that aloud. The inner me, the true me, who pushed to come to Vancouver, was traumatized by what had just happened and was dead silent now. I didn’t hear a word from him.
I needed my angry and desperate yelling voice. I wanted to call him back to give me the courage to continue the journey that I had started two days ago, to break through the shell that I had created over the last twenty-eight years. It was a shell I was so comfortable in, that it would be easy to go back into it and be the person my family and friends knew well, or thought they knew well.
But what would my parents say? What would Mom say? No, no, Mom could not find out about this. Growing up in a culture where being gay is not an option, just like Melek, I could not let any of these “evil” things reach my parents. I was their proud son. I had followed the journey they set me on my entire life.
They could walk with their heads up back home because they had a son whom they were proud of. If people knew I was gay, my parents would be laughed at by relatives, looked down upon by neighbors, and fired from the university they worked for. The thoughts sent more shivers. I flipped up the collar of my jacket and wrapped my still shaking arms around myself.
I couldn’t let my friends know either. Both in the U.S. and China, all my friends were straight. What would they think? Would they think that I was a liar my entire life? Would they ever trust anything I said anymore?
I couldn’t let my roommates back in Seattle know. They were all straight guys. They would be disgusted by me. They would definitely move out. I needed their rent to pay my mortgage. I couldn’t scare them away.
Maybe it was easier not to be gay. How I wished I was normal!
I thought about my ex-girlfriend, Meimei. How I wished it had worked out with her. But the feeling was not there. She was beautiful and one of the kindest people I had ever met, but I didn’t have the same feeling as when I saw a handsome guy. The thought of holding a guy’s hand gave me a feeling of happiness; the image of kissing a guy gave me electric excitement. Those feelings were not there with my ex-girlfriend.
But maybe I should just marry her, or any girl, and have kids. Life would be easier that way. Nothing and nobody needed to be changed but me.
As an immigrant my whole life, I had always been adapting and changing. I could definitely do it. But should I?
“Yes, I am gay,” I confirmed to myself when I saw my hotel two blocks away. I needed a blanket to cover my face, my body, a place that I felt safe.
After I moved to Seattle and officially broke up with my ex-girlfriend a year ago, I watched lots of gay-themed movies. There were many sad ones where the main character committed suicide because of rejection from his family. But in some of them, people talked about being homosexual as a gift from God. It was something special, something to be proud of. Should I?
Maybe, for once, I should follow the “evil” thoughts and live the way that excited me? Maybe, for once, I should live for myself?
I trudged into my hotel room. I turned on all the lights and curled up on the floor next to the bed. It was 4:04 a.m. I was heading back home today. A three-hour drive. I knew I-5 very well but had no idea what was waiting for me ahead.
I was still sad, confused, hurt, and scared. I still didn’t know what to do. But I was determined to summon a little courage to face my true self and look for a way out.