Once upon a time, I kissed a boy. He was a beautiful boy. He had my brother’s name, Matthew. That year, my ninth grade year, our school had outdoor halls. We had a smoking cage. I had one friend. She was small, but so formidable that for the first time, I had no fear. Pyng had a well-deserved reputation. Nobody crossed her, and by association, I was left alone.
Pyng also, I later realized, had an eye for queers. She collected us, protected us, and dominated us.
The boy’s friend told Pyng, somewhere in those outdoor halls, that he liked me. I wasn’t interested. I didn’t even think about it. What was there to think about? I didn’t know him. I didn’t even know his friend. I wasn’t interested in real boys. I wasn’t interested in anyone real. I lived in my head.
Pyng really wanted a romance, and I really wanted to please Pyng. We read a lot of romances, in those days. Pyng wore a lot of latex and told me what to do. I didn’t understand the dynamic at the time. I wanted to please her, and so I learned. She taught me about racism, and about white privilege. She taught me about AIDS. She taught me, a Catholic kid, that it’s fine to be queer. Also, she talked me into that boy whom I didn’t know. She wanted a romance, so she told me to give him a chance.
I didn’t care that the boy had my brother’s name. Incest isn’t my thing, but it’s never particularly bothered me either – consent is the issue. Like me, Matthew was a thrift store kid, a latchkey kid, kind of a scrub. He had dirty blond hair that grew over his collar. He wore t-shirts, and old jeans. It was the year before grunge, the year before we, the scrubs, became suddenly and inexplicably cool. He was a nice boy who looked like a bad boy. He was trying to be tougher than he was. We recognized that in one another.
He was my first (and only) boyfriend. My mother made it very clear that I was never to be alone with him. She was certain that all boys wanted to rape me. She thought that even my brother wasn’t to be trusted. Perhaps she confused them, I don’t know. But even at fifteen, I knew how to spot a predator. I know immediately who is predator and who is prey. Neither Matthew would have ever hurt me. Not because it wasn’t in their nature, although it wasn’t, and not because I would have prevented it, although I would have. I was, and am, much more violently aggressive than either one of those boys. But that’s not why they would never have hurt me. They wouldn’t have hurt me because they were good boys, decent boys, and just not rapists. They were boys who wanted mothers who loved them and mothers who trusted them. It makes me angry, to think about it. I don’t know why my mother has those prejudices. Lots and lots of men are assholes. I only love a select few of them. But neither of my Matthews were anything like rapists.
I knew that the boy wasn’t a rapist. I also knew that, although we were roughly the same size, and he had boy muscles, I was much more vicious, much more potentially violent. I didn’t fear him. We hung out at his house, secretly, after school. He lived with his dad, who worked during the day. I told him that I would not be having sex with him. He said that was okay, and I believed him. I still do. I don’t think that sex was his goal. He wanted to be loved, to be held. He was a boy without a mother. He told me about having sex with his first girlfriend – how it made him feel – how it affected their relationship. He told me about how his dad beat him. He never tried to touch me, those times when we were alone in his room.
We met again at Denny’s, several times, in the afternoons. Then, Denny’s still had cigarette machines, so I bought cigarettes for $2.50 and we chain-smoked them, drinking shitty coffee for hours, and talking. Afterwards, on the street, he kissed me goodbye. There was tongue involved. In retrospect, it was a pretty good kiss, given our ages.
It made my stomach hurt, in a specific way. I knew the feeling. I’d shoplifted, mostly candy, until I was ten. Then, I’d never let that feeling stop me, but I knew what it meant. It meant that I was doing something wrong. Certain of my ethics are highly questionable and extremely relative, but my stomach always knows when I’m doing something that isn’t right for me.
I wish that I trusted myself now, as much as I trusted myself then. At the time, it seemed so clear to me. I told Matthew that I really liked hanging out with him, but that kissing wasn’t working for me. It had to stop. I was naive. I told him that we could keep dating, as long as he didn’t touch me, as long as he didn’t kiss me.
We hung out for another week. He tried to kiss me again, a couple of times. It wasn’t aggressive. It was just normal, for teenagers, and I wasn’t. I told him that it was over. He was sad, but he didn’t push. He let it go.
I told my mother that Matthew had kissed me, and that I’d not felt good about it. I told her how my stomach had said it was wrong. She looked at me like I was an alien, and said “I always liked it when a boy kissed me.”
I told my brother, late at night. I sat on my bed, and he curled up into himself against the opposite wall, a few feet away. We did that a lot, late nights, talking. He said, “maybe you’re a lesbian.” I got mad and told him to shut the fuck up.
I didn’t know of any gay or lesbian people. I’d never seen a representation of a gay or lesbian relationship. I knew that most girls liked it when boys kissed them, and I knew that I didn’t. I figured that I would just be alone. I was quite okay with that. I planned my menagerie. It was going to be magnificent. I would have mini goats, mini horses, and potbellied pigs. Then, a few months later, I got distracted by a girl.
A year later, I told my brother that he’d been right. I liked girls. It was 1992. He sort of shrugged, and didn’t give a shit. That’s why my brother is awesome, and why he’s still my best friend.
Three years later, I was working at Popeye’s Fried Chicken, and Matthew, that boy I kissed, came in, applying for a job. He had a lot of tattoos, and had dropped out of high school. He was at the alternative school then. I wasn’t surprised. We mostly ended up there, poor kids. If I’d been a straight girl, I’d have gotten pregnant, and I’d have been there too. If I’d been a straight boy, I would have been him. Matthew didn’t recognize me. He got hired. We only worked together for a few months. He was still a decent guy.
I wonder about him now, that boy I kissed. He wasn’t the rapist my mother imagined. He was a poor boy, with an abusive father. I know those boys. I feel those boys. I hold them in my dreams, and I know them in my bones. Matthew was a boy with no mother. Everyone needs a mother. Everyone. Matthew was a boy who told me the things that teenaged boys don’t tell. He was a boy who listened. A boy who never tried to hurt me; a boy who never would have dreamed of hurting me. He was just a boy who had been hurt himself. A boy who was still hurting. A boy I kissed.