photo by barnsley anna
i was walking around the basement level of the patricia field store on monday, you know, doing my thang. no i’m bullshitting, i was going around looking at our merchandise, gathering stuff for the website. there was no one else on the floor except this one customer, a middle-aged guy, dressed in rolled up denim shorts, a washed-out tshirt, and glasses on his head.
although he didn’t look like our usual customer, i smiled and said hello, then didn’t take much notice of him as i looked through the racks. then out of the corner of my eye, i realized how shocked he looked. literally, he was in a state of shock, with his mouth slightly opened, his eyes wide, and his arms a little away from his body with his fingers all straightened. his head was turning slowly from side to side, and he was just looking around almost in some state of disarray.
“are you alright?” i asked.
“i’ve just never been in a store like this before,” he said. “tell me, do guys wear clothes like this too?”
“well, not all guys. but yes i have seen a lot of guys dressing up and going a little bling-bling. even if they don’t wear the clothing, some of them pile on the accessories,” i replied.
as i stood there for the next 15 minutes talking to him, he told me a lot of things about himself that he claimed had never told anyone before. he said that his “feminine, bi side is just screaming to get out”.
i learnt that his name was ****, let’s call him josh, and that he was from memphis. josh comes to new york every summer, but he had never heard of patricia field and had never been to the store. he had never explored his sexuality even though he knew he was different. “i’ve been looking for a store like this my whole life.”
“how is it like in memphis? are people open to gays?”
“oh no, you’d get killed. i mean, you wouldn’t get killed, but socially you’re as good as dead. people would ostracize you and shun you,” he said.
“well you’re in new york city now. if you think you want to explore this side of you, you’re in the perfect city to do it! and the perfect shop. no one’s going to look at you differently in here. everyone’s so nice and so open.”
josh seemed to take a liking to this particular accessory that i was standing next to, which was made out of very shiny silver beads and basically had strings of beads attached to a choker, giving it a sort of harness look. i showed him how to put it on and told him he could just wear it on bare skin if he wanted, or it could look great with a singlet or with a leather vest thrown over. “what do you think?” i asked him, after i had ushered him into the dressing room and he tried it on.
“i’m just taking it in right now, give me a moment. wow, this is so new to me and i’m so lost. i’ve never done this before. i’m just taking it in. wow…” he kept saying, covering his mouth with his hand at times.
my heart went out to josh. i know how it is like to live in a stifling situation where a part of you is dying to “get out” and yet it can’t. it is a terrible, terrible feeling.
josh said that he would be in town till wednesday, and so i told him that tuesdays in new york is gay night. he had a whole day to get ready, to take a deep breath, gather some courage, and go out and explore a new side of himself. i told him that if it was too overwhelming, that he shouldn’t attempt too big a step, but to take little ones until he becomes more comfortable with his sexuality. “don’t do a whole outfit and make yourself feel self-conscious. you can take small steps like starting out with accessories. a little bird doesn’t fly at first try.”
“thank you so much, gilda. i’m so glad it was you who i met. you were so nice to talk to me and tell me that it’s ok, if it’s really what i wanted. i was ready to run when i met you. literally, i was going to bolt out of the shop because i was so scared.”
it was the nicest thing i had heard all month.
i had to get back to work and introduced josh to one of my favorite stylists/sales assistants, omar, who helped josh try on a few different outfits. he left the store after a long while, without making any purchase. when i went upstairs to get something, the girl behind the register told me that josh sent his biggest hugs and thanks.
a few hours later into the day, josh was back and i spotted him trying bolder accessories and even leather harnesses.
i don’t know if he made a purchase in the end, but i know that even if he didn’t, that he would be back one day. maybe next summer, when he comes back to new york.
“how you do feel, gilda, now that you’re responsible for making someone gay?” asked mars, who also works in the store.
“i didn’t make him gay, he made it sound like he was almost choking because he had never allowed this side of himself to emerge before! i only told him that it was ok to let go!”
i felt like a mother bird watching her baby learn how to fly. and i wish i had given josh a hug.
i’ve never experienced the “i realized i’m gay” emotional rollercoaster (because i’m not), so i cannot even begin to imagine how hard it must be for some people. i’ve asked some gay friends of mine about it and some of them were born into such strict, religious families or environments, that they were really rejected by their own family and the societies they were in, when they came out of the closet.
my own “coming out of the closet” experience, was of a different sense. i realized the path of life that i wanted to take, and it was so different from who i was supposed to become. i had always been a science student and enjoyed physics and chemistry. i had wanted to be a vet when i was younger and had seriously read every single book about dogs in the national library. my parents had high hopes for me and sent me to the best schools to have the best possible education. then i decided to do fashion.
i can’t tell you how hard it was when i first told my parents about it. they were so angry. in singapore back then (i make myself sound so old), the only people who did fashion, or anything art-related, were the people who “couldn’t make it”. they were the people who couldn’t do well in school. or at least that was the image that people in singapore had. and many still have the same opinions today.
all my peers were going to university, to become doctors, lawyers, auditors, engineers, bankers. and there i was, telling my parents that i didn’t want to do university. i wanted to go into fashion where my passion lies. i knew i might not earn a living, i knew i’ll probably be living on bread and butter, but this is what i wanted to do. i was going to take the unbeaten path.
my mother was a little furious and screamed, “i thought all along that you wanted to become a vet!”
it was hard. and i was so angry and i felt so suffocated. i didn’t want to live a lie. i only get to live once. i wanted to just do what i was passionate about, and that was fashion. my parents wanted me to “go to university and get a proper degree, and then i can do whatever i wanted to after that”. but i didn’t want to waste my life away doing something that i had no interest in. i love animals, don’t get me wrong, but i realized that i couldn’t go through all the emotional heartache of being a vet and having to help dying animals and sad stories like that. what if i couldn’t save them? i couldn’t deal with my own dog’s death and i knew that it would kill me everytime a dog were to die in my clinic.
so i went against their wishes and started to work instead. my friends couldn’t understand me either. so for almost a year, i hardly kept in contact with any of them except my best friends who were always there for me.
it was a very difficult, long and winding road that i walked alone. this was also the time in my life when all sorts of shitty things happened, which i had talked about sometime ago. it took me 2 years, but in that time my parents, whose opinion and support mattered the most to me, finally grew to accept the new me, and now they encourage me whole-heartedly. my friends also came around and told me that they admired that i had the courage to follow my dreams.
i think that those 2 years, although difficult, forced me to really grow up and i discovered so many new things about myself. i also realized that if i put my mind to it, i can really achieve anything i wanted to. and look where i am right now? i’m living my dream and i’m not even pinching myself to check that i’m awake.
i hope i get to meet josh again. and i hope that the next time i get to see him, that he would be happy and smiling, instead of with a scared and bewildered look on his face.
to all of you joshes out there, don’t wait for someone to give you a little nudge. don’t drown in your own fear.
is there a side of you that is screaming to come out? is there a part of you that is waiting to be discovered? is there another you inside, that is getting suffocated?
or have you already come out of the closet?