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Like all teens, I was baptized into the job market through babysitting. Word had spread around the neighborhood that I had a knack with children who were “different”, and I landed a gig babysitting my brother’s friend’s epileptic sister. The job mostly involved chilling with her and also making sure that if she had a seizure, the furniture in the living room was cleared so she didn’t bang her head or swallow her tongue. But most of the time, she didn’t have seizures and we ended up jumping on her trampoline to the beat of Usher and the Black Eyed Peas.
And like all babysitting teenagers, I also had the task of navigating awkward conversation with whichever parent was taking me back home afterwards.
One evening, coming back from a night at the movies with his wife, the girl’s dad offers to drive me home. To make small talk in the car, I ask him how the movie was. To this day, I remember his exact words. He clears his throat and lets out a kind of half-annoyed, half-indicator of his bad cholesterol level “harumph” and says:
Well, I’m not a big fan of love stories to begin with, much less when it’s not between a guy and a girl… When it’s between two… two… you know… two…
The words get stuck in his throat. He ends up making that gesture – the one where the wrist looks weak or broken – so that I could understand: two gay guys. I don’t ask for clarification, I’m seized by a hot, uncomfortable sensation in the pit of my stomach. I understand that the film in question presented a romance story between men. A little stunned, my mind racing at one hundred miles per minute and my heart pounding, I reply:
I know, right?
Relieved to hear me agree with him on that point, the dad nods, says no more, then turns up the Bee Gees on the radio. We quickly arrive at my house, thank God. I snatch the 20 bucks out of his hand (thank you g’niiiiiight!) before running to the family computer faster than a gazelle being chased by a cheetah in the savannah.
What you need to know is that, at that time in my life, barely older than thirteen, I already knew that I was gay, and I was ferociously on the lookout for representations of homosexuality and homoeroticism. I savored every bit of these male representations like a hungry cactus in the desert savors a rare rain shower. The gay character in Six Feet Under played by Michael C. Hall, Brad Pitt’s golden butt in Troy, and John the naughty gardener in Desperate Housewives were all images and characterisations that could not escape my finely tuned hungry-for-male sexuality radar as a young, horny to the bone, still closeted fag. (Fuck the closet by the way. I’ll come back to that later.)
So, yeah. While the girl’s dad’s response was less that hopeful, he had just inadvertently cued a young gay boy to the news that in the cultural desert of the Eastern Townships, there was a new hint of gay light flashing about. Back at the family computer, I type “Élysée Theaters’ movie showings in Granby” in the search bar. I then proceed by elimination according to what each synopsis available tells me about the film. Corpse Bride: no. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: nope. Memoirs of a Geisha: nopety nope. Brokeback Mountain … Wait a minute… Wait. A. Minute. OMG. Bing-fucking-go!!!
I sear the movie title deep in my memory. The poster of the two men wearing denim coats and cowboy hats is imprinted on my retina like a pillow crease across my forehead.
All I have to do is be reeeaaaally patient and wait for the damned movie to be available on DVD (#ancienttimes).
And so, the months go by and I continue to be gay and to babysit my new epileptic buddy, and I continue to wait for my cowboys to display their handsome male faces on the new arrivals rack at the Bromont’s Video Rental. I even wonder if I’ll have to go through the saloon-style doors that lead to the “Adult” section to find them when the time comes. And time continues to do what it does best: it flows.
Then, one Friday, during my habitual visit to the video store, I finally see them! Hallelujah! My darlings are here! I can stroke the DVD cover with my fingers, rub it against my cheek (even though my mom says it’s dirty), open the case to check that the DVD is there. And blissfully it is. My heart skips a beat.
The Roy family DVD rental rule is that we must choose a movie for my mother (i.e. any crap featuring Richard Gere), a movie for me, and a movie that everyone will like. So I’m allowed to choose Brokeback Mountain. My mom hesitates a little when she sees the “Age 13+” sticker, but the cover is so harmless that she finally gives in. Yee-haw.
The following Sunday morning, my parents are having brunch at a friend’s house and my brothers are hanging out in the basement playing World of Warcraft. Miraculously, I have the living room TV all to myself. I can sit comfortably in front of my gem of a movie and dive in. We finally meet, my lovelies. Howdie!
The great steep mountains of Wyoming, Heath Ledger’s beautifully sculpted ass in his close-fitting jeans, Jake Gyllenhaal’s soft enchanting gaze. I clutch the remote control in my sweaty little hands, ready to hit “pause” if my brothers decide to come up from the basement to grab a glass of milk or a string cheese. All my senses are turned all the way up like a kid in the dark after watching a horror movie. I’m a fag on the lookout.
And then it happened. The famous anal sex scene in the tent begins. Jake Gyllenhaal is freezing, his colon probably bloated with canned beans, a bit buzzed thanks to the bad whisky, and he joins Heath Ledger in the flimsy tent.
A male embrace follows, and though it looks almost as though they’re wrestling, Heath Ledger nonchalantly spits in his palm and… HOLY FUCK, my parents are back from their brunch.
Here’s the thing: At my parents’ house, the TV is directly facing the front door. This means that anyone entering the Roy residence automatically has their gaze drawn to the picture box.
And so my parents walk in. And Heath is banging Jake. And this is the worst moment of my entire existence, please help me God, oh Lord Jesus perched up there on your cloud in heaven, save me…
My dad takes off his boots, his glasses are still fogged up from outside, but not enough to prevent him from seeing the screen. He makes out the passionate homoerotic scene that takes place in the luminous rectangle. He frowns and exclaims:
What is this movie?
After liquefying into the old sofa, the remote control gripped so tightly in my hand that I have the PAUSE and MENU buttons imprinted in my palm, I reply to him:
Umm, well, it’s uh… It’s a cowboy drama…
I pause the movie and tell my father that the two men on the screen are actually fighting: a spat over a badly done job, a settling of accounts, rough-and-tumble. I add that they’re just about to draw their fists.
No dad, there’s not one ounce of love in there.
It reassured him.
Things were in order. The men were fighting. And young boys watched them fight. The world could keep turning. I was saved. My confession could wait. My cowboys and I could go on loving each other in the shadows for a while.
And love each other, we did.