I think about you not just everyday, but literally all the time. I think about you every time I kindly refuse to “chug the wine.” Every time that I ask for “no tomatoes” on my Mediterranean wheat wrap and every time I write a new column for The Chronicle. I think about how proud you and Dad are every time I send you my latest piece, mass-emailing it out to our friends and family while sharing it on your Facebook profile with some sort of heart-shaped emoji.
I first decided to apply for a column to help me deal with my utter dislike for writing while being able to share my personal experiences and perspectives in my unique, light-hearted way. I’ve never really been much of a writer, and I’m still convinced my grammar and humor will forever be stuck at a second grade level, but I have learned to be more confident in what I have to say and have even managed to garner a small following. Yet, I still failed. I still managed to keep the most important pieces of my life out of it.
While my column may be presented as part of “The Duke Chronicle,” it has come to form a much stronger connection between my life at Duke and my one back home, which has become increasingly separate over the past couple of semesters.
This disparity was never more apparent than when I decided to publish my column, “So, is he gay or bi?” in which I discussed society’s affinity for labels, specifically focusing on the pressure to polarize one’s sexuality. This column turned out to be my most popular one of the semester, which I found incredibly surprising, considering that I published it almost half unfinished. This was the piece that I wrote in my application to become a columnist back in December. When it was just a few hours until the deadline for my February 10 column and I had nothing written, I thought, “Why not just publish it?” But I didn’t simply publish what I had written in my application. I trimmed and cut chunks out of it until it barely even resembled the original piece.
I took myself out of it.
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I took my stories out of it.
If I were out, I would have talked about how difficult it was to decide just what words to use every time that I came out at Duke. I would have talked about how, as much as I hate the baggage and assumptions that come along with the word “gay,” I use it for others’ sake, not for mine. I use it because society demands certainty, so I give it them. I give it to them, because that’s all I have to give.
Mom and Dad, I wanted to tell you first, but I couldn’t. Not because you don’t matter as much, because you matter so much more.
At Duke, it eventually became as simple as switching out pronouns when I told stories or after I came back from a date. (Don’t worry, I’ll let you know if anything actually lasts more than three months…) But you deserve better than that.
Over Spring Break, I wanted to tell you in person, but, every time I tried, the words didn’t come out. I kept using baby news and engagement news in the family as excuses to hold off a little longer. I even tried calling, and the words still refused to come out. When I got back, I decided that I just didn’t want to wait any longer. There are so many other things that I’d rather be spending my time thinking about. I’ve already lost enough sleep over this…
You know me better than anyone else in the world. You know what I love to do, love to eat and you definitely know how to make me happy. I even convinced myself that you already knew, but I still continued to lie by omission, and I’m sorry for that.
I thought you knew when you suddenly stopped asking if I was dating anyone, when you started becoming really curious about all my “gay friends,” and when you liked Blue Devils United on Facebook just 10 minutes after I did.
I thought a lot about the implications of writing this in such a public forum, but then I realized just how “popular” you are, Mom. The thought of having to make 200 phone calls to our closest family and friends just seemed incredibly daunting, and I wanted to be able to express myself in my own words and my own terms. I wanted everyone to hear it from me.
I know things take time to settle in. I mean, it took me almost my entire freshman year and one too many sloppy Shooters moments with a few of my female acquaintances to totally realize that it wasn’t just a phase. (You know who you are and thank you, by the way.)
The only important thing is that I’m happy. Being gay is just one part of my identity, and I like to think I’m a pretty cool person. I mean, let’s be real, I am your son…
And you thought your biggest worry was whether or not I’d be bringing home a “nice Indian girl,” but hey, you always said how long you’ve been looking for a “gay best friend.” I love you, Mom.
P.S. Dad, this is just as much addressed to you too, but something about the word “Mom” had a much better ring to it. I love you.
Dillon Patel is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs every other Monday. Send Dillon a message on Twitter @thecasualdevil.