I met Kellan on the third day of our freshman year of college, at a dining hall table of misfits. (Note: Kellan is not his real name, but it is the name of a gay porn star I like, so we’ll call him that to spare him scrutiny and also to further indulge my fantasies.) By the third day of orientation, my given roommate Troy — a wannabe frat boy with an outsized ego and zero game — having already decided I was a social liability, had ditched me for what he deemed a more lucrative social circle and left me to find dinner alone. I went to the dining hall by myself and walked with my tray to find an empty seat, presumably to plot how I’d spend the next four years in solitude. But I saw an open seat at a table full of guys I recognized from our dorm, and asked if I could join. They said yes.
There was Aaron, a moppy-haired engineer who, by day three, had already fully embraced the shower-free, anti-deodorant, sweatpants-and-flip-flops lifestyle of the college professional. Then James, a Chinese immigrant studying economics, who always wore jeans that ended four inches above his ankles, and who, I assume, is still wearing the same outfit as he manages some billion-dollar hedge fund on Wall Street. And finally, there was Kellan, Aaron’s roommate, tall and slender and boyish, with smooth skin and bowl-cut hair, and just the right amount of social anxiety to be approachable. He was beautiful in the same way that nerdy girls in nineties movies are beautiful, which is to say, he was one makeover montage away from being sweep-you-off-your-feet hot, if he actually gave a shit about that kind of thing, but obviously he didn’t, because he was too awkward to make that happen.
That night, we all became friends, and ate dinner together for most nights after that. We studied together at night and played video games on the weekends and occasionally smuggled cheap vodka from the junior who lived down the hall, to bring to football games, which was just an excuse to eat cheese fries and be underage drunk outdoors.
A few months in, Aaron joined a fraternity (where his disheveled nature would find its true home), so we saw less of him, and James was often off on his own (he ate, no lie, approximately seven meals a day, and the rest of us couldn’t possibly keep up). So Kellan and I grew particularly close.
One night I mentioned I’d be leaving to go home for Thanksgiving and Kellan let out a dramatic “Nooooo!” and when I asked what was wrong, he said, “You can’t leave! Then I’ll have nobody to hang out with.” And I felt warm and fuzzy and good about the fact that I’d found a friend who considered me his person, another boy who would genuinely miss me when I was gone and rejoice when I returned.
Kellan was an only child, the son of wealthy parents, who spent much of his childhood moving from private school to private school around the world. He’d spent the last several years in Texas, where he’d developed the slightest of southern twangs, but he was, in other words, someone who’d been similarly unaccustomed to deep friendships with other guys. We’d become friends largely out of chance, but we liked each other’s company, and worked well together.
You can tell where this is going. It had only been, like, two months and I was already wildly over-reading the cues. I knew he was straight, don’t get me wrong, but he was sensitive and endearing and he actually liked hanging out with me! I’d never had a close guy friend before — not in adulthood, at least — let alone one that I kinda thought had a nice face and teeth and arms and butt, though I would never admit that, even to myself. And he was a similarly intimacy-averse freak, so romantic rivals were largely out of the equation. In fact, we rarely talked about girls at all. I never mentioned that I was gay (though I’m sure it was obvious), and he never talked all that much about girlfriends, though I knew he’d had one in high school. And so, it was easy to fall into a kind of imaginary romance without having to admit that’s what was happening.
And so, we did everything together. Every morning, I would get ready and go to his room to collect him for breakfast (sometimes I’d get there early, because he’d be coming back from the shower and I could see him in his towel). On Christmas break, we’d chat online every day, and being the wildly insecure person I was, I’d often wait for him to chat me first, so I knew he really wanted to talk, and then I’d obviously interpret that as a sign that he was somehow falling in love with me. The summer after our freshman year, I flew to Houston to stay with him for a week, and we went to the mall and a baseball game and ate tacos, and we hugged at the airport before I flew home. And one night, when we were both too drunk on Four Lokos (before they were banned by the government), we passed out next to one another on his bed and drunkenly cuddled before falling asleep.
It didn’t take long into our sophomore year before I started expecting too much. Actually, that’s the nice way of putting it.
The truth is, I went crazy. I became obsessive and possessed. I was in love but didn’t want to admit that I was in love, not because I didn’t want to admit that I was gay, but because I knew he wasn’t, and I wanted our relationship to be the most it could be without us having to say it. We were just best friends! The closest of best friends! The closest you can possibly be to being gay for one another without actually being gay because obviously neither of us is gay, we’re just best friends! The tiny gay demon on my shoulder whispered in my ear and made me insane.
I should note, the following behavior is embarrassing to admit, but it happened, and in the interest of full disclosure, I’m copping to all of it. These are the actions of a crazy person, and I am relaying them here so nobody makes the same mistakes as me.
Kellan would want time alone to study, and I would insist on studying together. One day, he would grab dinner without me, and I would spend three days passive-aggressively sulking in my room to teach him a lesson about what it was like to truly be without me. On nights when we’d get drunk on bottles of cheap peach champagne, I’d pretend to fall asleep on his bed, and he’d kick me out, and I’d drunkenly unfriend him on Facebook and send him a lengthy email the next day about how he didn’t care about his friends. (And, to be fair, he was sometimes a real insensitive asshole.) We’d make up a couple days later and the cycle would start again.
When he did start a fling with a girl in our dorm — a fact he kept to himself, because, ya know, we didn’t talk about intimacy, and also because he probably knew I was becoming a crazy person — I pieced the clues together myself (mutual hickeys spotted in the morning, disgustingly easy to notice) and demanded details, because that’s what bros do, right? They tell each other things! About girls! And what they like about girls! And why they like girls so much instead of boys! Friends tell each other everything, even things they don’t tell the girls they’re secretly hooking up with behind my back!
In perhaps my craziest move, at the depths of my obsession, I wrote an actual essay for an actual class I was taking on Shakespeare using actual evidence from Shakespeare’s plays to argue that friendships between dudes are stronger than sexual relationships between dudes and ladies. For real. I really did this. I used academia to convince myself, and the world, that two guys can have a totally normal and not-gay bond that completely transcends the connection between any two human beings ever on earth, and that it’s not weird, and that it’s totally not homosexual, because Shakespeare said so. (Craziness aside though, that’s a real goddamn theory, and it’s called “romantic friendship,” and Shakespeare was all over that shit. Look it up. Put down this book right now and go read As You Like It and then you’ll get what I’m talking about. They were totally in love with one another and it totally wasn’t gay. Even though there’s a bunch of theories today that are like “Nuh uh! Gays didn’t exist yet, so they were totally gay, they just didn’t know it was called being gay yet!” But you know what? Fuck those theories. I stand by my essay. I got a B+ on that shit.)
At the culmination of my obsession, I did the thing that I am most embarrassed to admit and cringe most to remember, and before I say it, I implore you to find it in your heart to understand that it made perfect sense in my head at the time, and that the human brain does dumb things when it’s in love, even if it refuses to admit that love is what it’s feeling.
At the time, there was a girl named Amber. Amber liked Kellan. Kellan liked Amber. They hooked up on the regular. It drove me insane. It wasn’t exactly a secret, but they were both embarrassed about it (straight people, always ashamed of their hookups) and, preferring it to go unnoticed, denied it vehemently. Of course, being the crazy person I’d become, I insisted on confirmation, and Kellan insisted on denial, and I’d fall into a hole of exasperation and despair. It wasn’t that he was hooking up with some girl, I’d tell myself, it was that he was lying to me about it, even though it was quite obviously that he was hooking up with some girl and only a little bit that he was lying about it.
One night, after we’d all been drinking together in Kellan's room, we said goodnight and went our separate ways. And then . . . here’s where it gets embarrassing and fucked up and cringe-worthy to even think about . . . I waited in the stairwell for approximately three and a half minutes, until I was confident Kellan had left his room to brush his teeth — a ritual he kept religiously every night — and, having heard the “clunk” of the bathroom door, I quietly slunk back into his room, shut the door, and hid inside his closet.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “What the fuck is wrong with you, you gay stalker fuck?! You’re a grown-ass man who literally climbed inside his friend’s closet . . . to do what exactly? Watch him sleep? Catch him masturbating? Filet his skin into tiny bits of jerky? Or were you just trying to be the biggest cock-block you could possibly imagine?”
And the answer is . . . I don’t know! I mean definitely not the filet thing, but still, I don’t know! I was gay and crazy and infatuated and jealous and lonely and in denial. I wanted him to love me back! I wanted to be the one that snuck back into his room after everybody had gone away, to tell secrets and make out and fall asleep side by side, and sheepishly left in the morning before the rest of the dorm woke up. I suppose I figured he’d walk back in and I’d jump out and he’d scream so loud he’d turn gay, and then we’d laugh and laugh until we collapsed into one another’s arms and fell softly into loving slumber.
Of course, that’s not at all what happened. These kinds of things never turn out the way you think they will. What happened next went something like this: I was sitting in that closet, questioning everything in my life that had led to that moment, and the person who walked into the room was not in fact Kellan, but Kellan’s we’re-definitely-not-hooking-up- even-though-we-totally-are-hooking-up-and-lying-about-it- to-everybody-but-especially-Matt hook-up Amber, who had come, I assume, to hook up. I froze. A closeted gay lunatic sitting on the ground of a literal closet. She didn’t notice me. She made a phone call to her roommate to say she wouldn’t be home that night. She hung up. We both sat in anticipation.
When Kellan returned with his toothbrush, he screamed “GODDAMMIT” the second he opened the door, and for a brief, hopeful moment, I imagined he was pissed to see her, and I would emerge, triumphant, with a look on my face that said, “That’s right, you piss worm, he chose me! Now, get out, because we have some intense spooning to do.” But his ire, it turned out, was directed at the 230-pound mass that was sticking out from his closet. (Did I mention our dorm room closets were the size of small cupboards and covered in sheer curtains?) Amber screamed when she realized I’d been in there, and they threw me out like they throw out drunks from bars in the movies, roughly, with one hand under each armpit. I’d like to think, at the very least, that I made their night together slightly more uncomfortable, but I suspect events continued as planned.
In retrospect, this is what professionals in the therapy community might call “a great big homosexual cry for help.” But nothing much changed after that. I was a strange person to begin with, so hiding in a closet, all things considered, didn’t register as insane, at least to the untrained eye, just immature and annoying and something Drunk Matt would totally do because he’s a weirdo.
But deep down, I suspect, this was one of many moments when I began plotting my eventual escape into open gayness. At this point, I still hadn’t said I was gay out loud to anyone except myself, which seems unbelievable, since I was a twenty-year-old man who listened to Lady Gaga, obsessively watched the Bachelorette, and purchased a set of martini glasses to make cosmopolitans in his dorm room. But fear is a powerful thing, and it convinces you that nobody could possibly know your glaringly obvious secret, and that you should keep it a secret, because once you say it out loud, everything will be different. On top of the fear of having to have the awkward, intimate coming-out conversation with my family and the fear of my identity being co-opted by some gay stereotype, there was this new, extra fear of losing my best friend and the person I’d hoped would love me back. He came from a conservative Texas family, after all, and I’d already made it intensely awkward between us without voicing my deep dark gay secret. What would he do once he knew that I was into dudes? Would all of my obviously gay advances register as too obviously gay to tolerate further? I suppose there was a part of me that saw Kellan as an opportunity to come out without having to actually come out. To just skip the awkward, personal, intimate part where you have to tell people you’re gay, and jump right to the part where you’re getting gay married on a beach in Bora Bora, if only he’d love me back. But coming out is never that easy.
The summer before our junior year of college, Kellan got a girlfriend, and I felt like I was being replaced. My obsession deepened to its darkest point, and again, this is embarrassing to admit, but I stooped low and, at one point, surreptitiously borrowed his phone and glanced at his text messages, which seems like a totally normal thing for a best friend to do (right?!), but when you’ve already crossed about a thousand boundaries, the other person is rightfully pissed.
We didn’t speak for a few weeks.
I decided, finally, that if I ever hoped to have the type of relationship I really wanted with Kellan, like the one that he’d been developing with his new girlfriend, I had to do the thing. I had to come out and be gay and find gay people and do gay things and have faith that the consequences that I feared would be overcome by the rewards of my new fabulous life. And that’s the thing about coming out. Before you do it, it feels very much like you’re preparing for a kind of metamorphosis. That there will be a Before Gay and an After Gay, and that things will be so massively different that you’ll hardly recognize the life you had before.
And it turns out, to a certain extent, that that’s true.
So I girded myself for impact. I read books with gay characters to see how they came out. I read It Gets Better because that felt like a thing young closeted gay people were supposed to read. I read articles I found on Google about the best way to come out to each person in your life. And finally, I did it.
I wanted my mother to be the first to know, because I knew she would be hurt if I told anybody else something so deeply personal before her. I wrote her a letter, because a letter felt like the easiest and also most dramatic way to do this kind of thing, and I wasn’t about to let an opportunity for theatrics go to waste. I don’t remember exactly what the letter said, but I think it went something like, “Sorry I ruined a perfectly good set of sheets in the eighth grade. It was because of the shirtless picture of Nick Lachey I saw in the Us Weekly you left on the kitchen counter.” I cried, and I’m not sure why, because I wasn’t sad, but I guess you just cry during these things because it’s emotional. Of course, my mother said she loved me and would always love me and she just wanted me to be happy. And, to top it off , one of the first things she asked me was: “Is Kellan your boyfriend?” And I had to fucking say no.
About a week later, I wrote to Kellan and confessed that I was gay, that that’s why I’d been so emotional lately, that I was sorry for being a weirdo and hiding in his closet and going through his phone, that he was my best friend and I just wanted to know he would still be my friend no matter what. And, like a good, normal friend, he told me I’d still be the same “Beyoncé loving, Gaga praising” Matt as before, that nothing would change between us.
Of course, coming out wouldn’t change the fact that I was still secretly obsessed with Kellan, even if I tried desperately to deny it. A few days after I told him, I wrote a Facebook message to our group of friends to announce my news, and the following is an absolutely real excerpt from that message. I cringe to re-read this message, not to mention publish it for the world to see, but nothing better illustrates the anxieties of my gay brain than these words. Here is that message, edited only for length:
So I have news.
I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching this month (haha, not really, I’m just really bored at work), and I have something important to tell ya’ll and I could really use your support.
Here it is:
HEY LOOK A BUNNY! (I’m gay) NO REALLY, DID YOU SEE IT? IT WAS A REALLY BIG BUNNY. LIKE, LOTS OF FUR AND EVERYTHING. COULD HAVE BEEN A BIG SQUIRREL EVEN, NOT REALLY SURE. OH WELL, IT’S GONE. YOU MISSED IT.
Phew, now that the squirrel-bunny’s gone . . . Yeah, I like dudes. I’ve always known it — you kinda just know these things. I’ve known long before I met all of you. But I never told anybody — not my family or friends or anybody — because I was afraid of what everybody would think. I guess I was most afraid that it would suddenly be the only thing people would see about me. I was afraid I would suddenly become the gay kid in the group. And, even if you all had absolutely no problem with me, you would still joke about dicks and assholes and rainbows all the time and I would never hear the end of it. So please don’t do that.
And for the record, in case anybody wants to know, I don’t have a thing for Kellan, haha, and I never have! Even though I always poke and grab his tiny white butt, I don’t want to hit that. (It’s a nice butt, don’t worry, Kell, nothing to be ashamed of, just not my thing.) It’s truly always been meaningless joking. He’s my bestie and nothing more. I don’t care if I hug him or sleepover in his room or give him a big wet kiss on the cheek. I still don’t want his dick. So don’t give us shit, got it?
Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. Now, if anybody is interested, once we’re all together, we can throw a fabulous coming out party, full of foofoo drinks and Beyoncé. Presents are always welcome. And so help me God, if anybody gets me anything phallus shaped, I will not be happy. (Well, maybe a little happy).
Love Love Love, Matty B
Phew, there’s a lot to unpack here. First of all, the most surprising thing in this entire message is that I was so anxious about being seen as gay that I went so far as to deny myself the pleasure of getting phallus-shaped gifts. See, the thing about coming out is that there is an After Gay, things do change, but you start to love it. You start to realize that those pleasures you’d been denying yourself were what would’ve made you happy all along. Now, several years after this entire mess, the only gifts I will accept are dildos, and I’m profoundly offended if anybody dares to associate me with anything but dicks, ass- holes, and rainbows. They are deeply entwined in my identity, and I cannot imagine life without them.
But of course, that’s hardly the focus of this message. As is painfully obvious to me now, and was painfully obvious to all who read this letter, the only appropriate response to this disaster of a message is, “OK, so you’re absolutely madly in love with Kellan and clearly want him to fuck babies into you.” O.J. Simpson could have written a more convincing denial than this. Birds could have picked up the hints I was dropping. I mean, c’mon! I barely made it two hundred words before bringing his ass into it! It doesn’t get any gayer than that.
And so, I replaced one thinly veiled secret for another, and After Gay life began in much the same denial that Before Gay life had ended.
It didn’t take long into our senior year for my obsession to reach its inevitable climax. One night, we went out drinking. We came back. I pretended to pass out in his bedroom. He yelled at me to leave. I turned it into a whole thing about how he clearly didn’t want to be my friend anymore because he had a girlfriend and because I was gay, and if that’s how he was gonna act, then maybe we should just break up. And I dramatically unfriended him on Facebook for one last time and sent him an e-mail the next day saying it was probably best that we just didn’t see each other again.
It was silly and dumb, I know, but when you finally release the gay feelings you’ve been bottling up for twenty years, a few other emotions are bound to come pouring out with the rest. It’s a lot like using a plunger to get a hairbrush from the toilet hole. Sure, you’ll get your hairbrush back, but that thing’s gonna bring some shit back with it. And I wouldn’t exactly use it to brush your hair.
Kellan was my first true love, and I regret that the gay demon inside me ruined it all. I’m thankful, in many ways, that I learned enough about myself to know I needed to come out sooner rather than later, that being openly gay was not only an inevitability, but a wonderful thing, that I would not only come out of the closet, but come out of my shell and find my true voice.
Of course, I’d like to think that I simply had no choice but to martyr our friendship to make this discovery, but I know that’s not true. The sad lesson here, children, if you haven’t yet written me off as a complete sociopath, is that falling in love with your straight best friend is perhaps the worst, most self- destructive idea you could possibly have, because not only will they never love you back in the same way you love them, they’ll serve as a constant reminder that you are putting off the thing you should’ve done years ago but cannot escape. And the only thing worse than your straight best friend not loving you back is spending three years chasing after his affection when you know full well it will never happen.
I spent the rest of my senior year of college going to gay bars in Boystown and drinking pitchers of hard pink lemonade out of straws bent to look like giant dicks. I talked to boys and traded numbers and did all the things that grown gay people are supposed to do. After college, I moved to New York, the gayest city in the world, and the first place I’d go where nobody knew any version of me besides the one that was perfectly, openly gay.
I have yet to terrorize a boy quite like I terrorized Kellan (and, if he happens to be reading this, I should say, I’m sorry for, ya know . . . basically everything). But the sappy part of me would like to believe that crazy, closeted Matt is gone, and in his place is someone far happier.
And far less likely to hide in your closet. ●
Matt Bellassai is a writer, stand-up comedian, and winner of the 2016 People’s Choice Award for Favorite Social Media Star, which remains his only real accomplishment, besides graduating fourth in his class in high school and losing an election for student body president in college. After the success of his BuzzFeed web series, “Whine About It,” Matt embarked on a solo stand-up career, performing to sold-out audiences around the United States and at least one disastrous not-sold-out audience at a casino in Palm Springs, California. He is the host and producer of his new solo web series, “To Be Honest,” and anchor of the forthcoming podcast, “Unhappy Hour.” Born and coddled in the suburbs of Chicago, he currently lives the poor gay man’s version of Sex and the City, with none of the sex, fashion, or friends. He will almost definitely die alone.
You can find more information about Everything Is Awful here.