Revolution through Plato’s “Closet”

      “Davidson College is the best thing that has ever happened to me!” I say at the end of all my tours. At this line, the dads nod their heads, the moms shed a tear, and the prospective students give me a side smile, suspecting artifice in my hyperbolized statement. Of course, this scenario is not entirely true (the moms don’t always shed a tear–dads can be sensitive too). I do hyperbolize my experience here at Davidson. So far, it has not been a smooth ride. I’ve spent many nights crying in both my bed and the library (and the vending machine in Basement Belk). I’ve regressed to my high school ways and waited until the last day (night) to start research papers. I’ve been pulled over by a cop. I’ve felt lonelier than ever. I’ve felt not lonely enough. I’ve made friends, and I’ve lost friends. I’ve become way too drunk and ran around the track naked–in December. Davidson College has not been the best thing that has ever happened to me. However, it has opened my life to beautiful opportunities and experiences I never dreamed could happen to me. The people, the professors, the classes, the challenging assignments (I’m looking at you, my Humanities portfolio), have taught me to think differently and most importantly love differently. Davidson has taken me out of Plato’s cave–or “closet”, per say– and showed me the beautiful world outside of my ignorance, judgement, and self-repression, and I am a better and much happier person because of it.

      The Humanities program, specifically, has been a very formative experience for me in my first year here at Davidson. It has taken me across the globe and exposed me to different brilliant minds. We’ve studied and discussed Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement, Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement, Susan Sontag and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Rumi’s Islamic Mysticism and New Age Translations, Pushkin’s “The Bronze Horseman” and Russia’s space in the Western World, Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will and the Nazi Cultural Movement, Paul Celan’s poetry and public memory of the Holocaust, and, last but not least, whatever Professor Zamir’s unit is right now. We have looked at these people and pieces in the frame of revolutions in the attempt to define the “trivialized” term. However, in my portfolio, instead of answering the ever present question (demand?) “Define ‘revolution’” in the context of these revolutionaries, I will define the phenomenon through my personal revolution so far here at Davidson. Because they, along with all the faculty, fellows, and peers in the Humanities program, have helped spark a revolution in myself. A much-needed one full of love and acceptance, not only for others, but more importantly, myself.

      I remember the day I read Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon that I had spent mostly in my claustrophobic carrel in the library (probably trying to catch up on Humanities assignments). I decided to go outside to read under the shade of trees. I had to read it a couple times and even look up illustrations and videos explaining the allegory. I did not fully understand it at first, but I remember when it clicked. Something set off in my head. After taking my eyes off the page (from my eighth time reading it), I saw the world differently. The allegory took me out of my own cave and laid a true foundation for my personal educational mindset and now way of life. It taught me to embrace my ignorance, challenge my beliefs, and contest any certainty.

      As the semester continued, I picked up on subtle things I have been told my whole life, and I always believed to be true. I started to question and correct them. The Civil War was not over states’ rights. Not everyone knows Jesus Christ. Not everyone needs Him. Muslims are nice people. Feminism should not be viewed as an “F” word. Getting drunk does not make you a bad person. Having premarital sex should not be shameful.

      All these sentiments made up my “cave”. And as I slowly recognized their falsehood, I developed my own view of the world. I started asking more questions, and listening more to more people not to find the definite Truth but their own truths.

      I also started listening to myself more. I started to believe my truths. I spent sleepless nights thinking about my identity. In those late hours of isolation when I didn’t have a paper to write, a book to read, a student council meeting to go to, a track race to run, a mountain to hike, a fundraiser to lead, a friend to laugh with, like I did all throughout high school, I started to confront aspects of myself that filled my adolescence with unsourced confusion and anxiety.

      I knew I had come out of the cave, but realized I was still stuck in a closet. A closet built by blatant homophobia among my community and in myself. Built by the desire to never disappoint my family. To never make my mom cry. To never leave my dad speechless. To never embarrass my twin sister. Built by the desire to be normal. To follow the straight and narrow path in life my friends and family have always dreamt and set for me.

      As the semester continued after my realization, my closet got smaller and smaller. Or maybe, like Alice after eating the piece of cake, I got bigger and bigger. The closet became a constricting place I could no longer live in. I looked for the truth in others here, but I felt that I wasn’t showing my truths to them.

      I felt like I was lying to myself and to others. People would question me, and I would question myself. Is this shirt too gay? Do I really talk that much with my hands? I don’t have the “gay” lisp, do I? Why do I like Lady GaGa so much?

      My only conception of an out gay man was that of the toxic stereotype presented and perpetuated by media and word of mouth. In my closet, this was the only shadow I saw. I knew that this shadow was me, or at least what the world thought I should be, but it seemed so foreign to who I am. I could not fit its form. I am Taylor, and that’s all I’ve ever known myself to be.

            One late night in November, I spent the night with more than just myself for the first time that semester. My fellow first-year teammates and I had the brilliant idea to have a sleepover in Chambers. We were playing a game called “hot-seat”. The premise of the game is to get to know each other better by asking hard, deep questions that required long, thoughtful answers. One of my friends asked me to tell them something I’ve never told anyone in my life. It might have been the darkness of the room that covered our faces and prevented me from seeing their reactions. It might have been my–correct–assumption that they would support me. Whatever it was. It happened. I told them I was gay. I was shaking. Hearing myself finally say what had been circling around in my head for years left me stunned. I couldn’t ask or answer anymore questions that night. I laid down on the cheap sleeping bag next to my teammate and shut my eyes from the world outside my closet that appeared scarier than I thought it would.

            A few weeks later, I returned home for winter break. I planned to tell my family before the break ended. However, going home required me to descend back into the depths of my closet. Home was not how I remembered. I started to pick up on the subtle heteronormativity that flew under my radar before confronting my queerness in college. Family and friends asked me if I was seeing any girls. People I loved made blatant homophobic comments that made me reevaluate their proclaimed “unconditional” love for me. Their words that used to roll of my back no pierced it. I could no longer use my closet as armor. The door was open, and I could only cower and hide from the comments and actions of my community unknowingly lanced at me like spears.

            On the last day of winter break, after visiting my dying aunt, I realized the fragile finiteness of life. Aunt Annie had always been a huge presence in my life. Although she watched me grow up–my first steps, all my soccer tournaments in Chattanooga, my high school graduation– I didn’t notice her aging: the creasing of her eyes, the thinning of her skin, the greying of her once jet-black hair. Time had had its effect on her as well, and she was imminently losing her tolerance to its venom. On my drive back to Davidson, I thought about my life so far. I am nearly twenty years old. I have lived two decades on this earth. I’ve lived through incredible innovations in technology. I’ve lived through horrendous global tragedies as well as hopeful human moments. I’ve lived through, or at least watched on television, multiple cultural, technological, political revolutions around the world, and I realized that it was finally time for me to recognize and validate the revolution that was happening in me. Davidson had taught me so much about the world and myself that I needed to accept and be okay with. I took agency over my revolution. I became its leader.

      A few weeks after starting my second semester here and gradually coming out to all of my close friends, I shakily texted my mom one day at lunch: “Hey can we talk?” After loading my tray of my half-eaten lunch onto the cleaning conveyor, I walked out of Commons and to my car parked in Stowe parking lot. I knew that after this call, my life would never be the same. I did not know if it would be better or different, but I knew that it needed this change. I could no longer suffocate myself in the closet. Already choked up with tears streaming down my face, I dialed my mom’s phone number and said I needed to tell her something. After gasping for air to catch my breath, I told her, “I’m gay.”

     It shocked her. She did not see it coming. She wanted to be supportive and love me in my time of equal liberation and suffering, but she had to process things herself. All the fears I had about telling my mom, the person I love the most in this world, became real. A few hours later I, regrettably, texted my sister the news. She did not respond to me for two weeks.

      I knew they both loved me, and this was hard for them. But their silence and apparent lack of understanding caused my soul to ache.

      I had just shot the last bullet of my inner revolution. Part of it felt good, but it ultimately left me paralyzed in the shambles of my old self, struggling to reconcile who I was now with who I was before. For about a month or so after this day, I laid in the bloody pool of my broken chrysalis. I had grown wings, but I did not yet have the strength to fly.

      After many more phone calls and visits with my mother, she started to slowly come around and understand my struggle. She realized why I could not come out back at home. She listened (and continues to listen to) my truth and loves me, and that’s all I can ask for. However, in those months, I still went aimlessly through the motions of my past self. I went to all my classes. I did (nearly) all my work. I ran at every practice and meet that indoor season. Returning to normalcy helped me. It reminded me that I am no different now than I was before coming out. However, part of me wanted to be different. I wanted to live the life of an openly gay man I never though I could. I have incredibly supportive friends, but I wanted and needed someone who had lived a similar truth to mine and could help me truly embrace and understand my place in the queer community and its place in me.

     Through a mutual friend, I met a gay senior, Avery Davenport, who would soon become my fairy “gay” mother. Avery would help me understand my new place in this world by clearing the storm clouds of my coming out experience and letting the rainbow that was always in me shine through (was that too cheesy?).

      A few weeks into our friendship, he introduced me to a his friend Jonathan. Like me, Jonathan had grown up in a repressive southern environment. He too had slowly came to terms with himself this past year and was ready to live an out and proud life.

      Both of them were so similar yet so different from me. Beyond our similar experiences as gay men, but we all have our nuances, talents, and quirks that made all us different from each other and the toxic stereotype of a gay man. Avery is at one moment a twelve year old screaming and running around and the next moment an intellectual engaged in a conversation about our current political climate. He loves his family and has a certain gleam in his eyes when he talks about home. He has on register in his brain at least 40 different voices for different characters he’s made up in his head (half of them being alcoholic soccer moms). His wit is unmatched, and his love is unconditional.

            Jonathan is more of an introvert than Avery and me. He is a careful listener and hangs onto every word you say. However, when he talks, people listen. His deep voice bellows and speaks wisdom (or makes a sex joke). Nearly fluent in three languages, he has a way of connecting people through love and appreciation of others no matter how different they might seem. He is one of the most genuinely good people I have ever met.

            They defied the restrictive form of a gay man that my closet presented to me and helped me define myself in my own queerness.

            The three of us spent many weekend nights at Avery’s apartment at Depot, and an inseparable bond formed among us. We would stay up way too late laughing about the latest meme from Rupaul’s Drag race, talking about our quite conflicting “types” (they don’t like tattoos like I do), crying about our mutual feeling of isolation, and falling asleep cuddled in each other’s arms. The next morning, we would all wake up, dress ourselves in each other’s clothes from that night, and go out for Sunday morning brunch. After wrecking our bank accounts at a [name a bougie brunch place here in Davidson], we would go thrift-shopping. Goodwill, Uptown Cheapskate, and the Habitat for Humanity store were our usual spots. On these trips, we copped worn (but not too worn) J. Crew long sleeves, ugly floral mom jeans, and flamboyant uni-sex (women’s) sneakers.

On one of these trips, we stumbled upon Plato’s closet. I had barely any money left on my debit card from the French Creperie we just ate at, so I mostly flipped through the hangers to try and find something Avery or Jonathan might like.

In my search to find some short(er) shorts for Jonathan (as a gay man, his 9” shorts would no longer cut it!) and a burgundy-ish sweatshirt for Avery (it goes great with his eye and hair colors), I realized the beauty of this moment. Through thrift-shopping together, we not only fashioned each other in outfits that would compliment our style, but also clothed ourselves in love and strength that we needed so badly. In Plato’s closet, we created and lived in our own world–a reality where we could finally feel, and let our smiles, tears, and cackles brush off the residual pieces of the closet that once numbed us from any feeling at all.

      Closeted Taylor a year ago would have never imagined himself thrift-shopping as an openly out gay man with his two other gay best friends. He could never conceptualize the unconditional support and acceptance friends like Avery and Jonathan would give him. He could not understand a world where his sexuality would not be his only defining feature. A world where he would be loved and included instead of ostracized for that part of him he could repress but not change.

      Davidson and all the incredible people I’ve met and things I’ve learned here have been the best thing that has ever happened to me. Through my first year here, I have experienced an inner revolution of self-love. It has not redefined who I am, but it has, so necessarily, reframed my perspective of this world. It has taught me to love all the beautiful intricacies of myself–especially my queerness–that make me me.

      I’m a runner. I’m a gay man. I’m a proud Tennesseean. I’m a twin. I’m a teammate. I’m that kid you know to stay away from in the library because I can’t keep my mouth shut. I’m a Lady GaGa fan. I am a terrible procrastinator. I’m a Memory Studies major. I have the attention span of a Davidson squirrel. I am a positive energy that lights up other’s worlds. But most importantly, I am Taylor Drake, and there is no one else like me in this world.

 

      So, to finally define “revolution”, I will say it like this:

 

      A revolution is a phenomenon in which someone, something, or some group, confronts a conflict among or in themselves and has the courage, strength, and downright insanity to change it–to make it better in they way that they perceive it could be improved.

Of course, there is pain and suffering in the process. However, taking something that was once so messy, dirty, shameful, and dangerous and making it beautiful, loving, accepting, and pure is a revolutionary act itself. 

To choose to love, accept, and simply “be” yourself is a revolution.