What was worse – admitting “I’ll Be Your Everything” was a good song or that Tommy Page was cute? In 1990, I was attracted to him in that furtive way of my closeted teens. Playing my sister’s cassingle of “I’ll Be Your Everything,” I willed myself into thinking it was a decent song as a means of purging Tommy Page from my thoughts. I looked forward to “Friday Nite Videos” for the chance to see Page sing this scoop of third-rate slush, co-written by Jordan Knight and Danny Wood of New Kids on the Block in their imperial phase. I liked how the dark bangs flopped around his forehead, as if on the run from Page’s melody and lyrics.
Page died last week, an apparent suicide. Buried in the last third, in observance of the requirements of obit templates, was a sentence mentioning the survivors: Page’s husband and their three kids. I had no idea Page was a gay man; there was no reason to know. If I’d seen his name at all in the intervening years, it was attached to biz blab: Village Voice Media, Billboard, and so on. But once again readers had to deal with the mystery of suicide: a rich white man with healthy hair, a family, fans who still love “I’ll Be Your Everything” and “A Shoulder to Cry On,” massive hits in Asia – a gay man who hanged himself.
On social media the other day, my friend Kevin John Bozelka posted Michael Hobbes’ “The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness.” A cursory read suggests a homosexual variant on the musty he-had-everything-he-wanted-and-now-what trope, and indeed, I can imagine conservative readers groaning: you can get married; what else do you want? But Hobbes parses the factors that form a part of what psychologists call “minority stress.” Simply put, Hobbes writes, “being a member of a marginalized group requires extra effort.”
When you’re the only woman at a business meeting, or the only black guy in your college dorm, you have to think on a level that members of the majority don’t. If you stand up to your boss, or fail to, are you playing into stereotypes of women in the workplace? If you don’t ace a test, will people think it’s because of your race? Even if you don’t experience overt stigma, considering these possibilities takes its toll over time.
For gay people, the effect is magnified by the fact that our minority status is hidden. Not only do we have to do all this extra work and answer all these internal questions when we’re 12, but we also have to do it without being able to talk to our friends or parents about it.
Hobbes describes a banal incident from his own life: how flirting with a straight friend leads to paranoia about how the badinage might have been misconstrued. Quite likely the exchange evaporated from the straight friend’s mind seven seconds afterwards. Illustrative, though. From the self-consciousness about walking to the careful positioning of conversational topics, I have spent years wondering about how gay I present myself. Likening myself to the formidable Count of Monte Christo where once I was naive, duped Edmond Dantés doesn’t quash those memories or that sense of a double life; the performance of a character firms up a sense in which each successive year represents a long slow slide to happiness, or whether queers have any duty to regard happiness as anything but an option.