It only takes a slight glance in my direction or a minor corridor-collision and an ensuing “Oh, I’m so sorry about that” (or god forbid, a single conversation) for me to start mentally arranging the furniture in our future quaint suburban home by the sea. My heart swells, I suddenly can’t find my words and my face reddens. I begin to sweat if I’m wearing my leather jacket, and I probably am because, secretly, I want you to compliment my outfit. And when you do give me that validation, I smile so wide it feels like the outer corners of my lips tear at their flesh-fashioned seams, but I’m hoping you’ll find it endearing. And when I fall asleep, you appear in my dreams.
I’m hoping you won’t judge me, but I didn’t really become a hopeless romantic until anime poisoned my impressionable brain in early middle school. From Kirito and Asuna to Sakuta and Mai, most of the anime I watched portrayed romance as dramatically direct love confessions while the characters sit atop high school rooftops at sunset or watch fireworks shows at the summer festival together. Yet the buildup to these relationships are predictable and uncomplicated; the audience knows from the beginning that the two main love interests will get together. I didn’t even know liking boys was an option for me until I was at least 14, so while other kids my age were making out behind the classroom buildings after school, I could only live vicariously through the media I consumed.
Amid mentally selecting the fonts for our future wedding invitations, the picture of my parents’ wedding photo sitting on my grandmother’s old dining table appears in my imagination. They stand hand in hand, beaming directly at the camera and consequently, the viewer. Suddenly, their eyes watch me as I navigate this dreamscape. The fantasy I’ve constructed fractures as their inescapable gaze permeates my thoughts. The top and bottom rows of my teeth slowly clench together so hard they grind down my enamel. My sweat-infused, water-based eyeliner cascades down the space between my epicanthic eye folds and my nose bridge. My words lodge themselves inside my trachea, and in my gasps for oxygen, blood fills my warm face. My heart swells until I can feel it pounding in my fingertips like it wants to break free. When I awake from my daydreams, their smiling faces appear in my nightmares instead.
I want to rant to you about these feelings, but I can’t because you’re not really real. The hypothetical “you” in this piece, my chance-encounter dream boy, is just that — a dream. On the other hand, homophobia is hyperreal. It looms above me at all times, especially when I start thinking about the future. For many, Queer love is often a transaction, forcing us to surrender parental love for romance. The power imbalance for young Queer people always results in an unequal trade, especially when our heterosexual counterparts never need to relinquish much of anything. Furthermore, it places undue pressure on the success of the relationship; what happens if I come out and am exiled from my family only for some shitty Tinder boy to ghost me tomorrow? In order to destroy these vivid future anxieties of inescapable familial confrontation, I must construct even more detailed fantasy worlds as a defense mechanism. It is unrealistic for me to expect to run into my ideal partner in the grocery store aisle, which is precisely the reason I hold on to my phantasmal musings of love. If I set my criteria for romance so high, I never need to worry about the future because I’ll never have one with you.
When I return from class or the grocery store or wherever I see you in passing, the pile of dishes festering inside my sink is the only thing waiting for me at home. Once I turn on the faucet, I let the running water engulf my hand, slipping in between the finest ridges and notches of my fingertips. As I scrub down chicken karaage residue and tomato paste stains, I wish you were beside me, drying the dishes as I hand them to you. I wish we had eaten out of these bowls and tossed fried ramen in this frying pan together. I wish we were just coming home from class or the grocery store or wherever we met up, walking hand in hand all the way back.
In the middle of my daydreaming, I don’t even notice the rising water temperature until my scalded skin becomes red. Instinctively, my left hand turns on the cold water and holds my writhing right hand under the stream. My fingertips, pressed together in pain, rub against my cracked, dry knuckles, embracing each other until the aching subsides. Even within this piece, I had tricked myself into thinking that you, my imaginary lover, could ever protect me. In truth, there is no escaping omnipresent homophobia. It invades and corrupts every inch of my mind, and I keep trying to construct new barriers to run deeper and deeper into my own ideal world. Life is too short to continue evading love and its consequences.
Queer love comes with strife but I must allow the pain to wash over me in order to embrace the warmth within the anguish. Even on the precipice of catastrophe, hypothetically rejected by both familial and romantic relationships, I will only have my own hand to hold. Leaning over my sink, with my hands clasped together as if in prayer, I let you go.
MiC Assistant Editor Andrew Nakamura can be reached at email@example.com.