The following is the full transcript of Thomas Lloyd’s TEDx Talk titled “Why am I so gay?” at TEDxGeorgetown conference.
Right click to download the MP3 audio:
So, thank you. Oh! Good, this is on.
So I’m trying to remember the first time I was ever asked, “Why are you so gay?” Probably in middle school, before it actually applied to any form of sexual orientation, right? Because in middle school, you don’t have any orientation, let alone a sexual one. It just used to refer to something, you know, you don’t enjoy.
But the funny thing is that, since middle school, I’ve probably been asked this question almost as much as any other question. If I had a dime for each time I’ve been asked, “Why are you so gay?,” I could maybe pay for one credit at Georgetown. So — But the interesting thing about this question too is the sort of opposing motivations as to why people would ask this question. Some people ask this question as a way to shame me and to shame the identity. They say, “Why are you so gay?,” as if, you know, it offends them, somehow it smells, I don’t know.
But then, also people very close to me, who love me very much, ask it from a place of love and concern: “Why are you so visible? Why would you subject yourself to potential discrimination, when you don’t have to?” And therefore, answering this question involves addressing both of these sorts of concerns and both of these motivations. And really, for me, it comes down to three things. One is my obligations to history; two, the realities of my own identity; and lastly, our obligations for those yet to come.
Now, some of you here are guests, so you’re like, “Well, he doesn’t seem that gay to me. His suit’s a little tight, but no gay person would use white text in a Powerpoint”. But I assure you, and let me prove it to you. You see, two weeks ago I was on this stage in the Mr. Georgetown pageant — Mom, cover your eyes — and I was crowned Mr. Georgetown by performing the first-ever drag routine in Gaston Hall, I think, unless the judge would say something I didn’t know about.
But – Well, but Brian can confirm later. But the funny thing about this is, as shocking as this is and as scared as I was that day to sort of break ground and bring this performance into this space where it had never been before, before I came out on stage, I was thinking about how scared I would be if who I was eight years ago could see where I was now. Granted, when I see who I was eight years ago, I’m equally horrified. Give it to me. There we go!
Yes, so I admit this is a picture of me in a Harry Potter costume, but I assure you I looked like this every single day, except for the scar on the forehead. But otherwise, every day I was the same. This was the outfit. That was real tape. Those were really broken glasses.
I go to this time in my life because I think that this is where answering the question, “Why are you so gay?” begins, because it was in this point of my life that I started what we know as covering. It was around this time that, even though I didn’t necessarily feel all that different from my peers, other people did.
And what had started as, “Oh, you’re so gay!” became whispers, became rumors, became slurs. This is when we, as a community, human beings, have a sort of tendency that, when we detect difference, when we detect something we don’t understand, even if we can’t name it yet – and we were all too young at this age to name what was different, or to act on what was different — we try to correct it through less than honorable means.
And so, people would make fun of the way that I walked, and still do, even though that was really because one leg was shorter than the other. I was born with one leg one inch shorter than the other. So, I always stand like this. It’s not an affect. So, I would suddenly think about every single step that I took. It became deliberate.
And then people started to make fun of the way that I moved my hands when I talked, which was really just because I’m Sicilian. More to do with that than anything else. And then people would make fun of my voice, even though none of our voices had changed yet. It’s funny to have someone make fun of your voice when it cracks in the middle of an insult.
So, you can imagine how difficult, as a New Yorker, it was to walk and talk, and have a conversation while I’m motivating every single motion of my voice and my speech. The things that we take for granted, the ways that we navigate the world in normal ways were critical things that I had to think about every second of the day. I had to expend all of my creative energy on covering what it was that made me different.
When I went to high school, this started to change a little bit. Because I was able to develop the vocabulary, I started to see what it was that made me different than other people, because, as we all know, hormones kick in, and we sort of can see, “Ah! So that’s the problem.”
Now, when I went to high school, I was introduced to the director of the debate team, Jonathan Cruz, who was the first gay person I had ever met, who owned their identity unapologetically. Instead of expending his creative energy to change himself, and to cover, and to meet the standards that society wanted him to meet, he instead put his energy into building a community of dedicated students who worshiped him because he was a debate god! The hilarious thing — I didn’t put up a photo because he’d hate me — is, you know, he was a slightly overweight Jewish man from Great Neck, who had a following! How does that happen? And it’s because he used his energy — he didn’t apologize for himself. By not having to cover, he was able to apply that energy into a community and into students.
But that wasn’t quite yet enough for me to own my own identity. I had to start working at a meth lab. Now, clarification: you thought I was going in other direction. By meth lab, I mean a research lab where I studied people addicted to meth. This is what it looked like. It was not a trailer in Albuquerque, I promise. Yeah. It was 726, Broadway. Very, very different than Albuquerque. So I’ve heard.
So, it was at this laboratory that I met another mentor. You see, at Bronx Science, seniors and other students engage in these research projects, where they email professors all around the country and try to get them to help them with research projects, and then we can submit these papers to all these things across the country, yadda yadda yadda.
And the only professor who responded to me happened to be the one I’d reached out to just because he held a prestigious position at NYU Steinhardt. His name is Perry Halkitis. And Perry Halkitis was yet another example of a man who was owning his identity, but also we had a lot in common that I didn’t realize. He had grown up in the neighborhood that I had gone to school, and that my mother was from, Astoria, Queens, — which will explain my parents’ accent, if you have met them, and my own, if it slips out — but also he had gone to the Bronx High School of Science. And meeting another person who had used his creative energy into building a community around him, into building a laboratory around him, made me feel comfortable at least owning my identity to myself.
But it yet really wasn’t enough for me to start owning it to other people. I needed a more powerful force, I needed to understand what the history of this community looked like. So the first thing that I’d learned was the reality of my own identity was that I couldn’t cover, and understanding who I was to myself at the very least allowed me to be happy for the first time in years.