FEATURED ARTIST – Brian Ness
STORY by Aaron Akins
I was born at Stouder Memorial Hospital in Troy, Ohio, on April 24, 1980. My parents were 24 and 26 years old, I believe. One of my earliest memories is of helping my mother pack my dad’s lunch. She would give my brother and me small pieces of paper to write notes on. We would write a note, smear on red Mary Kay lipstick, kiss the note, seal it inside a walnut shell with a little bit of glue and put it in his lunchbox.
One of the other families that attended our church had a daughter named Katie who was almost a year older than me. As annoying little brothers are wont to do, my brother liked to tease me about her… “Katie and Aaron, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to kiss Katie in a tree. She was nice, but hard to talk to. Why even bother with girls when other boys were so much more entertaining?
A couple nights before Christmas, I was babysitting for my siblings. I think my dad was taking my brother to wrestling practice, and mom was shopping. I put the 4-month-old, Matthew, down for bed, and was giving the other kids a bath. Dad came home, and went in to check on Matthew in the bedroom. The scream that came from that room still echoes down to me through the years and nearly stops me from breathing. We spent the remainder of the holidays in shock, and planning the funeral. Years passed before I could sleep through the night – every cough, sneeze and sleep-mumble from one of my siblings would have me running on tip-toes to check on them. I remember lying my head on my younger sister’s pillow one night for almost an hour just listening to her breathe. Fear petrified me: I literally couldn’t make myself leave.
We used to spend summers in Estes’ Park, Colorado. My aunt’s cottages had a view of Long’s Peak and Hallett Peak. Dad turned us into fly fishing enthusiasts with astonishing rapidity. I was terrible at it, of course, but I didn’t care.
Soaking up the beauty of a late summer morning at Sprague Lake was more than enough compensation. Discovering the stash of hundreds of old Playboy magazines in our cabin was a shock for me, though. I knew what I should have felt when looking at them, but I felt nothing at all.
Reading James Dobson’s monthly newsletters finally helped me understand exactly how evil a person I was – homosexuals like me were the downfall of every major civilization since Sodom and Gomorrah. I came to blame myself for all of the bad things that happened to me and my family, including my brother’s death – God was punishing me for being attracted to other guys, and I had to find a way to change. I constantly worried about losing my salvation: head under my pillows, I would pray and cry myself to sleep night after night, asking God to help me and to spare my family.
My parents finally gave up on home schooling me in 1997. I had never been inside a classroom in my life, but one day that summer, my dad informed me and my brother that we would be attending Dayton Christian High School in the fall. As I recall, I was terrified, and I flipped out on him, telling him he was going to ruin my life. It was quite possibly the single best thing he and my mother ever did for me. That fall I started at DCHS as a Junior. I was on the wrestling and track teams. At first I was too scared and too busy catching up to do anything besides scramble around. After the first term, though, I started to realize that DCHS was crammed to the doors with really, really attractive guys. One in particular flirted with me incessantly, but I don’t think he was gay.
Sometime in the second term of Junior year, a speaker came to talk about how terribly sinful sex, porn and other vices were. Beginning then, and over the next 2 years, I renewed my commitment to becoming straight.
Freshman year of college I fell in love with a friend in my dorm. I didn’t even realize what it was until summer break, when I realized that every day I wasn’t around him was pure hell. That summer was the worst period of depression I’ve experienced in my life. I still can’t listen to Matchbox 20 without feeling empty and sad – Mad Season had just come out on CD, and I played it all summer. My friend didn’t come back to school that fall – money problems. It was probably a good thing. I don’t know what I would have done if he had.
I think that summer was when I realized that I was not going to be able to change myself. I made one last ditch attempt at being normal that fall, and started dating a female classmate. She was the first person who ever asked me “Are you gay?” I started researching homosexuality, and the more I read, the more my life made sense. I found out that I was far from alone. I found out that not all people believed being gay was a terrible sin, and I started to talk to other gay people online, some of whom I am friends with to this day.
By the end of Senior year I knew I was gay, that it wasn’t going to change, that I didn’t really care, and that I was rapidly coming to reject modern Christianity. I graduated from my private Christian Alma Mater, Milligan College, an avowed Agnostic. I spent the next two years trying to work up the courage to come out to my friends and family, and finally did come out to most of them in 2005 and 2006. My friends are largely accepting or tolerant. My family, however, is not nearly so receptive. My relationships with them are strained and avoid discussion of anything that might stray into discussion of my sexuality.
By the time I came to DC in May 2006, I was a firmly grounded Agnostic, and had resolved to never lie about being gay again. Here in DC I have found a group of friends who truly accept me for who I am. Being gay does not define me, but it is an integral part of who I am, just like the fact that I was born in Ohio and that I work on computers. Looking back over the past decade, the 3 years of my life here in DC seem almost idyllic. I think that’s because, for the first time in my life, I am at peace with myself.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Brian Ness’s stories and illustrations are interested in exploring gender, specifically related to the effeminate, the de-masculinized, and the fabulous. His images reside somewhere between the present and the Victorian, where many of our current ideas of men and women were formulated, and whose children’s literature inverts, scares, and romanticizes the world in which it resides. He produces a quarterly zine called Kitten Punch, about the goings-on at a theme park/commune for sissies, called Dandyland. He received the 2007 Schochet Award for Excellence in GLBT Studies for his comic book/coloring book, BJ’s Unfabulous Christmas, and recently finished his first graphic novella, Molly Bottom. He lives and works in Minneapolis. You can follow his work at greetingsfromdandyland.blogspot.com.
Brian has done previous work for I’m From Driftwood, illustrating two images for Kelley Halvorson’s story, I’m From Watford City, ND.
Here are two more samples of Brian’s work:
Interested in being a Featured Artist? Just let me know!