The biggest queer at our school was Jean-François Giroux, the president of Coalition arc-en-ciel – the Rainbow Coalition – or “the gay club” as everyone calls it.
Now that the graduation ceremony is over, J.F. walks with his parents to their car, his father’s hand placed protectively on his son’s shoulder. As he leaves the school for the last time, I can’t help but think he must have broken a speed record for going from the most popular student to the most hated. Though not for being gay.
And I wonder if I’ll ever see him again.
I first noticed J.F. last September – the start of secondaire IV for me, and secondaire V, the graduating year, for him. One day during morning récréation he was standing near my locker at the students’ bulletin board looking at the announcements for clubs, sports, and lost cats. He caught my attention because he looked hot. At our école secondaire, hot boys are as rare as Canadian flags, even though there are over eighteen hundred students, one of the biggest Francophone schools in Québec.
He had to be at least six-foot-one. My motto then was Tall boys are worth the climb, although I had yet to kiss a boy, let alone scale one. I’m well aware I’m an unimpressive five-nine. Well, almost.
Thinking I wasn’t being all that obvious, I watched him as he stapled a big fluorescent pink poster to the bulletin board. His dark brown hair was buzzed short with a small Tintin patch sticking up in front, just above his forehead. He wore blue shorts with an ironed line down each leg, and a coordinated blue short-sleeved polo shirt. I wondered where the matching pail and shovel were. His clothes were definitely off drumming to their own beat. I’d learnt long ago how you dressed was Step One to fitting in at high school. It’s simple enough – look at other students and wear what the majority’s wearing. Usually I had on some loose jeans, a fitted cap, and either some obscure band’s T-shirt or one with a random word on it. That day it was ponder. And, yes, I wear my jeans so low you can see my boxers. That drives my parents mad. Sometimes before I step back into the house after a day at school, I tuck in my shirt and pull up my pants to make them happy.
What a strange mix! The softness of an oval face, the subtle curve of his nose in profile, his long eyelashes, but also the rugged strength implied by a natural tan and muscles that fill out clothes in a way mine never will. He stretched to staple the top of the poster, and his shirt rode up. I couldn’t help but notice what had to be some rock hard abs. It was a change from the stick boys and doughy flesh forced on me during gym class. I quickly looked away. It’s kind of pervy to stare like that.
It took some maneuvering – I had to fake-drop a book and “accidentally” kick it a couple of feet away – but when I moved closer to him to pick it up, I could see the eyes behind those lashes. Dark blue. Damn he was hot! It was love at first ogle.
J.F. glanced over at me and chuckled. Obviously he’d caught me looking at him, so I slammed the locker shut and speed-walked down the hall. Now that I think about it, I must have been quite a sight.
During lunch I went back to put away some books, but that was just an excuse. I wanted to see what he’d put up on the bulletin board. The poster wasn’t hard to miss – it almost made my eyes water, it was that bright and cheerful. There were rainbows, hand-drawn and cut out of magazines, upside-down triangles, and a collage of hot models, girls and boys, that he probably found in fashion magazines. The biggest words were “Coalition arc-en-ciel,” and underneath text described a new club forming “pour combattre l’homophobie” along with the date and time for the first meeting, a week away. Straights welcome was underlined.
“Is he gay?” I said out loud. Luckily no one else was in the hallway by then. Everyone was either in the cafeteria eating or outside racing across the playing fields to the nearest dépanneur to buy chips and chocolate bars and Coke and cigarettes. “The National Lunch of Québec,” my father jokingly calls it. Eating junk food and destroying their lungs are all kids can do since they no longer can buy scratch lottery cards – the Québec government was trying to look like it was enforcing the legal age limit. Next year they’ll try again to crack down on kids smoking.
All of a sudden I felt weak. I sat on the cold floor under the bulletin board. I wasn’t out at school yet. I didn’t have a good reason not to tell everyone – I’d told my parents and sister and they were fine with it. But school might be another story. Not because I’d be beaten up or harassed in some horrible way. I didn’t think my school was like that. Sure there’s the everyday dose of ignorant homophobia – “C’est gai” is thrown around way too often for anyone’s liking – but Québec, after all, is pretty damn progressive. It was one of the first places to put protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the Chartre des droits et libertés de la personne way back in the 1970s. There’s even a section in our history book about it.
My father loves to go on and on about how liberal Québec is. He sees himself as a keen observer of all things Québécois, an “outsider” well placed to note “foibles and quirks,” even though he’s been living here for thirty-five years.
My parents are British immigrants and only became Canadians after I was born. They would’ve done it sooner, but they were still test-driving the country. Since neither of my parents was educated in English in Québec, I’m not eligible to attend an English school. La loi 101 – the Language Law. A way around it would’ve been for my parents to have sent me to private school, but they don’t go for posh elitist nonsense. So that’s how I ended up pretty much one-hundred-percent bilingual – living in an English home and going to school all my life in French. The best of both, I suppose. When I speak French, no one would guess I’m English – my accent’s spot on. Well, my father insists I have a mid-Atlantic accent sometimes, like when I meet someone new. Francophones only know I’m English when I tell them my name, Spencer Roache, although I avoid saying my last name to Anglos so I don’t have to hear the exterminator jokes. It’s not even pronounced that way. Last year my English teacher made a dumb Kafka remark to me, although I didn’t know what he was talking about until I looked it up on Wikipedia.
Had I wanted to come out to the world and his dog, Québec was certainly the place to do it. I had no real reason not to other than I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I was already the token Anglo at school. I didn’t need gay added to that shepherd’s pie.
I saw J.F. again a few days later, putting up another one of those posters outside the bibliothèque. He was wearing a multi-coloured tie-dyed T-shirt and frayed jeans that went wide at the bottoms. And a headband. Seriously.
I’d like to say he was re-inventing the style, making it trendy again with a few new twists thrown in, but his clothes merely looked old like they were found in a second-hand store. Maybe someone was unfairly tear-gassed at a riot in 1969 wearing that outfit, but how wrong would it be to gas someone who’d wear that today?
Like usual, I had on jeans and one of my one-word T-shirts. Whimsy.
J.F. chewed on his lip as he positioned and re-positioned the poster on the wall until it was just right. The meeting was the next day, and I don’t know why, but it worried me. I half-expected someone would stop him or something, even though that didn’t make sense. Surely he must have permission from the administration. Now I know I’d only been worried about the inevitability of my own coming out at school.
I had to walk by him to go to the library, and when I pulled open the library door, he nodded at me.
I nodded back, though it just as easily could’ve looked to him like a nervous tic or a mild stroke. A just-saw-a-hot-boy brain aneurism. I tried entering the library before I had fully opened the door, so I had to squeeze in like toothpaste in reverse. I’m sure he found that amusing as well.
That night I lay in bed and argued with myself whether I would go to the meeting. The poster said straights were welcome too. If someone wondered why I was there, couldn’t I say I was doing my part for human rights? By morning I’d convinced myself I could go to the meeting and be assumed to be as straight as the next guy, without having to say anything that would betray who I really was. The gay me, I called it. Cowardice I could live with. Hypocrisy, not so much.
Self-delusion was something else altogether.