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Some realizations hit you with a precision bordering on obscene. It was February 29th, an unextraordinary Thursday evening a little after 11pm. I had just turned the lights out, closed my eyes, nestled my head into the coldest part of the pillow I could find, and was beginning my routine culling through the disappointments in my life: my job, my physique, my love life (or lack thereof), my social life, my… and BAM! There it was: I had been trying all this time to have a life when it occurred to me that I had it all backwards. What I needed to do was choose a lifestyle. Something I could immerse myself in, which would come with all the satisfying answers filled in: the right job, an exciting social life… maybe even a little romance.

It seemed so obvious. Almost over-the-counter, if you will. A few online shopping orders away. This nebulous existence could be replaced by a passionate niche simply by jumping into a subcultural deep end. Somewhere.

I turned the lights back on. I fired up the trusty laptop. And then I stared blankly at the screen. I felt like I’d developed a sweet tooth, dropped myself into the middle of a candy store, and become frozen by wanting to go in all directions at once. Breathe. That’s what I told myself. Don’t they always advise you to return to this most basic necessity? Did anything I already do lend itself to a lifestyle? But wasn’t that the problem–my deeply rooted unhappiness with almost everything I was already doing?

Maybe I’m gay. This seemingly random little thought dropped like a heavy stone in the placid waters of my mundane identity. I thought back over my past, delving my psyche for signs of repression, memories of denied passions for some beautiful boy or rugged man in my history. Nothing. I found a link for gay porn and watched a minute’s worth of guy-on-guy grunting. Hmmm. No physiological response on my part. Could I just choose to adopt a gay lifestyle?

How I wish I had just gone straight to sleep that night. Instead, I stayed up logging into gay forums, reading about gay bars near me, gay dance clubs, gay style… tops, bottoms, bears, boytoys, latex & leather fetishes, dozens of articles celebrating the joys of the shaved scrotum. I wasn’t gay when I went to bed, but by dawn I sure as hell had shopped like I was. Identity by purchase. Rescued by the free market! If only my new lifestyle had stopped there.

The next few days would’ve been counted as my fondest upon this charming planet had they not led to my present situation. The gay community welcomes new members as eagerly as sharks welcome fresh blood. I’m not sure any male with genuine homosexual urges bought my conversion, but then, none of them actually seemed to care. I was everybody’s new friend and was often introduced as just having come out of the closet, presumably followed by many more nudges and winks than I actually caught in action. I felt like a young foreign exchange student whom the whole host family embraced, each eager to give me a private introduction and tour. And so it was that one of these attentive, private guides led me astray one evening.

He said his name was Enrique. He said his boyfriend was rich and liked meeting new people. He said he didn’t have any cash on him and would it be possible for me to pay for the cab ride…

When the cops found me shivering in the park the next morning, my pants and underwear were down around my ankles, my pockets were empty, and my hands were tied around the trunk of a medium size tree to which I had shared this embrace for at least 4 hours. Maybe I deserved the remarks about “taking tree hugging to the next level”, maybe they usually leave half naked men tied up while they question them and allow early morning walkers to snap phone pics, but I was too mortified to protest.

I thought things might just end there. A fine and some humiliation before I returned to my normal life. But no. Pictures of me hugging a tree with my goosebumped ass bare for all to see spread around the internet about a week later. Even my mother, who could barely find the power button on a computer, had seen the photos. Nothing I could say or do provided an explanation anyone would believe. I lost my job. Teenagers coming to or from school would point and erupt in laughter when they saw me in the streets. The harassment and ridicule seemed to increase exponentially. I stopped checking e-mail or doing anything online. Eventually, I stopped going outside, too. I hadn’t actually done anything–wasn’t I the victim in all this?

You look back on something like this and you try to see where you went wrong, what you could have done differently, what kind of false assumptions you were operating under. And you figure out how to live with yourself. I have to believe things would have turned out better if I had chosen the lifestyle of an “outdoor adventure enthusiast.”