The Coward Act of Being Ashamed of My Gay Best Friend
When I was 10 years old, my parents decided they wanted the summer for themselves. So they did what any self-respecting NYC family with little money would do — they signed me up for day camp. That’s where I met Jose, my first best friend.
Jose was a light-skinned Dominican kid with straight black hair and big eyes; his fingernails were painted black. We met during lunch when he jumped into a heated debate between me and our lead camp counselor, Jayshawn, about who was the strongest Power Ranger. Jayshawn and his crew insisted it was the Green Ranger (Tommy). I was outnumbered trying to defend the legacy of the Red Ranger (Jason). Just as things got tense, Jose pulled up and saved the (my) day. Not only did he agree with me about the Red Ranger, but he also pointed out that Tommy couldn’t even be counted on because he always lost his powers.
From that moment, Jose and I became inseparable. Yes, our friendship started over a Power Rangers debate, but it grew even more through our shared love of music — hip-hop, to be exact. We’d spend hours in the cafeteria debating who was the best rapper in New York. I was a Biggie Smalls fan; Jose thought Big Pun would be rap’s Michael Jordan.
That summer, we’d sneak to the music room and write the lyrics to our favorite songs. In addition to his rap obsession, Jose had an amazing ear for other music; he introduced me to artists like Green Day, Pearl Jam, Blink-182, and Alanis Morissette. We’d exchange mixtapes, always trying to outshine the others’ song choices. On weekends, we would go to our favorite record store, Beat Street on the Fulton strip, to window-shop.
Jose was unlike any other person I had ever met. In a neighborhood where everyone dressed and acted mostly the same, Jose was a bright sore thumb. He would paint his nails different colors; sometimes, he would even show up with eyeliner. I was in awe of his ability to appear how he wanted, with no concern for anyone’s opinion.
Unfortunately, that freedom to be comfortable in his skin didn’t make him a lot of friends. Some of the guys started calling him “Josefina” because of the way he looked. There were even a…