“You think you’re so fucking special,” the Man with No Face tells me. He’s wearing a Freddy Krueger mask. I don’t know who he is. It’s Halloween, five years ago. “Go to hell,” he tells me, but follows me around a costume party for the rest of the night. I feel accepted by everyone at this party but him, and I choose to leave because of it. I feel unwelcome, like I don’t belong here.
I’m wearing the stereotypical 21-year-old gay boy Halloween get-up at the time: underwear and glitter with little left to the imagination, an at-the-time signature vulgar-vanity combo. My outfit no doubt displeases the Man with No Face. There are others at that party in similar outfits, of course, but they’re muscular, and he admires them from a distance. I, on the other hand, am skinny, twinkish, unfit, in his eyes, for such a costume. To him, I am squashable, and my insecurities let him squash away…
I recalled this memory recently while suffering one of those particularly introspective hangovers with which you might be acquainted. I often listen to somber music when I’m in such a state and by myself, maybe in some way to commiserate with the singer. My choice this go-around: Radiohead’s early-90s anthem “Creep.”
As I lay on my couch, somewhere between napping and re-hydrating, I listened to Thom Yorke’s haunting, resonating words: “I wish I was special. You’re so fucking special. But I’m a creep…What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here.”
The lyrics fit my 21st Halloween experience with one exception: the Man with No Face inverted the scenario. He wasn’t telling me that I was special and that he felt like a creep. No. He was telling me that I falsely ASSUMED I was special, evidenced by my reveling, unreasonably, in my own vanity. He’d surely seen this paradox before: a twink who tans too much, wears too little, and shows off his body—not because he thinks he’s beautiful, but because he’s after compliments, stares, cat calls—he’s after validation. The Man with No Face saw me in this moment as a narcissist with no confidence. And he was right. I dare say that anyone with such blood lust would easily find his fill in the hearts of many an unclothed desperate.
This happens too frequently among our gay brethren: a barrage of put-downs and bullying toward those who don’t meet our social standards, in-your-face and behind-your-back.
I think back to my mindset at 21. I walked around that party with my head held high, feeding off the superficial energy of those around me. To some, like the Man with No Face, I gave the air of a narcissist. And, by some measure, I suppose I was. I wanted everyone looking at ME. Telling me how cute I was. But not because I thought I was a beauty—
What I thought of myself then really didn’t matter so much. I needed the validation of everyone else. I needed to feel wanted. This, in my mind, was love.
But the Man with No Face did then what we have always done to each other, and what we’re doing with increasing intensity in parts of the gay community (particularly the club scene). He judged me harshly based on what he saw, hiding behind his mask and frumpy striped Freddy sweater, rather than seeing that possibly, maybe, my weakness—my immature craving for superficial acceptance—was behind my flagrant vanity. Maybe had he taken a few seconds to think about this, he would’ve seen me with sympathy, or maybe with pity. Either would’ve spared me a hard and haunting memory.
Of course, it might also be true that the Man with No Face was me: at one time himself a boy in glitter and underwear, living for himself and for others’ approval, who was burned by a previous version of himself, who then became a cynic.
If the latter is true, I can’t imagine he’s passed the torch to me. But just in case, I’ll keep away from the Freddy Krueger costumes.