On June 1st I woke up and, in what’s become the only routine I’ve been capable of keeping this year, immediately unlocked my phone to scroll through my newsfeed. Scanning through thumbnails and stories screaming about a world on fire, one article caught my attention because of it’s modesty in context—a piece of Pride Month commentary on MTV News titled “The Right to be Remarkably Unremarkable.”
I didn’t read the piece that morning; I was too preoccupied with news of the Paris Agreement fallout, that a noose had been found at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and, in a brief reprieve from it all, that gay vultures had become parents at the Amsterdam Zoo. That morning’s news was yet another clear indication that we were—and are—living in anything but “unremarkable” times, so I counted my vulture-baby blessings, got out of my hotel bed and put the world away to make a much needed cup of coffee.
Watching the freeze-dried crystals of instant coffee dissolve into the electrically boiled water, I had trouble naming, even locating, where my rising sense of anger was coming from. “Remarkably unremarkable.” Was it millennial indignation toward a title like that, in this age of political division? Or had those words struck me in the softest of places, the seat of a heart that for 28 years I had bent and shaped in my deep need to be what I just read might have been for naught: a need to be remarkable?
My first memory is from the backseat of a Volvo station wagon, the Golden Gate Bridge peeling beneath me as the car crossed the Marin County line. I was three years old. At the time, I didn’t understand that my parents had separated, but I did know that my mother had chosen to leave the city behind. We were moving to Calistoga, a town of 4,000 at the northern end of the Napa Valley that, for all of its proximity to San Francisco, could as well have been anywhere. Napa was then unbottled and unbranded; Calistoga in particular was a mix of bikers, hippies, winemakers, farmworkers and ranching bloodlines who had settled there before and after the Dust Bowl. It was at once liberal and conservative. It was American. It shaped me.
At 11 I found out my father was a faggot. I hate that word, but it’s how the news resonated with me at the time, so I will write it.
It was also the kind of town where you might hear people refer to themselves as “aggies”—a sobriquet passed down that would ironically rhyme with an illustrious patronym of my own.
At 11 years old I found out my father was a faggot. I hate that word, but it’s precisely how the news resonated with me at the time, so I will write it. This was, what, 1999? Before the first civil unions, and not before Matthew Shepard. I’d already conditioned myself to believe that any expression of gayness could lead to being tied up to a fence, and so you bet I was doing my damndest to pass in a disguise of frosted tips and Team USA soccer jerseys. But with Dad’s news, the hammer finally fell on a loaded chamber and I was forced to reckon with what felt like was a shameful inheritance.
My blood felt tainted. I assumed his was. By the end of that year, I’d changed my name, lost 30 percent of my body weight, asked to die and was filled with such profound despair that, looking back on family photos from the time, I still don’t recognize myself.
Of course, everything came crashing down and, as in the wake of anything, eventually one starts to rebuild. After a few false starts, I finally found what would end up saving up me. It would be years before I had the good fortune of having an actual career as an actor, but even that was a long dance with perfectionism. For years I didn’t think anything was enough unless it was remarkable. I believed any less wouldn’t redeem my suffering or the little person who’d suffered it.
Ultimately, to find happiness, I had to step off and freefall away from the remarkable persona I’d built and back into a more natural state of expression. Did that in and of itself count for anything?
It was only last weekend that my new friend, LGBTQ and Indigenous activist Thomas Lopez, taught me that our existence is our resistance. The saying started in Oceti Sakowin, where he and others fought against the Dakota Access Pipeline. There, they realized that by simply surviving the Indian Wars—by simply existing—they were resisting a system that had built itself on the attempted genocide of this hemisphere’s indigenous people.
Remarkable or unremarkable, we queer people too resist by existing. That quiet history of existence is monumental, even alongside historic victories like the passage of marriage equality and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. While I certainly owe my decision to come out, and to do it publically, to having lived through those moments of progress, not all of us ask for that responsibility, nor should we feel required to. Each of us already contributes through our individual pursuits of happiness—by continuing to live in and through sets of respectively unequal systems among many who would be glad to see us gone. By existing. The chief responsibility for us all is to regard all LGBTQIA+ lives as sacred. May the rest follow.
By the way, I finally read that Pride Month article from MTV News this morning. Afterward, I daydreamed of an alternate timeline for myself: my “remarkable” begins with bringing a cute boy home for dinner and affectionately introducing him to my parents by name. According to that article by Jane Coaston, that is a very real possibility in some parts of the country today—to live that story, it now seems, is remarkably important. So as much as your safety will bear it, exist! Live freely in your expression, your body, love affectionately and exist! Exist!
Actor-activist Charlie Carver has appeared on When We Rise, The Leftovers, Teen Wolf and Desperate Housewives, for which he was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award. He is involved with GLSEN, a national education organization creating LGBTQ-inclusive schools through a national network of students, educators, parents and advocates.
Read more essays from Playboy’s Pride series here.