‘The Real World’ Made Me Come Out to My Mom

But it couldn’t make me stop falling in love with white girls

I listened to Billie Holiday on certain school nights. With my underwear soaked in period blood, I crawled across my bedroom carpet. I got intimate with it. I knelt at the stereo. A cassette spun on the tape deck. Blues filled the corner. I fell to my side and curled my body around an invisible ball of feelings that was tethered to me as if by an umbilical cord.

A pretty heroin addict from long ago was singing to me. She was voicing how it felt to be in love.

She was voicing how it felt for me to be in love with a white girl. “You’re my thrill. You do something to me. You send chills right through me. When I look at you. ’Cause you’re my thrill . . .”

“You’re My Thrill” expressed every emotion I felt for this white girl, and it didn’t matter that a whole bunch of time and space existed between me and Billie Holiday. Her delivery proved to me that she understood how crazy in love I was with this girl I’m not even going to bother describing. All the white girls I fall for are the same. They’re all Michelle Pfeiffer. Or James Dean. None of them have been Nina Simone. None of them have been Richard Pryor. None of them have been Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Only Billie Holiday could voice my yearning. She was dead. That seemed fitting.

This essay is excerpted from “Mean,” by Myriam Gurba. Purchase the full nonfiction novel here.

This white girl who I French-kissed went to Catholic school with me. She kept her things in a locker by the chapel. The pimple on her chin turned me on. Every part of her turned me on. We touched titties and tongues in her bedroom. We bit each other. Her hands bruised my arms and flanks and we tasted one another’s blood. We crawled through moonlight into dark, wet tunnels and felt each other’s necks. She listened to Zeppelin. She had her flaws.

I enjoy saying that my father forcing me to mow the lawn and use the leaf blower turned me gay. I also blame MTV’s The Real World. Do you even know what The Real World was? It was reality. It was a tv show where a bunch of fairly good-looking people with conflicting identity politics were put together in a house, plied with free alcohol, and filmed giving one another lectures and HPV.

The San Francisco season premiered at the same time I invited the white girl of my dreams over for enchiladas. Pedro starred as the gay cast member. That was a thing in the ‘90s— the gay cast member.

Like me, Pedro wasn’t white. He was light skinned but not white; there’s a difference. Pedro dated a black guy. He had a handsome face and spoke with a Cuban accent. When had a Cuban on tv last been so popular? It had to have been Ricky Ricardo. Pedro was dying of AIDS. He was doing it better than Magic Johnson.

Pedro had beef with one of his roommates, Puck. Puck was a white guy of the worst type: a white guy with a bicycle. He delivered things on his bike. He was a bike messenger. He reveled in being disgusting in a very “boys will be boys” kind of way, and the show’s editors dedicated a segment to his grossness. They juxtaposed this grossness against Pedro’s AIDS-y gentility.

All the white girls I fall for are the same. They’re all Michelle Pfeiffer. Or James Dean. None of them have been Nina Simone. None of them have been Richard Pryor.

A scene opens with Pedro being interviewed. In an accent similar to Mom’s, he says, “I really have a big problem with Puck. I’m fixing myself a bagel with peanut butter and I’m getting really into it.” Cut to Pedro in the kitchen. Sensual R & B plays as he slices a bagel. The musical choice suggests that gay Latinos sexually interact with everything. Sticking a knife into a bagel is erotic for us.

We don’t see the fingering happen, but we see Puck walking out of the kitchen, seemingly chewing, and over his shoulder Pedro calls, “Did you stick your finger in the peanut butter?” Cut back to the interview, where Pedro confirms that yes, Puck stuck his finger up his nose and then fingered the peanut butter jar, licked his digit, and went on with his straight life. Puck denies his crime. The tapes are replayed. They vindicate Pedro.

Puck totally did it.

Watching this drama made me hungry for a bagel. It also made me wonder if Pedro ever got so frustrated he wished he could give Puck AIDS.

Queering Gender, Queering Genre

In college, I met a conservative gay writer with HIV.

He was dating the roommate of this boy I was having experimental sex with, and once he walked into their sparely furnished living room while I was hanging out on the couch in sweats and radiating viral heat.

My immune system was fighting something fluey. I could feel coughs growing inside me.

The writer strode toward me. I remained seated. He reached out his hand and said, “Hello, I’m Andrew.”

“Hello,” I replied to the Englishman I already knew to be Andrew Sullivan. “I’m sick.”

In a tiny way, I felt powerful. Powerful enough to kill Andrew Sullivan by coughing on him.

In a tiny way, I felt powerful. Powerful enough to kill Andrew Sullivan by coughing on him.

Andrew Sullivan made a yikes face.

He waved at me in place of a handshake and paced to the balcony. There, his date, a gorgeous white boy, was waiting, leaning against the railing. Andrew Sullivan put his hands around the swimmer’s shoulders. He pressed his chest against the boy’s back, HIV positive to HIV negative.

Pedro’s accent soothed me. His beauty soothed me. The high stakes of his life so inspired me, they almost made me want to have AIDS. But I think being in love with a mean white girl was enough. She was my AIDS.

The Real World: San Francisco had a gay. The Real World: Los Angeles had a lesbian. The roommates found out when she wore her “I’m Not Gay But My Girlfriend Is” t-shirt to shoot pool.

Pedro partly made me come out to Mom.

If he could argue with a bike messenger on international TV about sticking his finger in peanut butter, the least I could do was acknowledge that I was bonkers for a white girl.

Scarlett O’Hara, Lana Turner, Divine. White girls. Baltimore drag queens make the prettiest white girls.

White girls are the Holy Grails of Western civilization. I wish they could be replaced with something else. Let there be a new grail. Let that grail be a dead Mexican woman in a long dress. Let her name be Wisdom.

Let her ghost unmoor the hero’s journey. Let the ghost whisper her sibilant name. Let her breathe it right into your mouth.

White girls are the Holy Grails of Western civilization. I wish they could be replaced with something else. Let there be a new grail.

I still hang out with white girls. I still hang out with ghosts.

When do you think white girls will go extinct? We are more than a decade into the twenty-first century, and I see no indications of their decline.

There are still plenty of them to feel inferior to. There are still plenty of them to get high with. The last one I hung out with hates men.

She lives with her partner on a street with a funny name. Something like Cerulean or Imbroglio.

The white girl delivers marijuana. Unlike Puck, she uses a Honda. One of her clients is a high school teacher who invites her to sit at her kitchen table. The teacher will pack a bowl and ply the white girl with weed, peppering her with questions about transgendered womanhood. Since the white girl is kind of new to her job, she feels like she has to humor the teacher. She can’t stand it, though. She’s not a teacher. The teacher is.

The white girl and I are pharmaceutical sisters. I take estradiol twice a day and progesterone once a day to supplement my failing ovaries. I take spironolactone to fix the mess my adrenal glands make. The white girl takes these same hormones and androgen blockers for other reasons. Mainly, it’s because her ovaries exist on an alternate level of consciousness. She’s trans.

When do you think white girls will go extinct?

We squatted on her tiny stoop together. The night sky gave us a whole bunch of black to stare at. Her cat pranced along the lawn. With cautious paws, she crept toward my feet. She crouched as if she were going to come at me and then leapt back and darted into the grass.

Her tail twitched. Its tip seemed to have been hacked off and then peeled. “What happened to her tail?” I asked.

The white girl said, “Bob accidentally slammed the door on it and she tried to yank it out and ripped the fur off. When Bob opened the door, it was just bones and blood. He felt so bad.” The white girl shook her head. Her strawberry-blond curls bounced.

She crossed her legs and tugged her miniskirt toward her knees. “We had to put a cone on her because she kept chewing it. It’s healing now. It looks way better.”

We stared at the cat. I wondered what the raw tail would have tasted like. I considered the default: chicken.

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The cat twitched her nub.

The white girl asked, “Want some?” She held out a smoldering J. “No thanks.”

The cat frolicked. The white girl asked, “Do you like acid?” “I’ve never done it,” I said.

“Oh, I love it,” she said. She scrunched her curls and sang acid’s praises. It was her favorite.

After she finished telling me about some trip she went on using experimental drugs, I told her, “One time, in junior high, this boy gave me a tab. Since it was wrapped in foil I thought it looked like jewelry, so I kept it in my jewelry box. That way my parents couldn’t find it. It just blended in.”

The white girl reached for her curls. She scrunched. “Coke makes me so horny,” she said. “I love coke.”

The white girl reached for her curls. She scrunched. “Coke makes me so horny,” she said. “I love coke.”

We wandered back inside her house. The soft recessed lighting made me feel like we were in a peach. I was sitting on the carpet, hating my body. To my right, a huge flat-screen played a music video. White girls in swimsuits ran on a beach, showing off their peaches. The white girl’s endless legs hung off the couch. Her fingers curled. Purple acrylics scratched her thigh, tattooed with the word misandry to express her hatred for the male sex.

This tattooed thigh makes her the ultimate woman.

Baby rocks tumbled from a plastic sack that she tipped over her phone. They hit the screen and she set the phone down on the glass-topped coffee table. Swiping, she pressed a Costco membership card to the rocks, flattened them, and made little white beaches. She raked the plastic across them and chopped.

She snatched a dollar bill off a closed laptop and rolled it into a tight tunnel. Leaning over, she placed the money between her nostril and the whiteness then dragged it along the beach. The beach vanished.

About the Author

“Myriam Gurba lives in California and loves it. She teaches high school, writes, and makes “art.” nbc described her short story collection Painting Their Portraits in Winter as “edgy, thought-provoking, and funny.” She has written for Time, kcet, and The Rumpus. Wildflowers, compliments, and cash make her happy.”

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