“We all have a history of falling for people who are unavailable to us,” says TC Milan (@tc_milan). He’s relating to my Romeo-Tolliver love triangle, making me feel not-so shitty. “It’s fucked up in theory, but you never acted out of spite. And at least it’s interesting.” I knew I could count on him for the support. TC is the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, @avanlava, and aside from writing prolific songs and throwing some of the best parties I’ve attended, he gives off a refreshing air that says “be dynamic, or don’t bother.” I first encountered him while visiting DC in 2013. Avan Lava was playing a big Pride party, on the third floor of an old Wonder Bread factory. A thousand men were body to body on the fourth floor to see some Drag Race demi-celebrity, so my friends and I snuck one floor down to check out this band that was unfamiliar to us. We joined a crowd of maybe 200 people who were dancing and spinning to TC’s theatrical voice and the electronica-meets-pop instrumentals. It was the tail end of Avan Lava’s set, right before they launched into their show-stopping “It’s Never Over”; that’s when they always shoot confetti and body surf and rub sweat with the crowd and memorialize the evening. TC and a shirtless Jo Lambert (@jo_equality) came out into the crowd; she jumped into my arms as we twirled around. “Where are you from?” I screamed above TC’s voice. “Crown Heights, Brooklyn,” she yelled back, shaking her tape-covered breasts and locking eyes like she was casting a spell over me. “I’m from Prospect Heights!” I hollered back. “Neighbors!” She planted a kiss on my lips in celebration, then twirled away. I recommended them for a gig nearly one year later—at the concert where I introduced Buckminster to my friends—and befriended TC as we stepped through logistics for the show. That night was memorialized too, as they shot their confetti over the entire crowd, as we danced to TC’s words: “We’ll all be alright // If we stay up all night // Let it feel good // ‘Cause it feels good.” Everything is perfect with TC as MC.
TC got himself in a mum’s-the-word bind recently, too. “I have a tendency to go after straight guys,” he says, expounding on that general pursuit of “unavailable” people. “I’m around a lot of dudes and bros who are music nerds. They’re the type that is open to new experiences.” My eyes are wide as I wait for the details. “This particular guy used to date one of my best girl friends.” I choke on my salad as he laughs to himself. “Yeah…but it was after they broke up. They had been having trouble in the bedroom, which she would tell me all about. So it’s not like I should have been that enamored or curious about him. But he’s really creative. Always working on something, actually creating things for himself and as art, like 24/7. Most people aren’t like that. I’m certainly not like that; if I write a song, it takes a while and then I need a break. But this guy just lived it. I found it really sexy. And after they broke up, he seemed to always be hanging around the studio, lingering after practice, taking photos, smoking pot. Even an occasional back rub. To the common eye, it looked like we were just becoming friends.” I’m giggling like an idiot teenager the entire time. “Oh this is goooooood,” I say as he shakes his head, grinning wide.
“So, this guy was staying two blocks away from me. One night I was hanging out with my ex. We went to dinner then saw a movie, and I assumed we would hook up after. Instead, my ex said ‘So good seeing you, let’s do it again soon.’ I was upset, so I went to my drummer’s house, got drunk and then got a text from my friend’s ex. It said ‘Yo what’s good tonight?’ I replied ‘Drunk, defeated, what’s up with you?’ … ‘Nothing, just gonna chill, smoke. Watch a movie. You should come over.’ So, I hopped in a cab, but when I arrived there was no vibe. I had no idea why I was there. We were talking about absolutely nothing in his bedroom for an hour. I got tired and said I was gonna go. At first he was quiet. Then he just moved to the bed, paused, and said ‘Come here.’ And so…I did. We started making out. Then got naked. Then he said that he had never done anything like this before, which, who knows. But it lasted a few hours. He was asking questions like ‘Should I do it like this? What should I do next?’ He gave me the whole ‘Nobody can know about this’ bit. I was on the same page at first, because I was terrified of telling my friend I had just slept with her ex-boyfriend.” I interject: “Are you sure I can write about this?” “Yeah, I mean, I had to tell her. I care about her, more than I do him. And our group of friends inevitably found out. People know by now, and my friends don’t give a shit. They thought it was awesome that he felt comfortable to do that, and she wasn’t mad because it’s not like they were dating at the time.” “When did you come clean to your friend about it?” “After enough time. Once I was sure she didn’t care about him anymore. If you’re thinking about telling your ex that you dated his significant ex—knowing full well it would hurt him—, well, that information won’t do much good for him for a while. But tell me why you feel so guilty about it anyway? You’re all adults, making your own decisions, and nobody cheated on anyone. The secret seems kind of straining, but after a while it won’t mean anything. I hope you don’t regret losing this Romeo for it.”
TC’s story had me thinking about the “shameful” secrets any one of us carries around, and my mind jumped to 2007: It was the first time I hooked up with a guy. I was 20, a sophomore in college, and had a house in downtown Lawrence, KS. My roommates went to a basketball game so I knew they’d be gone for a while. I invited this stranger over; we had been chatting through the website Adult Friend Finder (ha!). I was excited to finally act out on this secret I had been harboring. This guy was in the closet too, a former military man, 25, super muscled and really boy-next-door. He parked his pickup truck outside my house and came in. We said few words before he was in my bedroom on his knees. We didn’t even kiss, never once exchanged names. He peaked pretty quickly, but I was so nervous that it took me another 20 minutes or so. “I’ve got to hurry into Kansas City,” he said after, while putting his clothes on. “It’s my birthday and my fiancée has been waiting 45 minutes for me at the restaurant already.” He chuckled at the fact, never mind that Kansas City was an hour away. He left, and I felt like a home wrecker. On the one hand, I was happy to have finally acted on my urges, even if it would be another 3.5 years before I came out. On the other hand, though: that poor woman. Even worse, he emailed me the following day saying he wanted to do it again, and, if I was up for it, he could bring me to hang out with this married couple he always had threesomes with. I declined, and deleted that fake email account. I wondered how many people I knew and loved and respected also had terrible, hurtful secrets like this guy. I hate that I still have such anguish over something like my Tolliver-Romeo love triangle, which involved no adultery or dishonesty, while what’s-his-name in Kansas probably has two kids and a dog now with his unassuming wife, fucking college guys off Grindr while she makes up the bed. If he’s still at it, I hope he’s miserable. But more than that, I hope enough time has passed, and that he’s been honest with himself, and with her, and freed of any burden. My trust in people shifted significantly that day. But so did my understanding of them.
“When I was 15, doing Christian theatre, I had a very intimate relationship with one of the instructors, who was in his mid 20s,” TC tells me. “It lasted a year or so. He had a roommate and she was always yelling at him, worried he would go to jail or something.” I sit fascinated at the way he just shares this nonchalantly. And there was another: “When I was 16, I started seeing this 32-year-old man in San Diego,” he tells me. “He directed a show in my hometown, and my best friend and I went to see it. We had fake IDs so we snuck into a gay bar afterwards, and these guys approached us, and they were the director and producer. They started flirting with us, so we lied and told them we were 18 and 19, which still means we would have snuck in. They invited us back to the hotel and we each hooked up with one of them. Then, for like nine months, I would drive down to San Diego, under wraps.” I ask TC what he thinks of this now, the idea that these guys were twice his age and sleeping with a minor. “I think we all knew better, but I very willingly went into both situations,” he replies. “Those relationships were an escape from my family, from any high school drama, and felt like an intriguing passage into adulthood. They were as secretive as my sexuality itself, so I was stoked to explore them. Either way, my being young forced us to be quieter, which kept things very intimate and private. I’m not encouraging relationships with minors, but am just saying that what you and Romeo did probably forced you to realize that you both want something substantial. Even as I have fun stories like hooking up with that straight guy, they just make me more grateful when something natural and long-term comes around. I like a challenge, yes, but I’m really looking for someone who challenges me, not for a good story. It’s fun to have something interesting like that, but more than anything, I want someone I can easily integrate into my life. It’s good to first experience the contrast to that…to know what you actually need for personal betterment.”
“I obviously don’t often get into relationships that are easy,” TC says. “My last boyfriend was getting his PhD while we dated, and had very little time to invest in the relationship. I would ride my bike an hour to his house and we would have dinner just so we could spend time together. I fell for him partially, I think, because it shouldn’t have worked at all. I surprised myself at what I was willing to do. And just like you with the architect, we knew our time was limited because he was going to have to move for his program. So we broke up a year early, to spare that drawn-out goodbye.” I think for a second about the handful of men I would consider my “significants,” whether they had a title or not. They’re the class of men I feel has most impacted me in the last five years of being out. There’s Dan (@grossypelosi); I knew while dating him I’d be leaving San Francisco for NYC. My first boyfriend, in South Dakota, got dumped because I was leaving there for San Francisco. My first NYC love—the one for whom I left Dan—was bound for Amsterdam and emotionally unavailable as he plotted his move. Tolliver was a challenge because he was never over Romeo. Romeo and I were doomed because we didn’t want to hurt Tolliver. Buckminster was moving so I never let my guard down for him. There was also a 48-year-old penthouser who spent most of his time away from the city, and a 21-year-old who lived in Montreal. See a pattern? Nobody who just…made it easy, nor anybody for whom I let my guard down when it made one bit of sense. If you gave me an agreeable, hardworking, handsome, intentional 30-year-old man who is settled in New York with a good job, friends, apartment, and the works, well, I’d probably consider myself unworthy and have a nervous breakdown.