Coral O'Leary

Fake Queer

When I was fourteen, my boyfriend choked me.
He pushed his big thumbs against my windpipe.
He said, laughing, stop being a bitch
or else I won’t let go.

Tears did not give me oxygen.

This is just another story 
of a fake queer trying to breathe.

We queers in the wilds of Western New York,
the rejected and strange folk of the late 1990s,
insipid early 2000s, gathered around watering holes.
On New Year’s Eve, I wore a cardboard crown.
Pandora Boxx performed on a tiny stage
and we cheered as midnight exploded, Cindy Lauper-style.
Off onto the sidewalk into a new year, my friend’s girlfriend
called at men on the street: Good night, bro,
good night, bro, laughing once they were out of earshot
that she could pass.

Pass. Her word. 
I wonder now how she is. 

One time, she sucked at the pulse in my neck.
She said: I bet I can turn you on, you asexual.
Her body was full of sorrow, quivering with emotion.
I said: Okay.
She didn’t choke me with her hands.

Our car broke down and the tow-truck didn’t show.
Outside, the air was so cold it made my lungs hurt;
I could barely breathe.
We considered calling for help 
but no one would come pick us up.
So we waited numbly like snowmen
in the winter near Lake Ontario.
No one was coming for us.

There are no buses in Western New York,
only cloud watching and cursing in the snow.

I am a fake queer; my lack of breath is just a front. 

I used to listen to Belle and Sebastian
because my best friend who I thought I was in love with
who I think I was in love with
who I think/who I thought/who I love/who I loved 
pulled a carving knife out of her kitchen drawer.
She tried to find the bones in her arm by cutting deep
and her mother walked in.

She told about me it—how it feels to cut to the bone. 
I never loved her any less.
And me, asking (without asking): why, in her car 
on a cold winter’s night. Why can’t you love me?
Why can’t you love me this way?

My love is disposable.
The bruises on my throat: forgettable;
this poem: confessional.
But now, people ask me: why, why can’t you love me?

And I can only answer back that I am a fake queer.
That I have not understood the trials and tribulations
at this point in my life, to appreciate what it is like
to be choked. Dehumanized. Stared at. Pushed down.

I am a fake queer. It all must be in my head.

And so I am sorry for this poem as eulogy.
I am sorry for getting choked.
I am sorry for saying queer
in all the gay bars I’ve been to; 
I’m sorry for saying gay all the times I’ve been gay
and I’m sorry for saying fuck off all the times
I’ve been yelled at getting on the train
after kissing a girl on a date. But mostly,
I’m sorry I’ve said nothing when other people
say: asexual, aromantic: you can all breathe easy.
And I say: I have been choked,
I have been choked.

I am sorry not to have said before now
that I have been choked.

link to video 

Hailing from rural Western New York, Coral O’Leary (she/her) is a lake-effect snow ex-pat, current New Yorker, queer writer, cultural worker, and asexual aromantic-spectrum lesbian. Her Pushcart Prize-nominated work has appeared in Toho Journal, Minnow Literary Magazine, Baby Teeth Journal, and SORTES. She is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Impostor: A Poetry Journal. Instagram @ohcoralpoetry