In my sophomore year of college, I bought a pair of red pants for my Halloween costume. I was going to be Carlos from The Magic School Bus. I already had the blue sweater, the yellow shirt, and the charm of a child who couldn’t stop making puns; but now that I owned the pants, I could finally say I had what it takes to be Carlos. Well, at least a slightly different Carlos than usual. The Carlos I was used to being wore jeans as a default and thought khakis were a fancy step up. When I tried the red pants on for the first time, however, they felt like clouds hugging my legs. They were still foreign—after all, they had buttons instead of a zipper. I remember thinking, Oh boy. How the fuck am I supposed to go to the bathroom wearing these pants?
Sometimes it feels like a lot of people stare at me when I wear my red pants. They’re bright, I’m cute, and I’m always rushing like I’m late for something. If there were a big red blob hurling past me, I’d stare, too, but my first thought wouldn’t be “There goes that gay red blob again.” When I pass by someone who gives me The Look™, there’s an instant tension between us. I’m one of the few men who would dress like this in my neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago. If everyone else were granny smith apples, I’d be a red delicious. And if that were the case, their eyes would still say, “There goes that gay red apple again.”
I don’t know of any department store that carries Pants That Turn You Gay. Camouflage pants might make you invisible, but straight pants never turned me into a heterosexual. Unless you mean “gay pants” as in “pants that are attracted to pants of the same gender” then maybe, but those pants would cost a lot more than $30. If anything, maybe red pants are just pants that happen to be red.
Not to mention I’m not even gay. I’m bisexual as hell. I’m bisexual when I wear my red pants, when I don’t wear them, when I bought them, before I bought them, on a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train, in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse, here, there, everywhere. I’m bisexual whether I’m dating someone who shares my gender or I’m dating someone who doesn’t, and I’m definitely bisexual the 99% of the time when I’m single. If I change my pants, it’s only because they’re going in the washer, not because someone doesn’t like who I am.
As a kid, before I even knew what gay meant, I already had crushes on boys. They were the same as the crushes I had on girls, except I didn’t know that’s what they were until I grew up. A friend once teased me saying that, statistically speaking, most people named Carlos were gay. This was a joke to him; I wasn’t supposed to take offense. When my second cousin said, “What are you, a faggot?” he was trying to get a laugh out of me. When I replied, “Yeah,” I wasn’t trying to confess a deep dark secret. He replied, “Why would you say that?” To this day, I still don’t know. It’s not funny when your dad demands you tell him your sexual orientation, but you don’t know if it’s because he wants to support or disown you.
Now I’m an adult and I own this pair of pants. It would be misleading to imply that my red pants played any beginning or ending role in the realization of my sexuality. They’re not some big activist symbol; they’re a byproduct of an ongoing discovery. Their functionality starts and stops with covering my legs, and even then, I have to keep patching them up to stop them from falling apart.
A year before I bought my red pants, I was still coming to terms with my sexuality. Experienced only with mere crushes, I met a guy online from Texas. We sometimes talked about writing, but we didn’t interact too often. Then one day he started chatting me up more before asking for my phone number. He was one of those people who always knew he was gay, and therefore, had been with other men. When he asked if I was a passive or an active, I didn’t know what to tell him. This didn’t seem to bother him. “You seem like you would have a good butt,” he said, “but I’m more of a bottom.” Before long, we’re on a video call and I’m not wearing pants anymore. He put on “special underwear” for the “show.” My internet kept going out in the middle of the call so I never really got a good look at it before the only thing between us was the screen. When we were finished, there were lots of smiley face emojis and promises of better internet connection, but we never talked again. Soon after, I made the decision to come out to my closest friends.
The red pants became a staple when I wanted to look nice. When I wore them to a friend’s birthday party one night, one of our mutual friends started acting differently around me. As we played video games, he leaned on my shoulder and spoke like he was a DJ radio host. I didn’t think much of it, because hell if I know what flirting looks like, and it wasn’t until I ran into him a few weeks later that I realized it was. He was heading to his studio, but decided to go back to his apartment after finding out the studio was closed. After catching up briefly, he invited me over. We played a bunch of video games and were just about to watch a movie when he kissed me. In my head, I’m like What the fuck is this? He said he found me attractive at the party, and I’m like Ok, and we kissed again, keeping in mind that I had literally never kissed anyone before in my life. Needless to say, there are probably mops that are better kissers than me. For the rest of the night, we ignored his roommates and pretended to watch his favorite movie. It was getting late, so I borrowed a pair of shorts to get ready for bed. Before long, we took each other’s shirts off and cuddled in his bed and eventually fell asleep. The next morning, I left with my first hickey, not quite understanding what just happened other than thinking that kissing was more underwhelming than I thought it would be. Although, that was partly my fault, I guess.
The following summer I started talking to someone who would become my first boyfriend. I met him online, too, except it was more than a digital one-night stand. He was well aware of my red pants, having liked several selfies of me wearing them, but on any given day, he maybe saw the shirt I was wearing. Mostly we spent late nights texting. At first, we exchanged favorite music and TV shows before I fell asleep first—Washington is two time zones behind from Chicago. Still, we talked about concerts and camping trips. I had never been camping, but he promised he would take me if we ever got together. What drew us together was our interest in making things. I was in the middle of writing a poem about him when he sent a song he’d written for me. He told me that I was the first person outside his family to hear him sing. And I loved it, and I loved him, but by September, we were over. “You were right about the long distance thing,” he said. Being across the entire country meant that we could only have pretty words and good intentions.
Ultimately my pants don’t care about who I date. They’re only concerned about keeping my legs covered. The only reason they represent anything is because of the meaning people assign them. I’m guilty of this, too. The first time I went to the Pride Parade, I wore my red pants because they seemed like the gayest thing I owned. It was the only way I knew how to show pride, and if I knew I wouldn’t even like being at the parade, I might’ve come to the conclusion that all of my pants were gay. I’m all for celebration, but I’m not about crowds and people dancing too closely, or the very drunk girl who asked, “Are you gay??????” To which, I answered, “Bi,” before trying to leave as quickly as possible.
My red pants stopped being Halloween pants long ago. They’re pants and I’m Carlos who wears red pants. I get to wear them and I get to look good in them for myself. I don’t have to change into someone else and I can want to be left alone. It’s not my job to change the minds of others. After all, chances are I’ll just keep walking by in my red pants, hardly noticing you, other than the fact that you were staring at me.