I have never seen the movie, but I know the scene. It’s dark in the planetarium. The seats are empty, except for the two of them, James Dean and a man playing another man, scared and lonely, and we know somehow that both of them are about to die. Plato is cold, and James offers him his red jacket, the one in all the diner posters.
He is allowed to keep it, James tells him, so he does. He buries his face in it, and I think to myself that I would have done the same thing, if I had a different body but the same eyes, which I sort of do, brown and with thick eyebrows, waiting for something to happen that never does. I think that maybe, if I had been born with his body, that I would be allowed to love.
I watch movies to live inside of them. I watch old movies because the people back then weren’t polished clean but were sweaty, not muscled but soft. I want to think that someone like that could love me.
I could catch up to something like that — the unfitting jackets and unflattering jeans. Smoking before it was bad for you, or maybe even after. My hair is short now. I bind my chest when I can. It costs almost 40 dollars to marvel that, with clothes on, with a jacket to hide the wide straps, I look almost like something else. In my bedroom, I can lean against my closet and pretend that I could fool someone. I imagine my thighs more streamlined, my face less full, walking down streets with less brightness, and more danger, and even as I know this I don’t really care. I find places where I am half in the dark — nights in the city, emptiness in this town, new neon and too fast.
Someone gives me pepper spray as a gift, watches me attach it to my keychain. I want to ask, why do you think I’ll need it? But I know the answer already — you’re young. You can’t be too careful. I want to say, It’s not fair. But then I go anywhere, say anything, and someone says her. She wants this, she is a daughter. I know what you’re thinking when I see you. I know when you look at me, you see a woman.
When I dress up to go out, I like button-down shirts. I like putting something in my hair and brushing it and watching it take a shape that frames my face. But I can’t wear men’s pants. I’ve tried before — buying jeans with a number large enough that I won’t be embarrassed when I try them on — but they always fit too loose at the waist, too tight at the thigh. I wear my button-downs with women’s joggers and pull the shirts down over my pelvis. Someone at the bar, drunk, tells me I am beautiful. I laugh, and then he cups my chin with his hand and pulls away, and I don’t know how he sees me. I am not afraid.
When I talk about my boyfriend, I say he’s a good man. I try to convince them before they can decide for themselves, before they come into our apartment and see our framed albums of Elton John and Prince, the poster of Queen in our hallway, Freddie Mercury’s eyes following you from the corner of your vision.
My boyfriend loves me. I tell him in a restaurant I want to microdose testosterone, and he tells me to do it. I still haven’t. My mother will know when my voice starts to change.
And still people laugh when they get to know us. Justin is the straight friend among all these queers. Justin is a good one. Justin likes button down shirts and video games. Justin likes Jim Henson and drag queens. Imagine Justin, says one of my friends. Having to deal with all of us gays. I never said it, but I wish I had. If Justin is straight, what does that make me?
The actor who played Plato, Sal Mineo, was not straight. He was engaged once, and maybe he loved her. James Dean might have been bisexual. He was said to have had affairs with Marilyn Monroe, Rock Hudson, Marlon Brando. He once said, No, I’m not homosexual. But I am also not going through life with one hand tied behind my back. Everybody knows James Dean died young. Not everybody knows that Sal Mineo did too, in a carport. The police decided the cause was “homosexual motivation.” In Rebel, Plato was shot. In West Hollywood, California, Sal was stabbed in the heart.
I like to imagine that I could live any way I wanted to. That I could find a way to dress that would be perfectly in the middle, enough to change first impressions, enough to be enough. I imagine someday the courage will come like a wave, push me off this shore and into an ocean of change. I wonder when the prime of my life will be and if it has already happened. I am still in this same body. I can’t say I’m not afraid.
There is another scene in the planetarium, during the day when the night has to be made instead of found. The audience is full. The announcer says:
For many days before the end of our Earth, people were looking at the night sky and noticed a star, increasingly bright and increasingly near. The last of us search the heavens and stand amazed—that the stars will still be there, moving in their ancient rhythms.
And behind James Dean, Plato leans back in his seat. He knows how close he is to him. He touches his shoulder. I don’t want to make friends, James says. And then the universe, above them, breaks apart as promised. Plato dives beneath the seats, because why wouldn’t he, because I am now searching for the final scene. Not the one where Plato is shot by the police, not the one where James Dean zips up the jacket on his body, but the one where we began, the dark of the closed planetarium, and I can only find it in a video called Rebel Without a Cause, but it’s just all the gay shit, and I don’t know the context, only that Plato rises from behind him like a shadow, and asks Why did you run out on me? And James Dean says, It’s warm. My jacket, it’s warm.
Cameron Gorman (they/them) is pursuing their MFA at Ohio State University. They are the reviews editor for The Journaland also read for New American Press. (Website: https://camerongormanwriter.wordpress.com/)