Writes of Passage: Dennis Hensley
Dear Dennis at 17,
You’re a senior in high school and I know you’re a busy boy, what with your speech and drama, “Swing Thing” choir, student council and golf team duties— but take a few minutes to read this.
Not sure how it happened but you like yourself. Maybe it was having a mom who thought you were smart and special, I don’t know. You’ve been called “sissy” a bunch and there were a few years in there where strangers actually asked you if you were a girl or a boy. That stuff was the worst, but the good news is it’s not going to stick. It’s not going to haunt you the way it does some people. Hooray!
I’m not sure why that is but I have a theory. I think it’s because you understand intuitively that the sissy part of you that you’re not crazy about is tied to the creative part that you love. They go together like rama-lama-lama-ke-ding-a-de-dinga-a dong and guess what, they always will.
The point of this letter isn’t to suggest what we call in show biz “A page one rewrite.” (That’s right, you’re going to be in show biz, sort of, and it’s going to be wonderful and soul crushing and everything in between so buckle up. But that’s another letter.) The point of this letter is to say I admire you and to offer a few practical tips that could enrich your personal life. I’ve numbered them for easy reference:
1) Stay in the dorm your first year of college. I know, there’s a room available in a house near campus and two of your housemates are guys from your hometown who are a few years older than you and that sounds safe and familiar and it’s scary enough moving to a city with more than one stoplight, etc. Don’t take the house! Venture into the unknown hell that is freshman dorm life. You need to make friends and find your people.
2) The summer after your first year at college, a guy you work with is going to give you a rose and say that he wants to spend time with you. This is totally going to freak your shit out because you have not gotten to that page in your textbook yet at all. That’s fine. You don’t have to make out or even hang out with him. Just be nice to him. Don’t make fun of him with your friends behind his back. He took a big risk in reaching out and he wasn’t wrong, he was just early.
3) The summer after you graduate from college, you’re going to make a new friend and become instantly inseparable. You’ll fall in love with him but be too afraid to say or do anything about it. This is totally understandable. He’s younger than you and you don’t want to be responsible for your own desires let alone his. Here’s the thing, though: If you just grab and kiss him, I think he would kiss back. I have no idea how you’re supposed to do that. After all these years, I still have no smooth moves or winning lines.
I have one tip, though. He’s going to visit you when you move to Los Angeles and you’re going to share a hide-a-bed for a week. One night, after he turns off the light, he’s going to playfully crawl over you. That’s your window. Grab it. I’m not saying he’s going to be the love of your life, but it could be amazing. And, on a practical note, it would be great to get some hands-on sex under your belt sooner rather than later. Figure out what you like and how everything works when you’re young, horny and nuts about someone. It’ll help you down the line.
4) For all your self-esteem, there are going to be times when you fear you are unlovable... that you’re a great guy to visit or be friends with but no one wants to live there. It’s not true. There will be times when you are profoundly lonely but please know that you don’t have to be in a couple to have love in your life. You can love your work, your family, your projects, your friends—more than anything, your friends. It’s not the same thing, I know, but it sort of is.
So those are my suggestions. Do with them what you will. Oh, one last thing: you’re going to audition for Star Search at the Los Arcos Mall in Scottsdale and sing the Spandau Ballet song “Only When You Leave.” You will not be chosen. You may very well be horrible but you thought you had something to offer and that it was worth a shot. That’s so fucking awesome I can’t even tell you.
Dennis at 46
Read more letters in our National Coming Out Day section on Gay.com.