A decade ago, my identity was stolen by a male nanny in Toledo, Ohio.
I learned of my fate on a weekday around 3:30 p.m., just as I was settling into my after-school routine. As a latchkey kid with his head in the clouds and few extracurricular activities, every day when I arrived back home, I poured myself a pint glass of lemon-flavored Arizona Iced Tea, popped some Totino’s Pizza Rolls in the microwave and sat down on a big red recliner to watch trash sitcoms with cringe laugh tracks.
They say, however, that your greatest loves will hurt you the most, and it was mid-pepperoni pizza bite that I discovered that an aging sitcom star had taken everything from me.
The thief was Joey Lawrence. The Blossom hunk was now starring on the sensible ABC Family sitcom Melissa & Joey alongside fellow 1990s teen icon Melissa Joan Hart. He played Joe Longo, a former high-profile commodities trader who lost it all in a Ponzi scheme and started working as a live-in nanny for local politician Mel Burke (Hart).
My immediate reaction: Excuse me, sir, that is not the Joe Longo brand.
In 2010, that brand was heavy on navy blue American Eagle button-downs, bushy eyebrows and Google searches for Zac Efron shirtless. Lawrence, however, turned my lifestyle image into a ripped, manscaped bro with bootcut jeans and one too many baseball crew-neck tees.
It haunts me to this day. Case in point: Every time I search for my name online, which is more often than I’d like to admit, I come across Lawrence’s various cast photos, where he looks mostly like a hot Old Navy model. And every time, I’m reminded of my 13-year-old self — still not yet openly gay and still attempting to navigate the kind of masculinity Lawrence peddled on the show.
In Lawrence’s Joe Longo, I saw every well-meaning coach who couldn’t make sense of why a tall, slender boy from a sports-obsessed family would rather ask to be benched than post up under the hoop. He was the domineering dad solely focused on leading a bunch of ragtag middle schoolers to win the conference. (For the record, we did win the 7th-grade conference championship, but in true Joe Longo fashion, I skipped the final game for my little cousin’s First Communion. Still made the yearbook photo, though.)
My nominal personal crisis returned last week after learning Lawrence is starring in an upcoming film adaption of Roe v. Wade. This Avengers: Fox News affair is being directed by Nick Loeb and co-stars conservative celebrities Tomi Lahren, Stacey Dash and Jon Voight.
Learning Lawrence is a long-time Trump supporter and once again angered by what he’d done to tarnish my canonically progressive brand, I called up another Joe Longo, a college student at my alma mater (the University of Illinois) who was a freshman when I graduated. (He’s saved in my phone as “Joe Longo Not Me.”) Now a junior, this younger Joe Longo reminded me that he had to experience not one, but two Joe Longos stealing his name valor. “When I committed to U of I, I saw your name. So I thought, ‘Oh, I guess everyone has this name,’” he tells me.
As such, he’s already learned to accept the hand he’s been dealt, instead of wasting his time projecting his identity crisis on an admittedly pretty forgettable TV character. “The three people I know that have the name all seem to be doing pretty well, so I’m happy to be continuing the legacy,” he reasons.
In truth, blaming Lawrence’s Joe Longo for the trauma of my awkward middle school years is a decade-long misdirect — and frankly, hypocritical. After all, my single claim to online fame — convincing a cross-country JetBlue flight to stan Jennifer Lopez — was the result of me stealing her nickname and labeling myself “The BackupJLo.”
If I happily hitched my success to J.Lo’s, how could I be so cavalier toward Lawrence?
The truth is, “Joe Longo” is someone I’m still figuring out. All the while, I’ve been masquerading as Joseph Longo — a confident, decisive professional. Joe, on the other hand, couldn’t buy blinds without calling his mom for advice. Nor can he relinquish the perfectionism he’s always used to prop up his golden-child facade.
But I think we’re headed in the right direction. I’m posting more thirst traps because I’ve stopped caring if the straights I grew up around clutch their pearls over my sexuality. Hell, I even hung my new cream-colored Target blinds over the weekend and didn’t call my mom for help once.
I think they’re a little crooked, but so is Joe Longo.