As I think back to what I was like in elementary school, I remember being a little bit overweight, not very athletic, and someone who didn’t fit in with the other boys. I felt very much like an outsider in the world of boys. I was a little bit effeminate, didn’t like sports, and didn’t know how to hang out and just be a guy.
I can only imagine what my father, raised in the 1950’s thought to himself. I know he believed that my mother, grandmother and aunt were too smothering of me. I also know he felt powerless against these three strong women. What my father didn’t understand was that there was something much more organic at play. Given the prism of the late 1950s and early 1960s there was no context for my father to correctly see his son, who would be gay, as normal, or even to fully understand what he was observing.
As far back as I can remember I felt different. In first grade I remember playing with the girls at recess. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to play with the boys. I just felt more comfortable with the girls. The boys were more rough and tumble. They loved the sports that I didn’t understand and had little interest in.
In kindergarten or first grade I was sent to my first summer day camp. I hated the camp and the sports we were forced to play. There was something rigid and militaristic about the camp that couldn’t stand. I complained about the camp, but my parents, who weren’t smart enough to trust the objections of a six year old, made me go anyway. So in a moment of dramatic rebellion I did something crazy.
Every morning a young counselor would pick me up with two other kids in his dirty white Volkswagen Beetle to drive us to camp. I was big kid for my age so I usually sat in the front seat. On the way to the camp, about two weeks into the camp session, out of a desperation not to go back to the camp for another day, I jumped out of the Volkswagen Beetle as it slowly headed down the hill from my house and ran into the woods. The Beetle kept moving and never stopped to check on me. I remember watching the car as it just continued down the hill. I snuck back home through the woods, came in through the back screen door, and hid under a kitchen counter, where my mother, or the maid, eventually found me. I remember my surprised mother asking me what I was doing home. I told her what happened. Suffice it to say I never went back to that camp.
The following summer I was sent to a different day camp. Again the camp involved lots of team sports, which I hated and did poorly at. I did love the swimming and the obstacle courses that were made of deep trenches in the ground. I loved having lunch, sitting on a bench with my bunk, in a grove of trees, eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a piece a fruit. But I hated the sports and felt inadequate next to the more athletic boys.
From my vantage point today, I feel sorry for my parents. I know they loved me, but they had no context for which to understand their son who was different. The result for me was a very painful and lonely childhood. And when I moved into adolescence, I became angry and sullen. It wasn’t until much later that I even had the language or understanding to describe what I went through as a gay child and adolescent. It is a childhood that I do not wish on any gay child.
The world is amazingly different today. And there are many enlightened parents who understand what they’re seeing at when they have a gay child. But there is still a lot of ignorance and stupidity in the United States about gay children. Too many kids are brutalized and abandoned by their parents because they demonstrate less than masculine traits or their parents find out that they are gay.
One of things I want to do to is make a difference to help kids who are coming out today. I think I can play a role as a leader, facilitator or board member of an organization or organizations that support LGBT youth. I can’t go back and relive my youth, nor do I want to. But I can make a difference in the lives of other young people coming-of-age today.