Based on my earliest memories, I knew I was different from other boys. It was not simply learned behavior, but from the very beginning, it was something at the core of who I was.
In the 1970s, from the little that I could find in the library that mentioned homosexuality, I fit the classic profile of a boy who would grow up to be gay. My father was cold and aloof while my mother, grandmother, and aunt were all warm, loving to the point of smothering, and overprotective. I had been suffocated by the women in my family and identified with them, not my father. A classic case of homosexuality, or so I thought when I was fourteen. The more I read, the more these traits of my family were exaggerated in my mind, so that my parents, grandmother, and aunt became homosexual inducing caricatures
From my 2015 perspective, I see things quite differently. I can imagine my father, a masculine, driven product of the 1950s being uncomfortable, even frightened, by his first son who liked to play with dolls, sew, dress up in costumes, wear jewelry, and hated all organized sports. I had a number of less than masculine traits that I am sure made my father uncomfortable. What I took for coldness and aloofness in my father, I suspect, was really his deep discomfort with his gay son. He would rather be at work where things were much more black and white than with his gay son
I remember when I was very young my father would try to get me to throw a baseball or shoot a basketball. I was terrible at these sports and would soon grow bored, preferring to get back in front of the television. By the time I was in elementary school, my father stopped asking me to play sports with him. He turned away from me and towards his work, spending long hours on the job
For years my father did not come home from work until after we had eaten dinner. It was only when my younger brother, who was seven years younger than me, almost died, that my father began to join us again for dinner.
My brother, who was a year and a half old at the time, was running a high fever and went into convulsions. My grandmother was in his room as he went into convulsions and immediately turned him upside down so he would not swallow his tongue. Then my mother and grandmother put him in a tub of cool water while I called 911 for the ambulance to take him to the hospital.
My brother’s illness was a turning point for my father and he began to spend a lot more time at home. Prior to my brother’s illness, dinners had been easy, relaxing affairs without my father. Now my father made an attempt to be home every night to have dinner with us. With my father there, dinners were more formal. We were no longer permitted to have the TV on during dinner and I remember getting yelled at often by my father for whatever transgression I had committed. I hated when he joined us for dinner
While I knew that my father loved me, he never warmed up to me. I believe that he was uncomfortable around his firstborn son who had feminine traits and liked many things that girls typically liked. My father was much more comfortable around my younger sister. The two of them would go into my father’s den and have intense discussions about ‘world events’.
Whenever I walked in on the two of them having one of their special discussions, they acted like I had interrupted something important. I was made to feel like an outsider and excluded from these discussions. I wondered how my sister knew enough to have these worldly discussions with my father. It was another sign of my shortcomings and had me feel bad about myself and disconnected from my father.
At some point in my growing up, my father bought a large, thick medical book, which I found as a teenager, that was titled, Homosexuality. It was filled with hundreds of pages of ‘scientific’ gibberish that at fourteen I could not make any sense of. I doubt my father could make any sense of that book either. Then in the 1970s, he purchased, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex, by David Ruben, which I found in his library, on a high shelf, next to the textbook, Homosexuality. The Ruben book, which I am sure my dad read, gave an ugly, contempt ridden, distorted picture of homosexuality. What was a father in 1970 to do to make sense of his son? Not much.
What is unfortunate, in this era, is that there were no roadmaps for parents of gay children. The only things that existed in print and TV where ugly distortions about homosexuality. My parents have always fought for their children when their children needed help. When my younger brother developed a stutter, both parents searched for the best treatment available to help him. But where was one to go for a homosexual son? The only avenue for help, available at the time, was therapy intended to ‘treat and cure’ the homosexuality. So in third grade, I was sent off to a Psychiatrist. I think my parents felt they had done the right thing to take care of my ‘illness’.
The inner life of a gay boy growing up in a straight world can be challenging. I did not understand, growing up, that many of the things I liked should have been perfectly acceptable, but they were not given the rigid gender roles that existed. I was made to feel different, outcast, lonely and isolated. None of this was necessary, but I do not think my parents had any tools or knowledge available to them to help them make sense of their gay son.
Today I know that my being gay was hardwired before I was ever born. It began to manifest in multiple ways as a young child years before I was ever sexually attracted to men. While my grandmother and aunt, (and probably my parents), recognized I was gay from a very young age, they had no idea what to do about it. I was surrounded by a wall of silence on the issues I was facing. I was left to feel that the problem was me, rather than the true culprit, a primitive society with little knowledge about sexual orientation and gender identity.