Now, “different” is nice, but it sure isn’t pretty
“Pretty” is what it’s about
I never met anyone who was “different”
Who couldn’t figure that out
– At The Ballet from A Chorus Line
I knew I was different from a very young age, even though my mother, grandmother, and aunt tried to turn it into being special. As the character Bebe sings in A Chorus Line, I figured out that I was not like the other boys, and it was not a good thing. I did not engage in baseball on the playground, I was utterly disinterested in sports and could not get my head around the rules or players’ role in different games.
Beginning in third grade, I put on weight and got glasses and was sent by my parents from our local public school to an all-boys Episcopal school. We were Jewish. While I entered that school looking different than the year before, I also felt different inside. I knew that I did not measure up to the sporty boys who loved tousling with other boys and at recess than forming a team for some sport.
I hated the unstructured free time of recess, where my difference was more pronounced. In 4th grade, I remember sitting at the base of a tree in the corner of the baseball field playing with sticks and stones and imagining the wee culture that lived in that tree. During some recesses, one of my two friends would join me, but mostly I was alone. The other boys were across the field from me on the baseball diamond, having quickly formed teams to play baseball. There is nothing more separating than being the one guy playing alone, at what is considered “girlie” pastime, while all the other boys all played baseball.
In the small Quaker private school that I went to from 7th grade through high school, we had to take a sport each season, which I did until I discovered I could be a team manager instead of a player. But in 7th grade, I was made to play football, a game I had no understanding of. The quarterback would say “hike,” and I would run, but to what end? I had no idea. This kind of ignorance did not go over well with my teammates or the coach. No one had ever explained the game to me. There was a working assumption that to be a boy in the 1970s meant you understood football, so our 7th-grade coach never spent any time explaining the game. It was assumed that our “all-American” fathers had taught the game to us. That did not happen in my house. I had never liked football and had no understanding of the rules of the game. Even when I was a small boy and my father would take me to see the Eagles play football, I do not remember him ever trying to explain the game. He would sit there with his transistor radio and an earphone in his ear listening to the game. I was mostly bored and just wanted to eat hotdogs and get a new bobblehead figure for my collection.
If I go back further, back before team sports and football, even as a young child, I felt that I was different. It could be that I marked that difference by how different I was from my father. He tried a little to interest me in sports like basketball. He put a basketball hoop in our driveway and tried a few times to get me to play, but I was never interested, and he quickly gave up. I knew from a young age that my father was disappointed in his first son. I did not measure up to the son he expected to have, and we both did not know why. I assumed that I was deficient in some way, but as a child, I had no words or teachers to help me understand my difference.
I also think the three women who raised me, my grandmother, aunt, and mother all silently saw my difference. They knew that my young self was a gay man to be. They saw the signs, having known gay men in their youth, but in the 1960s, there were no words that could be said aloud on this topic, so they simply encouraged me as best they could. Years later, when I finally came out to my aunt, she quipped, “Oh my dear, grandmother and I have known for years. I knew many homosexual men in the theatre.”
So to quote the song from A Chorus Line, “Now, “different” is nice, but it sure isn’t pretty.
“Pretty” is what it’s about. I never met anyone who was “different” Who couldn’t figure that out.” Replace the word “pretty” with “straight American boy,” and you have me.