The first time I believed there was something wrong with me, I was 7 years old. I can remember standing outside, near trees but still in sunlight, with a couple of girls, classmates, at the beginning of recess. They were who I wanted to be with; I wanted to play. It's where I felt I belonged. Until a boy, or boys, I don't know which, said something about my not playing with them, not going with them to the field to play whatever sports, how I should have been. What he said or who it was I can't remember. All that I remember, as they ran off, was feeling wrong. It's the first time the thought occurred to me that I was someone other than I should be, acting in a way I shouldn't.
I was a feminine little boy. Someone told me a few years ago that my uncle pronounced me gay at five years old. He might have been the first but was nowhere near the last. Looking back, I see how many clues I left. I played with My Little Pony and Rainbow Brite. I loved Punky Brewster and Pippi Longstocking, both their attitudes and fashion sense. My mannerisms, the way I dressed, how I spoke, all of it gave my difference away. Of course I had no idea there was anything queer going on - pun intended. ;-) All I knew is that I liked what I liked and that I simply found fun where I found it.
Elementary school through puberty was hell. I'd say not a day would go by - well, maybe two or three - that I wasn't made fun of or called names. Kids I didn't even know would come up to me and call me a faggot. Or a girl. Or queer. Or gay. And more often than you'd think, they'd ask me if I were a boy or a girl, seeming genuinely confused. When middle school came around, sixth grade, I was terrified to change clothes in the locker room. Some days I would run from my science class so I could get there before anyone else. Sometimes I'd pretend I'd forgotten my locker combination, so that I'd have a legitimate excuse for not dressing out. One strategy I adopted for awhile was wearing my gym uniform under my clothes, and trying to quickly change in a bathroom stall without being noticed - which was semi-easy at the beginning of class, not so much afterward. Every day I was faced with figuring out how to smartly deal with these potential threats without drawing even more attention to myself or getting in to trouble. It wasn't easy. One day I took my clothes in the laundry room to change, but one of the boys saw me and he told everyone, which didn't help my already pathetically abnormal reputation. I was humiliated and I got to be reminded of what a fearful faggot I was just about every day.
One particular day during P.E., the class was playing volleyball when the ball came over the net straight for me. Not even trying to hit it, I deliberately moved to the side and let it drop. I refused to participate because when I did, I'd get made fun of for it. For my lack of skill. Or strength. Or plain old boyishness. When I let the ball hit the floor and the other team scored, my teammates got pissed off, and I heard myself being called a "fat girl." I looked behind me and a chubby girl I didn't know well - I'll call her Belinda - was looking at me with the most hateful expression on her face, and then she said it again. "Fat girl."
The reason this episodes stays with me the way it does, I guess, is because it was a girl that was calling me this. It was a girl that was making fun of me, picking on me in front of everybody. I was "used to it" from the boys, they did it all the time, year after year. But not the girls. Girls had always been who I'd bonded with and felt safer around. And here was one no better than they were. I felt betrayed - and incredibly alone.
With puberty, masculinity kicked in and I lost that flaming streak, at least to the degree I didn't burn so conspicuously. I heard "fag" once or twice in high school years, but for the most part, that shit died down. I have my moments like every gay guy does, though. Actually, the more I think about it, I shouldn't even try to comment on my own demeanor. My sense of self is so screwy. I have no idea how masculine or feminine I appear or come across. I just know that when I hear my voice recorded or am innocently impersonated, or see myself reflected in some wall of glass, it's hard to take. I cringe when I see videos or pictures of me from that time in my life because I was so girly - and I was made to feel so wrong for it. It literally hurts to see myself like that, in that way. Being gay doesn't bother me. I like it. I'm down with the homo rainbow. That's a normal impulse given to me by Nature, no differently than a heterosexual is given their's. It's the femininity associated with my particular gay man-ness that bothers me so much. And only because it seems to bother other people. (At least the 11-year-olds that haunt my mind.)
Writing all of this, it's obvious this must be where my fear and preoccupation with other people's opinions of me comes from. Not sure why I'm even writing about all of this. I'm about to begin a book geared towards healing one's inner child and I guess I'm just revisiting all of this on my blog right now as a way of sticking my toe in to the fire. These things are hard to admit. I'm just looking at different avenues of healing because I'm so tired of lugging these memories and fears around. I have a life to get on with. And as long as I approach the people in my present as reflections of people - innocent, silly children - from the past, how can I ever meet this Life I'm so eager to get on with?
I looked Belinda up on Facebook the other day. I saw a picture of her in her wedding dress. I thought of sending her a message on my 11-year-old self's behalf, to tell her he thinks her 11-year-old self is a bitch. I considered writing her and telling her about the part she played in turning me in to such a neurotic fag. I polished off the fantasy with my going back to that moment in the gym when she called my 11-year-old self a "fat girl," and pushing her to the floor and grabbing her hair and banging her head against the wooden bleachers. Of course I didn't send her that message. That innocent child no longer exists. I'm the one that tortures me with these kinds of images. I'm the one that replays them; I'm the one that reinforces my identity as a childhood victim every time I lazily follow that thought pattern. But knowing this doesn't automatically relieve me of its traces. What knowing all of this does do for me, though, is allows me to look back on that little girl and little boy knowing that each of them were doing what they knew how to do - and it lets me look at both of them with a sense of forgiveness.
I'm ready to begin that book. I'm ready to see what this inner child of mine has to say.