Getting the right tone is important to me because, I think, it could too easily be taken too seriously or, well, not seriously enough… but that’s kind of the danger in telling our stories, right? – not everyone is going to ‘hear’ it in the way that we tell it. But, taking out the truth of any story renders it toothless and, thus, why bother even telling it then?
So it happened when I was pretty little – I’d say around 4 or 5. I vaguely remember kissing my brother and sister goodbye when they'd leave for the day to go to school. I don’t know how long this went on, I just remember it being a kind of regular thing in my pre-kindergarten life. My mom and I would be at the door as they would rush out to catch the bus and I would be there to kiss them goodbye. I guess I thought that's just what people did for people that they love. I certainly loved my brother and sister in those days.
One morning after they had left and the front door had closed, mom gently pulled me aside and told me “boys don’t kiss other boys”. At the time I remember feeling vaguely embarrassed that I might have done something wrong which, for me, meant, something that upset her, but I don't think that it was meant that way; I think it was more instructional/informational than that.
We had a funny family dynamic - my parents encouraged my imagination and really didn't push me to do what the culture would consider more "manly" things - like sports (which I was pretty bad at overall, mostly because I was pretty uncoordinated and hated all that competitive stuff which, for me, made the whole thing un-fun), hunting deer (I was always like 'why are we killing things when there's food at the supermarket?" lol), and that type of stuff. I got lots of teasing from my brother and other kids at school, ("femme" mostly, but, strangely, hardly ever "fag") but mom and dad were pretty encouraging of things like drawing, singing, and doing theater. I guess the arts is considered a feminine thing, but, looking back, I guess it says more about the others' expectations of what a 'man' should be rather than about me specifically. <shrug>
Along the way, my mom did give little course corrections - looking back I can see a string of "boys don't do this - " type statements -- when I wanted to play the saxophone in fifth grade, for example, mom chafed and insisted on the trombone saying that "boys don't play saxophone"... which is, of course, not true. By the way, I spent 8 years playing an instrument that I didn't like and was terrible at it mainly because it wasn't what I wanted to do ... but you know how it is, you have to compromise on some things to get other things (I lost the sax battle but I got to do theater, which, in my mind, was better). I did make many friends who played trombone, though, so it really was OK.
Anyway, so, perhaps it was more that my mom wanted me to fit in because she, as a person who liked to dress in ‘sparkly’ clothes, knew something about not fitting in. And, although my dad had many many friends and was very well liked, he was a regular reader of The New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, and National Geographic so I assume that he too understood the value of having a child who was more imaginative even if it was a little out of the norm.
But, then and there, the 'boys don't..' statements confused me and would continue to confuse me throughout my childhood and into adulthood. Many of my gay male friends have experienced the same thing and it is common in the community to struggle with issues surrounding actual and perceived masculinity. There's certainly a part of the gay community that over-exaggerates their manliness in order to overcompensate for their/our fear of femininity. I've certainly been one of them...... but that process of untangling those thoughts and feelings took a long time, unfortunately.
It also took a long time for me to figure out that others were having a lot of the same questions that I was about how to navigate the real world. Some of those kids found that lashing out at someone weaker than them was a way to manage their insecurities, and some made of them made other choices. Thankfully, some also chose to be kind. :)
It's a lot to unpack and there's a lot of story to tell, but I can tell you that, as an adult, expressing affection to others whether they be gay or straight, male or female, or whatever, has been a freeing thing. Telling someone you appreciate them, love them, even, is something there's too little of in the world today. While being expressive like this put me through much pain along the way, I don't think I'd trade it for being any other way; it has been one of life's greatest joys.
Click below for links to previous chapters of JOHNS AND MARYS: