We aren’t the ones recruiting

I'm about 5 years old in this picture of myself and my sister.

I’m about 5 years old in this picture of myself and my sister.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked a variant of, “When did you realize you were gay?” or the more exasperating “When did you decide to be gay?” For the latter question my response for some years has been to turn it around and ask when the person asking decided to become straight.

But there isn’t an easy answer to the first version of the question. I can remember very vividly the first time it was made clear to me, without a doubt, that I was different in a fundamental way from most of the people I knew. And furthermore that that difference had something to do with the meanings of the words “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.”

That incident happened a bit more than three months before my fifth birthday…

I was four years old. I made the mistake of referring to a pair of neighbor boys as my boyfriends. At that point I thought that the word “boyfriend” meant merely a friend who was male, and that “girlfriend” meant merely a friend who was female. Anyway, I misused this word to my grandmother, who had come to stay with us while my mother was in the hospital on an extending stay because she had, once again, nearly died giving birth.

Grandma went into a full-fledged tizzy. Boys don’t have boyfriends, she said. Boys never have boyfriends, she repeated. I was never, ever to use that word, she said. Boys who were my friends were to be referred to as my “little friends.” Girls could also be my “little friends” but sometimes a special girl might be my girlfriend. I would have many girlfriends in my future, Grandma explained, and one day I’d find a very special girlfriend and we would get married and we’d have children and I’d be a daddy and she’d be the mommy, just like my parents.

Then she made me repeat back that the two boys next door that I liked to watch Jonny Quest with were my “little friends.” She also made me promise, several times, that I would never, ever call a boy my boyfriend again.

This event is seared into my memory for several reasons. One is that my grandmother’s reaction was just plain scary. She seemed both angry and panicked. The most important reason it’s so clear in my memory is that as she described my future, I knew deep down in my bones that it was wrong. I didn’t understand why, but I knew, I absolutely knew that my life was not going to be shared with a very special girlfriend. My life, if it was going to be shared that way, would be with other boys.

The only reason I can’t say unequivocally that that’s when I realized I was gay was because I didn’t have a word for it. There were no role models. There were no examples at all of men who loved men in my experience at that time.

So I didn’t understand what it meant when I knew that I wasn’t going to have the life that grandma described. The only things I understood was that I was very different than everyone else, that if people found out I was different bad things would happen to me, because how I felt and who I was were wrong.

This incident is a perfect example of one of the great lies that people still are telling about gay and lesbian people: that we are trying to recruit children. But we’re not the ones trying to change any child’s sexual orientation. It’s straight people who keep trying to turn gay children straight.

Seriously, does anyone believe for one moment that if the neighbor kids had been girls, and I had referred to them as my girlfriends, that my grandmother would have reacted adversely at all?

Of course not! She might have chuckled and asked me some questions about my girlfriends. She would have laughed a bit when she told some other adults about her grandson who had two girlfriends! “He’s a little heartbreaker already!” she might say. And no one at her church would have been the least bit upset or concerned that a four-year-old boy was hearing inappropriate things or being prematurely sexualized because he had a girlfriend or two. No! It’s all cute and natural and “aren’t they adorable at that age!”

But, I misused the word boyfriend, and she had a conniption fit. Just like the people now who get righteously indignant when some parents decide to support their five- or six- or seven-year-old kid who identifies as gay. Heck, I’ve known of extremely pro-gay-rights parents who went ballistic on their own teenage child who came out, insisting that they were “too young” for that!

My grandma’s panic about my misuse of a word wasn’t really the first time that adults in my life reacted badly to an affinity of mine that wasn’t properly manly. The previous Christmas I kept asking for an Easy Bake Oven, which apparently caused a lot of consternation amongst my parents and grandparents. The pictures of me taken that Christmas morning show me with a lot of cowboy toys.

I don’t actually remember that Christmas, but I do remember several times over the years getting admonished by my dad because I wanted an Easy Bake Oven. And most especially I remember the time, several years later, when one of my aunts finally got one for me. Dad was not pleased, at all. I heard him and Mom arguing about it later when they thought us kids were asleep. And some months later I remember my dad, after having had a few beers at a family get-together, giving my aunt an angry talking-to about the kind of toys she bought for us.

I think that was the same get-together where one of my uncles weighed it, telling me dad that if he was worried about his son turning into a sissy, then he shouldn’t have let his son of a G.I. Joe doll. Because it’s a doll, you see. Clearly it wasn’t a boy’s toy because just like a baby doll you might buy a girl, the G.I. Joe was something you could buy extra outfits for and dress and undress. And only girls played with dolls, after all.

There were many, many other incidents. Male teachers were at least as prone as my dad to call out myself and some of the other boys for being sissies, pussies, or faggots (yes, in middle school several of the male teachers were especially fond of the slur, faggot).

And I want to make it clear that there was never a point in my childhood when I didn’t like girls. Never. In fact, during elementary school I was often bullied by some of the boys precisely because I liked hanging out with the girls in our class. There were also a few incidents where teachers expressed concern to my parents that I was more comfortable with the girls than with the other boys. Which led to various kinds of abuse from Dad.

I learned much later that by the time I was a teenager, Mom and several other relatives had begun getting together regularly to pray that god wouldn’t let me get “swallowed up by homosexual sin.”

There was the incident of the classmate who was threatened with expulsion when he was caught giving one of the football players a blowjob (though not at a school event, and oddly enough the macho football player was never punished); the school didn’t have to expel him, because his father kicked him out of the house, and the classmate wound up moving in with relatives in another state.

And then, of course, there is my cousin who, as an adult, was kidnapped by his own father out of the apartment he shared with his boyfriend. He was coerced into going to an “ex-gay” boot camp where he was allegedly cured. I was informed by some of those relatives that dire physical harm would be visited upon me if I made any attempt to contact my ex-gay cousin. And to this day (decades later), at least a few members of the family aren’t speaking to me except to sometimes pointedly remind me that my cousin was able to change from being gay, and if I would too, I would be welcomed with open arms.

So, explain to me again why they keep filing briefs with appeals courts (and opposing our civil rights in other ways) claiming we’re the ones who are trying to recruit people?

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. I publish an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live in Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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