Children are cruel. I don’t think this comes as surprise to most of us in our no-longer-children years, but just in case you don’t know this already, children are cruel!
We go through so much as children. Our bodies are constantly growing and changing, and people tend to focus on that when talking about how cruel children can be. But what we tend to forget is that children’s minds are changing as well. I wish I was prepared with research documents to cite, I’m not. But I learned in the special training I went to a couple weeks ago for Big Brothers and Big Sisters that scientists are learning more about the cognitive and intellectual development of children and finding that their brains literally do not function in the same way an adults brain functions. It’s an extreme example to be sure, but one example they gave us was a kid who steals his dad’s car to go for a joy ride and gets in trouble. Dad asks the boy, “What were you thinking? What did you think was going to happen when you stole my car and went for a drive?” The answer, it seems, is frequently that the boy wasn’t thinking, or at least wasn’t thinking of consequences. Dad gets angry when the boy won’t answer, or doesn’t give a satisfactory answer, when the truth is, the boy really doesn’t know what he thought would happen. This is not the point of this post, and I’ll get to the point shortly, but I do want to say, that while the boy’s actions should not be excused based on this information and should be punished so that he may learn consequences, Dad should be certain to express that the punishment is because he loves the boy and wants him to learn from his mistakes and that how Dad feels about the boy, how much he loves him, is not going to change because of this!
Children go through so many changes as they grow up, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well and for the most part children are not equipped to deal with the changes. They need to make sense of their existence and they need to feel like they have some sort of control over their lives and one of the ways children try to do that is by being cruel and hurtful to others. Most of the time the reasoning is not thought out, I’m sure, but the idea is that “If I can make that kid feel bad, like they are somehow less than I, then I will feel better about me.” Children are cruel.
I don’t know, and I hope it’s no longer true, but when I was a child at least, there was a societal stigma against homosexuality. There were no gay characters on television, there were no openly gay public figures and the public stereotype of a gay man was of a very effeminate, weak, joke of a man. Gay men were undeserving of respect and courtesy. Being gay and having anyone know it was just about the worst thing that could possibly happen to a guy and so it made for excellent fodder for school yard bullies.
When I was in elementary school, I was a damaged and confused kid. My parents split when I was two years old because my father had an affair with a woman who worked for him and my mother kicked him out of the house. My mother was depressed and she wasn’t emotionally available to her children at a time when they needed her to tell them everything was going to be OK. I was the youngest of three kids, three years younger than my nearest sibling and my brother and sister were more interested in their friends their ages, than they were in spending time with their “baby brother”. I was socially awkward (still am) and always on the defensive. I was overweight and had a double cowlick and freckles. I was highly self-conscious. Oh, and have I mentioned that children are cruel?
The kids in my school tormented me relentlessly. They made fun of how I looked, they made fun of how my hair stuck up funny on the crown of my head and when they made me cry they called me names, which only made me cry more. And this was just about the parts of me they could see. I couldn’t imagine what they would do with the parts they couldn’t see. I didn’t want to find out. I hid myself as much as I could. I wore long pants and long sleeved shirts, even on triple digit days of summer. When I was forced to take gym class, I dawdled around as long as I could before changing my clothes, just hoping no one would see me and when I did change my clothes, I did it as fast as possible. When I was in elementary school, the school I attended didn’t have individual urinals in the boys’ bathrooms, they had urinal troughs, and the boys would gather around the troughs during recess and lunch breaks to relieve themselves and it was all a big game. They’d cross streams, they’d bump and nudge shoulders, and they’d jostle each other. And when they weren’t playing at these games, they’d talk about what they saw. Those boys, stood around that disgusting trough looking at each others twigs and berries. Those boys, stood around that disgusting trough, completely free (or so it seemed to me) of shame or embarrassment, taking care of their business and talking to each other and about each others bait and tackle!
I used the stalls, every time.
And the boys noticed and made fun.
I had a high pitched voice when I was a child, when people would call the house and I would answer the phone they often thought I was my sister, and by “people”, I mean my parents. I sang alto in the choir until the 8th grade, the only boy in the whole of the regional competitions singing the alto part.
Children are cruel, and when they find something that works they stick with it and so the first time someone called me the F word, and it got the reaction they wanted, it stuck. Being the F word was out of the question for me. First, I could tell by the tone of their voices that the children though of it as an insult, as a derogatory thing to say, and if it was an insult, a derogatory thing to say, then it must be a terrible thing to be. More importantly, though, I learned from a very young age that to be gay, means to spend eternity in hell and I sure didn’t want that. I had to do whatever I possibly could, not to reinforce the idea with the kids in my school and in my thinking at that time, hiding myself from them was the way to do it.
I never learned how to be friends with boys. I never learned how to talk to them or touch them. I never figured out the apparently very fine line between appropriate, friendly affection and “inappropriate gay stuff”. To this day, when I see guys interact as “buddies”, I don’t understand. When a guy puts his arm around his buddy’s neck or leans on his friend’s shoulder, when two guys hug, I’m conflicted. Put those guys at the beach, wearing only board shorts, or in a locker room in just a towel? My confusion is off the charts!
In my irrational memories of childhood, these actions, any one of them, would have been crossing a line. Putting my arm on a guys shoulder, especially if he wasn’t wearing a shirt, would have gotten me insulted and teased to no end, maybe even beaten. I never really learned how to navigate these situations and so instead, I simply don’t touch. Oh sure, I hug my close friends (all of whom happen to be female) and I shake hands when I meet people, but other than that, I do not touch. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable to have my personal space invaded, no; I don’t touch, because I’m afraid to. I’m afraid how it will be perceived, how it will be received.
I think about those boys in elementary school, standing around that God-awful urinal trough and whipping out their noodles as if it was as pedestrian as…well, a pedestrian, nary a thought in their pre-adolescent heads about what the other boys might think and it occurs to me that as best I can remember and with the exception of my father when I was a young boy, I’ve never seen, live and in person, a Meat n’ Potatoes that wasn’t my own. That seems abnormal to me. Who makes it into their mid thirties and never sets foot in a gym locker room, or public pool changing area? But it’s true.
The societal stereotype of what a gay man is has changed since I was a boy. Where it used to be that everyone assumed that a gay man was effeminate, possibly a cross dresser, wished he was really a woman; today it is more often assumed that a gay man is a sex fiend, a predator even, cruising the streets and parks for anonymous sex. And now with the advent of the home computer and the World Wide Web, guys can cruise for anonymous sex without ever leaving their homes. Hell, there’s even an app for that. I once heard a line in a movie (which one is escaping me at the moment) that for gay men sex is equated with a handshake. For a lot of Conservative, Republican, Christian types out there, this is a disgusting thought. To me? It’s just terrifying. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to come off as a prude or as some sort of high and mighty, judgy type (I’ll leave that to the afore mentioned Conservative, Republican, Christian types). I am interested in sex, for sure. But I’m interested in sex with substance. I’m not interested in sex for the sake of sex and I’m not interested in dating as a means of getting to the sex.
As a gay man, I do not fit the current stereotype. Think of me as your fairly average American, Christian male. I want to live a respectable life. I want a job that satisfies and fulfills me and pays a decent salary. I want a nice home. I want a great car. I want plenty of money in the bank. I want to travel. I want to find the love of my life, settle down and have a family. That the love of my life will happen to have the same anatomy as I do is but a minor differentiation from the accepted norm.
I can’t help myself, though. I’ve fallen victim to the stereotype. I buy into it. Partly because, the only men I’ve known were gay, were the ones that were living up to the stereotype. It’s so easy to identify a black man or a Hispanic or Asian man just by looking at them. It’s not so easy to identify a gay man just by looking. Oh sure, sometimes it’s really easy, but it’s not always. And when it comes to this, I am still very much that scared little boy who is afraid to lean on another man’s shoulder. I do not know what the proper etiquette or decorum is. I don’t know how to feel out a situation and make my interest known in such a way as to make progress with the guy if he’s gay, but not insult or offend (or risk my personal safety) if the guy is not.
I’m also fairly oblivious, unable to recognize flirtation when it’s happening. And as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I wouldn’t necessarily know I was being asked on a date if I were, let alone how to react to it. Not to mention what a nervous wreck I would be! How off-putting is that?
I was asked if I’d been on a date since coming out. The answer is, “No”. And now we know not just that I haven’t but, possibly more than you ever wanted to know about the reasons why.