How to Build a Better Queer


Photo: Katherine Streeter

It doesn’t look like any of my sister’s kids are gay. She and I scrutinize their behavior for signs while they play and go about their daily routines, but, so far, we can’t find a queer among them. We had a glimmer of hope once when we noticed that one of her sons couldn’t sleep until he’d put all his toys away in their correct places, but then we figured out he just had OCD, not homosexuality. “Maybe one of them will be bi,” I told my sister the other day. “Maybe,” she responded wistfully.

My sister thinks it’s a shame that some gay kid out there is going to be born to parents who are clueless, while she and her husband would love to nurture a little homo. I don’t know. Our parents didn’t seem to notice that I was a dyke, even though my sister swears I was an obvious gaybo from the first trimester, but I am none the worse for it. My sister is convinced that more enlightened parenting would have vastly improved my childhood.

But it’s hard for me to feel too sorry for myself. When I was a kid, the best you could hope for was that your parents would turn a blind eye to your obvious signs of homosexuality. My parents had gay glaucoma where I was concerned, so I feel like I lucked out. I could have been one of those horror stories of abandonment and abuse, rather than just a lost little dork. Would my life have been that different if my parents had realized I was going to be gay and nurtured me accordingly?

I suppose if my folks had noticed I was gay they might have warned me not to chase the prettiest girl in my class in the second grade. They might have advised that I let her come to me. That way, I wouldn’t have had to spend that school year taking her dares, to the amusement of the entire class, and giving her the dessert out of my lunch every day, because my parents would have explained to me that she was just a little “dyke tease” in training.

I guess I wouldn’t have felt the need to hide my Charlie’s Angels stuff in the bottom drawer of my dresser; instead, I would have displayed it proudly. And Dad and I could have bonded over having the Farrah Fawcett vs. Cheryl Ladd debate after we watched the show on Wednesday nights.

My mother and I wouldn’t have had all those silly arguments about that girl Lisa, who was a bad influence on me when I was 12. Looking back, it’s a safe bet that my mom and Lisa’s mom had a pretty good idea of what was going on between us—even if we didn’t. We just knew that we loved spending time together and hated it when one of us had to go home, even though we were way past the age where we were supposed to be making a fuss about having to go home. I knew we were acting suspicious, but I didn’t seem to be able to act “normal.” Lisa’s mom worked late and she never seemed to know how many cigarettes she was supposed to have or how many beers were supposed to be left in the refrigerator, but she sure seemed to know how many cute boys there were in our class and which ones would be perfect for Lisa. I hated it when her mom would talk about boys, especially when she was drunk and sloppy and would talk way too close to my face. When my mom finally forbade me from hanging out with Lisa, because of the booze and ciggies, I was angrier than I had ever been. And sadder, too. Sure, I was a tween, and I probably would have been miserable no matter what, but I was a hot mess of snot and hormones that entire summer.

If Mom had just told me that Lisa was not going to be “the one,” but that she was welcome to come over to our house whenever she wanted, I probably would have engaged in some awkward petting with her on my twin bed, and her drunk mother would have come over and threatened to kick my parents’ asses for trying to turn her daughter into a dyke. Then my parents would have called the police and Lisa would have been taken by CPS and, well, I guess things would have turned out basically the same.

If my parents had nurtured my gayness, I would not have had to waste all that time pretending to care about what the other girls cared about in order to get closer to them. I would have been able to tell them in the fourth grade that I hated tetherball almost as much as I hated dolls, and if they wanted to hang with me, they could find me reading an age-inappropriate book in the bleachers with the other nerds.

If my parents had recognized what was up with me, I could have been saved from countless embarrassing episodes between the age of 5 and 14, when my two best coping mechanisms were swearing and lying. I did them both all day, every day.  “Fuck this,” I told my classmates when we were learning our multiplication tables. “I am already doing ‘triggermometry’ after school with my uncle, who teaches at Harvard.” I lied and cursed my way all through grammar school and middle school. By high school, I recognized that swearing was fine, but lying was giving me all kinds of unnecessary stress. I decided to confine myself to lying only when motivated by self-preservation. Like when my best friend, the prom queen, asked me if I would like to double date with her, and I said “yes,” instead of saying that I would really much rather spend the evening alone with her in the backseat of my Toyota.

And that’s another thing. If my parents had just told me I was gay, I wouldn’t have wasted all those Friday and Saturday nights on fake-ass dates with boys. I know I could have just stayed home, but I was gay, not a loser. And I’m not going to lie (really)—it wasn’t that awful. Being a teenager is all about breaking the rules and driving your parents nuts, and fooling around with boys did satisfy both those crucial requirements. So, I guess knowing earlier that I was gay wouldn’t have been all that helpful. I may have turned to drugs or gambling, instead of sex, and ended up face down in an alley or in the trunk of a Town Car.

After pondering the matter for a while, I had to tell my sister that although it would have been swell to have had enlightened parents, in my case, I don’t think it would have made a whole lot of difference.

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