As I have begun to unearth memories of my youth with this series (Reflections on a Queer Childhood), a wonderful thing has happened–my family has begun to unearth memories with me. My dig has prompted conversations and stories about a much younger family. It feels like we’re sitting around the kitchen table looking at faded pictures from the 70s and 80s.
My mother recently shared this image with me:
I was 5 or 6 and sitting alone on the step in front of our townhouse, listening to my music on my portable tape recorder. (For all you millenials out there, here’s a link to the tape recorder everyone had.) At the other end of our cul de sac, a group of boys was playing soccer. My mother, worried that I might be feeling lonely or left out, suggested that I join them. Being the good son, I did as I was told. She watched as I marched over to them, talked to them for about a minute, turned around, and marched home.
Somewhat confused, my mother asked me what happened. “They didn’t want to listen to my music,” I said. And with that I went right back to my step, my music, and my perfectly happy aloneness while they continued to play their game. Apparently it didn’t dawn on me that I should join them. I simply thought that they might want to join me.
Clearly this was a moment of pure innocence–before I learned to not be different. Before I learned that sameness paves a much smoother path, comes with fewer stares, fewer whispers, and far fewer jokes made behind one’s back and at one’s expense. This was before I was taught that sameness is safer than different. I must have been just on the cusp of discovering that in order to fit in I would have to pretend to be someone else. Someone who enjoyed playing whatever sport the neighborhood boys were playing. Listened to whatever music they were listening to. Liked whatever girls they liked. I’m not sure that I ever faked it all that well, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. It was more for a lack of ability.
I have no recollection of this moment, but my mother recalled it with a smile in her voice. “It was so cute,” she said.
I must admit that I don’t find it cute. If anything, I find it kind of sad. Sad that it took me decades to even begin to rediscover what that little boy knew so well, that he was okay as he was, and to do what he did so effortlessly, simply be me. Sad that it took me so many years to find the strength to say, Hey, if you don’t want to listen to my music, cool. I’ll just sit over here by myself until I find someone who does.
Photo Credit: Roger Rosen