Culture / Entertainment

Reflections on a Queer Childhood: The Dukes of Hazzard

It was a Friday night, and I was staying over at my friend (and occasional bully) David’s house. We were 11, maybe 12 years old. My friend’s younger sister, his parents, and I were all assembled in their basement watching The Dukes of Hazzard, one of my favorite shows. At some point during the hour, a familiar scene unfolded: Catherine Bach, clad in a plaid shirt tied above the waist, high heels, and those too short, too tight jean shorts eponymously named Daisy Dukes, was inexplicably bent over, unnecessarily wet, or casually tied up. These were situations Daisy found herself in regularly. That crazy Daisy! Always getting mixed up in such hijinks!

A smile swept across my friend/occasional bully’s mother’s face as she said, “David doesn’t watch The Dukes of Hazzard.” She paused, leaving me somewhat confused as we were actually, at that moment, watching The Dukes of Hazzard. But then she landed her punchline, a punchline she had clearly been working on for quite some time, and the family had heard before. “He watches Daisy.” Everyone laughed ~ hahaha! ~ so happy to celebrate his assumed budding heterosexuality.

I laughed, too. Hahaha! Although, to be honest, I had no idea what we were laughing at. First of all, wasn’t Daisy a Duke, too? And what did his mother mean, “he watches Daisy”? Why? Why would he just watch Daisy? Until that moment, I hadn’t thought much about her. I mean, she seemed sweet and all, but was I missing something? Was she a better actress than I had previously realized? What was it David was seeing that I wasn’t?

At that moment, without quite knowing why, I understood that David and I were different. It became my mission to put words to that intangible sense. The next week I watched the show at home, studiously.

That is love in his eyes. #AmIWrong? PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

And there it was. Well, there they were. The answer hit me like two shirtless, bootlegging rednecks driving around a fictional southern town in a car with doors welded shut, a horn that played Dixie, and a symbol of racism proudly displayed on its roof. The Duke boys! Bo and Luke!!! Inexplicably bent over, unnecessarily wet, or casually tied up. My unconscious leapt the great divide as I recognized that every single Friday I would pray a silent prayer that those wacky Duke boys would have time in their busy, law-evading lives to wash the General Lee…shirtless. And I prayed that they would go skinny dipping when they were done. You know, to relax.

Please, God of Gay Children, let the Duke boys take their shirts off. Once. Just once. Twice would be great, but I don’t want to anger you. I don’t want to appear greedy. I don’t want to be sent to a gay hell where their car doors aren’t welded shut but their shirt buttons are. Please let them get naked again. Are you there God? It’s me, Roger.

I somehow knew that there would be no familial celebration at my budding sexuality. For one thing, the Duke boys weren’t Jewish.

I kept my little discovery in the place I kept every single one of these thoughts and feelings. A place I had been building and curating for years ~ the closet.

While I haven’t seen the show since it aired, and my memory may be a bit hazy, my guess is it was casually racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and any number of other things I’d find offensive today. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to deriving just a little perverse pleasure from the fact that this casually racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and any number of other things I’d find offensive today television show gave me my very first man crushes and helped me along the road to a wonderful life of man-love. John Schneider and Tom Wopat, thank you. I crushed hard. Very hard.

Stay tuned for more childhood reflections as I delve into my preoccupation with Dallas’ Patrick Duffy (Larry Hagman was fun as the evil JR, but no one needed to see him oiled up and bailing hay or returning from the dead in a shower), my first foray into gay porn (the International Male catalogue), my curious obsession with Boy George on the cover of Culture Club’s Colour by Numbers album, and any number of tiny, little gay moments that all added up to the man I am today. Karma chameleon, y’all!

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4 Comments

  1. I was a Daisy watcher too, but in addition to crushing on her I wanted to wear those high heels and short shorts and I wanted a body like hers. I think I was a bit older than you at the time, Roger, fully into my teens, but it would still be years before I figured out what it all meant.

    • Thanks for your comment! Indeed, that’s the entire reason I wanted to write this column, because I think that being L, G, B, or T is considered something adult ~ topics not to be discussed with kids as well as experiences that don’t happen until adulthood. But every L, G, B, or T adult I know was an L, G, B, or T kid. And pretending that we don’t exist as children and teenagers has devastating consequences for kids who identify as L, G, B, or T.

      Also, I wanted to wear Daisy’s clothes, too. At least the heels.

  2. Wow! I understand what you are saying, Roger and Rebecca. If it were not for the stereotypical women on the television I would have been relegated to trying to figure out just what those nuns had on under their habits. Let’s not get started on long-haired men who made me think about kissing someone (mostly my best friend) with hair longer than mine.

  3. Peter Savieri says:

    Just found this column. Those Duke boys were on my TV in early childhood for me, so my response to them was very innocent, but I remember that strange combination of a kind of unnameable magnetism and new synapses firing warm glitter into my brain. Haha. And I was experiencing them as one of the many American shows we got in Australia.

    I agree it’s so important to talk about our childhood and teenage experience of being LGBTQ. Sharing stories is so important. There’s an organisation in New York called The Generations Project that brings our community together to share our stories from different eras, and I just think it’s the most vital thing.

    Most of us are so silenced and so unreflected at that age that we only find parallels with other people later in life, but some of the most healing and fun conversations we have with our peers are the ones that share those once secretive formative moments of a queer childhood and find we were never really alone.

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