Monday, November 28, 2005

On growing up with incipient queerness in the 'burbs, post New-Wave, pre-'Net

Every once in a while little jolts will come back to me, like some
kind of cheezy, noxious Proustian trip--poisonous green Lick 'Em Aid
powder and warm Coke instead of the madeleines in lime-flower tea.

I remember selling bags of candy, including aforementioned green
powder, for the "thespian" group (har har HAR har, snerk), and now I'm
thinking: how fucked up was that, that even the damn drama club had no
identifiable drama fags, much less dykes? Oh, our teacher was a
classic, all right: Mr. F--, and he meant every sibilant syllable of
it. He was also an utter tool. The annual school play was invariably
something like "Winne the Pooh" or "Alice in Wonderland." I was a
card, one year, for the latter. Big, unwieldy cardboard
costume in which I had to maneuver out onto a second-story catwalk,
with no lights. My fellow "card" was a freckly girl who admired my
onyx necklace, which she insisted was called "oinks." it's "onyx," I
said. no, she said, it's OINKS.

I was never publicly identified as queer, at least to my knowledge,
but I was already well-trained to act like a hunted rabbit by years of
outcast "nerd" status: newfound sapphic feelings were just icing on the
cake, really. Funnily enough, I don't think girls ever *were* called
"dykes," or rarely, even if they were noticably butch. Oh, there were
the odd locker room harassment moments, of course. ("Hey, me and my
friend were wondering why you never say hello." "Yeah, it really hurts
my feelings. Why are you so unfriendly?" "She likes you. You're
hurting her feelings by not saying hello. She loves you; she's a lez!
Har, HAR!")

Still, I don't remember any girl being *seriously* considered queer;
possibly, like Queen Victoria, my classmates didn't think they really
existed. "Two women?" said one guy in my "thespian" troupe, apropos of
I don't remember what. "Wow!" "Leslie," I believe his name was. Or:
"So who do you like?" I was asked by one perky female classmate. "A
guy? No [answering herself, with a "duh" implication]--a girl! No,
really, who do you like?"

On the other hand, the boys scrupulously policed each other for the
slightest signs of deviance. A lavender T-shirt could earn derision
for the rest of the week; one kid, already unpopular but never
particularly tarred "gay" before, dressed in drag one Halloween and
spent the rest of the year, at least, trying, unsuccessfully, to live
it down. The ribbing was not good-natured. Hell, even the girls
sometimes commented about (themselves) appearing too "faggy." Anyway,
you were a lot more popular if you played sports and could run with the
boys, no matter which gender you were.

I was friends, at least for a while, with the designated fag: a
slight, pale, giggly, tiptoeing, fluttery-wristed, even (yes) lisping
aficianado of scarves, gymnastics, and Bette Midler, with the very
unfortunate name of Richard (Dick) Stone. I met Richard in seventh
grade; he'd not yet hit puberty, and yet already had a years-long
history of being hounded mercilessly as a faggot. It's quite possible
that he first found out what "gay" meant from sneering classmates, long
before any actual homoerotic feelings. We never discussed this,
anyway; from day one until the day we graduated, his theme remained
stubbornly that they all just thought he was gay (said with a roll of
the eyes) because he'd done gymnastics. Which really didn't make one
gay at all, you know. Not, he would hasten to add, that there was
anything wrong with, you know, being that way. Followed by extremely
unconvincing description of his last date with his "girlfriend," and/or
poring over the illustrations in a male fashion magazine ("I really
like that hairdo...and that jacket...I think it'd look good on me,
don't you?") with a kind of taut, crackling, breathless tension that
was all too familiar to me from similar sessions with Cosmo. But I
never said anything. I doubt he would have wanted to hear it even if
I'd been capable.


Anonymous said...

Oh I've so been there. So, have you looked up Dick and seen how he ended up? Am crossing my fingers that he grew up to look and behave like a Tom of Finland model in rebellion against his childhood.

Anonymous said...

The "oinks" part of this post was especially delectable. Anytime you can seamlessly work some sort of porcine term (that's my new favorite word: porcine) into a queer identity narrative, you've done right by the universe.

BTW, if I ever get my blogroll back up, you'll be on it again. Half of what you write drives me nucking futs, and the other half makes we want to screamingly cheer you from my humble rooftop. As I believe I said at ISTM, I need a diet of regular feminist contradiction to keep me toned, and your words are nothing if not, er, fibrous in all the most essential ways.

Quite respectfully - V.

belledame222 said...

Hey, VM, I saw your comment come through via email and was wondering where the hell it went. the "oinks" tipped me off.

that's (one of the many) trouble(s) with blogger; they let you know when you get a new comment but they don't say -where.- if it's on the front page it's pretty obvious, but if not...looks like i missed badgerbag too, a while ago. which, to answer: no, no i haven't. i could try, but he's got a really common last name and i pretty much lost track of him after high school. although i -thought- i saw him working at Nordstrom's once, but that was a really long time ago.

anyway, cheers, VM, heh. now i'm wondering which half was which. funny, i was just thinking about you as well as someone else who just popped up on my board this morning after a long while; i was gonna go around to both of yer blogs, but hadn't yet gotten there. wooo.

if you're spelunking the archives, i've probably changed my mind on a few things since the earliest days.