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  • Writer's pictureBarrett

Growing While Gay: Having Three Childhoods

Growing up, still without a real concept of "gay," but fully aware that I was different, I began to feel like I had been living three childhoods: The public's, my parents', and mine.

The first boy I ever had a schoolyard crush on was Cole. I misspelled his name as "Coal" for many months. In first grade, just before the dawn of electronic filing systems, when everything was still written on cards and you had to think about the Dewey Decimal System, I took on library duty with Cole, completing the tedious task of shelving and organizing books at our primary school. You know, just boys bein' boys in the library.

While I didn't quite have a concept of "gay," it was the early 1990s and I did have a television. I could discern what made Will & Grace special. But I also knew that boys like girls and girls like boys. My dad, who had been single for a few years and had not yet combined families with my mom and brothers, had Maxim in his room, and posters with bikini models on them. I was a kid; and by nature of my age I was naive, but I wasn't dumb. I might not have known what sexuality was, but I did know that boys grow up to marry wives.

I had a girlfriend, in the loosest sense of the word, from first to third grade, when she and I both moved away from the town we lived in. She to Louisiana, and myself to Brenham, home of Blue Bell Ice Cream, about an hour away from Houston.

She had been my best friend for a few years, and we've actually reconnected thanks to the magic of Facebook. When I moved to Brenham, I met another friend (who I never asked to be my girlfriend) who became my best friend for the year I lived there. 

We've also reconnected over the last couple years. We're both hella gay now.

Birds of a feather, I guess.

Growing up, still without a real concept of "gay," but fully aware that I was different, I began to feel like I had been living three childhoods: The public's, my parents', and mine.

Outwardly, I was never the kind of closeted kid who became homophobic. But I did solidly deny any assertion that I was gay. I clung to the "emo kids," wearing lots of black, hoodies year round, ill-fitting jeans, and nothing that called attention to my being. Don't see me and you won't inquire about me. I joined theatre after my brother did, but even then I was a techie. I didn't dare venture on stage until my mom asked us to, and I obliged her. But that's another tale for another day.

To the public, I was meek, quiet, and awkward. I was straight - just a little weird.

And that was okay - it was easy enough to keep up with, since my life hadn't really started yet. Marriage? A partner to have and to hold for the rest of my life? Not on the radar.

To my parents, the rusted-shut hinges of that Teflon shell were allowed to loosen. I didn't have to wear a hoodie at home, and could even enjoy shorts around the house from time to time. They embraced my weirdness, and that was all I needed. I was still closeted to them, though. I knew they wouldn't care for the news, so I left it safely tucked away, carefully placed in a box on the back of the highest shelf in my mind's closet, as it were. I was a weird middle child, but at least I was still straight. I'd still grow up to produce offspring and marry a nice wife.

But to myself, I continued to mourn a future that hadn't happened yet. A life that would never be. I loved the idea of being with another guy, and as I grew, I did come to terms with what "gay" meant and how I fell into that end of the spectrum. But it also made me very aware of a life that I would never know.

I had plenty of crushes on friends and schoolmates that I never explored - not that I'm assuming they would have been reciprocated. I didn't have the courage to come out until after high school.

I sometimes wonder what life could have been like if sexuality wasn't stigmatized. If I had been allowed - by family, society, or otherwise - to be a little gay kid, exploring my urges and thoughts as straight children do, and are allowed to. Like when, while I was on a visitation to my birth mother around four or five years old, a little girl the same age as me from the apartments nearby pulled me into a bush so she could ask to kiss me. I let her.

What if I, and other kids like me, had that same freedom and confidence, without even a concept of your life as inherently bad?

If my childhood, and that of other LGBTQ+ folks, hadn't been split into three (or more) modes to switch between, who would we be today?

Sincerely yours,

-B (who is, today, one person)

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