When I was a kid, I wasn’t gay, but I may as well have been. I was certainly accused of it often enough.
I wasn’t into sports. I wasn’t into general rowdiness. I was a scaredy-cat, afraid of physical pain, afraid of the dark, afraid of ghosts and demons and monsters. I was smart and creative, neither of which was seen as much of a bonus. In fourth grade I entered the “Gifted and Talented” program which involved me and some other folks, being able to get out of classes on a regular basis to go do things other students had no idea about, which totally endeared me to my colleagues. In those days there was no “Nerd Pride”, just nerds. I had a homemade Star Wars lunchbox I was insanely proud of and one day had to watch and “laugh” as it was kicked around the playground, hoping that if I didn’t seem upset about it, they’d stop and give it back. I wanted desperately to fit in and be normal and you know how that always works out.
I had issues, of course (my whole family did), and there was therapy involved. In — I guess it was 10th grade? — I attempted suicide, but I honestly don’t remember why. I do know that this was about the time when I felt most acutely different and alone.
I’m sure my parents suspected I was gay. I gave them plenty of reasons to wonder, including declaring I wanted to marry my (male) best friend in first grade. I had crushes on girls but was terrified of them, so I didn’t have a girlfriend until my Senior year of high school. I had Depeche Mode posters on my wall. I wasn’t gay, but I was “timid”, “nervous”, “weak”, and all those other euphemisms they use for Clark Kent in Silver Age comics.
In my Senior year I finally just “came out” as a nerd — not that it was any big revelation to anyone else. I stopped pretending I wasn’t one and just rolled with it. And that brought me a certain amount of peace of mind and freedom. (It helped that by this time the “hip nerd” archetype was starting to come about.)
I realize that simply being a nerd cannot give me the equivalent experience of growing up gay, especially in a time and place where you would be told there was something wrong with you, that you were dirty, broken, poisoned, evil, and needed changing, hurting, or worse. No one’s ever been dragged to death behind a truck or left tied to a fence to die for being a nerd. But just that small taste of being made to feel wrong and different, of knowing that people think there’s something rotten at the center of you, of wanting more than anything else to just be normal and fit in makes me shudder at how the friends around me who are gay were being made to feel.
So stories like this one, where a little boy was “treated” in the late 60s/early 70s to prevent him from being gay, are not only simply infuriating and heartbreaking in and of themselves, there’s also a bit of recognition there that this could have been me. It could just as easily been my mom freaking out about how different I was (she certainly expressed it to me directly a few times) and taking me somewhere to “fix” me.