A small-town-on-the-prairie-gay-child.  Of course, back then we weren’t ‘gay’; it was queer, faggot, sissy, homo, pansy,  if you even heard what your neighbors, your classmates, your teachers, the preacher, the life guard at the public pool were saying about you behind your back or quietly to your mother over the backyard fence.  “You know, Evelyn, he is a bit effeminate, aren’t you worried he may be, well, you know,” delivered with a nod and a wink or with the euphemisms “light in his loafers,” “limp-wristed.”  What’s a mother to do?

My mother did nothing, at least nothing effective, for truly, what’s a mother to do when her boy child exhibits such tendencies?  I was not rushed off to a therapist or put under any psychological scrutiny.  There were no long talks about the birds and the bees and the way nature works (in the majority’s opinion at least).  At this time in my life (the pre-pubescent years, 10, 11, 12) there were half-hearted attempts at leading by example: Boy’s Club, Boy Scouts, Big Brothers, and other forms of male dominant surrogacy. Try as they might to mark me, I was resistant (but not impolite–after all, I did want to see these men with their clothes off, not for sexual gratification, but to get an idea of what a man looked like, you know, for future reference.) It’s not that I was playing with dolls or dressing up in my mother’s clothes (well, maybe not always) when she wasn’t at home.  The fear of exposure, of being found out, I mean, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon at that age to know that you’re not quite like everyone else, but those fears lingered underneath the surface of my character until I was 20, perhaps even until today.

[An aside: There was a period of time in these years when I would ‘sneak’ a spoonful of peanut butter, licking it clean sitting on the living room sofa, staring out the picture window, and when I was done, I would slip the spoon underneath the couch to be retrieved at a later date for washing and replacement in its drawer.  This went on for some time until one day when my mother was cleaning she discovered a half-licked-clean spoon with dried peanut butter under the sofa that I had put there when she had come home early one afternoon and I thought I might get in trouble for spoiling my dinner and then forgot to retrieve it later.  “Honey, you shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed for having a spoonful of peanut butter before dinner,” she said when I explained what had happened.  But for some reason I was. And so I added it to the list of other things I wasn’t good at hiding.]

I played with the neighbor children; we rolled down hills in the summer, rode our bikes, explored, built forts in the backyard, climbed trees, roller-skated, tumbled, and fell, scraping knees, elbows, the occasional bruise as big as a hand-print; spanked for some infraction that seemed important to adults, much less so to us children.  If you had not stood with your pants/shorts around your ankles, held by your hands and whipped with your own cowboy belt, a hair brush, or the stinging slap of an angry adult hand across your buttocks <snigger, he said ‘buttocks’>, you really weren’t doing the whole ‘child’ thing the right way, now were you?  Later, showing off where you’d been hit to the neighbor kids, a bit of swagger marking your gait, a survivor of the wars.

By this time in my child-life there were chores.  Picking up dog poop (frozen dog poop being the worst, no matter how I tried to keep my mouth closed when I would go out in the frigid, oftentimes sub-zero weather to clean up our large backyard, hacking away with a garden trowel at the brown frozen waste; me wrapped and quilted in wool scarves, gloves, hats, snow pants — or even with an extra pair of pants pulled up over; I’d be out there panting, sweating, possibly cursing my mother or Mary, most assuredly cursing the dogs for shitting, stooped over with an old dustpan in one hand and the trowel in the other and a little fleck of crap would fly up–in slow motion–aimed directly for my open mouth, gulp.  I’m surprised I didn’t die from it, it happened so often); mowing the lawn in the summer, raking leaves, and weeding–to this day it, of all the garden chores, is my least favorite–now that’s marking behavior.

[A second aside: I have grown to love dandelions–do you remember taking the yellow flower heads and rubbing them on your arm to see if your secret infatuation loved you? I despaired of being found out that my secret love was another boy, or Robert Conrad from “The Wild, Wild West” TV. show–that hairy chest! I only watched that show for the chance to see his hairy chest and those tight blue pants. excuse me for wandering away from the topic (he sighed), but wasn’t that swipe with the dandelion flower on your palm, or hand, or arm also able to tell you if you liked butter?  Which also conjures up the tale of “Little Black Sambo” and the pool of melted butter the tigers become in their dervish and the resulting delicious pancakes his mother makes.  Even a dandelion’s dried flower, each seed whisked by the wind or your own little blow, lips pursed together, and the delight of watching each little parachute of a seed fly off into the sunlight.  Always more then to dig up eventually, but their gossamer charm in the meantime irresistible.]

It is impossible for me to remember exactly when we got our first TV, although I do know when we didn’t have one which would be pre-1961.   I wasn’t particularly enamored of TV-watching as a child–when Mary lived with us, homework and chores took first and second place in my after school schedule.  There was something about sitting around doing nothing that irked the adults in my life.  In my memory of our first TV, a black & white box that sat on a low table with metal legs in a corner of the living room by the picture window, it was turned on in the evening after dinner, after the dishes had been washed and put away, after homework had been completed, after the dogs had been tended to, after, after, after…

The September of the year I turned eleven, “Jonny Quest” premiered.  I was not then a big cartoon fan, those of you who know what I do for a living may be surprised to hear that; my favorite shows were Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett and later in the ’60s, Sonny and Cher, Laugh-in and as I mentioned earlier, The Wild, Wild West or any western for that matter–cowboys always on my mind/groin.

Jonny Quest surprised me. They looked like a family unit to me and still do. Of course that thought would not have been something I would or could have vocalized when I was 11 and in love with Race Bannon, but with Dr. !uest so distracted by his work, Jonny a blond not unlike me, his friend Hadji, exotic and smart, too; the dog Bandit and all of them cared for, looked after by the dashing, handsome, manly, practical Race Bannon (a MacGyver before there was a MacGyver).  I would sit on the floor in front of the TV engrossed in the action–so different from other cartoons, somehow more plausible; wanting with each passing second to be eaten by the TV. and to become a part of the story unfolding in front of me–to be rescued by Race, carried in his strong arms, delivered safely into the arms of my loving father; safe at last, cared for, loved by men.

A few years ago there was a New Yorker story on the suicide of Tyler Clementi and the secrets he carried around with him and then took with him as he jumped from the George Washington Bridge–that impulse to disappear, to die, to just get out from under the burden of not telling someone, anyone, the world, how you feel and then to not have to worry about how they will react–combined with the daily fact that being gay is still marginalized and excused by “but I have gay friends” as if that excused their behavior, their vocabulary, their disregard for the deteriorating effect of their ignorance and their callousness on his existence. That’s one reason why my love affair with Race Bannon has been a secret all these years.

I loved Race Bannon.  I still do.  His quiet way of looking after the people he loved, his life lived in service to his love; setting a standard of acceptance (unwittingly, I’m sure Hanna-Barbera had not set out to defend homosexuality) of a family unit different from the accepted standard.  I learned the lesson, did you?

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© Robert Patrick, and Cultivar, 2008-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, photographs and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Patrick and Cultivar with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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