Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin
queerbychoice

"The Word 'Gay': Childhood Impressions" (Originally Posted to the Queerchoice Mailing List on This Date)

I remember the time I first found out what "gay" meant. I was in first grade, I think, and we had some kind of old-fashioned reading book . . . or perhaps it was one of our spelling sentences . . . anyhow, we had some kind of lesson in which the word "gay" was used to mean "happy." And I heard a girl sitting nearby say to another girl, "I bet you don't know what 'gay' means."
Girl #2: "Yes I do, it means 'happy.'"
Girl #1: "No it doesn't. It means you want to marry another girl."
Girl #2 (with her eyes growing round): "That doesn't happen."
Girl #1: "Yes it does. And boys who want to marry boys."
Girl #2 (uncertainly): "That doesn't happen."
None of this conversation, by the way, was spoken in a particularly homophobic tone. It was a tone of wonderment more than anything else. But I guess my point is that I have to say that I was on the side of Girl #2. I mean, if it were possible for boys to want to marry boys or girls to marry girls, then surely I'd have met or at least heard about some boys or girls who'd done it. I'd heard about a whole lot of married couples in my six long years of life, but every one of them consisted of one boy and one girl. So it was just too absurd to imagine that there were a bunch of other couples hidden away somewhere that everyone I knew had avoided mentioning to me. I concluded that girls and boys were biologically programmed to marry heterosexually, and that gay people could not possibly exist.

That's the only thing I remember hearing about gayness until around sixth grade, when "fag" became virtually the only word in everyone's vocabulary (except, of course, that they all spelled it "phag" because nobody knew it was short for anything and we were all convinced it had to be four-letter word). Personally I thought everyone was being pathetically ignorant, since it was still obvious to me that gay people were just a myth that people had invented in order to provide themselves with more effective ways to insult each other. Also I remember being slightly paranoid that people might think *I* was gay, because I'd been very vocal about not liking the opposite sex (puberty hadn't hit me yet) and because I never called anybody else a 'phag.' However, there was never any questioning about "well, what if I AM gay?" because it was so obvious to me that there was no such thing as a real gay person.

The one thing that did surprise me was when I was around 13 and I told my mother I really liked this song by Elton John (it was "The Club at the End of the Street") and she looked taken aback and mumbled something about how she could never bring herself to like Elton John, just because all she could think of when she heard him was the fact that he'd said he was bisexual. Well, the idea of a guy calling himself queer was pretty intriguing, but it was awfully hard to believe and I suspected that my mother had got the story wrong. The story did cause me to modify my opinion to "Gay people probably don't exist" or maybe even "I wonder if gay people do exist." But I never really gave any serious thought to the posibility of gay people's existence until 10th grade, when I began to think that a friend of mine was gay. The friend turned out not to be, but in the course of my serious thought I decided that I could see no real reason to believe anyone couldn't fall in love with anybody they wanted to. I was aware that it had become popular on television to say that gayness was genetic, and so when I decided I didn't believe that, it seemed like if I was going to disagree with all those people on TV I ought to at least get some evidence and make sure I really knew what I was talking about. And I guess there's always something alluring about the prospect of becoming a mythical figure. To become gay . . . it was like becoming a minotaur, a griffin, a chimera. It was a fabulously daring adventure and it brought new meaning to my life.

Now then. I have some questions addressed to anyone on this list who feels they've "always known" they were queer. My questions are something like this:

1. What does it feel like to "know" you are gay before you've even learned a word for it, and when you're too young to understand much of anything about love/dating/sex/commitment/mariage/etc.?
2. The first time you heard what the word "gay" meant, did you immediately recognize it as meaning yourself? What did you think of the word?
3. The first time you said to yourself, "I'm gay," did you know what you meant by it? Did you have any approximate idea of what kind of gay life you were going to live and what kind of gay person you were going to be? Were your ideas accurate?

Hmm. I guess that will have to do, since I can't think of any other questions. And unfortunately, I think those questions are a bit unanswerable really. Well, you can skip the ones that you can't make any sense out of, and hopefully you can at least say something that will help me figure out what people mean by the phrase, "always known."

Hope you don't mind being interrogated!
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