Some babies are born with silver spoons in their mouth, some
with a full head of hair. My mother insists I came into the
world in full stage regalia complete with g-string and feathered
headdress. Poor woman. It must have been a painful birth. I
can't imagine the damage I must have caused with all those
sequins and rhinestones.
My early years must have been Heaven for my mother, my
godmother, and my eccentric aunts. For the rest of the world I
was simply queer. My outlandish actions were far too off base
for a little boy growing up in the Wild West. In a town where
most boys were simulating war with plastic army men and building
forts with their Lincoln Logs, I was sticking false eyelashes on
Mr. Potato-Head and playing pickup jacks with my girlfriends.
Effeminate from the word go, I wasn't so much a girl trapped in
a boy's body as a sissy with a penis. Blond, blue-eyed, with an
award-winning smile for anyone who cared to notice. After I
learned to walk, I developed a penchant for twisting a bath
towel high on my head and running around the empty lot behind
our house with a sheet on my back. Not fatal when you're a
skinny kid of three or four, but, once you've reached six feet
one and achieve the body of a gymnast, it can cause people to
haul out their pitch-forks.
School was an affliction I barely survived. The taunts and jeers
of my classmates intensified when I hit puberty. Whenever I
found myself surrounded by other guys, I felt stranger than
ever. As the other boy's voices broke into deep resonant basses,
mine remained soprano with a sibilant lisp. As their wrists
stabilized, my ligaments lengthened and turned to rubber. And,
even if I could keep my mouth shut and arms pinned to my side,
there was something in my gait that gave me away. Not so much a
swish as elegant composure, it nevertheless caused people to
turn and stare and then look at another with that knowing look.
It didn't help any when my family pulled up roots and moved even
further west to a town with less color than a black and white
movie, less action than a graveyard in Shangri-La, and more
rednecks than Fort Worth, Texas. A perfect place to come of age,
for Archie Bunker… not Liberace. I hoped my pretended mirth
would hide the nervous breakdown that accompanied me throughout
my senior year.