Here I am, Raggedy Andy doll in my arms, on my tricycle in my great-aunt Arrie's front yard. My older sister Julie and our cousin Linda Ray (Arrie's granddaughter) are protected from the hot Tennessee sun under their umbrella, as my mother hovers in the background.
Even with the doll, I don't see anything particularly gay about this picture. But it was probably about this time that my sister and cousin started dressing me up in frilly play dresses, using me as a doll for playing house.
From a very young age I was privately proud of being different from other kids, but that was primarily expressed through being the class “brain” & teacher's pet all through elementary, high school, college, and grad school.
My sister says that I always got away with doing everything I wanted. I don't remember it that way, but I know what she means. I was the best little boy in the world. Grownups loved me for it; kids, not so much.
After having 3 beautiful children and 16 years of a rather happy marriage, I finally came out at age 40. Then soon after, I got divorced.
Today, I've been with my partner Bruce for 16 wonderful, fulfilling years. Between us and their mothers, we raised 6 wonderful kids (sadly, one deceased), who are all happy, sane and fully employed.
My sister (5 years older than me) finally came around to having a gay brother, partly through the positive influence of our cousin, who lives across the river from us and is our best friend.
Last time she visited from Atlanta, my sister - with the same, impish challenging look she shows in the picture - asked me:
'Does everyone like Bruce better than they like you?'
I said, 'Yes, I guess they do!'