January 29, 2011

Lenny

Lenny, age 10
Chicago, Illinois (1965)

This was shot in our backyard pool on Chicago's South side. My dad was an ex-marine and made me get my hair completely buzzed. I remember feeling inadequate because I was skinny, hairless, and blond. I wanted to be dark and thick - more masculine. My dad must've known I was 'different' because he used to glare at me and bully me all of the time.


All I knew was I wanted to disappear, hide and just 'go away', fearful I'd never develop into a 'man'. This pic makes me a bit sad, because it was the beginning of a long period of self-loathing and shame. But it also makes me proud, because even at 10, I managed to make a little oasis for myself in a horrible spot.

I used to drag our 12-inch black & white TV into the garage late at night and watch dance shows and old movies, fantasizing that I lived alone in my own apt.
I loved watching Shindig, Hullabaloo and anything with Bette Davis.

It was around this time that I caught myself staring at older boy's arms, their eyebrows, and getting excited seeing even a glimpse of leg hair over their socks in Catholic School. I clearly remember doing my best to mask these feelings, paralyzed with fear at the thought of someone finding me out.

Around this time, we had a carpenter (who was a deaf mute) working on our house. I was used to getting the 'suspicious sissy accusatory look' from people, but this guy was different. He was buff and friendly and smiled at me all of the time. He'd work with his shirt off, completely ripped and damp with sweat. I'd offer him lemonade and hand him wood and nails. One time, I came into the kitchen and my mom gave me 'the look', and said, 'Why do you stare at that deaf guy all of the time?' I had been clocked. 

My first memory of gay shame was age 4. While changing into my swim suit at a lake, I walked into the men's changing room and saw rows of naked men for the first time. I ducked into a stall and hid. By age 10, I was fascinated with Anne Francis as TV's Honey West. I tried to get the neighborhood kids to act out the scripts. I remember saying, 'Let's play Honey West. You guys are the spies in the scene, and you tie Honey to a tree. Here's the rope. And I'm Honey.'

Well, they tied me to a tree - then got confused, bored and left. As I was tied up,
I was trying to be like Honey, wiggling and resisting from the restraining rope, and imagined I had huge tits. In the middle of all this writhing, I looked up and saw my mom and my sister watching all of this unfold from our living-room window - with complete looks of revulsion and disgust.

As for my first crushes: James MacArthur, shirtless in Swiss Family Robinson.
I wanted to be trapped on that island with him. Then I saw Rod Taylor in The Time Machine, and I was thunderstruck. But I was confused at the same time, as I was not comfortable watching Paul Lynde or Charles Nelson-Reilly. All of my fantasies involved older, alpha males taking me away.

To young gay kids now? You are ALRIGHT! It's NOT YOU that is wrong or screwed up. Live and enjoy your life, and never think that you have to alter yourself. You are great just the way you are.

Lenny's first, famous-person same sex crush:
James MacArthur (in "Swiss Family Robinson")
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6 comments:

marty said...

Maybe the looks of Mom and sister were looks of amazement and or confusion. Unless you were gifted enough back then to really become Honey West, how could they know who (or what) you were trying to be.

I don't your Mom ever looked at you with disgust. I think she was a lot like mine in that regard. Confused, maybe, disgust, no.

Moonia said...

I hope this reaches you Lenny....I really hope so.

Your story touched me to much
it crystalises som many memories of mine

ALl I wanna say is
GOD BLESS YOU.
You are my sister and I love you.

LEN said...

Marty, I think you're right! It wasn't a look of disgust so much as bewilderment.

Whoever Moonis is......I love YOU too!

Robert said...

Lenny,
As your gay younger brother, I feel very blessed to have had you in my life to help pave the way for some difficult & confusing times. Thank you for being there! I'm not sure our parents knew what to do with two sons who didn't quite fit the mold of the time. But in the end we showed what it is to be a true man in our family. For that, we should feel much pride!

And thanks for the wonderful flashback of the carpenter who graced our lives during the summer of '69. The smell of wood shavings still bring a smile to my face!

Love you,
Bob

Anonymous said...

Your story hit such a chord with me. I remember that look of disgust from my mom, after being caught doing something "wrong"... Why else would a little girl be so interested in naked ladies, Mom? Nothing can shame the gay of out someone. I know that it's not my problem, it's THEIRS, but... that is so much easier to say than to really believe, you know? I hope that one day I can be as accepting of myself as you are ;)

Kathryn Thomas said...

I'm so glad that Marty suggested Mom was confused (and that you agreed) - I was ready to rant and rave about your unsupportive family but ultimately, parents just do the best job they can with what they have, right? For certain people in certain times, it must be really confronting to have a gay child. And maybe some of the negative feelings they have are of fear for you, knowing things won't be easy - unfortunately they aren't making it any easier themselves.

I hope your family has come around (I guess yes from your brother's comment) and that the crappy stuff is all behind you.