Shannon, age 4
New York, NY (1970)
I grew up as an only child, which resulted in my getting excessive attention and being photographed too much. Nevertheless, despite the cheerful smile, I hated sitting for portraits. Why? Because I was forced to wear a dress. My mother secretly wanted a little boy, so she indulged my preference for short hair, hatred of dolls, and passion for anything from the boys' department. Except, of course, when I had my picture taken. At that point, she would make sure I "straightened up" for the event - dressing me in ribbons and fripperies or otherwise feminizing me as best she could. But she already knew that, for me, a frilly dress symbolized hell on earth.
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I'd go mad for Elizabeth Montgomery when she played Serena on "Bewitched".
Years later, when "Charlie's Angels" first aired, Farrah and Jaclyn didn’t do it for me - I flipped for Kate Jackson. Now I’m wondering if this initial typecasting was simply Oedipal fear of my blond, blue-eyed mother. I often find that gay women are attracted to the physical opposite of their mothers.
Later in childhood - particularly my teens - I began to like boys (a little) and reluctantly embraced conventional ideas about femininity. I understood that assuming the role of a typical heterosexual girl offered advantages. People accepted me and liked me if I didn't look different.
Obviously, however, when you aren’t being authentic, the chronic loneliness that comes from knowing how different you are becomes unbearable. Feeling comfortable in your own skin is so critically important; it is just about the most important thing in life. I learned that lesson, eventually.
Not surprisingly, as I tried to adapt to society's concept of femaleness, I also suppressed being gay. I even had a boyfriend in high school, losing my future Gold Star Lesbian status. Although I acknowledged to myself that I wasn't heterosexual, I made a heroic effort to be bisexual. In college, I acted out the reverse cliché: I experimented with men. Ultimately, those years were a regrettable waste of time.
For gay kids out there who are growing up today, feeling different, I would only urge you to be true to yourself, no matter what. I know how difficult it is and you'll be faced with scary, lonely, conflicted emotions. But I promise you that you're not alone. If you find the courage to be open and honest, you'll discover that nothing else compares. It genuinely makes life tolerable.
Only through your truest self can love, pride, confidence, self-respect and self-esteem - all the things you’re hoping for - begin to emerge. These things do surface when you are honest with yourself. Live a real, open, sincere life. Always. Only good things will come. Don’t let the fear-based bigotry and ignorance of this world take away your personal integrity, your self-love, your life. Don’t waste precious time. Live every moment for yourself, loving yourself. And everyone who matters will love you in return.