I do not remember a time when I did not know I was “different” - although there were of course many years when I did not know a name for it. What I did understand in the early days was that, whatever the mysterious difference in me turned out to be, many people seemed to find exceptional joy in it.
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Eventually, however, I got old enough to figure out more about the society I'd been born into. I learned how we are a population that too often uses laughter to deride individuals, especially those most vested with a character of exuberance. It was upon this realization that everything changed.
All aspects of my existence – my gait, my voice, my hobbies, even my extended kindnesses and personal intimacies – were now opened raw to the criticisms of mocking chuckle. I found myself persuaded by experience to redefine laughter as something quite opposite than the indication of one's joie de vivre I'd always taken it for granted to be.
For a short period thereafter I became significantly less blithe to laughter in general. This was around the end of 6th grade. My mother was a principal force in steering me away from the depression I experienced at that time. She was available always for conversation and a good honest crack-up, and though I did not “come out” to her until age 19, it was way back in 7th grade that she let me know it was okay and that my life was a beautiful thing:
It was in our bathroom. My hair was dripping Clairol highlighting cream from under the plastic cap I'd picked out earlier that afternoon at Walmart. I remember standing there, smelling my hair fry and realizing what I'd actually done. And that tomorrow, I'd have to attend middle school donning perhaps the gayest head of hair the 90's would ever see.
That is when my mother, ever-attentive, found my eyes in the mirror, and with a sincere, blissful abandon, she commenced to laugh so incredibly hard as to rectify any and all future self-doubts.
Different isn't frightening, she was telling me with that laugh, different is fun. Son, your life is going to be a blast.