Uli, age 4
London, UK (1983)
I think my Grandmother took this photo, as it’s her high-heels I'm wearing - although I have no real memory of it being taken, or who the girl in the cart is. It's interesting that I’m outside in a public park, parading around in heels so unselfconsciously. I do have memories of scampering around in the bottom of her wardrobe closet. I would find some high-heels and totter around her bedroom, and she'd let me do it. And I remember it was the best fun ever.
My mother showed me this photo when I was 8, and I recall feeling ashamed of it, and thinking how terrible it would be if anyone from school saw it. I wanted the picture buried and kept secret, even if I didn’t understand exactly what it all meant then. So it feels really good to share it here now.
I also played with Barbie dolls at this time, and I loved them. My Mum would take me to a big department store and allow me to pick one that I liked for a special treat. I think it's great that she did that. That kind of story is echoed in a really sweet children's book called "William's Doll" by Charlotte Zolotow.
Playing with these dolls was wonderful, and my first crush was a Ken doll, with his intriguing anatomical protrusion. But it was also a source of unease for me, because I felt on some level, that playing with dolls was wrong.
Also in the pic, check out the length of my hair. I had bright, almost white blond hair as a boy, and with aging hippie parents, they generally kept it long.
I remember women would comment to my Mother that I looked like a girl.
Eventually mum grew concerned with what other people were saying, and took me to the hairdresser to get all my golden locks cut off. Afterward, I remember sitting in front of the mirror at home and crying my heart out - and how she felt terrible. Then, in an effort to butch me up, she made me go to Karate lessons once a week, which I mostly hated. Except that it gave me the chance to hang out with all the class girls during breaks. Where there's a will, there's a way...
In hindsight, I think mum was just trying to prepare me for the real world, to ensure that I had the physical strength to bolster my emotional sensitivity.
And I know that impulse came from her love.
I now work as assistant manager at Gay's The Word – the UK's independent and comprehensive LGBT bookshop. Despite my job, I still think I’m somewhat of a hung-up homo. I've never dragged-up for example, and tend to act in a pretty masculine fashion. And honestly, I can be quite self-conscious about this.
So finding this photo again as a 31 year old has been really good for me.
I'm really proud of that little boy that I used to be, walking around the park in high-heels. And I think I’m going to take a page out of his book from now on, relax, and just be myself.
Click here - "Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay" book
Click here - "My First Gay Crush Blog"