January 27, 2011


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"


T-Dogg said...

The fact that you remember how terrible your mother felt and that you recognize that if nothing else, it came from a place of love and trying to do the right thing is really important. Our parents make mistakes sometimes, and I assume for many of us in the LGBT community moreso coming out of eras that aren't as normalized to non-heterosexual attraction.

Not all parents react or behave the way they should, but for those who were just trying to do what they thought was right, it's good for us to recognize it and, in more serious but well-intentioned situations, forgive it. Our folks still love us, and they didn't know better to try not to tweek us into conforming with others. They face peer pressure and society, too!

Thanks for helping me think fondly of my folks today.

keka said...

It's a really nice photo!

Kathryn Thomas said...

I think that "just being yourself" is always an excellent idea, as long as it's your genuine self and not what you think is expected of you. If you want to drag it up, then great - but if you don't, there's no reason to feel "hung-up" just because you're less flamboyant than the stereotype.

However it rolls, good luck!

Unknown said...

@ Kathryn Thomas - thanks, really like what you said, you're right; appreciatively Uli x

Anonymous said...

I can honestly say that I loved your story. It is so graphic and so honest. Truly wonderful.

Two years ago I visited London with my parents and sisters. We stayed in one of the enormous hotels near Gay's the Word. One day I accidentally found out that there was a gay bookshop there. I couldn't wait to visit. Eventually I sneaked out while the family was having a well deserved break and asleep. I was so impressed with the shop. I simply loved it.
I lived in London last summer and the first thing I did was visit the shop again. It took me the whole unemployed summer to read everything and I nearly got into money-trouble for spending to much that time, but it was worth it. I had been looking forward to returning there ever since leaving. One of you even knew what I was talking about after saying "It's about a girl who falls in love with a boy..." That was fantastic, haha.