Charles, age 6
Denison, Texas (1984)
As Christmases went, 1984 was a harvest of presents – and my Cabbage Patch doll was the featured crop. I adored her thick, coarse mane of brunette yarn hair and attached birth certificate - which proudly informed me of her given name, Christine. Although I look less than thrilled in the photo, I was in fact elated by both the doll and my brand new "Alvin & The Chipmunks" slippers.
|"A Cabbage Patch Christmas"|
But his joy was obvious this Christmas day. After all, he received not one, but two dolls.
I, however, knew that boys were not to own dolls. Which is why I was displeased when my parents caught this Kodak moment.
At least they hadn't opted for a photo when I actually opened the box. Why?
Because I'd shrieked with glee.
When I look at this photograph now at the age of 32, I'm amazed at how loving and encouraging my parents were. Not all Texan parents indulged a son's fondness for dolls. And certainly not all parents actually bought their boys such dolls. To my great joy, I learned to read via my mother's purchase of Rainbow Brite Storybooks. Any good grades I earned in elementary school were rewarded via my father's purchase of bedazzled My Little Pony toys, at my request.
Whenever Cameron and I broke into Mom's closet to play dress up – and then insisted upon a fashion show whenever neighbors visited – Mom and Dad never blinked an eye. They never forced me to be someone or something I was not. During my childhood, I enjoyed Hot Wheels and hot pink. I stayed true to myself, and that was the best response to an intolerant and unsympathetic world.
At the age of 4, I realized I was gay when I developed a crush on Scotty, my best friend. My feelings were certainly not sexualized at the time, but my crush was undeniable and intense. Whenever I asked to kiss Scotty and lay next to him – like the characters in my mother's favorite soap operas – he immediately told his own mother. That in turn caused a great rift between our two families. Sadly, that was the first in many lessons of the cruelty of my peers and of society; even parental affirmation could not shield me from viciousness.
I first came out at 16 by telling a close friend and fellow marching band member. This was a radical act in 1994 and Governor George W. Bush-era Texas. That brave admission was an initial step towards honesty and self respect. And I never stopped being myself.
Indeed, that is my advice to all young gay people: Be yourself.
Whether you adore the color mauve or hope to win the World Series, take pride in yourself. You are amazing, and you will offer so much to the world. Never let anyone else convince you otherwise.
Charles' first, famous-person same sex crush:
John Schneider ("Dukes Of Hazzard")___________________________________________________