Published on July 25th, 2013 | by Healthy Gay Lifestyles0
Dancing Queen (Chapter 4) Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!
by Skip Hodge
In the quiet dawn of a new day a familiar baritone calls my name. From the periphery of my dream I mistake it for accolades. A few minutes later a second greeting follows, this one with more volume, frustration and a hint of anger. “Get up! It’s time for school!” My older brother already dressed heads downstairs for breakfast closing the bedroom door behind him. Outside, another brisk fall morning greets me from the second story window of our shared room. Once again it has come much too soon for my liking. Rousing myself from a night of restful slumber I stifle a yawn and stretch, rubbing the sleep from tired eyes with two fists. Still only half awake, I remember, I just had the most wonderful dream. In it I was a featured dancer on “The Carol Burnett Show.” Combining showmanship, looks, grace and humor I was one of a dozen elite performers who made up the “Ernie Flatt” troupe. In my nocturnal fantasy the entire world bares silent witness to my rise from obscurity. They all w atch with wonder on TV sets purchased with credit at Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward as the camera slowly pans in on my smiling cherubic face. In the hush of daybreak I close my eyelids once more to savor the pride emanating from my family’s awe-stricken faces. Unrestrained envy flows with resounding effusion from the rest. The bullies, naysayers and doubters of my not so distant past have been silenced, once and for all. Opening my eyes I smile in response. As I roll over in my bunk a reflexive moan escapes me unbidden as my reverie is interrupted. In an instant, the detail of my illusion fades from Technicolor to black and white as truth stares back at me from the top of my bedroom dresser. Squinting, I can just make out the tiny wrestler crouching atop his shiny blue tower. Instinctively, I throw the blanket back over my head as I attempt to hide fact from fiction. But it’s already too late, the night’s imagery has turned to static.
In a perfect world, my “big finish” at the invitational paired with a clear articulation of my disenchantment with sports would have been enough. However, having just awoken from my own utopia minutes earlier I immediately recognize that subjective whimsy has absolutely no bearing on reality. How was I to know that my brief sigh of relief would soon be replaced by yet another exasperated groan of defeat? In spite of the fact I’d finally been reprieved from upholding the family name in wrestling, my father’s reluctance to throw in the towel after a single failed attempt at athletics was only gaining momentum. Although secretly I welcomed the singular attention his new interest in me brought, deep down I knew there would be no winners in this battle of odds. Only losers. His failure, disappointment and feelings of inadequacy as a parent would mirror mine as his offspring. As usual, it seemed my penis was getting in the way of my future happiness and I secretly begrudged its very presence. It was easily the bane to all of my failed endeavors. Past, present and now it seemed, future.
Stoking the fire of my resentment was some newly acquired knowledge at school. In a recent seventh grade biology class I had learned that the sex of a child was determined by one chromosome in-utero. A single chromosome! Out of twenty-three pairs totaling forty-six, the last set determined whether a child would be born male or female. “XX” meant the child would be born female, while “XY” meant the child would be male. Understanding this, I couldn’t help but ask myself, (God, and anyone else who might care to listen), “Why me?” And, “Why the Y?” Was it possible there had been a mix-up in the womb? The countless theories that played out in my adolescent brain dogged me on a daily basis. Could it be my “X” had been thrown out with the placenta? Maybe it was still floating around in my mother’s womb? Perhaps I was a new breed of male/female with an “XX-Y” pairing or something totally different like, “XZ?” After all, I didn’t see other boys my age struggling with the same identity issues I seemed to suffer from.
Whatever the case, my obvious indignation easily recognized by my sighs of exasperation, continuous eye rolls, crossed arms and constant pout went ignored by an unyielding father. He seemed “hell-bent” on matching my buried athleticism to a sport. Thankfully, any physical activity with the word “ball” in it was tried and quickly ruled out. Pitching, catching, batting and dribbling were all talents that eluded my wheelhouse of understanding until the slang for each “HOMO-nym” was rediscovered after coming out years later. My limited dexterity in nearly all other forms of contact recreation would soon be demonstrated as well. No doubt, I was proving to be quite the conundrum as even I began to question my own paternity. In hindsight, I felt like Danny, the character from “Grease” trying to win back Sandy’s affection by lettering in a sport. However, even at the tender age of twelve, I recognized I had a lot more in common with Sandy than I did with Danny. Eventually, we find co mpromise in the form of another intramural sport offered at our local YMCA, gymnastics. Why we didn’t think of this earlier, I’ll never know. Finally, here was a non-contact sport that fit my abilities and desires to a “T.” To me it seemed just another extension of my current training in acrobatics. I still got to tumble, flip and turn to my heart’s delight. Although I sometimes missed the graceful posture, pointed toes and extended pinkies, I resigned myself to the fact that even “I” couldn’t have it all.
If I had thought elementary school was difficult, Junior High was rapidly turning out to be ten times more arduous. The initial excitement of all things new and different was squelched in my first few weeks of attendance. My diminutive stature coupled with my conspicuous virtue was a beacon to the newest bullies. In what I hoped was simply a rite of passage, all seventh graders were equally cowed into submission by the tyranny of upperclassmen. What little comfort I might have gained in knowing others shared my fate was lost in a fresh, raw sense of abandonment. Unlike the past few years, I was officially on my own in an unfamiliar world of cliques, classes, clones and clichés. My surrogate twin and reluctant protector, aka my older brother, was busy making his own way in this new land of giants. Unlike me, I believe he welcomed this separation and the chance it offered to distance himself from my shadow of culpability. The idiom, “sink or swim” became my motto as I cautious ly learned to tread the turbulent waters of middle school. The life preserver I had all but taken for granted, my trusted sibling, was no longer there. Perhaps ignorance truly was bliss as I drifted in the current oblivious to the rapids that lay ahead.
Joining our two older sisters early that September, we were once again four siblings occupying three different grade levels in a new school. Little did the unsuspecting teachers and staff know that it was only the beginning of a continuous invasion by the, “Hodge-Podge.” Six younger siblings were scheduled to succeed us in name, academics and extracurricular activities. Although barely only halfway through my mandatory twelve years of education, the trail I had blazed thus far wouldn’t be hard to succeed. Or so, I thought. Naively, I had somehow convinced myself that I was flying under the radar of peer appraisal. Yet there I stood, in all of my ostentatious pomp and glory. I was bedecked in the latest fashions from head to toe. While other boys my age wore blue jeans, T-shirts and sneakers, I owned none. Big collared shirts in bold prints paired with hip-hugger bell-bottoms and platform shoes were my school uniform. In my continuous search for cutting edge fashion I even man aged to find a pair of men’s clogs in my size. If these didn’t make me stand out, then I don’t know what did. They also seemed to be a favorite of my oppressors. As I clip-clopped on wooden soles through the corridors of Junior High it wasn’t uncommon to misstep out of one or the other in my rush to make it to class on time. Before I had a chance to retrieve the missing slide it would be kicked from my grasp forcing me to chase it back down the crowded hall I’d just come from. My embarrassment was punctuated by the ensuing laughter of my contemporaries. Complaining to my parents, teachers, principal or guidance counselor did absolutely no good. Bullying, to them was a rite of passage. If I wanted it to stop, then it was up to me to see it through by making myself less of a target. In my father’s eyes, standing up to them physically was my only recourse. Fighting however, was never an option I even considered. Somehow I always managed to persevere despite the continued hector ing. My tears were saved for the quiet solitude of my room late at night. If my brother ever heard my muffled sobs he never brought it up. Perhaps he, like the rest of a society that adhered to a strict code of acceptable heterosexual behavior believed I was only getting my just deserts.
My hair was another source of great pride in my ritualistic daily primping. Since cleanliness was next to godliness in my thoughts and deeds, every night I would lather, rinse and repeat with unwavering regularity. By morning I would carefully style and spray each strand into place with my mother’s Aqua Net. Although I longed for a “high-ponytail”, I reluctantly settled for rotating my part from one side to the other, often opting for one straight down the center. My signature style eventually became a far right part that left the bulk of my hair falling with a flip over my left eye. In my daily routine of self-discovery through experimentation I had somehow managed to look like the illegitimate child of Bob’s Big Boy and “the late”, Veronica Lake. Perhaps this is also why I felt so engaged watching “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” every year at Christmas. I was easily “Hermie”, the misfit elf incarnate. Although a career in dentistry was the farthest thing from my twelve-yea r-old brain, I could relate to his plight on so many levels. I could even recite his “Misfit” lyrics by rote.
My relatively clear skin still glowed from a lazy summer of lounging at the local swimming pool. Some days I would skip the pool and opt to take a towel out on the sloped roof of our Midwest home. My logic was to be closer to the sun and farther away from the prying eyes and ears of my tattletale siblings. Climbing a ladder I positioned out of view, I would sun for hours on end singing along to my transistor radio, “Alone Again, Naturally.” While I slathered myself in baby oil and combed lemon juice through my tresses I could stare out at the Missouri river in the distance. I’d watch its slow meander southward envying the eventual freedom it would find from the confines of its banks at the Gulf of Mexico.
Back in school, my new love of dance followed me in both posture and movement throughout the crowded halls. While in repose, I could generally be found in one of ballet’s first five positions, toes pointed out, school books tightly clutched to my chest. Initially, this seemed to make it harder for determined upperclassmen to knock them from my scrawny arms. Yet still, while some fell short in their dogged attempts, others would succeed. I soon learned that the shortest route between classes was not always the safest. Through trial and error I systematically created my own detour, often out of my way to avoid conflict whenever possible. Climbing three flights of stairs only to descend at the end of the next corridor was not uncommon. Sometimes the five minutes allotted between classes left me breathless and harried but I somehow always managed to make it on time. It seemed my rigorous hours of training at the ballet-bar was paying off.
As an astute observer I couldn’t help but notice the new contrast among students. In my circuitous route of campus it didn’t take long to distinguish the unambiguous line that separated the “haves” from the “have-nots.” At the tail end of the spectrum I easily recognized the outcasts. These unlucky individuals included the nerds, the overweight, the unattractive and the slow-witted. The lowest were the ones who somehow managed to combine two or more of these attributes. I always had a soft spot in my heart for the plight of these often-targeted anomalies. Although I’d like to believe my compassion was innate, further reflection led me to consider otherwise. I suspect my yet unacknowledged personal “flaw” was at its root. Having that said, I suppose I should add “gender confused” to this lonely group of individuals. However, puberty has a way of separating the boys from the men and the girls from the women. Having just begun my transition into “manhood” I still prayed for a mi racle. Somewhere near the center of social interaction sat the bane of all outcasts; the hoodlums, druggies, greasers and sluts. These tortured souls were the arsenic and anthrax of Junior High School. Their poison was lethal in large doses and I quickly learned to avoid them wherever and whenever possible. (A challenge, to say the least.) At the top of the social ladder sat the Athletes, Student Council Representatives and the Cheerleaders. These exclusive groups ruled the school from “on high” and generally dated within their own ranks. Although it appeared one could still break into this powerful class by other means (such as looks, figure, humor or congeniality), there was no guarantee of an affirmative reception. Acquiescence was done by consensus. As a wide-eyed seventh grader I had yet to carve a niche for myself in this land of rank, renown and reputation. Nonetheless, it was a “no-brainer” where I wanted to end up. The question was not as much “where” but “how?” Esp ecially since lettering in a sport or joining the Pep Club seemed highly unviable options.
Having already crossed the customary threshold of puberty years earlier, our two teenage sisters easily outweighed my brother and I in both size and might. While they relished this advantage, we two quickly learned, (whenever possible), to steer clear of it. Their earlier maturation left us vulnerable to their ire when provoked. Maneuverability and dexterity were absolutely no match for height, weight, strength and claws when ensnared. In order to avoid this constant in-house fighting an uneasy alliance was formed out of necessity by our observant parents. They recognized the need for some added stability in a house teetering on the brink of chaos by this new shift in hormones. Complete with special privileges that included a larger allowance, a later curfew and a bigger drinking cup at the dinner table, (or a whole bottle of “pop” instead of just a glass), we were aptly dubbed, “the four older ones.” Again, not the most original of names, but who was I to complain? As the yo ungest of the quartet, I never took for granted the precarious entitlement I had been shown. You wouldn’t catch me abusing this new benefit at any cost. After all, we were easily the envy of the household.
Much to my disappointment, the days of shared pageantry and communal clutches were long forgotten by my oldest sister, Becky. Like a pesky colt that hovered in the periphery of it’s yearling sibling I was soundly demoted to “nuisance” and chased away whenever I ambled too close. Perhaps In her eyes I was simply a foolish foal in the company of a fledgling filly. Reluctantly, I kept my distance as I was forced to languish in the wake of her canter. Her new focus was on fashion, makeup, popularity and the upkeep of her long chestnut mane. At the root of it all was finding a “steed” worthy of her attention. Dejected and disheartened I understood. My buried comprehension was slowly giving way to a subtle truth. In secrecy and shame, I shared her yen. I too longed for a steed. (Although a stallion would have been more to my liking.) Yes, I was finally beginning to realize that I was in fact, the “horse of a different color” that my peers were so quick to point out but I had so far managed to deny. Even to myself.
As discreetly as possible, I kept a sharp eye on my oldest sister’s movements within and without our home. Unlike our already full-figured second sister she was “Twiggy” thin, with the chest to match. Her long, straight, waist-length hair was separated by a part down the middle that cascaded down her narrow frame. Like myself, she gravitated to all of the latest styles. Her closet and dresser drawers were stocked with the minis, midis, maxis, and hot-pants of the era. She rotated each look daily with a pair of clunky heels or flats and hose in a matching hue. Rarely, if ever did I see her in blue jeans. Her makeup tended toward the more natural as was de rigueur of the times. If she ever wore foundation or blush, I never saw it. (Unless perhaps, it was to conceal a “teenage inflammation” of the skin that I had yet to be mortified by.) A simple pastel blue or light green shadow covered each lid with only a touch of mascara to emphasize her narrow, wide-set eyes. Sticking with the trends, her lips were subtly painted in soft pink, peach or my personal favorite, pearl. Her total look combined two of my favorite muses of the era, Ali McGraw from “Love Story” and Peggy Lipton in “The Mod Squad.” Tres chic! On some level, I would have undoubtedly loved to trade places with her, even if only for a day. She was after all, everything I longed to be but never could. Had this been an episode of “The Brady Bunch”, my buried desire would have me screaming, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” But unlike Jan Brady, I loved my sister unconditionally and irrevocably. I wanted nothing more than to find some way back into her social graces and the long remembered cocoon of acceptance that we’d once shared.
At school the path of my big sister and I rarely crossed. Having fewer electives, seventh graders rarely mixed with upperclassmen. Study Hall, lunch and the brief period between classes were the only exceptions to this rule. One early fall afternoon, I made my way toward the cafeteria for lunch. Already hungry, I was grateful to have been granted the first rotation of six. As I approached the entrance my stomach growled in response to the agreeable aroma of fried food. Excitedly, I queued up to purchase the daily special, lasagna with garlic bread. After making my way to the front, I began the process of loading my tray with the four basic food groups that befitted my age. Sugar, saturated fats, carbohydrates, and more sugar. (Then I threw in an ice cream sandwich for dessert.) Three dollars and sixty-two cents later I made my way to an unoccupied table in the center of the room. As one of the first to arrive I had my choice of seating. I purposefully picked a chair that face d the onslaught of students who continued appearing in droves. Content with the view I settled down to enjoy both my meal and the parade of diversity. As an avid spectator it didn’t take me long to infer where the popular kids sat in relation to the rest of us. Somehow they had brokered exclusive rights to a bank of tables nearest the windows. It was choice seating for a select group overlooking the courtyard. Like something out of a science fiction novel it seemed an imaginary “force-field” surrounded the perimeter preventing the lessers from even approach. At the same time, it appeared to recognize the “carte-blanche” bestowed upon the ruling class as they passed through its barriers unhindered.
Scanning the approaching crowd a familiar figure tugged for identification from the distant queue. With a discriminate eye I eventually managed to distinguish the face of my freshman sister. Drawing ever closer, I noticed she was not alone, she was surrounded by a posse of attractive coeds. My curiosity piqued when I realized that she was not just one of them, she appeared to be leading them. Like a mother hen with her clutch of chicks, they seemed to follow in her wake. Content in their bubble of disregard they made their way through the line reconnecting just past the registers. Once there, they reassembled in solid formation before being led away in single file by my sister, their apparent leader. Opening a carton of milk I tilted my head back to wash down a mouth full of lasagna. In doing so, I hoped to disguise my yet undiscovered interest while still following their confident momentum. Unceremoniously, I immediately choked, spewing milk and lasagna from my mouth and nos trils. They were headed straight for the invisible barrier that separated Middle School royalty from serfdom! Reflexively, I did a double-take, then a triple-take followed by a “clutch the pearls” hand gesture. There she was, my treasured sibling, taking a seat dead-center amongst a celebrated group of upperclassmen.
Needless to say, my “subtle” response had succeeded in attracting the unwanted attention of surrounding tables. To what extent, I chose not to speculate on as I focused on the more immediate task of cleanup. Yet the magnetic pull of what I’d just witnessed tugged for a better testimonial. Somehow, I still couldn’t wrap my wits around what I’d seen. My big sister…… Popular? The more I thought about it, the more it made perfect sense. If I could recognize her redeeming qualities as her sibling, why shouldn’t others? Peering slowly up from the clumsy spectacle I’d created I risked another glimpse for confirmation. It was a calculated mistake. My literal “outburst” had drawn the scrutiny of one of her lunchmates. With an index finger pointed directly at me I recognized a familiar face at the end of a slender arm. It was a close friend who had been to our house on many occasions. (Damn, too late to climb under the table!) As if in slow motion, I watched helplessly as they all turned in unison. Mortified beyond words, I could only watch in quiet surrender, still covered in milk and lasagna. It didn’t take a genius to understand the question then put to my sister from their pretty mouths, “Isn’t that your little brother over there?” (Who just spewed food everywhere?) With only a brief glance in my direction she nodded her head in agreement. Sheepishly, I yielded with a timid wave as the blood rushed to my extremities. Bracing myself for the inevitable laughter I started to look away. Yet no laughter came. To my surprise, her friends were motioning me to take the one empty chair still available at their table! In a split second of hesitation, I took a moment to consider my options. Should I graciously bow out and finish my meal in quiet obscurity and anonymity? Or, do I gather the courage and audacity to join them in unspoken adoration. Needless to say, I chose the latter.
Summoning what little fortitude remained I collected my nerves, books and half eaten tray of food before standing. After a final swipe of my mouth with a napkin and my heart threatening to pound straight through my chest, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Exhaling, I concentrated on the simple task of putting one foot in front of the other. Perhaps I only imagined the accompanying hush that had fallen over the cafeteria as I approached the bank of tables along the far wall but I sensed it nonetheless. Nearing the invisible barrier that separated me from my awaiting destiny I squeezed my eyes shut one final time expecting something akin to an electric shock denying my access, but none followed. I had penetrated the barrier unhindered! With a grin from ear to ear I took the proffered seat and breathed a deep sigh of relief. Across the table my sister’s narrowed eyes and pursed lips signaled some hidden violation but for once, I didn’t care. If this was to be my only day living the life of “Marcia Brady” I was going to savor it. Perhaps I had overlooked another avenue to achieving my goal of popularity. DNA!
Although I was never bold enough to join my sister and her friends again for lunch after that momentous day, something inside me had definitely shifted toward the more positive. Perhaps it was something as simple as my attitude, for soon afterwards, I was nominated to represent my homeroom class on the Student Council. Score “one” for Jan Brady!
Next stop, Cheerleader tryouts!
Steven Hodge (aka Skip) is a retired Flight Attendant who overcame his early struggles with addiction over twenty eight years ago. Although he emphasizes his journey is far from complete, he has experienced the world in a way that most of us only dream of. He has returned to his roots in the Midwest to pursue a career in writing and be close to family. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska.