Published on January 10th, 2013 | by Healthy Gay Lifestyles0
Dancing Queen (Chapter Two) INTERVENTION
by Skip Hodge
Having been immortalized on film (albeit 8 mm), something profound had happened to me that day. I had finally won the praise of my parents and in the process, separated myself from the pack. Unexpectedly, I recognized the uniqueness of my talent and no one, from that point forward could take it from me. I walked straighter, taller, and with more purpose than ever. (Toes pointed out, of course.) Although short-lived (as childhood associations are), I had also established a new relationship with my oldest sister. As first born she had always seemed favored and I in turn, revered her. Now she welcomed me on her pedestal of birthright as we continued to practice new dance steps and we teamed up on Saturdays in front of the television to watch Bandstand. I was in heaven! It felt like I’d died and gone to the “Shakey’s Pizza Parlor” in the sky. Complete with sing-along ragtime music, unlimited balloons with cardboard feet and an “all you can eat” buffet just to myself. All this to the envy of my fellow siblings. There is a certain smugness that comes with being shown favor from someone older and I soaked it up with gluttony.
In spite of the fact our grades had improved since switching from parochial to public school, five out of ten children (three older and two younger) had been made to repeat a year in their studies. Somehow I had eked out the grades to survive three years of school uniforms, daily catechism and borderline sadomasochistic nuns that my siblings nearest in age had not, and I was thankful. Especially as I recognized the embarrassment, shame and regret that seemed to accompany them in the years that followed. Nonetheless, these failings closed the gap on proximity of classes and (in my case) classrooms as I was joined by my brother a year older. At first, it was like having my very own twin. (Although fraternal since we couldn’t be more alike in looks or interests.) No doubt, our fellow classmates also assumed as much since neither of us offered explanation and we were seated alphabetically by last name. On several occasions I treated him thus (like the two just below us in age and gender) by showing up to class in identical clothing. Needless to say, this less than subtle attempt at flattery (veiled in ostentation) failed to endear. Go figure! Still, it was nice knowing that there was someone there who always had my back. I had enough to watch from the front.
Competition in a household as large as ours was commonplace as we each vied for attention, recognition and approval. Perhaps more so in my case since I saw myself as the underdog in all but intellect. After all, I was the only one who had survived catholic school unscathed. Intellect however, would not protect a ten year old from physical harm. As such, alliances were formed out of necessity and disolved just as quickly. Not only between siblings but also to curry favor with our parents. At home, many a nickel was won (and immediately spent) by being the “best behaved” on family outings. No one was better at saying “please” and “thank you” in a public setting or remaining motionless at a restaurant, hands folded on the table than myself. Let’s face it, manners and temperament are innate amongst gay men from an early age. No doubt I was also compensating for a lack of peer acceptance by appealing to an older crowd. Geriatrics would soon become my specialty. Hence, in my Nana’s eyes, I could do no wrong. A trip to the liquor store to purchase cigarettes for my mother or cigars for my father (note in hand) could easily tip the scales in partiality and fetch you as much as a quarter in our kith. Inflation was a wonderful thing in the eyes of a child. But a sack full of penny candy was priceless. At least while it lasted.
Family vacations were always a much anticipated and yet dreaded event each summer. Although they offered me some respite from the hectoring in school, I now had to contend with the determination of parents whose well meaning bordered on child abuse to my tender rationale. To me they seemed hell bent on finding new ways to add to my suffering. My “Charlie Brown” syndrome of “woe is me” was in full swing and my pity party of “one” was seated (appropriately) in my own little corner. While most outings were spent camping on one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, others took us as far as Glacier National Park, The Black Hills or (my personal favorite) Walt Disney World. No vacation was more remembered or cherished than it. In Fantasyland my private lament was easily silenced as I accompanied Mr. Toad on a wild ride, Peter Pan on his flight to Neverland or Alice to a giant tea party. All other vacations paled by comparison. But still, they almost always included a beach for swimming, trails for hiking and a well stocked lake for fishing. While the girls were chaperoned into a nearby town for a day of shopping (where no doubt they lunched on finger sandwiches and sipped tea followed by ice cream), the boys were expected on the lake for a day of baiting hooks, casting lines, silent vigils and farmers tans. Ugh! Never was my “vagina envy” so strong as the numerous days I tearfully waved goodbye to the self-satisfied faces of my sisters through the back window of our car as it whisked them away on journeys untold. No amount of pleading on my part would suffice. To this day, I wonder if my shopping addiction stems from those pointed refusals by my well intentioned parents. Eventually, I found compromise by soliciting my services as babysitter to the youngest of the household. It seemed the lesser of two evils at the time. But still, it was no tea party.
As babies transitioned to toddlers and toddlers in turn to pre-schoolers it became evident we were rapidly outgrowing our trusted Volkswagen bus. Without the need of car seats or the convenient lap of a willing passenger a new mode of transportation would soon be necessary to usher in the fast approaching 70’s. Fortuitously, my ever resourceful parents stumbled upon a used airport limousine in their quest for our next form of conveyance. It was a behemoth as cars go. Four doors on either side with a large back end for storage and more than ample seating for our aging dozen. Well over fifteen feet in length we christened it the “Long Car.” The originality of which escapes me to this day. Especially when considering more appropriate handles like Moby Dick, King Kong or Priscilla, to my liking. But then to me it was so much more than just a long car. It was an attention magnet. The “double-takes” we drew by default as a large family on outings became “triple-takes” followed by a drop of the lower jaw and an index finger pointed in our direction. Like some of the more tragic drag queens of today it seemed any attention was better than none at all in my young eyes as I delighted in the awe stricken faces from my window in the last row. I discretely morphed into the queen of the parade (complete with tiara and roses) as I blew kisses from my tear stained cheeks and waved at my adoring fans from atop the float. (My begrudging lesser’s on the rungs below, of course.) Elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist so as not to tire my frail arm too quickly on our circuit of the city. It wasn’t long before the local newspaper got wind of our transportation solution and approached my parents about a feature article complete with a photo of the family. It seemed that notoriety had once again sought “me” out and my lust for adulation grew.
It is said that time and tide wait for no one, and my time was fast approaching. The ebb and flow of life as I knew it had finally washed ashore as flotsam at my parents feet. By age eleven it was decided that something would have to be done about my unsettling evolution. The unseemly attention I was drawing to myself and by default, the family had begun to take it’s toll. Obviously our private conversations of acceptable “boy” versus “girl” behavior was having little to no affect on my demeanor or actions. And my not-so secret forays of playing “dress up” with the discarded clothing of my mother, sisters and other female relatives and friends had finally crossed some invisible line within the household. More so as my dirty little secret filtered into the public arena for conjecture. To them, I was a boy approaching manhood and as such, would be expected to start acting like one. My father in particular took a new interest in righting the previous wrongs. Blindly he believed he could counter ten years of turning the other cheek with some new found tough love. What would soon become a test of will’s was now at hand and I was easily outnumbered in years, rank and determination. But as the old proverb states, “You can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy.” Or in my case, “Girl.”
Before I knew it, all five elementary school age boys were signed up for YMCA wrestling. Sponsored by our local Jaycee’s, eight teams of pre-adolescent boys were divided up by weight and assigned a coach. Each team borrowed the name of a different carnivore like, the Lions, the Tigers or Bears. (Oh my!) As a former champ himself, my father willingly volunteered his services as mentor to our band of misfits leaving me no room for slack. No amount of sulking on my part would be tolerated as he whipped the “Lions” into a formidable unit. Each of my brothers occupied a different weight on what soon became known as the team to beat. No doubt the other teams saw me as the weakest link in their conquest for domination at our weekly matches. And for a while, they were right. After all, here was a sport where kicking, biting, scratching and the pulling of hair was not just frowned upon, it was forbidden. I was at a loss in the first few practices as I was forced to adapt to this new form of defense. But as much as I despised the evening practices, grueling workouts and physical contact of the sport (not to mention cutting my nails) the competitor in me soon prevailed. By the end of the first season, I was a force to be reckoned with. As the eight teams came together in one final showdown I muscled my way through every bracket only to lose in the end. My fourth place trophy was dwarfed on the mantel by my brothers first’s and second’s. It’s hard to say who was more disappointed, me or my father. But our frustrations (I now realize) came from two very separate places. While his was based on the fear of my disenchantment with athletics in general. Mine was founded on not living up to his expectations and his newfound interest in me as part of his kin. Had I failed him as a son? And if so, what would the consequences of my failure be? A sound beating? Familial ostracism? Adoption? It’s funny how the mind of a child works because as crazy as it sounds, all of these options seemed viable to my eleven year old brain. Needless to say, none of these things came to pass. He had nothing but praise to offer each of his sons for their efforts and vowed that there would always be next year.
What? Next year?
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.