NOTE: Today’s blog post contains very coarse language and situations. Reader discretion is advised.
Even though I don’t have to protect this clown’s identity if I don’t want to … for the balance of this story, you will know him as Art. Art was about three or four years older than me, and when I lived in Corinth for a few years in the 1970’s, going to school at South Corinth Elementary (School #4 of The Twelve) and later Corinth Elementary (School #5 of the Twelve), Art’s parents babysat me after school.
Art had several brothers and sisters, and it was a very large house with a very large family. The family was okay – I guess – I just wasn’t used to living in a rural area. Anyways, Art and his brothers and sisters all went to Corinth Elementary, same as me. We got on the same bus at the bus stop, and we got off at the same bus stop. This was normal in the early 1970’s.
There was plenty of open land behind Art’s family home, with herd trails and clear spaces and whatnot. Plenty of room for hiking.
And one day, Art and I went hiking. We went farther than we had ever traveled before. Some of the trails seemed confusing, and I kept looking for visual markers – a mossy tree branch, a large stone, something.
We walked for a while.
And then we stopped.
“I got something to show you,” Art said.
What happened next, I’m still not 100% sure.
But I do know that he unzipped his jeans. And he exposed himself in front of me.
“Suck it,” he said.
He pointed to his crotch. “This.”
“No way,” I said. I mean, what else could a nine-year-old boy say?
“Do it or I’ll tell everybody at school you’re a homo.”
I’m looking at him. I have absolutely no idea what the hell he’s talking about, but my heart is racing like crazy.
Without saying a word, I started walking back toward familiar ground.
As I walked, I heard Art zip up his jeans.
“If you tell anybody what happened,” he said, “I’ll tell them that you did it and that you’re a homo. And they’ll believe me.”
All I did was walk back to the house. I said nothing. I told no one, not a soul.
And the next day at school… in the middle of recess…
One of the kids walked over to where I was playing. He threw a clump of dirt at me. “Homo,” he said, and walked away.
Nothing happened in the forest … except that Art decided to make my life miserable and claim that something happened when it never did. And everybody at school bought it like packs of five-cent Wacky Packages. And I heard all the 4th grade level insults – homo, faggot, queer, all of those.
For the rest of my time at Corinth Elementary, I had to deal with nine-year-old kids – and their older brothers and sisters – teasing me, calling me homophobic names that kids know are wrong but have absolutely no idea what those words actually mean.
This was frightening. It damaged my psyche. Of course, when you’re nine years old and what seems like the entire school wants to hurt you, calling you words you’ve really never experienced in your lifetime … and that you don’t understand at nine years old what sex is and what it all distills into …
All I knew is that Art ruined my personal life. He affected my mental state as well. But in a way, it also gave me an opportunity I might never have previously understood. I understood what it meant to be ostracized simply because someone thinks you’re something you’re not. And that whatever you “are,” or are perceived to be, is distilled into what you NEED to be – not who others want you to be.
Between that and the abuse at home from my stepfather, I needed to relocate my life. So in the middle of the school year, I asked my Grandma Betty if I could live with her and go to school in Massachusetts. And for the second half of fourth grade, I attended Patrick F. Lyndon Elementary in West Roxbury, #6 of “The Twelve.” It wasn’t a great school, but it was a million miles away from the hatred.
And here’s the most infuriating thing about what happened. This absolute vulgarity that existed for anyone who was different from the norm. I don’t care how good your “gaydar” is, or whether you’re looking at song lyrics from the latest Taylor Swift song to confirm your “Taydar” about her orientation. What, if you confirm that someone is gay, do you win some prize? Do you shake your fist at the television and say, “I knew it, I knew it!” like you just claimed a Wheel of Fortune win?
A person’s s sexual orientation is none of your god damned business. They don’t need to provide it to you upon request like some sort of government identification card. Nobody has to answer to you about whether you’re gay or straight or bi or not interested or whatever. If someone wants to share that information with you, that’s their choice, not yours. Just because they’re gay doesn’t mean they want to have sex with you.
It’s the same reason why, later in life, I stopped seeing one person in my life because every time I brought up Derek Jeter’s name, she would immediately make a crack about, “Oh he’s gay. I know he goes down on men.” I neither have to like or dislike Derek Jeter as a player or as a person, but the presumption that him being gay – in your mind – makes him less of a human being – actually makes YOU less of a human being. Ugh.
But back to Art.
A while back, when I was photographing gravestones with my infrared camera film, I used the Saratoga Springs Department of Records to find out information about who was buried at what locations.
And just for a lark … I looked up Art’s name. I wanted to see what he was up to. Where he went. What became of him.
I found out that Art married … and divorced … and got arrested for non-payment of child support. He also bounced from apartment to apartment, and at the last summons on file, he was listed as homeless.
Wow. Maybe I should help him out some day. Buy him lunch. Help him get a roof over his head.
I forgive lots of things in my life.
This is NOT one of them.
You don’t get to use “gay” as an insult. EVER.