I was the town sissy. I suppose there were possibly a couple of other candidates but if there were they were way overshadowed by me. Even though I instinctively clung to my mother’s skirts, which must have annoyed my poor father, the ultimate sportsman and gentleman newly returned from war, I never remember him expressing any sense of shame. I also do not recollect any overt bullying by other kids. Of course I wore a shield of sorts. I was also the kid who almost died of rheumatic fever missing months on and off of school while languishing in hospital. Perhaps that confused the other kids.
Surely the drawing (below), which I did when I was perhaps seven or eight, would have been a clear declaration of my difference. It labels me sissy of the first order. And gradually I understood what made me very peculiar. I knew by some primal sense that it was not good. It would not do the tribe any good. It was disgusting. Little did I know how transparent it was. But in the polite society of Rhodesia, there may have been whisperings, but I remember no direct (overt) derision.
I was eighteen and recently arrived in England to attend art school when the first direct mirthful notification hit me. A bunch of students were all housed in a couple of boarding houses overlooking the English Channel. We were walking down the hill to school, boys in front, girls behind. Suddenly buoyant Nike sung out, “Southey, you walk like a queer”. It must have hit me hard even though it was probably good hearted. Perhaps I flushed red, but I kept on walking and got on with life, knowing that concealment was not easy, perhaps impossible.
Spring ahead a few years. I had converted to the Mormon Church and was drawn to Zion. There I determined my life’s course. I went to counseling at Brigham Young University within a week of arriving. I was steered to a confession to one of the twelve apostles who notified me clearly and to my mind callously, that not only would I be expelled from the university but would be deported should I succumb to my hateful inclination. I embarked on a serious and studious road to repentance and transformation, led by the counselor. Two things stand out in the advice I was given, one: learn to walk and talk like a man and play baseball; and two: marry. The latter was part of my life’s dream anyway so I proceeded earnestly to date and then break the hearts of few fine women. I moved in my graduating year into an apartment with four other students. Months later I was startled to find one of these friends in a homosexual group therapy session. There was yet another surprise. By the end of the year it gradually became apparent all five of us were thus “cursed”. Guess birds of a feather… The other four adapted their lives to that world while I stubbornly went ahead searching for a wife. I found her during that same year and we were married the day after we both graduated. She was and is a remarkable woman. It remains my greatest regret in life that she suffered so much because of me.
Now decades later, having lived through something of a liberation with all its extremes, I find with my 70th birthday little over a year away, that a subtle degrading polluting and poisonous assault on my phsyche remains. Even many who profess to love me contribute, little knowing that the reluctantly proffered civil union damages me, awakening again the self loathing I have had to fight all my life. Assuming I had someone I wished to live out my last days with as a companion, I must restrain myself from offending “normal” folk. I must not sully the sanctity of the word and institution of marriage by requesting its romance, its sweet umbrella and mantle. There is a certain human hunger for such ritual and it is denied me. That denial tells me that I remain a corrupting thorn in the minds of a majority, unworthy to love in my “perverted” way, unqualified to raise children within those bonds. That I have raised four children, fine honorable people who love me in spite of my “perversion” means little.
I would that those who voted yes on propositions that discriminate understand that I understand their primal revulsion. That same instinct has been the seed of the wrack, the burning at the stake, lynching, and at its worst the Holocaust, usually justified by selected scripture and tradition. But we humans have at times risen above such bigotry. Witness the presidential election in the United States. And we should have the intellect and comprehension to rise to the full acceptance of a peculiar group within our societies, and embrace them completely. Words do matter. They can be murderous. There will no doubt be numerous suicides because of this one word of denial. Just ten years ago a young man in Wyoming was beaten and left to die on a fence in bitter cold because of the insidious words of hate. Words can also be healing. This one word for those like me is huge in its capacity to heal.
And so my experience has evolved from anxiety as a child, to fear in early adulthood, to defiance and denial of my reality once Mormon, then to grief at the loss of family and dreams, This was coupled with exhilaration in personal acceptance, then years of bemused contentedness but now to rage and anger. No more the wimp, I am a man determined to claim right to full citizenship as a human, different but totally legitimate, honest and vital in the lives of those I love.
And after all, fairies are people too!