Jan 25, 2017

My First Word Was My Boyfriend's Name

Garrett, Indiana, July 1978

When I was born in November 1960, my parents were living in a house on South Randolph Street in Garrett, a small town in northern Indiana.  We lived there until I was four and a half-years old, when we moved to Wisconsin.

I have very few memories of those years, and none about anyone who lived in the house next door.

But we returned to Garrett for visits once or twice a year, and drove down Randolph Street, past our old house, many times.  My parents often pointed it out, and the house next door:

"That's where your girlfriend lived!"

I didn't have a girlfriend, at age six, or ten, or fifteen, and I didn't want one.  I liked boys.

But nearly every time we drove past that house on South Randolph Street:  "That's where your girlfriend lived!"

It was the most annoying of the "what girl do you like?" interrogations that tormented me as a kid.  I roiled at the blanket assumption that I, like every boy who had ever lived and ever would live, swooned over feminine curves and smiles, that my destiny lay in the prison of wife, kids, factory job, and small square house.

Like the two-story frame house with the ugly gray paint and the broken front door where, according to my parents, I had a girlfriend at the age of four.

We drove down Randolph Street on the way to visit my grandparents -- both of them.  On our way to Auburn or Rome City to visit my aunts and uncles.  On the way home.  On the rare occasions that we did something in downtown Garrett.  Ten times per visit.  And at least once:

"There's your girlfriend's house!"

Sometimes Mom added a few details: The girl's name was Rebecca.  She was three months younger than me, brown hair, blue eyes.  We played in our bassinets together.  My first word, other than "Mommy" and "Daddy," was "Becky."

My first word was a girl's name.  I found that horribly depressing.

In July 1978, I was 17 years old, a new high school graduate.  I had just figured "it" out, but no one knew except my brother.

We usually left Rock Island as soon as Dad got off work, at 4:00 pm, and drove six hours to Rome City to spend the night with Aunt Nora.  The next day all of Mom's brothers and sisters gathered at Grandpa Prater's farmhouse outside Garrett and spent the day playing horseshoes or board games, watching tv, and talking, with a picnic or barbecue in the summer.  But today Grandpa Prater wasn't feeling well, so we just stopped in for a brief visit; the family gathering would take place at Uncle Paul's house in town.

"There's your girlfriend's house!" Mom exclaimed as we drove down Randolph Street.

I started to worry.  Was it possible that at the beginning of my life, I liked girls?  Did something happen to turn me gay?  And if you could turn gay, could you turn straight again?

Going out with a girl, sitting with her on a couch, touching her on the face and shoulder, squeezing her breast, kissing her, seeing her naked...gross!  No muscles, no penis, nothing masculine, nothing attractive!  Was that my fate?

Garrett is a small town.  Uncle Paul's house was only five blocks from my girlfriend's house.  In the afternoon, while everyone was getting ready for the barbecue, I put on my t-shirt and shorts, said I was going for a jog, and ran over to meet this girlfriend I had at age four.

The full story is on Tales of West Hollywood.



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