When I was 12, we got a new camera. We went into the backyard and my mom started taking pictures. It was one of those Polaroid Instamatics, so, unlike in the past we didn’t have to wait a week for the pictures to be developed.
My mom pointed the camera at my sister and she (my sister) just stood there. She clicked the button and 60 seconds later there was a picture of my sister – standing there stiff as a board.
While my mom was taking the pictures of my sister, I was practicing various poses in my head. When it was my turn I did a Betty Grable akimbo pose. Mom was not happy. She dropped the camera and let it dangle from the cord around her neck.
“Bob, please don’t do that”.
“Why not”, I asked.
“People will think you’re weird, or that there is something wrong with you.”
I want to cry, but didn’t. I felt bad. Like she was ashamed of me.
I had just started going through puberty, so there were all kinds of changes going on. The voice change and all that other mess. I also realized that my parents were becoming more concerned with my behavior. Maybe they always had been, but it was just now that I was noticing it.
My dad didn’t really hang out or do stuff with me. If he had any concerns he always voiced them to my mother, and everything was relayed to me through her. He was more in tune with my sister, so he did stuff and used endearments with her. I was just always getting in the way somehow.
After a while, I began to modify my behavior. I would go against what was natural for me. I would always think about what my parents would say or think about my behavior. Anytime we went clothes shopping everything I wanted was a NO. It had too many stripes, or plaids, or was too colorful. I wanted clothes that would make me stand out. They wanted me to have clothes that would make me fit in.
For a while, it was just my parents who were voicing concerns. It soon started happening with friends and relatives. I stopped talking about things that interested me.
“That’s stuff that girls do”.
“Only sissies like that.”
I wanted to play the clarinet, but picked the drums instead. I wanted to learn to twirl the baton, but joined Little League instead; even though I was awful at baseball. Everything I did was to fit in. I did however, practice with my sister’s baton – in the basement – when no one was at home.
About the time I turned 15 I decided, “This is fucking ridiculous”! I started doing things that I wanted to do. But, I still had that feeling of being wrong and different.
I began to realize why people were so concerned. Oh my gosh, they think I’m a faggot…and they’re right. Of course, we don’t really use that terminology nowadays, but back then it was everywhere.
So, again, I altered my behavior. I had pretend girlfriends. I started doing other stuff with kids and pretending I liked it. I did everything I could to fit in. But, I still felt like I was on the outside.
High School was a complete disaster. I hated it. Every day I would go and try to act like I thought I was supposed to. It was confusing and enervating. The only thing that really saved me was music. I was in the band, so I concentrated on that.
When I got to college, it was completely different. Somehow, I was popular. People liked me and wanted to hang around me. I was Vice President of my fraternity pledge class, and I was always doing something social. The whole time I was just being myself. Nobody seemed to care. Sure, there were a few times when people would say something, but I would just shrug it off.
When you get to be a certain age, and you’re away on your own, you start to become your true self and not care what people think. Or at least not as much as you did when you were younger. But, it has always stayed with me. There are still times that I alter my behavior to fit in. I still wonder, in certain situations, if I’m acting the right way. I guess everybody feels that way.