Didn't we all grow up in some small town version of America? It is hard to separate the life I lived from the one I imagined watching 70s entertainment. It was a medium-sized Georgia town but what difference does that make when we could all watch Roots and run back to 6th grade the next day to discuss it? Television and movies made any town you lived in seem opportune for all the stories you had just fantasized about: Danny or Sandy in Grease, Jeannie in a bottle, a member of the family in a New York block house like the one in Good Times, or even one of Charlie’s Angels, expertly solving crimes and finding hair care solutions simultaneously. Television had progressed. It was all in a blender now. HBO had premiered, expanding our adolescences further with some soft-core porn like the movie Lipstick, or better yet Midnight Express (which was responsible for the swift removal of our HBO by my mother, who went bat shit crazy spying one of the nude scenes). We were watching as politely as she must have witnessed Father Knows Best or Lucy, fresh from our baths and lying quietly on our stomachs with crossed ankles in the air. It was Americana just the same.
I always read that this much “culture” was supposed to warp your mind but it never stopped a soul. We all need something to dream on and I think my life was richer for it. I had plenty of time in college to develop taste. Back then I was just lapping it all up like all children do - it gave you something to discuss on the playground. As high school approached (8th grade to be exact) all of this changed for me. Puberty took me over mind and soul. I loved all of the same things but I could not for the life of me process them outward anymore. Boys and girls got serious. It turned into the only game in town. I had my requisition tortoise shell Goody comb shoved into the back of my brother’s “borrowed” cords (he had them in every color) but I just could not participate. The mating game was brutal. I had no interest in girls, feared the boys, and no outlet. Even as I got my very straight hair to feather I gained a bad reputation as a snob. Some gay boys protect themselves with a severe inhibition that looks like aloofness and I was one of them. There were proms but none for me really. I was not a joiner.
I understand that this is the standard cliché for every small town boy and girl: isolation, suffering, growth, and flowering later. For the gay outsiders this is undoubtedly more intense. All of your sex urges being brutally repressed, all of your real thoughts and desires kept secret, push you into an incubation that slams you into a new reality upon entering college. It may take a while but the truth comes out in hair and clothes. Maybe even more: your whole attitude explodes. We become the bohemia of whatever small environ we inhabit. In the 80s it was so easy to stick out. Shoes narrowed to a point, hair got higher, and I developed a very strict image of how I wanted to be seen by the world. It was idiosyncratic, it made no sense, and I loved it dearly. I wasn’t sleeping around but my white poplin balloon shirts were pressed and buttoned (to the top) to perfection. I wore plaids, stripes, all black. I thumbed my nose at anything macho. I even went to art school. And this delayed fashion assault became my prom. If I could not quite be who I wanted I could look like something close. Years went by, and I don’t regret a single one.
Somewhere along the way you of course attract your kind. You slowly, shyly become card-carrying social beings, sexual entities, but the attitude only becomes richer. Your fellow refugees fuel the fire. You get more detailed. You find New Wave music and even more costumes. You find the club. You perfect your stance. You have this wonderful quality made richer by the 5 years you were denied all contact, any understanding from yourself or others. It is early glamour. During this phase no one challenges you. You are not imperious but elevated. For 10 years I thought my “look” was me. When I decided to wear black penny loafers and white socks exclusively I thought about it for weeks. All of my friends took their personas just as seriously…we could discuss records and effluvia ad nauseam.
Ah but this is only what happens on the outside. I don’t remember perfecting my pose exclusively; I also remember developing my first gay friends, my first serious romp, then dates, then boyfriends. I started living in the world. I imagine that clothes in high school come second to the mating ritual – I mean, your social standing was already decided by your parents income. Those years of my own makeover the fashion, hair, and attitude were all created from the bottom up. I had to date myself before anyone else would. And this is what makes it not the norm. I took not a stitch or thought for granted. Thinking back over it in middle age I am proud of myself but saddened, too. Straight or Gay, popular or weird, I guess we all suffer the same fate: we eventually transition out of those youthful poses and into that colorless, odorless quality we call wisdom. From the halcyon highs of our 20s it is just like the adage about a good deed: early glamour rarely goes unpunished.