Those Lasting Bruises
The last time anyone called me a faggot to my face, within earshot, was when I quit the high school football team. I was fifteen; I was scrawny. I was lucky, though, because I am not gay and I didn't quit because I was gay or beaten down emotionally by the exhaustive locker room machismo of a bunch of insecure young men. Language was language, and my reasons for quitting were very juvenile in and of themselves. We were poor, my mother didn't pack my lunches for two-a-day practices, and I was too physically drained to wake up on time for a 6am practice start. I had no support system, my mother let me sleep in. She'd already forced my hand with her own inertia all that summer, and I caved. One day led to two, then three, and so on. Being on the team kind of faded like so many high school relationships do post graduation. The drama was in what wasn't done or said.
Football was the way of life at Defiance Senior High. You were somebody more than you were supposed to be if you wore a jersey on Fridays. I was lucky that I already was middle of the road--our poverty and my high grades saved me from complete ostracization. I hung out with mostly girls and nonathletes, all middle class and most high achieving academics. My quitting the team only meant a few ribbings from a few guys. One was Kyle, a year older and not very good. He hated that I was better than him, was slated to start JV at corner, and that he was a backup lineman. Because I couldn't hack football, he said, I was a faggot.
My straightness and my academic successes helped me ignore Kyle and move on in life. I was a young man surrounded by what I saw as pretty, intelligent girls. I had a crush on a few of them that lasted the rest of high school. I got to see first hand the equality that existed between them and me. Their insecurities were mine. They wanted to be asked out by boys and I wanted to be brave enough to fulfill the manly rite of passage of asking a girl to dances. But I wasn't brave enough to ever ask a girl to go steady. I worried about being poor, and didn't have a father to push me towards bravery.
That's where my mother comes in again. A domineering personality, my mother disparaged the men who 'suited' her. They were drunks and players. She would spy on them outside bars, park in a corner of factory lots towards a shift end, and tail them to other women. I would sit in the back seat, wondering if we were going to eat or how long before she would give up. I saw her claw at them like a rabid dog, heard her tear away at their manhood with her canines bared, and then I listened to her hide the betrayals away in desperate rationalizations that they were nothing to her anymore. Some of those men were nothing to her for years. She went back. These "men" came back. Being called a faggot was nothing to me.
Now, I am almost 33. I have a son of my own and a wife who is the breadwinner. Nobody says anything to my face, though, about my wife making more money than I do. That's part of being a straight, white male. I teach, but I am also a stay at home dad, and then I write. I struggle with my worth to the rest of the world; I struggle to see myself as others see me. I work hard at being the best damn teacher I can be, but I cannot get out of the adjunct rut. I write poems in the oddest of places, the oddest of times. What I don't struggle with is fatherhood. I love it. I breathe it. My son is every single wish I could ever want. I kiss him at random times, multiple times a day. He's just so lovely, and I don't care if that makes me a man's man. When strangers see me with my son, they fawn over the love we demonstrate. He's my best friend. His mother is my best friend, too. They keep me above ground when I try to bury myself, when I go deep down inside my thoughts and try to hate where I am, who I am, what I am not.
The guy who delivered our new fridge actually thanked me for caring for my own son. The guy who installed our satellite tv did the same. Washer and dryer guys--the same. I ran with my infant son secure in a running stroller, and women swooned over me with smiles and hands to their hearts like I was a modern day hero. My wife, however, received scrunched faces and other mothers who openly chastised her when she took our boy out for her own runs. An older man at the liquor store actually told her she was horrible for bringing her baby into that store.
That's the privilege I've come to have, no matter how far I slide down the pole. That's what makes any of my childhood seem like a distant planet that I was able to forget. I had the ability to rocket out of poverty and into a Twilight Zone-like world where middle class white maleness makes me a super hero for doing status quo (loving your own child more than you love yourself) and successful women are villainous for taking care of themselves as well as their families (doing the same thing!).
The flight to this new world, of being positively regarded by complete strangers happened over years. My wife and friends were in the shuttle with me, and yet when we got to this new world, some of us didn't get to transition. The years didn't bring anything but a sharpness to the points of view of the good ole new planet. A very kind-hearted friend of mine was walking down a New York street when a local apelike figure rolled down his truck window and yelled "FAGGOT." Gay, Hispanic, artsy, non-intimidating. That was how the ape read my friend. Like Kyle read me, only not.
Only a man with a very small penis will be offended by size jokes--most will generally laugh it off with no real self esteem loss. Only a very small man will take pleasure in trying to make others hate themselves. By retelling this story,I don't mean to paint my friend as a weakling, though, who needs me to come to his defense. No, my friend and my wife--they wear 'big boy pants' just like me. They've moved on from their encounters just as I moved on from Kyle. Why, though, are we so simple-minded as a species this many generations past Australopithecus Africanus that we still want to play the damning snake?
No, I am on the soapbox of my own accord. I do not understand the cultural inability to progress; I don't get why too many men and women can't own up to the ugliest parts of our human psychologies that manifest into these cultural norms and beliefs.
The persistence of hating anyone not like yourself; the ritualistic paranoia of only seeing in stereotypes and, hence, subjugating minorities for the sake of...self satisfaction? What is that but an ugly, vicious circle?