I knew I was gay by the time I was 4 years old.
My mother basically did the best she could but most times that wasn’t very much. Although I had two older half siblings I felt like an only child because my half siblings were taken away from our mother and full custody was given to their biological father. My mother was incapable of parenting most of my childhood and was constantly taking off for weeks or months. Fortunately, I had aunts while not perfect, cared enough about me to take me in each time mother “went away.” I was especially close to my aunt we will call Tina. Aunt Tina was so kind hearted and soft spoken she just emanated a maternal Aura to anyone who met her. I was living with her at the time when I was four years old. We lived in a low income rough part of town in government subsidized apartments.
I made a friend with a boy who was nice and my same age. One day while playing in the complex we walked by an apartment with black trash bags over all the windows. I made a comment about why someone would use black trash bags as curtains. My four-year-old friend just nonchalantly says it’s because a ladyman lived there and some people in the complex were mean to the ladyman and liked to look through their window and call them names. I didn’t know what a ladyman was but I was furious and heartbroken that whatever ladyman was people were mean to ladyman for no reason.
That evening while eating dinner I asked my Aunt Tina what a ladyman was. She asked if this was regarding to the tenant in 6B. I nodded my head yes, secretly worried I was about to get in trouble for asking as it all seemed so taboo. Aunt Tina compassionately explained that tenant 6B was born different and was born part boy and part girl and I shouldn’t use the term ladyman. The correct name is a hermaphrodite and that was the way God made him and God doesn’t make mistakes (Her intentions were good) and I was to never ever join the other kids who threw rocks at his/her windows or yell nasty names at him. I listened to her every word…after all she is explaining what is wrong with me. I am a girl who wanted to grow up to kiss other girls so in my limited four year old logic, it’s because I must be a hermaphrodite too and it’s just the half boy in me that wanted that.
Days later while again playing with my friend I proudly proclaimed to him that I was a hermaphrodite and when I grow up I will kiss lots and lots of girls (I made true on that one!). He shrugged and that was that; back to the monkey bars. A few days after this I ran to catch my friend on his way across the complex. After finally catching up with him (I was yelling his name but he was running away looking back at me) he finally stopped and stood dead still. I asked why he did that and I saw his eyes tear up as he just stood there looking down he said softly while trying to hold back his tears he sadly choked up the words, “My mama said I can’t be friends with you anymore that you’re not a hermitbite that you’re just a queer. I told her I never saw you do queer stuff but she wont let me be your friend.”
My little naive heart broke right then and there. I whispered okay and started the long walk home crying. Why would Mrs. A say that about me? Was I such a monster I shouldn’t have friends? What is a queer and how the hell did I become one? How did she know I was a queer? Was there a “queer mark” on the back of my legs or somewhere I couldn’t see?
I ran through the door sobbing clinging to my Aunt Tina. I finally calmed down enough to tell her someone thinks I’m a queer and I don’t know what that means but I know it’s something awful. She stroked my hair and soothingly shushed me and held me close until I could calm down and catch a normal breathing pattern again. She sweetly told me queer is a mean word some mean people use to call gay people. So now I don’t know what gay means but by the tone of my Aunt Tina’s voice and the non hateful way she talked about it, it must mean it’s not a bad thing. Days later I met a new neighbor who had a home phone (early eighties in low income housing; they were more rare than you would think) and phoned my brother and sister as I did as often as I could find a nice neighbor who didn’t mind letting a strange young child occasionally use their phone to make a collect call every couple weeks.
During that call I asked my wise older sister what gay meant and she explained in a non-hateful way that it’s just boys who want boyfriends and girls who want girlfriends.
Things started making sense and I pondered this new “gay” thing some people do, for days. Finally I deducted that I am in fact a girl who does the gay thing. That night after dinner I told my Aunt Tina I needed to tell her something. I was finding it hard to say it because I wasn’t sure what her reaction would be and even at that young age I knew she was all I had. If I lost my Aunt Tina I wouldn’t have anyone. I would be forced to stay in those awful foster homes. For whatever reason I HAD to tell her. Even going another day just wasn’t an option. So after trying to say it and failing I asked her to come inside my homemade tent I called Planet Protect-ton (don’t ask) and in Planet Protect-ton as she knew, the rules were people were not allowed to get mad and stop loving people.
Sitting in her lap, arms held tightly around her neck, face buried snug into her neck I quietly said, “I’m a gay person.” Tears falling down my face I braced for the impact…
She took an extra large and deep breath in and what felt like minutes but instead was mere seconds, she exploded…into laughter. Like from the gut head back laugh. I was so completely confused by this action. There was only 2 possible reactions for her to have and this wasn’t one of them. I raised my head to just look at her but her laugh was so infectious I couldn’t stop myself from giving in and laughing with her. We say there in Planet Protect-ton laughing as heartily as our lungs would allow and without any inhibition for minutes. Finally Aunt Tina catches her breath and wipes away laughter tears and sighs and said, “Oh sweetheart…you don’t know what gay means. When you get older you will learn and you will laugh so hard at this story.”
Letting the last few leftover chuckles she had in her escape her while she put her hands on the sides of my face and gave me a kiss on the forehead and climbed her way out of Planet Protect-ton I sat in the planet alone. Unable to move. Unable to understand what had just happened.