I was four years old. And I had tasted pure, unadulterated joy.
This was The Bronx in the early 80s. There was no cable. There were rabbit ears, and these rabbit ears on our incredibly boxy television delivered to me that pure, unadulterated joy in the form of “Wonder Woman.” But not just any Wonder Woman, the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman. The perfect flip, the bracelets that could deflect bullets, the lasso that made you tell the truth, the invisible plane. I was ecstatic every time the show came on. I didn’t understand a lot about it, she was a Greek Goddess but she was also fighting Hitler but I didn’t care. I was happy. Gay, even. But how did this read with my very working class, very Catholic Bronx family.
My family, I have a brother and sister, mother and father, and the gender roles are very set and to use some late 70s, early 80s motifs, the women in my family, my mother and my sister, are Loni Anderson, the men in my family, my father and my brother, are Tom Selleck. And little Peter was like Uncle Arthur, Paul Lynde in “Bewitched.” So I knew even at 4 years old I was a little bit on shaky ground with my undying love for Lynda Carter.
It got a little bit more intense around Christmas time, when my parents and my siblings started asking me, “Peter, what do you want for Christmas?”
I knew what I wanted. I wanted a Wonder Woman doll, an official, in my mind because it was probably not official, but an official-in-my-mind Lynda Carter Wonder Woman doll from Woolworth’s. And I knew that it would may be weird for me to ask for Wonder Woman, so I told my parents, “I’ll get back to you.”
My brother who is 10 years older than I was, he played with GI Joes, he did a lot of boy things, and I realized, wow, action figures, I don’t want a “doll”, I want an “action figure.” So what I did was, I devised a plan. A smokescreen. I pretended that I cared about superheroes, Batman, Superman, etc. The Man of Steel, he would be my beard. And Batman would be his assistant beard. Because I liked superheroes. So my parents, my siblings, they’re pressing, “What do you want for Christmas? What do you want for Christmas?” So I eventually gather up enough courage: “Oh, I really like superheroes so I want a Superman doll, Wonder Woman doll, and a Batman doll.” Noted. I’m terrified but they go away and whatever.
The stakes are very high, even at a very young age I kind of knew I was on shaky ground. This wasn’t a, “You’ll shoot your eye out” this is “We have to do something about this little whatever this is.” So I busy myself as Christmas approaches making presents for my family out of construction paper and pasta dyed gold and pasta gold sticks and what have you.
And Christmas morning, we have this little ritual in the family where the children would violently shake the adults awake as early as possible so we can open up presents, so we did that. And we ended up in the living room where under the Christmas tree Santa Claus had brought many, many objects in reds and greens and yellows and blues. I became a whirlwind, almost like Diana turning into Wonder Woman, spinning around, going through presents like crazy. I take one present, rip it apart. It’s Superman; he has a cape. Nice. I take another present, rip it open, paper flying, bows, ribbons…it’s Batman. He has a little cowl, a mask, you can take it off, whatever. I get through other presents, family from Puerto Rico, family from Italy, what have you, not really interested in the socks I’m getting. But finally I see under the tree this giant box, and I go right for it after everything is dispatched, and what is it, it’s Wonder Woman. It’s an official–in my mind because it probably wasn’t–official Lynda Carter Wonder Woman doll. She had this incredible red gown on and these weird Barbie shoes and after I tore open the package and tore open the box, I tore off her outfit and she had on the golden eagle bustier and she was “fighting for your rights in her satin tights” and she had that weird Lynda Carter waist.
And this was before all the Gender Studies and the Queer Theory and all the battles I would fight with my family about sexuality later, but that morning in 1981, Christmas in the Bronx, as I sat spinning my official, maybe, Lynda Carter Wonder Woman doll with the shitty elastic band lasso that made you tell the truth, which you didn’t need because you could see my truth, of pure, unadulterated joy.