Phil: Hey, this is Phil aka Corinne.
Alex: And I’m Alex Berg. And you’re listening to the
Together: I’m From Driftwood Podcast.
Alexander: My name is Alexander Zaccaro. I’m originally from Toms River, New Jersey.
Ann: My name is Ann and I’m from Pleasantville, New Jersey.
Alexander: I can remember growing up, always feeling strange, odd, and different, not just for, you know, being gay, but being artistic as well. I never really hung out with the, you know, the boys who wanted to play sports, but I didn’t really like to hang out with the girls either on the swing sets. I wanted to, you know, do my own thing.
Ann: Okay. So there’s like this whole thing about, like, when did you know you were gay? Right? Like, and I never really – I always had half of me that knew. And then half of me that didn’t know, like half of me was totally in denial.
Alex: Alexander and Ann both talked about these childhood crushes they had on famous pop culture characters, and how that helped them recognize their own sexual orientation.
Ann: Like the half of me that was, like, disappointed when my softball coach got married. Like I was like, what the fuck? Or like when Darlene, like got a boyfriend on Roseanne, like, what are you talking about? Just… but I didn’t know I was gay. Like I was still, but I was so disappointed that she, was, you know, that she had a boyfriend. It didn’t make any sense.
Phil: She talked about being very, really upset about Darlene getting a boyfriend, which I thought was so great because Darlene, you know, is not a queer character, although she was in some ways. Because I was so starved for queer characters as I was growing up, there were definitely people on TV or at a time that weren’t queer, but, you know, they just… Joe from “Facts of LIve” So, listen, I mean, there were plenty of butch that I know who were like, “Oh my God. Yeah, we’re all Joe. We’re all Joe.
Alex: It’s always so fascinating when we, as LGBTQ people see ourselves in these people, or at least are attracted to them in a way that makes us realize we’re not straight.
Ann: So when I was like a little kid, I was like five years old, my best friend, Dorothy, he used to kiss Michael J. Fox on the TV, right? So should we get up and like run to the TV. “Oh, Michael J…” I can’t believe – we were little, like five. We were little, but she would run up and kiss him. And I tried to do that. Like I tried. I wanted to be able to kiss Michael J. Fox, but it wasn’t – it didn’t. I was like, it just didn’t work for me. Like I would try and I like felt it in my body, like it wasn’t right.
And the person that I had a crush on that I really wanted to kiss was totally Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island. And, I loved her and I remember when I was like… when no one else was in the room… and I was little, I was like, as tall as the TV, like I remember the TV being like here and I was standing up,
I would kiss Mary Ann from Gillian’s Island. I would wait for her, you know, like in the credits when the circles come up, you know? So I would wait for her circle to come up. I remember, like, waiting and then “The Professor and Mary Ann”, you know, and I would kiss Mary Ann. I loved Mary Ann. She was so sweet.
Alex: For me, it made me think about some of those early characters that I saw and I have one that’s a little bit embarrassing, which is…
Phil: I want to know who it is.
Alex: Okay. So Legolas, one of the elves from Lord of the rings.
Alex: I don’t know if you remember.
Phil: Yes! Very sexy. Very sexy. I get it.
Alex: Okay. Thank you. Thank you. I feel so vindicated. So Legolas is played by Orlando Bloom and the reason, so this character has very long hair, is like extremely androgynous and it was one of the first really androgynous characters that I saw. And I was like, Why am I the only one of my friends who thinks that Legolas is a hottie?
Phil: You were alone. That’s a shame.
Alex: I know, isn’t it?
Phil: You had no one to talk to about it. This is terrible.
Alex: But for me, I think that seeing this character, it helped me realize, okay, maybe I’m experiencing attraction in a different way than some of my friends, which I feel like that’s a little bit of what Ann and Alexander talked about.
Phil: It’s interesting because with Ann, her childhood crush was Marianne from Gilligan’s Island, oddly enough, and Alexander. He was all about Hercules.
Alexander: When I kind of subconsciously knew I was gay was when I was about five years old, which was in 1999. I had a bedspread from the animated movie Hercules, which came out in 1997.
I remember when I watched the movie and I believe there might’ve been a cartoon as well for a short period of time. I just thought, you know, this, like, muscular man is saving all of these people and he’s really strong and heroic. Like that was very attractive to me as a young child. And I wanted that kind of figure in my life.
Alex: Listen, even cartoons, even cartoon characters are sometimes the queer representation that we need.
Phil: You know, this is long before I realized it was queer, but you know what I have to say that Lindsey Wagner, the Bionic Woman got me every time.
Alex: Oh, that’s a good one.
Phil: Oh, I was so into it. Much like Ann,I would say that I was also sort of split in terms of how I was viewing crushes, because to me, I had no real language to say what that feeling was, but I knew it was like, I just enjoy this person a lot. I really enjoy this person. I want to be around them and want to see them. I want to – didn’t have the language to know that it was a crush and I kind of understand Ann’s love of Mary Ann and realizing,I think she mentioned in that episode, how her friend was so obsessed with Michael J. Fox and she was just like, I can’t get into this. Try as she might, she just could not get into it. So I didn’t have the language, but I knew it was there. And it was just a feeling, but I had no real words for it.
Alex: I think that you bring up such a good point with, which is that, even though sometimes we know we have this – these characters are appealing to us, we don’t have the language to describe what that even means. And that’s something that you then have to figure out or be able to have that contrast with a lot of your friends.
One way for me, that that also happened is that as a femme queer person myself, I would always see them characters that were straight women, who I was like, wait a second, there’s something about that character that I really connect with, but I’m not sure what it is. And it was always like really strong female bad-ass characters.
One of them would be Jennifer Love Hewitt in the movie Heartbreakers. It was like a movie in the early 2000s. And she is a con-artist with her mom, who’s played by Sigourney Weaver. Basically, the whole plot of this movie is that they are trying to con men out of money and use their like femininity and they had just have amazing fashion and they’re so… they’re actually like really driven by their intelligence as well. And so I always really identified with her.
And in some ways, the fact that she was like this strong bad-ass, who was like a little bit mean kind of cunning for some reason, that really resonated with me as a femme. And the way that she performed her femininity kind of just really sat with me, I feel, like in a way that it didn’t with some of the straight women who I was around.
Phil: I mean, I say that, that you, that sort of depicts you right now today, you know, today.
Alex: I thank you.
Phil: You’re welcome. You’re welcome. You know, I think one of the things I found very striking about both of these examples is that they happen at such young ages.
Alexander: I remember Hercules was on my pillow case and thinking to myself, this is my boyfriend, you know, and as a five year old, I was making out with it. I was kissing it and holding it and thinking like, my God, you know, my boyfriend’s here and… with me, like, you know, at five years old, like what do you, what does a five-year-old know about, you know, making out? But it was, you know, with my pillow.
It was just something I kept to myself because I didn’t want anyone to find out. I would do it in my room alone in the dark. This private secret thing that no one would know about that only I could get fulfillment from. It was meaningful to me because it kind of gave me an escape and an outlet to release these feelings that I felt, because I didn’t feel comfortable enough to approach a classmate of mine on the playground and kiss him.I wasn’t – I just couldn’t do that in my head something was telling me that was wrong.
Phil: Like he knew that in private was where he could really have these feelings. And he couldn’t really just go up to someone on the playground and like that to some guy or kid on the playground decided to, you know, express feelings. He knew that like this was something they need to keep themselves in private, alone at night. And it’s just so interesting because I find those two stories so, like, it’s just so interesting that they started so young to understand their feelings. I didn’t have that in my life. You know, I didn’t have it until I was much older.
Alex: Yeah, same. I don’t think that I, you know, again, you talked about not having the language to be able to describe what it all means and your identity. And I definitely didn’t have access to that kind of language until much later, or even was able to identify myself in that way, I think, until my early twenties.
But it’s also so striking that one of the things you said was that privacy aspect was that Alexander knew. That even though maybe he hadn’t explicitly been told that he couldn’t express those feelings, he knew that he still had to keep it to the privacy of his own room. Even at such a young age. And it just, to me, it’s so signaling of the ways that we’re taught as queer people from so young that you know, that that is something that you can’t openly express.
Phil: But, you know, it’s interesting because Alexander could have really decided that because he knew it wasn’t right. He knew he couldn’t express this outwardly in public. He could have really decided to sort of shut that part of himself down. Right? He made a decision to have these moments with his Hercules pillowcase in private, which I thought was fascinating because he could have really decided there there’s some people who go – queer people who go through this experience very early in their lives. And instead of acting on it in some way and expressing it privately, they decide that they are just going to put it away. I find it interesting that he really was able to go ahead and continue to have, to express those feelings to the pillowcase.
So Hercules is very muscular, sort of like, you know, a heroic sort of like character instead of society, you know what? This is not right. And I’m not going to be, it’s not going to be okay by express these feelings. It’s pretty, pretty brave for a five year old.
Alexander: So by kissing my pillow case, it wasn’t, he couldn’t talk back to me and he couldn’t make fun of me or ridicule me or tell me I was wrong. It was something that was just natural and just, you know, I could just do without any problem. That was the first time I really knew I was… I was gay and I had these feelings that weren’t like other boys, or even like other girls. Yeah, and I still have the Hercules pillow case today and I still use it.
Alex: We live in a culture that discourages us from being able to talk about these things and talk about sexuality and attraction in an open way, even outside of being an LGBTQ person. And I really love that he even still has the pillowcase, because I think that there are also people who would feel like this is a shameful experience. And I think it’s amazing to be able to own that moment, like own this moment that otherwise may have been imbued with shame or that you were taught to keep private and people don’t hold that Hercules pillowcase and be like, I still got it. It still brings me joy to have this around. I think that that’s, that’s really amazing.
Ann: My neighbor gave me a cutout of her recently, like the grown Mary Ann, like arrested for smoking marijuana. She’s like, 60-something. And I had her mugshot. She was still pretty cute. I was like, Ah, it’s pretty hot for 60 year old. So that’s my story. She was great.
Alex: Pop culture has evolved so much. I feel like right now, if you just think about TV, even public figures, there are so many different kinds of LGBTQ people.
Phil: Well, I think, first of all, kind of what we were talking about before, I think it’s a little easier now than it was, you know, because there are so many more representations than there were before.
There’s a very good chance that if I’d seen more queer representation when I was coming up, I wouldn’t have had the disconnect in my actual life, which is just taking a little longer to come out and being a little more cautious about it. Like I made a beeline – I’d have made a beeline straight for it if that was the case.
Alex: One other thing about the media is I think it’s so much fun to think about it in terms of the kind of crushes that we have on these people and learning that we’re LGBTQ vis-a-vis that way. One other thing, though, I think is that the media also teaches us what we should think of ourselves. And at the same time, while we may be learning about our sexual orientation or gender identity from some of these characters, I also think that, like, a lot of times we learn shame or we learn that LGBTQ people are broken or there’s something wrong with us too.
So it’s the media, which is all to say, I mean, the media can be such a double-edged sword in terms of both affirming us, being a really fun vehicle to see ourselves are presented and allow for self discovery, but it can also teach us and everybody else stuff that is completely wrong and terrible about LGBT charitable.
Phil: You know, as I was growing up, there was, there were very few representations and these days there’s you look around and there’s every shade and color and, and iteration of queer. And it’s really wonderful. It’s actually so nice because there’s so many more references for people to look at it and say, You know, I do see myself in that, or I can recognize a sliver of my stuff in this or that. It’s kind of, it’s really beautiful. We’ve become a huge, massive community with so much diversity. That’s pretty incredible.
Ann: What’s the first line? [Unintelligible]. A tale of a tiny shipt. It was started on this tropic isle aboard this tiny ship. The fateful trip? The mate was a might sailor man. The skipper brave and sure. The passengers set sail that day for a three-hour tour. A three-hour tour.. The weather started getting rough. The tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage or the fearless crew,them, you know, wouldn’t be lost. The minnow would be lost. The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle. With Gilligan. The Skipper, too. The Millionaire and his wife. The Movie Star. The dude, The Professor and – I never liked the Movie Star. She was so annoying to me. The Professor and Mary Ann [kiss] here in Gilligan’s Isle.
You know, I had to wait through the whole thing to get to that one, like, moment. Man, I loved her.
Phil: The I’m From Driftwood podcast is hosted by Phil AKA Corinne
Alex: And Alex Berg, and is produced by Anddy Egan-Thorpe.
Phil: The podcast is recorded as part of. I’m From Driftwood, a worldwide nonprofit LGBTQ+ story archive, and is funded in part from TD bank and Heritage of Pride New York.
Alex: I’m From Driftwood was created by Nathan Manske to help queer and trans people learn more about their community, help straight people learn more about their neighbors and help everyone learn more about themselves all through the power of storytelling. The IFD program director is Damien Mittlefehldt. The stories you heard today are available in their entirety, plus thousands more …
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Alex: Thank y’all for listening.