My mother moved around a lot. She had little need for companionship beyond her two brothers Steve and Wayne. Wanda Jewell was an adamant girl with dark hair and a penchant for playing cowgirl; an early feminist who always knew what she wanted. In the 4th grade she knew she would grow up to have twins. Her Uncle Ralph sneered at such a proposition and bet her one hundred dollars she wouldn’t. Nevertheless, she stuck to her guns through most of her teenage years and into her adulthood. Motherhood was inevitable when she met my father, a gangly man from Tryon, North Carolina, with a huge smile and a serious history. The two of them made for a cocktail of genetics that did turn out, after all, to be twins.
Though she’d never told anyone, she had always assumed her children would be twin girls, but to her delight and awe she was blessed with a talkative baby girl and me. True to his word, my mother’s Uncle Ralph wrote her a check for one hundred dollars. She had the check encased in clear plastic and used it as a paperweight. That big, heavy hunk of plastic was a constant reminder of my mother’s conviction.
My mother suspected I was gay from the very beginning. At one year of age I would spread my fingers when I encountered anything too sticky or messy. While other boys my age covered themselves in dirt and ate glue, I scrubbed at the speck of maple syrup on my pinky like it was acid hell bound to penetrate my perfect pink hand. As soon as my sister and I could dance she bounced and screamed with delight as I whirled around the living room to Fleetwood Mac or Carly Simon. I had the delicate two-step of a young Ginger Rodgers, and I couldn’t help showing it off. Every visit to my grandparents’ house was an opportunity to turn, twirl, and vogue to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” My grandmother would watch with an expression that was a mixture of fear, pride, and awe. “Who is this creature?” I imagine she must have been thinking. “What will the girls at bridge night say?”
It was on a hot afternoon in May when my mother knew for sure. It was probably 90 degrees outside, and my sister and I were watching something inane on Nickelodeon. Amy was wearing a tie-died shirt and matching paint-splattered specs, while I rocked an oversized Coca Cola t-shirt I’d belted with one of my dad’s bright green ties. An advertisement came on for a toy for budding hairdressers: a plastic mannequin head with an adhesive base and a full head of hair to practice styles on. I screamed, “Amy wants that! She told me she wants that!” My mother quietly nodded and, sure enough, when Amy’s birthday came around she unwrapped the head. Amy feigned interest for a few minutes before handing it off to me to tease, comb, and up-do for days. This ritual went on for years and for that I’m eternally grateful to my sister.
Both my mom and dad made it very clear that in their house we could all be whoever we wanted to be. In Amelia’s case that meant an educator – the fridge was her chalkboard, and her stuffed animals and I served as her class of eager minds. In my case it meant role-playing as a princess, bride, or nurse. My mother always thought she’d end up with two little girls, but she has since made it very clear that a little girl and a gay boy ended up being a much better deal after all.
NOTE: Douglas Calhoun is a fellow Brooklynite, friend and the resident Queerespondent for Brooklyntheborough.com. His work for B.T.B includes creating original content, interviewing local queers, and curating a weekly calendar of events each weekend. His latest project is a before and after pictorial called Laundry Gays for South Brooklyn publication OverFlow Magazine.
This Saturday night, IFD is co-hosting Queerespondent’s monthly party, this one being WHIP IT OUT. If you’re in NYC, I’d love to see you there — it’s at Bar 4 in Park Slope. Ben and Dave (Dave’s Video Story was published a few weeks ago), of Ben and Dave’s Six Pack, Deryck Todd, and Thorgy will all be performing. There will also be free beer from 10:30-11:00, free giveaways, and a fun IFD-themed photo booth. Hope to see some of you there!
I’m From San Francisco, CA. “Not without irony, a late 1960’s era feminist, Mom also forbade Barbie. Her Barbie-Ban was a welcome excuse when I went, without dolls, to friends’ houses. My friends took pity on my Barbielessness. They all kept one Ken and a huge collection of Barbies. Each time they received a “Barbie and Ken” set, they would strip the Ken doll, keep the clothes, and give the naked Ken to me. I knew that I was supposed to find Ken attractive, and with his muscular shoulders and lack of penis, how could I object?”
I’m From Dallas, TX – Video Story. “What I do remember is my sister’s Barbie dolls. She had tons of them. She had black ones, asian ones, every kind of Barbie doll. And I was intrigued by them. I was intrigued by these little humanoids that we would play with, these little people. And I would design fashion lines for these dolls for my sister out of my mom’s old panty hose. Like, entire collections: this is the “evening look,” and this is the “summer afternoon look.” It was always a fall collection because the pantyhose were always brown or nude colored. So it was always very subdued color palate.