SACRAMENTO, CA –

My dad is pretty infamous within my family for his over-the-top hobbies and do-it-yourself home improvement projects. In the early 90’s, when my family still lived in Modesto, Calif., my father decided he was going to try his hand at woodworking. He then proceeded to purchase approximately 30 books on the subject, subscribed to Woodworking Magazine, and began researching all of the tools he would need to be an expert woodworker.

We spent a lot of time at Sears in those days, as my dad began purchasing every saw, workbench and sander known to man. He cleaned out the garage, which, by the way, was the first time I think I’d ever seen the garage floor in my lifetime, and set up his “workshop.” There was a pile of wood in the garage that took up a good third of the floorspace. For all of his efforts though, my dad only ever managed to make little tchotchkes. You know, the little “Home is where your heart is” signs and whatnot.

There were many projects that followed this one, but the one that’s been on my mind lately was his attempt to put a pond in our backyard a few years after I had moved out of my parent’s home. This was when they still lived nearby and I saw them on a weekly basis. When I heard that my dad was starting another home improvement project I just rolled my eyes and laughed with the rest of the family. I got to the house one day to see my dad surrounded by books about building a backyard pond, along with some tubing and pumps that he was busily testing. Weeks passed and I quickly forgot about my father’s plans for the pond.

Then, a few months later I arrived at my parent’s house to discover my youngest brother seated on a giant rock next to a gaping hole filled with rainwater and mud. The picturesque pond my father had envisioned had never materialized. Instead, it was more like a swamp, which suited my then 4-year-old brother just fine. My mom told me that Peter would spend every afternoon out there playing in the mud and watching the frogs and toads who were loving this new habitat my father had seemingly created especially for them.

I joined my brother out there and he told me all about the “magic” frogs that lived in the pond. At first I couldn’t see any frogs. I actually thought they were my brother’s imaginary friends. After all, he was 20 years younger than me and five years younger than the next youngest child. Unlike the rest of my brothers and sisters, he spent a lot of time on his own.

But then I flinched as I saw one of the frogs hop out of the pond. Peter thought this was hilarious, but, unlike any of my other brothers, he didn’t begin trying to catch them and taunt me with them. Instead, he showed his sensitive side and explained to me that the frogs were “really nice” and that they wouldn’t hurt me. He picked up a couple of the frogs, and petted them to show me I had nothing to fear.

Since then, my brother has formed a very complex personality. He loves to do lots of the things stereotypically reserved for little boys, like riding his bike and playing in the dirt. But he also loves putting on performances in which he sings and dances to his own songs. He’s comfortable around girls and loves to show off by doing cartwheels and walking around in my sister’s high heels. Like any big sister, I think this is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. But the rest of the world associates his more “feminine” behaviors with him being a homosexual. While I’m totally fine with this and would absolutely love to have a gay little brother, other people have stigmatized the gay lifestyle to such a point that even at 8 years old, my little brother, who has absolutely no concept of gay or straight, cannot feel comfortable with being himself out of fear of being marked as an outsider.

See, unfortunately, my family no longer lives in California, which, until Prop. 8 passed, seemed to be a more tolerant state than others. Instead, that pond was filled in a few years back when my parents sold their home and moved away to Idaho, and later Utah. Now I rely on updates about my two youngest siblings from my other family members and I heard the saddest news last week about Peter. My sister, Jess, called to fill me in on the latest family gossip about me, while at the same time giving me the scoop on the rest of the fam. This is when she told me that my little brother is avoiding school because he’s been being harassed and beaten up for being gay. She said he asked if he could transfer to a school near her so he wouldn’t have to go back to his regular school. He also asked her if doing cartwheels would turn him gay – apparently one of the accusations of his persecutors.

It’s obvious to me that the other children in his school are getting some skewed educations at home on what it means to be gay, along with the message that it is something to be avoided at all costs. And worst of all, they are somehow coming to the understanding that it is OK to discriminate against and harass gays. Each time a state passes another law discriminating against gays – no matter how trivial the issue may seem to the larger population – this message is reinforced both in the minds of adults and in the minds of our children. My younger brother is only one of a great many children who are being harrassed at schools across the nation for not conforming to gender norms. I only hope he can make it through without adopting the same mindset as his peers.

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REBECCA ADLER is from Sacramento, CA, where she is a grad student in applied linguistics and works as a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in Jane & Jane, Sacramento Business Journal, and Comstock's Business Magazine, among others. She also keeps a book review blog and can be found on Facebook or Twitter.

One response to “Cartwheels Will Make You Gay”

  1. Original Comment Thread Below:

    23 Comments »

    Comment by romyl
    2009-01-26 03:35:38

    Although grappling the “fear of other” theme is a high school rite of passage, I would have hoped that ten years after our high school experience the “gay scare” would pass. For numerous reasons it has stuck. The exhausting struggle for LGBT civil rights and equality, though chiefly legislative, cannot ignore the all important grassroot. Any hope for progress must take place in the language of future generations; we must challenge and transform conversation at the local “Peach Pit”. The next time a teen McCarthy proclaims “that’s so gay”, the movement triumphs every time his or her peer questions, “so what”. I wish all the best for your brother and for all who now live in fear of the cartwheel.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by jonathan evison
    2009-01-26 09:30:40

    . . .holy cow, that stuff about the pond is hilarious!
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Erika Rae
    2009-01-26 11:12:53

    Oh, poor thing. That one is sure to not die out anytime soon on the schoolyard, I’m guessing. It’s got to start with the parents, for one thing. Ugh. You give that brother of yours a big hug and tell him that all of your TNB pals think he’s the coolest little kid we’ve ever heard of. How sweet is he with the frogs?
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Irene Zion
    2009-01-26 13:40:17

    Rebecca,
    I agree with Erika Rae. Your brother is the best brother you could have. He will be a fine man, whoever he turns out to be. It is inconceivable to me that 8 year olds can be so cruel, and that adults do not pick up on it and discipline the offenders.
    This is such a sad post.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Josie
    2009-01-26 18:42:43

    I am so tempted to move to Utah with a huge population of my friends so those folks can see what diversity is really about.

    Those little punks are just mini-me’s of their parents. And that means the community at large has some issues not just the schools.

    I hope your brother can still find the magic in the world as he sees what a swamp humanity can be.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-01-26 21:09:40

    Oh, Josie, you’re such a romantic! I love that last sentence. I hope he can always find the magic too.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by reno
    2009-01-26 19:53:15

    arrgggg! you torpedoed (sp?) me! here i was laughing my butt off at your father’s ways and then you tell me this horrible story of your brother!

    i won’t get started on the whole gay thing. i’ll just say that i hope that your brother gets through this and remembers that there is not one thing wrong being gay. not one thing.

    r

    PS-please more father stories. i was really getting into them. those ugly “country” things. key holders. cows. yuck. and the frogs! the hole in the ground! you know, i love family stories. if you told those stories on the radio they’d be radio gold…
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-01-26 21:09:09

    Aw, sorry to pull the ole bait and switch on you Reno. I’m glad you liked the stories about my dad though. Funny, when I was younger I HATED this stuff about him, but now I find it endearing…perhaps because I find myself doing some of the same things I remember him doing when I was a child.

    And, I certainly hope my brother grows up to understand there’s nothing wrong with being gay, whether he ends up being gay or straight. My biggest fear is this experience will turn him into one of those closeted homophobes. I wish we could keep little ones young and innocent forever…
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Lenore
    2009-01-26 21:09:35

    fuck those mean kids. and fuck CA for prop 8.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-01-26 21:18:19

    Right on Lenore!
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by jmb
    2009-01-26 21:20:36

    I get to be the first one to say this?

    No, but gays could make you cartwheel….

    My dad’s into Mother Earth News.
    Built a wood-powered pickup truck for fifty dollars.

    Adler!!
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-01-26 21:52:28

    JMB, My brain cannot even begin to imagine how a wood-powered pickup truck would operate. You NEED to write a post about this.

    P.S. Dear Lord, I hope my dad never hears about this. I’m sure he’ll try it.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Brian
    2009-01-27 01:08:29

    I don’t understand why you would love to have a gay little brother.

    I’ve always wanted a brother but I want him to be rich. If he wants to be gay later that’s fine. Gay people have far more interesting and far better parties than straight people.

    Priorities is all I’m saying. Family first.

    I sound just like your dad. I’ll be like: “Lets start an airline.” And $200 at Borders and a year later I’ve got two popsicle sticks and a rubber band.

    Your brother will be okay. As long as he has at least one person he loves telling him that he is. In the end, it’s not the rest of the world that matters to him.

    “A person is smart. People are dumb…”
    Kay- Men In Black
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-01-27 22:18:04

    I didn’t say I ONLY wanted him to be gay. It’s not like it’s a job description or something. Personally though, I’m rooting for my sister Jess to be the rich one. I’ve been on her good side for years. You know, just in case 😉
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rob Bloom
    2009-01-27 10:13:10

    I’m sorry people are the way they are and by “the way they are” I mean “complete morons.” Screw them.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Sheree
    2009-01-27 15:17:56

    My youngest son had a very effeminate little classmate in the 3rd grade who later in life blossomed into a fine outstanding gay citizen. My son and this kid lost contact with each other in grade school after we moved away and later after high school came across each other in their daily doings.
    My son came home after seeing his friend and said; Mom guess who I saw today? I saw Todd and he’s gay. Did you know that Todd was gay when we were kids?

    I could not lie to my son, I had suspected back then that he was in fact gay. So I said well son, I thought that he may have been gay, but at that age you really do not know for certain. Besides its unfair to judge a person when all you have is suspicion with no facts to back it up. He was far to young to possibly even know himself if he was gay or not, so I excepted him for the kind thoughtful sensitive little guy he was and probably still is.

    Let me ask you this son, did you enjoy Todds company when you were kids? Didn’t you guys always have fun? Didn’t he always treat you with the respect that you deserved? Did he ever make you uncomfortable with his company?

    My son paused thoughtfully and said; Thanks Mom. I see where your going with this and you’re right it doesn’t matter if he was maybe gay back then. All that matters and should matter is that he was a good person that always treated me with respect. It would not have been fair for you to judge him for being anything other than the good kid that he was.

    I was fortunate to come from a culture that never viewed being sexually oriented to the same sex as a sin against God. My culture considers it a great sin against God to question the purpose of his creations. I was taught at a very young age to respect and except people on the merit of their conduct. I tried very hard to instill that into my own children.

    It crushes me to know that your little brother is being made to endure harshness not due him from this world. I pray he never loses the magic of who he is as an individual and that he knows somewhere in his heart that most of the world will except him for the fine young man that he is.

    My father in law has a garage full of wood working tools that he’s had for more than 30 years in all that time he has produced about a dozen very sturdy step stools! I love the magic of the pond you wrote about!

    As Rob said, Screw the morons of the world!
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-01-27 22:16:07

    Aw, I love this story. Kudos to you for showing your son what matters. 🙂
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-01-27 22:16:57

    P.S. My dad still has all of that wood in storage, along with the saws and sanders. He refuses to sell them. Seriously.
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    Comment by Sheree
    2009-01-28 03:19:45

    Haha! My father in law says that he cannot do any projects due to lack of decent wood to work with. Heh, that was an open ended statement I walked away from. And thanks for the compliment on trying to raise my children to be civil humans in a less than perfect world.

    Reply here

    Comment by Michelle
    2009-01-27 17:48:00

    So, did Mr. K do cartwheels around the classroom?
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-01-27 22:15:40

    I never saw him do cartwheels, but I only knew him as an adult. I’m sure the cartwheels were a tell-tale sign when he was a youngster. That and the whole working at Disneyland business.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Michelle
    2009-01-28 17:30:05

    I still think that he was a pretty terrific teacher…and yes, I knew he was gay when Angela was in his class. Parents would whisper about it in shocked whispers to each other, with wide eyes and hoping their child would not be adversely affected. Are you traumatized? I think kids were lucky to be in his class. Am I wrong?
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    Reply here

    Comment by Jen from Hyper Nonsense
    2009-01-28 23:00:22

    I teach elementary school. Some of my kids use the word gay to harass each other, or as a derogatory remark. Most of them are too young to even have any awareness of what gay means. Today, one of them said “This book is gay”.

    Totally breaks my heart to hear kids talk like this.
    Reply to this comment

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