I should have known that I was gay a long time before I figured it out. As a young kid I was a fan of Charlie’s Angels, The Bionic Woman, and Wonder Woman. I couldn’t see enough Broadway musicals as a teen and took to wearing argyle socks. My favorite movie in the 10th grade was The Little Mermaid and I dreamed of both getting married and honeymooning in Disneyworld. Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” was, and still is, my favorite song to dance to with “It’s Raining Men” running a not-too-distant second.

It wasn’t clear until later that there were millions of others just like me, that I was a walking cliché growing up with gay clues circling all around me; big ones that were the equivalent of head hitting hammers.

I came out in 1994 when I was 20 years old, seven years after I found a man stunningly beautiful for the very first time, or at least the first time I was cognizant of it. Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride made me desperately want to do anything he wished, if he had asked it of me and not Robin Wright. I don’t remember being particularly disturbed about finding a man attractive; it seemed so natural what with his perfect features and all.

The attractions steamrolled from there one after the denied other. As an unpopular teen on Friday nights, I would join my parents when they went over to my aunt and uncle’s house to play pinochle. I did not go because I was a fan of watching card games. No, I went because they had the Playboy channel. As I stumbled across it by accident (and it was an accident) that first time while alone in their den, I quickly started to realize that I was more interested in the pool boy than the bored housewife trying to seduce him. I was watching Playboy for the men and got annoyed when there were half hour specials on the playmate of the month. My time was limited; pinochle did not revolve around the Playboy channel’s programming.

Yes, this should’ve tipped me off.

Or maybe earlier when I insisted on singing the entire Annie songbook during one of my parents’ dinner parties…from “Maybe” all the way to “I Don’t Need Anything But You”. As I had stage fright, I performed from underneath the table so I was not able to see what had to be looks of bored desperation on people’s faces.

Or maybe this should’ve raised some rainbow flags…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could never get into watching football and only saw it as a hindrance to eating dinner at a reasonable hour on Sundays. I was obsessed with women’s gymnastics during the Summer Olympics and figure skating during the Winter ones. I grew up watching WWF wrestling because it was chock-full of drama and shirtless men, not because I could appreciate a well-executed piledriver.

I taped General Hospital everyday while at school starting in the 7th grade so I could watch it at night and cried when [spoiler alert] Tania Jones died. I spent days with the theme song to Jem and the Holograms stuck in my head.

There was the time I helped my mother and other women clear the table during a big family barbecue. One of the adult men constructively commented, “Don’t be a fag.” I didn’t realize that helping to clean signified being gay. Though, people do insist that Mr. Clean is gay, don’t they?

I excelled in my 12th grade typing class, a trait I inherited from my mother who used to say that Typing was the only class she got an A in. The captain of the basketball team sat beside me looking on in envy of my speed. His best bud one row back reassured him that it was only typing. “Dude, it’s for girls.”

Three bullies in junior high knew that I was gay before I did. They called me a fudge-packer every time they saw me. I thought this term referred to my over-weight and fondness of chocolate. I didn’t realize until later that they were being remarkably homophobic at an early age. But what did they see in me that I hadn’t yet?

They weren’t the only ones. When I was 15, I spent six weeks travelling on a teen tour with 35 other teens. One night, one of my friends revealed that some of the girls thought that I might be gay. “Oh,” I replied out loud. “Maybe I am,” I kept to myself. I cannot say that my friend was as calm as I was. He was truly offended on my behalf; he seemingly wanted to defend my honor. Was I making a tactical error by not defending it myself?

For a talent show performance that same summer, my friend Deena and I were going to reenact a song and dance number from One Life to Live. When I saw the look in some people’s eyes as we rehearsed on the bus, I quickly realized that if I went through with it, people would not just suspect that I was gay. So we found an alternative that did not involve the use of jazz hands.

In high school, I concentrated my attraction to men on one classmate in particular who had a reputation for being a ladies man. I flirted, I touched in passing, I made inappropriate propositions…all in jest, of course, but not really. I thought I had a chance (I’m not sure at what exactly) because he was in the drama club and chorus. Then one day he confided in me with a concerned tone that he thought I was bisexual. I quickly retorted that I was just kidding, whatever I did or said I was never serious. This shut me up for good with him. The secret I was keeping from myself almost got out.

During my junior year, I was caught in a love triangle except that the two other parties involved were not in love with me. Laurie and Jake were both my best friends yet hardly friends with one another. I convinced myself that I had a crush on Laurie so when Jake and she started dating, I didn’t take it well. I took it much worse when it felt like Jake was abandoning me to spend more time with Laurie. It didn’t occur to me until years later that Jake was the one I had a crush on. I somehow missed that minor detail.

As a frequenter of Broadway, I often passed by certain kinds of unreputable establishments that could be found on 8th Avenue in the theater district. One in particular always caught my attention because its sign above the door read “Cock Around the Clock”. What in denial gay teen didn’t dream about going to a badly pun-named strip club?

One day I had the occasion to be in Manhattan entirely by myself and so decided to take advantage of my solitude and pursue the fantasy. I was ready to see naked men in real life rather than just on pay cable.

I was positively terrified yet excited. I had no idea what to expect once I entered and had no idea what kinds of other men would be inside. I self-consciously opened the door and was confronted by a steep staircase worthy of a Hitchcock film. Once I made my nervous ascent, I quickly bought my entrance ticket and made my way to the “theater”, barely taking in my surroundings.

I was crestfallen when I entered. I suppose that I imagined a beautifully muscular man dancing in a G-string to the hoots and hollers of good-looking men in the audience. It was 11am on a Tuesday. The audience was empty save for the dirty old man up in the corner. The naked performer on stage was sitting on a chair, touching himself with what smelled like Coppertone 8, and he wasn’t the least bit attractive. I had seconds to decide where to sit and so chose the front row, directly in front of him. Anywhere else, I worried, would’ve been insulting.

There I was, an uncomfortable 17 year old wearing a toggle coat from the Gap, khaki pants, with a book in hand watching a stripper at “Cock Around the Clock”. It was not exactly the moment dreams are made of. Shortly after my arrival, the man put on his G-string (there it was), stepped down from the stage and approached me. Oh God, he sat on my lap.

“I’m just here to observe,” I insisted in a panic. It didn’t even occur to me to bring singles.

“That’s ok,” he reassured me without getting up. “Don’t be so nervous.” He gyrated a bit. “How’s your book?”

I ran. I got up in a flurry spitting out apologies, and fiercely made my way to the exit and flew down that hellish stairway back to the safety of daylight. I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t be gay. I wouldn’t be gay. I would stop thinking about men. I would make sure of it.

I should have known; it didn’t stick.

I grew up before Ellen came out on prime time and passed the baton to Will & Grace who helped bring homosexuality to the mainstream. This was before Tom Hanks barely kissed Antonio Banderas, before there were Angels in America, before three drag queens Abba’d their way across the Australian Outback and before Rosie O’Donnell pulled the ole bait-and-switch.

I wouldn’t dare suggest that I grew up in a difficult environment. Compared to many, I had it easy. It’s just that homosexuality was not yet discussed openly and if so, it was certainly never done so in a positive manner. My only gay role model growing up was Jack Tripper and so that doesn’t count.

Yes, certainly, somewhere in the midst of all this confusion I realized that I was gay. I just wasn’t ready to accept it yet. If only I knew then what I do now, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time.

All of that being said, one cliché didn’t take; I never cared much for Barbra.


What a long strange trip it’s been for the inline skate.

It all started nearly 250 years ago, with a prodigious inventor, musician, and mechanic named John Joseph Merlin. Merlin relocated from Belgium to London in 1760, where he opened a museum and rubbed elbows with Samuel Johnson and Johann Sebastian Bach. Merlin invented the first pair of inline skates, and used them as a publicity tool, attracting curious Londoners to his museum of musical and mechanical wonders.

A news story of the time illustrates one unfortunate incident involving Merlin and his inline skates:

One of his ingenious novelties was a pair of skates contrived to run on small metallic wheels. Supplied with a pair of skates and a violin he mixed in the motley group of one of the celebrated Mrs. Corneily’s masquerades at Carlisle House, Soho Square; when not having provided the means of retarding his velocity or commanding his direction, he impelled himself against a mirror of more than 500 Pounds value, dashed it to atoms, broke his instrument to pieces and wounded himself severely.

Jump forward to 1979, the year two brothers, Brennan and Scott Olson, gave the inline skate a facelift. They called it the Rollerblade. This updated version of the inline skate included a rubber heel brake, and was designed primarily for off-ice hockey and ski training. But the Olsons saw the market potential and sold the Rollerblade company in 1984. The rest is history. Rollerblades became so popular they became a brandnomer for any in-line skate—you didn’t inline skate, you went rollerblading.

But popularity of inline skating has declined steeply since the late-1990’s. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association (SGMA) inline skate usage has dropped nearly 50% from 2000 to 2008.

So what exactly killed the Rollerblade?

The answer to this question seems patently obvious. Rollerblading was a heavily-marketed fad, iconic of the 1980’s. Images of neon-colored Spandex, clunky safety pads, and “extreme” Sunny Delight commercials come to mind. Of more recent vintage: Napoleon Dynamite pulling his Rollerblade-clad brother Kip into town with his ten-speed bicycle. Rollerblading has fallen so out of vogue it hurts.

Hockey may have something to do with inline skating’s common neurosis. Homophobia and racism has plagued hockey for most of its professional existence. NHL great Gordie Howe once famously remarked that hockey was “a man’s game.”

Inline skating is essentially the hybrid of ice skating and roller skating—two sports that have been ridiculed for their overt femininity.

In a recently published USA Today column, former minor-league hockey player Justin Bourne writes about the need for hockey culture to address its insecurities. Bourne, who played briefly in the New York Islanders system, regrets his silence in the presence of homophobia in the locker room.

“The lack of a homosexual presence in hockey must mean one of two things,” Bourne writes, “either homosexual men don’t play the game or they don’t feel comfortable admitting it.”

But homophobia thrives in inline skating too. Particularly, in the extreme sport of aggressive inline skating. (Notice the use of the adjective aggressive to further distance the sport from any homoerotic connotations.) Pro in-line skater and openly gay athlete Ryan Carillo experienced verbal and physical threats that eventually drove him out of professional competition. “I intimidate some them because I am not shy about my sexuality,” Carillo said in a 2003 interview with Genre magazine.

Did homophobia the kill the Rollerblade?

When I think about the death of inline skating the Hanson brothers come to mind. Not the three bespectacled bruisers from Slap Shot—but the pop band from Tulsa.

In the video for their massive hit “MMMBop” the three golden-haired Hansons are shown hamming it up in Los Angeles. Included, are several clips of Hanson rollerblading around an L.A. strip mall. Lest we forget: 1997 is the same year Limp Bizkit released their testosterone-soaked rap-metal debut Three Dollar Bill, Yall$. The late-90’s were no time for any self-respecting male teenager to be caught rollerblading or listening to Hanson.

The arrival of Hanson momentarily ruined my teenage life. I had long blond hair and played in a band. “MMMBop” appeared, and—as a matter of survival—I begrudgingly cut my hair. Three years after Pavement warned me not to. You can’t win them all.

Nevertheless, Hanson never bothered me too much, and neither did inline skating. In my younger teens, inline skating was an incredibly efficient travel option. The skates themselves required little maintenance. I played a lot of roller hockey, and preferred inline skating to bicycling because I didn’t have to worry about chains and gears and flat tires. I retired my inline skates sometime before I acquired a driver’s license. Little did I know how stressful dealing with car repair would someday be.

So it’s 2009. Homophobia is as revered as Fred Durst. Are Americans ready for the return on the inline skate?

Probably not. According to the SGMA the core group of inline skaters remains a low figure, at 1.9 million. Compare that to the 76.8 million Americans walking and the 29 million using treadmills. It would take some miracle of marketing for the inline skate to be considered anything but completely embarrassing.

Still, there seems to be no more opportune time for inline skating to rise from the ashes. In the next fifty years or so, America will not be able to sustain its automobile-centric communities. We’ll have to be on our feet more often. Why not strap on wheels and speed up the process?

Imagine that: Instead of apocalyptic images of smoldering rubble and leather-clad brutes battling each other for gasoline, picture millions of Americans strapping wheels to their feet and zipping around like it’s 1989. Either way you look at it, it’s kinda gay.

Sound silly? A little embarrassing? Maybe. But we’ve all got face our fears some time.

One day in grade six, Teacher asked us all to say aloud what we wanted to be when we grew up. “I’m going to be a doctor,” one boy announced as we all sat cross-legged in a circle. “I’m going to be a teacher!” a ponytailed girl called out with a raised hand. Another boy with red hair and freckles said he wanted to be a fire engine: a big, loud, red, fire engine. Teacher, a kind, grey-haired woman who always wore a blue, pleated skirt and held a piece of new, white chalk, corrected him by saying, “Don’t you mean you want to be a fireman?” “No,” the boy said, shaking his head. “I want to be a fire engine. A big, loud, red, fire engine.” Everyone laughed, but secretly I was scared that Teacher would ask me what I wanted to be. I was scared because I didn’t know what I wanted to be. There was no profession I could imagine myself becoming when I grew up. Would I even grow up? That was like imagining myself outside a forest when all around me it was dark and I was alone and really, if I’d been honest, although I already knew well enough not to be, all I wanted was to be at peace. Not a doctor or a priest or a football player—at peace.

#

The impact of growing up “different,” more stereotypically feminine than masculine but unmistakably male, was dissonant, and divisive. I was, throughout my childhood, “at war” within: wanting to be like the other little boys, but knowing, or at least thinking, I was not. In what way I was different, I could never have articulated, but my “otherness” was isolating. While the “real boys” played sports, talked about guns, cars, and were generally aggressive, I was more interested in singing, drawing, painting, writing poetry, playing with dolls and baking with my mother in the kitchen. Crying came easy, I never understood cruelty, and was teased, both by my schoolmates and my two older brothers, for being “too sensitive.” Once, in grade six, I pretended to like guns so that the schoolboys would like me. It worked: For a week I was included in their fold. The sense of belonging, of finally being “normal,” filled me with joy. But it was only a matter of time before my true self shone through; and shone through it did: Like pentimento beneath the painting of myself, my “femininity” eventually surfaced, as did my dislike of sports, and I was once again excluded, banished, from all their activities.

There were other signs of my “differentness.” My older sister, once while we were watching television in the living room, noticed me sitting with my legs crossed at the knees and, in a frenzy, told me never to sit “like that.” Her look of horror made me panic. “You need to sit like a real boy,” she said. My body had deceived me; in a moment of forgetfulness, my inner self had again revealed itself in ways I didn’t like, or seem to be able to control. Long before I’d heard of words like “gay” or “homosexual,” all I knew was my internal compass of desire was directing itself toward boys, and not, as I’d been taught was normal, girls.

My own body could not be trusted; it was the enemy, and I questioned it repeatedly. Sometimes, during puberty, while lying naked in the bathtub after dinner, I prayed for God to make my penis into a vagina, and my flat chest into breasts. I’d stand and look at myself in the mirror, pushing my penis between my legs so that my body looked more like a body that was supposed to like boy-bodies. My prayers, however, went unanswered, and I remained out of synch, discordant to what was normal. I remained, to my bewilderment, a boy-body.

#

A team of researchers, headed by Selcuk R. Sirin of Montclair State University (2004), have helped explain people’s negative reactions to male gender role transgressions. They found that “. . . men are punished more harshly than women for deviating from traditional gender role norms. This phenomenon, called male gender role rigidity, leads many boys and men to avoid developing or engaging in what society has prescribed to be feminine-typed gender role characteristics and stereotypically feminine behaviors . . . Other researchers have suggested that, for men, gender role rigidity might be a defense mechanism against experiencing anxiety associated with gender role violations” (“Differential Reaction to Men and Women’s Gender Role Transgression: Perceptions of Social Status, Sexual Orientation, and Value Dissimilarity,” The Journal of Men’s Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, Winter 2004, pp.129). This was certainly true for me. The anxiety that my own gender role violations might reveal the fact of my “differentness” is what, for years, kept me acting the part of a heterosexual—a “real man.”

Finally, at the age of 24, I came out to my parents as gay. “I am a homosexual,” I wrote in a letter that I left on their bed. The next day my mother, while we were alone at their house, told me that I wasn’t born gay, that I’d been “made into a pervert from some old man”—a reference to when I’d been sexually abused as a child, an event that we had never, in 15 years, discussed. In an instant I felt buried beneath the shame, and the heteronormativity, of her words.

In 1989, following a year of familial conflict, I left my hometown “to start over.” Soon alone, confused and depressed in an unfamiliar city, I sought treatment with Dr. Alfonzo, a psychiatrist referred to me by my then-general practitioner. “I feel like a crippled heterosexual,” I told him during my initial consultation. “How do I come to terms with who I am when who I am seems to cause so much pain and suffering to everyone I know?” Alfonzo explained the process of his treatment—a form of primal therapy—and I began therapy several weeks later.

During one of my early sessions, however, Alfonzo began presenting me with various causation theories, and said that he was sure I wasn’t gay because I didn’t have “any of the characteristics of a homosexual.” I asked him what he meant.

“Effeminacy, passivity, desperation to get a man, a drug addict, an alcoholic. You aren’t any of these things. The fact is, Peter, most gays learn their behavior. Therefore, it can be unlearned, though with great difficulty.” My greatest fear had always been that the sexual abuse had “created” my sexual orientation. Like my mother before him, I could not object.

Therapy intended to help me “feel better,” quickly morphed into treatment geared at changing my sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Not only did the practice, a form of reparative therapy, not work, it also resulted, three years into treatment, in my near fatal breakdown precipitated by prolonged, excessive overmedication—one of the many ways Alfonzo’s tried to “flip me over to the other side.” The medications, some used specifically to deaden my sex drive, made me feel numb, lifeless and passive. Any light that had remained alive in me was switched off: erections were eliminated, fantasy and arousal eradicated.

If Alfonzo, or psychiatry, became my oppressor, then I was like the written word and the eraser erasing itself. Yet despite both our efforts, and over five years of several concurrent psychotropics, I still clocked in at a six on Alfonzo’s revised “Kinsey scale” of one to seven: men, not women, remained the object of my affection. Finally, when it was clear my same-sex attraction could not be changed, Alfonzo attacked my gender: the ways in which I’d been masculinised or feminized. Hiking, construction work, ditch-digging: all were encouraged, as if in doing them I’d become a “real man.” His methods weren’t that uncommon. Clinical counselor Alice Christianson (2005) noted that in some reparative therapies, “. . . the solution is to more strongly identify with one’s gender. Men therefore should learn to change oil as part of their therapy, while women should get makeovers” (“A Re-emergence of Reparative Therapy,” Contemporary Sexuality, Vol. 39, No. 10, October 2005, pp.14).

#

In 1974, The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders II; twenty years later, Jordan and Deluty (1995) found that 12.9% of therapists surveyed still believed that “. . . such a lifestyle [of the homosexual] is a ‘psychosexual disorder,’ and 5% claimed that it is a ‘personality disorder’” (“Clinical Interventions by Psychologists with Lesbians and Gay Men,” Journal of Clinical Psychology, 51, pp.451). Christianson (2005) found that “Some reparative therapists have diagnosed homosexuals as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and then attempted treatment of the homosexuality as a symptom of one of these disorders” (ibid, pp.13). More recently, Eubanks-Carter and Goldfried (2006) noted that “. . . individuals who are having difficulty coming out as gay or bisexual may be misdiagnosed with borderline personality disorder. . . [because the] problems that resembled borderline symptoms . . . were also consistent with a sexual identity crisis” (“The Impact of Client Sexual Orientation and Gender on Clinical Judgments and Diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder,” Journal of Clinical Psychology, Vol. 62(6), pp.751).

In 1997, two years after leaving the therapy, I filed a five-page letter of complaint with British Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, detailing Alfonzo’s treatment of my homosexuality as a disease. His 500-page rejoinder, received by the College two years later, discredited my complaint by qualifying me as suffering from “borderline personality disorder.” In 2001 I sued him for medication malpractice, once again citing his treatment of my homosexuality. Prior to our Examination for Discovery, in late 2002, defence counsel’s “expert witness”—another psychiatrist—interviewed me in order to write an “expert opinion” about my psychiatric history. Once again I was diagnosed with “borderline personality disorder, in which disillusionment with caregivers could be a feature.” That I had also, throughout my therapy with Alfonzo, expressed “intense anger and negative views” about both my parents—that I had experienced distress at their lack of acceptance of my homosexuality—seemed to further reinforce his diagnosis. I couldn’t help but surmise, after reading his “expert opinion,” that virtually all men and women whose families had rejected them for being gay—or, for that matter, any other reason—and who’d then expressed “intense anger” towards and “negative views” about their parents, would also be labelled as suffering from some sort of personality disorder. Psychiatry, it seemed to me, had become the science of drawing maps, and not the exploration of the territories they signified.

Coincidentally, following in the footsteps of the removal of homosexuality from the DSM II, Gender Identity Disorder (GID) reared its disordered head in the American Psychiatric Association’s third edition of the DSM (1980). According to the current DSM IV (1994),

There are two components of Gender Identity Disorder . . . There must be evidence of a strong and persistent cross-gender identification . . . manifested [in boys] by a marked preoccupation with traditionally feminine activities. They may have a preference for dressing in girls’ or women’s clothes . . . Towels, aprons, and scarves are often used to represent long hair or skirts . . . They particularly enjoy playing house, drawing pictures of beautiful girls and princesses, and watching television or videos of their favorite female-type dolls, such as Barbie, are often their favorite toys, and girls are their preferred playmates. When playing “house,” these boys role-play female figures . . . They avoid rough-and-tumble play and competitive sports and have little interest in cars and trucks or other non-aggressive but stereotypical boy’s toys. They may express a wish to be a girl and assert that they will grow up to be a woman. They may insist on sitting to urinate and pretend not to have a penis by pushing it in between their legs. More rarely, boys with Gender Identity Disorder may state that they find their penis or testes disgusting, that they want to remove them, or that they have, or wish to have, a vagina (532-533).

The DSM IV goes on to describe GID in adults, which, it explains, most commonly manifests as a preoccupation “to live as a member of the other sex.” Considering my own cross-gender behavior as a child, and the fact that I developed into a gay man who’s accepting of the body he was assigned at birth—I have no desire “to live as a member of the other sex”—I can’t help but wonder if GID is the new euphemism for homosexual. Maybe the best way for psychiatry to diagnose and then treat the homosexual today is to diagnose and then treat the Gender Identity Disorder in children.

Kenneth J. Zucker, M.D., of Toronto’s Center for Addiction and Mental Health, and Robert L. Spitzer, M.D., of New York’s State Psychiatric Institute (2005), have argued against any type of “‘backdoor maneuver’ in replacing homosexuality” with GID, and yet they readily admit that some therapists continue to treat children with GID “in part, to prevent homosexuality” (“Was the Gender Identity Disorder of Childhood Diagnoses Introduced into DSM III as a Backdoor Maneuver to Replace Homosexuality? A Historical Note,” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Brunner-Routledge, 31, pp.36). The American Psychiatric Association, meanwhile, is set to release its fifth edition of the DSM in 2012, with Zucker and Ray Blanchard, M.D., a psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto, leading the committee for Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which was instrumental in having homosexuality removed from the DSM, has opposed their involvement with the committee, citing both as advocates for reparative therapies in gender-variant children.

#

If I am a house with many rooms, all doors to each of those rooms open up into me, my gender and I: one person. In other words, were I, as the 10-year-old boy I once was, to walk into a psychiatrist’s office today, without a doubt I’d be diagnosed with GID. Almost all of its symptoms I displayed as a pre-pubescent child, and yet I’m convinced my “preoccupation with traditionally feminine activities” was nothing more than an early indicator of my homosexuality.

But maybe that’s the point.

As long as we live in a heteronormative culture that by its very nature, its “thought reform,” teaches children to see themselves as heterosexual and “gender-appropriate,” those children who are not—and there will always be children who are not—will continue to experience their bodies as discordant to who they’re told they should be. I could not, as a child, imagine myself a grown up because I could not envisage a life beyond the normative boundaries imposed on me as an atypical boy. In the binary world of gender-appropriate children, I didn’t exist.

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.