Book 5 of 52: Denial by Jonathan Rauch – I’m…Part Four
Growing Up Ignorant
I did not understand the process of growing up. I didn’t have older friends or an older brother to guide me through those tough years — not like I was much help to my little brother. But I never knew how to talk about any of the thoughts in my head. I would write them down or tell them to my stuffed dog and eventually my real dog. I didn’t get much of a response as you can imagine.
Yet, I remember when I had to change my word choice to seem less “gay,” even when I had no idea what that word meant. I would call friends on Saturdays to “play” but I remember being teased on the playground that play had a sexual connotation that was silly for a 9 year old boy to say to another 9 year old boy. It was around the same time that someone did the condo/condom joke that tripped up Grandpa Simpson. Instead, I would ask if they wanted to hang out. Over time, very few people did. I would imagine my hit rate was near 20%. Instead, I read and watched a lot of TV.
When I was in sixth grade, my dad made me join cross country to get out of the house and to stop watching cartoons. I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t like it and I didn’t make any friends doing it. Instead, I got bullied there, just like I got bullied everywhere else. One day, I remember running home. I was crying, which was not rare for me returning home from a day at Lincoln Middle School. My dad was doing something to the car in the garage and he saw me come up the driveway crying and he asked what was bothering me. I said that the kids on the teams were calling me names and I didn’t know what the words meant. My dad asked what the words were and I said I didn’t want to say. I considered them profane, even though I had no idea what they meant. He prodded me and prodded me and eventually I said the word: fag. He didn’t explain what it meant to me and I think it caught him as a surprise. I just remember him saying that I wasn’t one, so I shouldn’t let it bother me.
I don’t think that middle schoolers have some insight into someone or saw something in me that I did not see. If anything, it is just a word that people throw around without knowing what it means. Like serendipity. Nonetheless, it proved to me that I had to fall deeper into the shadows and just do my best to be normal. Or if nothing else, to not think about relationships or dating or girls or boys or really anything. I focused on something else – anything else.
Life is hard in high school if you don’t talk about girls. I have lots of memories of people (generally, teammates) trying to get inside my head to figure out who I liked. And honestly, there were girls I liked. A lot. I remember three in particular that I would have done anything for them to talk to me. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with one. But I didn’t want to kiss or touch or any of that. I just would imagine a sitcom like lifestyle where I would come home and she would be there and we would live a very Disney life. I imagined that a lot. I wanted that so much. I wanted to be a husband. I wanted to be a father. I wanted to be all of those things that a normal person is.
When the relationship I was in at the beginning of college ended, I knew why. I was not providing the care that she deserved and I regret ever putting her in a situation where she was not cared for. I have no idea if she suspected anything or was curious why I wasn’t that person for her. So, I convinced myself of something. Ironically, so did Rauch: “I had no sexual feelings, but instead was madly obsessive. I could not be a homosexual: I was not effeminate, I had no desire to be touched sexually by a man…But I was not behaving the way heterosexuals behaved.” Therefore, I was some sort of asexual creature – a monster, in all honesty, that was going to spend the rest of his life alone and in solitary confinement.
I thought that with time, I would transform into a normal person. This was not the first instance of such thoughts. I remember looking at pictures of models in magazines with huge pectoral muscles and looking my my concave body in the mirror and imagining when that would happen to me. I assumed like a girl, one day, I would just wake up and they would start growing. I had no idea that I needed to bench press my body weight or be able to do more than a handful of pushups. But for a 21 year old to assume that his body will activate and everything will work out is silly. That one day, a woman would walk by and I would have the feelings that everyone else I knew was having. Instead, I was back to imagining the long life I would have on my own. But I would be successful: law school and all of that, so who would question me? I had the best excuse: I’m too busy to think about a serious relationship. “I was childlike, responding with no response at all except to change the subject.”
Continued in Part Five