Changeling’s Journey

February 18, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood lately.  How did the child prefigure the man?

I was supposed to have been what they call a “gifted child.”  I remember, when I was young, hearing my mother say, “You’re a [fill-in-the-surname], you’re smarter than most people.”  It’s interesting that usually she filled the blank with her maiden name, not her family name.  I’m not sure what that says about her opinion of my father, but she always believed that her children were the brightest and smartest and most likely to succeed of anybody.

What this meant for me became very clear in second grade.  Those years my father was stationed at Dover AFB in Delaware and we lived in town.  Mom used to take me to the Delaware State Library, and I was allowed to check out pretty much anything I wanted, whether or not it came from the children’s section.  I had a tenth-grade reading level, so the nuns at the Catholic school decided that it was appropriate to take me out of the second-grade class and send me to read with the fourth-graders.

Of course, this meant that I became marked as “different” from both second-graders and fourth-graders.  And the school still did not provide the appropriate reading material.

In my third grade we were in San Antonio.  The school there, in an infamously poor and underfunded inner-city district, decided to have me read by myself in the corner while the other children did their lessons as a class.  My homework was always completed in class, a pattern that was to be repeated for years, and I always got “A’s” whether I was really paying attention or not.

Except for PhysEd, where the “A’s” were rare.  But that’s another story.

In time, these seeds of “being different” sprouted into full-scale alienation.  I developed psychosomatic illnesses: asthma, vomiting, colds, anything to avoid having to stay in the class where I clearly didn’t belong.  I wasn’t consicous of the psychosomatic mechanism, all I knew was that I still got “A’s” whether I was at home or at school, and I felt better when I stayed home and read good books, wrote music, and did other creative things.

We went to Guam for a couple years, then came back to San Antonio in my sixth-grade year in 1972-73.  I was sent to a child psychologist.  The main thing I remember about him is that he asked me if I’d ever seen the movie Cabaret.  In retrospect, that should have been a signal that he had figured out that I was gay.  At the time, all I knew was that I was too young to see it.   Years later, it all made sense.  In the meantine, puberty and discovering my sexuality became just another reason to feel separate, different, and unable to relate to the world around me.

I was severely depressed.

We went to Minot, again, for a couple of years.  I don’t know if my father had offended someone or if the Air Force had a strange sense of how to cap off his career, but he had the special misfortune to be stationed in the middle of frozen nowhere, North Dakota, for two separate periods.  In the first, I was born in 1961,  After the second, he retired and we moved back to Texas in 1975.

I completed eighth grade there in Minot with a tutor instead of going to school.  Basically, I’d read books and go over to visit a lady on base and just talk, every day.  I don’t recall her name now, but we’d sit at her kitchen table and just chat about whatever.  And that was school.

Upon moving back to San Antonio, I was enrolled in the high school a couple of blocks from home.  I only lasted a month or so, and then I didn’t go back.  I didn’t fit, didn’t belong, wasn’t challenged, wasn’t interested…  I just wanted to be alone.

After several alternatives were considered and discarded, I finally finished high school, almost on time, all “A’s” through a correspondence course.  It provided me with a diploma to say I had one, and entry to college.  I also had and retain the peculiar distinction of being able to say I went to high school with Michael Jackson.  He did the same high-school-by-mail that I did.

I’d like to think that I progressed from wierd to normal, and Jackson the other way.  But really, who knows.

After high school it was too late in the Spring to apply to the university, and I needed an experience to sort of “get my feet wet” before trying to plunge into college.  I went to the community college for a year.  Although I did well in my studies — all “A’s” again — my biggest lesson was learning how to be around people, how to fit in.  The first class I took was “Speech Communication”.  Listening skills,  Public speaking.  It was a big help.

After that I went on to the University of Texas at Austin.  I did finally manage to get two “B’s” over those college years, but ended up graduating with Highest Honors, Phi Beta Kappa, and Phi Kappa Phi.  I’d had almost no social life to speak of, not dealing with starting to come out until my senior year.  Being gay was something I had to handle intellectually before I could handle it emotionally, and of course, even then it was difficult.

I didn’t know what to do when I graduated so I went to grad school.  Big mistake, but at least it got me to Washington, D.C.  I had more social opportunities there, found friends who gently helped me develop further, had a lesbian boss mentor (thanks, Anne!) and many incredible experiences the like of which I’d never imagined.

Still, I always felt like some sort of a changeling.  It’s as if I grew up in a different country, and people assume I grew up here.  I didn’t, not really, and it still catches me up from time to time.  Shyness.  Labeled as a person apart.  Seeing everything from a strange perspective.  It is what it is, and all I can do is my best

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