Friday, August 3, 2012

When Did You Know?

Go, Speed Racer, Go!
Nostalgia fully rears its bittersweet head in three... two... one:

I don't think I knew what it meant when, at age 10, I had my first crush on a boy (more on that, in a bit). In those days, my neighborhood friends and I would take every chance we could to look at somebody's dad's Playboy or other titty magazine, carrying on like the 10, 11 and 12 year-olds we were. For me, it wasn't so much the titties as it was the thought of being "naughty." I didn't understand the significance of that, either.

Life for kids who would now be referred to as "Tweens" was very different in the early 70's. We knew the future was coming, bringing technology with it. We had no idea of when or what or how much that technology was going to completely change the entire world in a few short decades. There were no video games then and there were 3 main channels, PBS and a couple of VHF channels (what my mother still refers to as "the off channels," for some reason). Even though we were very early cable TV subscribers (which meant we got off channels from New York!), we still had less than a dozen channel choices. There was no HBO; Showtime or Cinemax. In fact, the first time a friend told me his cousin got a channel that played uncut movies, 24 hours a day called "Home Box Office," I thought he was making it up to try and impress me or something. Computers were huge machines that took up entire rooms, though they had moved on from punch cards to tape and VCRs were still 8 years away. Anyone who has smelled the unmistakeable aroma of purple mimeograph ink knows exactly what I'm talking about. There was no CNN or FAUX News; no Google, Facebook or Twitter (words which actually had entirely different associations, then). No smartphones, tablets or laptops. Hell, there weren't even faxes. The Olympics were tape-delayed even then, but there was no way to spoil the results. I didn't know that gay people even existed at 10. I didn't even know that I was one of them because I had no real frame of reference for what I felt.

So, now onto to my first crush on a boy. Or rather, I should say: a fictional boy. Back when there were far less than than 500 channels, one's after school TV choices were limited. Channel 10 (at the time, CBS) had Gene London, a live studio show that I never really cared for. Channel 6 (ABC) had "Pixanne," who played cartoons, but was really for younger kids. VHF Channel 48 had "Bozo"* and classic Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes; Hannah Barbera and MGM cartoons: Bugs; Daffy; Elmer; Snagglepuss; Doggie Daddy; Quick Draw McGraw and Tom and Jerry. But VHF channel 17 had Wee Willy Webber, the go-to guy for anime and kaiju (not that those terms were even known here, then) shows. "Ultraman;" "Gigantor;" "Astro Boy;" "Kimba, the White Lion" and "Speed Racer."

Young Uncle P loved all of these shows and I knew and loved all the characters. But then... there was a special Two Part "Speed Racer" where Speed and Racer X (secretly Speed's supposedly dead brother) are in race through a South American rain forest (don't ask me why, I don't remember). What I do remember is at the end of Part I, Speed crashed the Mach Five and had to make his way through the jungle in a torn shirt. Then, in Part II, Speed's shirt had literally disintegrated and he was shirtless. And I... well, I wanted to be in that animated jungle helping cartoon Speed (and maybe even kissing his boo-boos). Again, at the time, I had no idea what those feelings meant. But that episode has stuck with me all these years, though it wasn't until much later that I managed to put those particular pieces together in a very "Aha!" kind of moment.

The summer before high school was when I knew for sure and it was my then best friend who helped me figure it out. It was my high school Theatre and Accelerated English teacher (a lovely and brilliant man who has created the top-rated high school theatre program in the country) who was the first adult to recognize, acknowledge and tell me that it was okay to be gay. He also taught me more about theatricality than any professor I ever had (not to disparage any of the men and women who have taught me over the years).

I was pretty much out to most of my friends in college, though I sometimes (like many of us) eased them into it by telling them I was bi-sexual, first. I came out to my mother and sister rather late in life, both of whom already knew (they always do) and both of whom still love me exactly the same as they always had before I told them. Of course, at Uncle P's age, one doesn't give a Jolly Roger what anyone thinks (except you, faithful readers - and even then... ). I've never had to actually come out at my current Day Job. People just kind of figured it out for themselves and completely accepted it and me as a package; far more interested in how I do my job than who I love.

I know that at least a few of you folks play for my team (or at least lend your athletic support). So I really am hoping for some responses to my questions, tonight. 

First - gay or straight, who was your first crush? It can't be any more embarrassing than a Japanese cartoon character (and yes, Betty; Veronica; Betty and Wilma count, but so does Racer X).

Second - When did you know for certain that you were gay or straight? 

Third and Fourth - If you are LGBT, when did you come out and how has your life gotten better (or - though I hope not - worse) since you did?

Please leave your answers in the comments! Meanwhile, if you are reading this and still struggling with coming out, or want to know how much coming out is a good thing, please watch this (via):

More, anon.

*One day I MUST relate the story of my sister and I appearing on "Bozo" - Uncle P's Television Debut!


Aaronwex said...

My first crush was Daphne from Scooby-Doo. Of course that was when I was just a little kid. As an adult, I realize that Velma is the way to go. Also, when you wrote "a lovely and brilliant man who has created the top-rated high school theatre program in the country", I knew you were referring to Lou Volpe, even though I had no idea you knew him.

Prospero said...

Lou was my mentor and the man who convinced me I was talented. I love him, very much and am sad that he will be retiring at the endof this academic year.

Anonymous said...

When I looked at "those" mags with my friends, I was always looking for the men (mostly in Penthouse).

I always knew even before I knew what it was that I knew.

I don't have a definitive 1st crush but I loved Speed until his brother came along. And there was Race (Jonny Quest), Prince Turhan and Bez from The Arabian Knights and a few more.

I remember loving Bozo and the Magic Garden and It's Time for Joya and I waited every day for my name (it never was) to be said on Romper Room.

Although I always knew, I didn't date or really come out until I was 31 which is when I came out to my friends and at work. I came out to my family a few years later to their surprise but unconditional love and acceptance. Life is better and would have been much better if I had come out in college.