Age: 8 years old
Place: Spring Valley, CA (Suburb of San Diego)
This one took a bit of time to gestate. Yeah, writing these is the closest I’ll come to giving birth. Now, I know my dad always said that that distinction was solely for the passing of kidney stones (and yes, I’ve had one and I’ll have to agree with him on it), but in my case – cranking these bad boys out is just as gut wrenching because they’re my memories, my life experiences I am allowing to bubble up and show up here on the VQR blog.
So, why do them? That’s the obvious question, right? So obvi – as the kids say these days. Jesus, as a sidebar conversation, can I tell you I am always in a constant state of grousing that I get to refer to people younger than me as “kids” and it actually means something? I just fucking hate that. I have such a great appreciation for my elders (who are still kicking it around) now that I am at that age they were when I was younger. They were right: it looks totally different from this side of that youth obsessed, ageist fence.
To answer that question, before I get rolling on the topic at hand, I am doing it because I don’t feel queer people document their lives as much as we should. It’s sort of a catch 22 with me: in that, I come from an early enough era where I am highly suspicious about what our governments are doing with all of this information that is constantly pouring from the masses. We’re being cataloged, categorized and reduced to algorithms that work to predict our next move. So, given that, why contribute? Because our voice is an important one. Each of our journeys is what’s missing from the greater discussion. As queer people we’ve become inured to the heteronormative message out there as if our own voice has less credence and doesn’t belong in the mainstream context. That’s why I am doing this.
Adding one more queer man’s voice to the mix, preserving another queer history, even if it is only my own.
This one took a bit because it deals with three areas of my life that have always been a bit of a quandary to me, mostly because they center around my intimate relationships with other boys. Some were good, others, yeah, not so much. But the one common thread – they were all definitively male.
Yeah why not go with the worst part, right? Like ripping off of a bandage, just do it first and do it fast and the worst will be over.
Here’s the dealio: every queer kid who didn’t have the luxury of passing as anything but queer has their battle stories, how the other boys made their lives hell. Yeah I have mine, too.
The first real “incident” (as it was come to be called by the staff at La Presa Elementary) was between me and an asswipe of a guy named Eddie. He was Latino, like me (remember, Collins is a nom de plume), something that should’ve made me a part of the tribe, right? Only in this case, being singled out as a sissy, a faggot, or queer, my being Latino like him only served to make it worse.
Latino men are consumed with that whole macho masculine mystique. Yeah, I am here to bear witness that ninety-nine percent of that is utter bullshit. For the most part it is all put-on airs and doing what’s expected of them by those pushy Latina women who do their level best to make sure their men act like some fucked-up myopic view of what a man is. Believe me, women should be the LAST fucking word on that. Look to your own, ladies. That whole “I need me a real man” is so fucked from the moment that fecal-laced thought ever forms in your fucking heads.
Yeah, I went there.
I do blame Latin women for it, HOOK, LINE and FUCKING SINKER. Ninety-nine point 999 percent of male-induced homophobia can be drawn right back to that whole concept of “what makes up a man.“ Yet, that’s never been the case for women. You got tits? Ya got a vagina – bang! You’re a woman. I’ll not devolve into the fucked up male connotations of what makes a perfect woman because I am not using that POV to apply it to men. Body modifications, imagery aside, we’re just talking what makes the grade of being Man or Woman enough. Women get an automatic pass. Got the anatomy (trans ladies aside for the sake of this point, if tangentially relevant)? Then you’re in, you’re a part of the club. Got a cock and balls, is nowhere NEAR good enough to label you as a man. We have qualifiers for what makes up a “real man” and that shit is what builds bullies. That shit is what makes queer boys like me fret for our very lives.
[stepping down from my soap box]
So, La Presa Elementary and Eddie.
He was not the first to bully me at school, but he was the most significant. He was the first to move beyond the name calling. He was the first to physically threaten me and he did it while other kids were around. Publicly.
I was in the third grade. He was in sixth. Hardly a match to begin with, wouldn’t you say? But that’s the way of bullies. They only target those that are a sure win. They’re bullies, not brave. Let’s not confuse the two. There is no courage on breaking the weaker among your own. That’s nothing but cowardice, plain and simple.
Only, knowing that, even at that age, and being the precocious child I was, I did have that partially sussed out, on some level. I knew he was afraid of who I was. He didn’t like me, yet he didn’t even know me. He only knew what other kids had said about me. I was in third grade for fuck sake. Why else would a sixth grader bother?
Looking back on it now, I can sort of see that maybe he was afraid he was more like me than he wanted to admit. We’ll never know.
Wanna know why?
Here’s how it went down:
I remember that it was a fairly good day for me. Music time was right around the corner for me (remember Mrs. Sowers and my Julie Andrews ways in third grade?). So the day was looking up for me. I had my favorite lunch – cheese sandwich on Roman Meal bread. So life was good. I wanted to think it was just going to be a peachy school day.
Then Eddie changed all of that.
The lunch recess bell rang. We all had to make our way to our respective class lines to march – well, walk back (it wasn’t a military school) to our classes. Only I got waylaid by Eddie. He came up from out of nowhere. A bunch of kids were walking alongside me and I remember running my fingers along the chain link fence, humming a song that had been trapped in my head for a good part of that month. I had just begun to notice popular music that was on the radio. And that only created a new form of musical torture – musical ear worms, songs that you just couldn’t give up humming no matter how hard you tried. I remember being so caught up in humming that song, taking my sweet time to fall into line for Mrs. Sowers class, that just as I was about to get to my class line, a rough hand reached out, gripped my shoulder and pushed me very hard into the fence.
My whole world stopped …
This was the first time anything violent had happened to me. I was stunned. The funny thing was, kids saw it, but didn’t stop him from doing it, they didn’t say a thing about it.
In their defense, Eddie was a big guy for a sixth grader. From what I’d heard, he was actually held back twice because he just wasn’t smart enough to move on. I don’t know if that was true, and as I said earlier, it wouldn’t matter much in the long run.
To give you an idea of what I was up against, he was a few inches shy of five and half feet tall. Big for an elementary kid. He had a frog-like face, oblong from side to side – wide, and emphasized by the coke-bottle-bottom horn-rimmed glasses he wore that made his eyes look like they were about to pop out of his eye sockets at any moment. He was a husky boy. You know the type – fat-ish but no one had the balls to say that to his face so everyone said husky – the code word for fat on the playground. He had curly longish greasy black hair. When you added a bad case of acne, and his breath stunk like death warmed over, it only completed the monster image I had of him at that moment.
I remember every detail about his face and breath because it was now inches from my own.
“I don’t like you.” He breathed heavily into my face.
“Why? I don’t even know you.”
“‘Cause you’re a queer kid. All the guys say you’re queer. I don’t like queers. I smear queers.”
I don’t know why I remember those words as clearly as I do. Or why his greasy hair, bulging eyes and fetid breath still are as clear to me all these years later but I guess it’s because it was the first time I was truly scared.
But something in me changed. I don’t know where it came from. I’ve always had a smart mouth – it’s both my curse and my joy. I’ve used it to great success and to my utter demise at times. I know it now for what it is. I do my best to curb it when I can feel it won’t do me any good.
Only this time? Yeah, I didn’t know when to keep my trap shut.
“What’re you gonna do? Hit me?”
He smiled. He had teeth that were so yellow that I just knew I wasn’t going to come out of this alive. You’d think that’d be enough to keep my trap shut. It wasn’t.
“I’m gonna mess you up good.”
And I don’t know where the next thing that fell out of my mouth came from, but I went there.
“If you hit me, you’ll be sorry. ‘Cause I curse you. Something really bad is gonna happen to you.” What that was, I had no idea. It just fell out of my mouth.
That stopped him for like a second, then he laughed his ass off, exposing those yellow stinky teeth. I remember seeing his fist pull back and I knew in the next second I was gonna feel a whole lot of pain.
“Eddie! What do you think you’re doing?” Mr, Tibbets called out to him. I was never more thankful for that growly-assed teacher to be near me as I was then. Brown growly bear suit or not, he was a godsend.
“I think you need to get into our line, Eddie, and we’re gonna have a little talk with the Principal after school.”
See, my little curse was already working.
Only I didn’t think it would go beyond that. But it did …
A week later he was hit by a car crossing that same damned boulevard where all the accidents happened. He didn’t die, but he was paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life. He never did come back to our school.
Word spread from the kids who witnessed it. I remember all the kids giving me a wide-birth when word finally got around to what happened to him. I knew I didn’t do anything other than let my mouth get the better of me. In a way, it was a very lonely time on the playground. No one wanted to be near me. I was the kid who gave curses. I didn’t mind, really. Being left alone was safer. I began to just use my imagination and invent things and people I could feel safe around. I’d walk the large perimeter of the recess grounds – which were quite large. I’d sing songs to myself. I would stop and watch other kids play. I wanted to be a part of it. But it was safer for me if I didn’t.
So I didn’t.
Empty victory, really. But I learned a valuable lesson. Two, actually, when I thought on it:
Recesses and playtime were never the same after that. I was always looking over my shoulder, always an ear to the ground. Danger could come from anywhere.
Words. It was when I learned he power of words.
Words were only the warning flag. Being called a sissy, a queer or a faggot was only the beginning of where it could go. Boys could do real harm to me. Boys I liked could be part of that. That’s an awful lot to swallow for a third grader. My parents reared my brother, sister and me knowing that life was often unfair and something could happen to them at any time. We needed to be prepared for that. I memorized our phone number from an early age (kindergarten, in fact) just so I would always have a number to call when something went wrong. Grandma would be there during the day to take care of things if something happened.
But with all that preparation, I don’t think they ever thought that something could happen to me. Maybe they did. They often thought of a great many things before I did. But it was the first time I realized that something could happen to me and I could be hurt. Badly.
My world changed that day. Eddie got his. I hated thinking that, but some small part of me was glad that he wasn’t going to be in a position to do anything to me in the future.
I was a big fan of Bewitched. I practiced twitching my nose and practiced my spell-casting as an extra means of protection. It never worked, obviously. But it gave me something to take my mind off of being so alone. My brother and sister were at the same school but being in first and kindergarten they were relegated to the smaller kids’ part of the playground. So it was just me, to myself.
I learned later on that Eddie didn’t have a great home life. He was picked on by his family at home. That’s another indicator of bullying – they’re usually bullied somewhere else and its a learned reaction.
So I forgive you and your fear of me, Eddie, wherever you are. In a very odd way, you gave me the lens that I needed to see how to watch out for myself. So in that way, I thank you.
I got by, made the transition to fourth grade before that homophobic monster would rear its head again. But I’ll leave that for another telling.
Until next time …