I’m spending several hours this week with 40 kids, the youngest three, the oldest 14. Each has a story about being or becoming aware that they are “different,” had crushes on other boys, puppy loved other girls. Incipient same-sex attractions all.
Their stories are accompanied with photographs taken by adoring parents, nosey neighbors, intrigued friends, who in the long run provide support, rejection, bewilderment, and once in a while applause.
Each kid’s awakening moment features in a new book, “Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up Gay,” by Paul Vitagliano (Quirk Press, $14.95). Vitagliano is a radio DJ, events promoter, self-styled “promosexual.” Presumably a big Lady Gaga fan.
“I started the BTW project to show young gay kids that they’re not alone: many others have gone through everything they’re experiencing now,” says Vitagliano “We must share our stories and pay it forward for future generations. Being gay is as normal and natural as being straight.”
“How could they not but know I was gay?” asks Dennis, now 38, of a picture of him treasure snapped for posterity at age 3, with his hands artsy on his hips, one knee a little too akimbo, in Vogue magazine high fashion style, not to set off gaydar alarms for today’s readers.
Then there’s Steven, age 4, looking every bit the little charmer in a blue baton-twirler’s costume. His sister’s. He says, “I don’t remember wearing it, but I’m sure my mom thought it was harmless and funny. As early as this age, I loved feminine things: art, and playing doctor with my cute neighbors.
“Later I was in chorus and band, like many of us kids back then. I was the only boy in junior high to choose disco class over football.”
Clarissa, age 4, born in the Bronx, 1969, is shown riding a Merry-go-round motorcycle. “I always wanted to be tough and dirty, and I would go to work with my dad the mechanic. My mom found a way to get me to wear dresses by making them herself, patterning them after Lucy Van Pelt of the Peanut’s cartoon. I acknowledged Lucy’s toughness, and I felt touch in those dresses too.”
Not included in the book is someone very special to me: Bobby, age 5. The picture (see above) is taken at Lake Orion, Michigan. Bobby answers to the nickname given to him by his Uncle Jack: “Buzz.” Bobby also learns early on to provide full title information should he be lost (or, kidnapped for ransom by a Buck Rogers movie serial villain): Charles Robert Bobby Alexander, Jr.
Bobby is an only child, which is OK with him, as there are plenty of kids in the apartment building where he lives. He is popular with girls, Betty, Joan, and Patsy, but enjoys playing baseball, kick-the-can, and What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? with Burton School classmates and neighborhood chums.
At age 13, Bobby who has magically become Al, is told by same-age, former kindergarten buddy, Charles Authier, “We better stop this, or we’ll grow up to be, you know, queer.” (I know what happened to one Charles. I wonder whatever happened to the other?)