Thursday, March 13, 2008

Manly Arts

For some reason, the Eliot Spitzer drama sends my thoughts in this direction. I think I went from the idea of his pugnacity to my lack of it.

If you talk to any gay man long enough, the chances are very high that you will hear stories of torment at the hands of his peers in high school gym. Gay jocks, a seeming oxymoron, do exist, but they are so rare (or so closeted) that they make news when they come out or are outed. I'm no exception to the rule. Gym class was torture for me; the only good thing about it was that it lasted only three years (high school for me was grades 8 through 12). When I hit my junior year I was finally free of the daily agony. I could show off my good points with no fear of being dragged back to humiliation, and I hit the ground running. I burst out as a social animal and pursued excellence in music. My mental health was better exponentially, but the scars of the previous awfulness remained. The nagging idea that my good points were by definition second best, no matter how good, took years to leave. They were only second best, supposedly, because I couldn't do the things that I ought to have been able to do. And I was left with a lifelong distaste for and disinterest in sports, or any form of competition at all, for that matter. If I play a game of some kind now, it's strictly for the fun of it. If another player starts being cutthroat and takes winning too seriously, I quickly lose interest. I don't play to win. I play to have fun. If I do win, that's great. But if I don't, I've still had a lot of laughs along the way.

I've never been in a fight, as a kid I never "rassled." I haven't the faintest idea how to throw a punch, and if I actually hurt somebody doing it I'd be scared to death. If the torment of the day actually included hitting of some kind (at times it did), I never fought back because I didn't know how--my performance in trying would simply have brought more humiliation. So I learned how to keep a poker face, never to give my tormentors the satisfaction of any response at all. I just looked away, or if I could, calmly walked away. What about help? Go to a counselor, or to my parents? Never. That would simply have brought attention to my plight; more people than myself would have had to acknowledge it. I made a conscious decision to handle the problem in my own way.

The lucky among us gain useful insight and become better people as a result of hardships we've had to endure. The lessons are forced upon us, to be sure, and if we had any choice in the matter, we'd rather have sat them out, but like any unpleasant medicine, they do us good in the long run. Just being "different" in my pre-adolescent years (not even knowing what "gay" meant) gave me an outsider's vantage point that I treasure to this day. As you carry your secret around, you become very observant of "normal" behavior in all its nuance. You adapt as you are able and become expert at faking the rest. It's no coincidence that the Peace Corps is home to many, many gay people. We are great cultural adapters. We've been adapting as outsiders our entire lives--it's second nature to us.

The later torment in high school and my stoic reaction taught me the lesson of patience, and gave me a strong sense of integrity. I never bowed, I fought in my own way by being better than the bullies. I was always proud to have survived another day, and that was a very good feeling.


Ravel said...

I can agree to almost all you said here. Been there, done that... and haven't the slightest idea how to punch a guy. To some of them, it might have do them a lot of good.
Anyway, this kind of cruelty between young people has always existed and still does. But today, they carry knifes and guns, did you know?
Yes, we did learn by keeping quiet and seeing/listening. I sometimes wonder at what price...

Kat said...

I, on the other hand, have punched a guy, but i was young and rash.

Having worked in a high school, I have seen the cruelty, but I have also seen tolerance. It was a long while back when our first same sex couple went to the prom. Their arrival caused not a stir.

Kat said...

They were guys. Our first lesbian couple was a few years later.

Ralph said...

Kat, the times may be improving just a tad, but then waht Ravel sayes is true too, abiut the weapons...I don't know. I'm just happy to be past that time!

Ravel...yes, the cost. I thought about that and decided nothing in life is free. Whaatever I am now came out of those days, and there is some good. So if tehre was a price, it was worth it.