When my father died, I went only to the first day of the funeral. It was not that I didn’t grieve. No matter how difficult our relationship had been, no matter how many times he yelled at or slapped me, no matter how much I disappointed him because I would never be the son he wanted, he was still my father. I wanted to be there to show my respect, but I could only stomach the dirty looks of my relatives for so long. They didn’t want me to be there. I had known this since the day my father died, discovered laying face down on our living room floor. The day passed by like a blur and I can only remember bits and pieces; my mother trying to wake him; my sister and I calming her down enough to drive to the hospital; the doctor’s cold, direct diagnosis of heart-attack. And I remember when my uncle arrived at our house. “You killed your father,” he muttered to me. “Murderer.”
In school, my classmates and teachers knew I was different before I knew myself. They made fun of my haircut, my fingernails, the way I walked. The names they called me stung like bee stings. When I went to the headmaster he said “Just look at yourself. If you don’t want to be bullied, you better change the way you are.” He was nothing compared to my religion teacher. He had a cane which he called the ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ which he used to punish students for no reason, particularly me. He would ignore other students talking in class and joking around, but when I did it he would humiliate me in front of everyone. One day when he was especially angry he left the ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ at his desk and slapped me across the face. Furious, I screamed, “I am a human and I have rights!” After that, he began punishing me every day. “Yes, you have rights,” he would taunt. “And it is right you are punished.”
My father had thought that if I looked and acted like a normal boy I would become one, as though not plucking my eyebrows would make me into a real man. When I was younger, I would hide my secret personality from my father, but you can only deny who you are for so long. One day, I got my hair dyed blonde and my ears pierced. I wanted to tell my family everything about myself. I knew my father’s reaction would be bad, but I was just as worried about my mother. My mother is kind, but has had a difficult life. She started working very young and it’s no wonder her walk is slow and her grey eyes always seem about to overflow with tears. She never treated me like I might not be normal, but I think that she just wanted to believe that everything would be fine because she couldn’t cope with any more difficulties. One time she told me, “I would rather not think of many bad things because they eventually break you down.”
The first thing my father did when I walked in the door was slap me on the face, yelling “What have you done to yourself?” Instantly, I forgot the entire speech I had been planning for the last two hours. I wanted to say that I liked men, that I wanted to be with someone like myself and that I deserved happiness just like everybody else. Instead, I stammered: “I have signed up for a theatre class and I had to do this for a role.”
“Don’t even think about it!” my father screamed. “You are going to cut your hair immediately, as short as possible.” And I did, of course.
When I was 15 I met Sam. He was eight years older than me, confident and comfortable with himself, a definite grown-up man. Not particularly handsome, he was tall but heavy-set and hairy everywhere except for his head. Without an older brother and almost no friends at school, I was happy to have the attention of this prince-like man. He encouraged me to come out of my shell and would listen attentively to my stories, a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye.
One night he invited me to a party at a friend’s apartment. I didn’t know what to expect. When I was let in I discovered that it was not a regular kind of party. The few guests were all young men, huddled in little groups. They seemed to know each other already and all turned to stare at me. I was used to being looked at in school, but this felt different. Sam came forward, kissed me on the cheek and gave me a big hug, protecting me from the other men with his giant arms. We found a quiet spot away from the other guests.
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