I care less about what people think. A lot less! But having cared for most of my life has allowed ideas to pierce my mind and lodge within. What you say to me today may not matter but the things that were said when I was 6 or 16 years old did. You would never know it by looking at me.
By the time you get around to not caring, you have already had to wade through the opinions and feelings of what feels like the entire world.
The first time I had a bad trip*, I remember going back to the place of a young anxious brother, and watching others watch him. I was a young brother with only sisters. And mostly a single mother. I played with dolls, tiny teacups & tiny pieces of fabric. I also had soldiers and toy guns. It was the 90’s so guns were still acceptable toys. Although, they still are for some people. I played
boy games wrestling but also girl games clapping games. From young, the snide comments often opened my eyes to a difference between boys and girls, as well as between other boys and myself. The earliest memory I have of this divide happened on Christmas as I was playing dolls and teacups with my sisters like a good christian. It was either my father (I really hope it wasn’t) or another relative that made this foray into homemaking an issue. I started to feel like I was doing something bad although I wasn’t quite sure what it was. Such offhand remarks in different situations gradually made the situation more apparent. As a typical young brother, the only thing I had ever wanted to be was my father. I wanted to watch TV like him, sit like him and emulate his ways. I could tell that I was not meeting up to this standard.
How was I to know that I was beginning to feel and internalize the poison?
A few times, I was sent away to spend the weekends with my male cousins. Looking back it was an attempt to ensure that I acted more….something? Even at 6, I knew the purpose of these trips.
I always had fun at my cousins picking millipedes, mashing spiders or walking the streets barefooted. Usual “boy” stuff. There was one thing that petrified me. There was a tiny insect problem. Sometimes, insects would crawl out scavenging for food. I remember thinking how alien and otherworldly they looked with all their legs. My elder cousins would tell us to be like their one brother who was not scared. He refused to let the threat of centipedes move him. Oh, to be that mountain of steadfast assurance. I felt like I was failing the purpose of this trip by not being stronger. Was it not an open secret that I was in their home to be made more manly? Were they not supposed to toughen me up? I always left feeling like I may have failed to change for the better.
It never helped my case that I longed to be by the side of my mother and my sisters all the day long. They were my home and I never had to feel ‘other’. They were the reason I could never fully see what people were saying. And still, overtime snide remarks and passing words accumulated. Little foxes that were able to get through the hedges.
By 9 years old, I wanted to be a different kind of boy. I could feel a stigma that would only get worse with age.
I knew the mold that I needed to fill or at least pretend to fill. I also knew I would never fill it. I felt like a nerd, a loser and a sissy. The harshness encapsulates how I quietly saw myself for much of my childhood and into my teens. I hated Steve Urkel for popularizing a certain narrative that I felt mocked boys who were different. I felt uniquely offended whenever anyone would draw a comparison between us. It was not always a great experience to be that guy.
Even now, Im tempted to let people know that I was never bullied, an effort to make myself seem less….pussy?
I would later spend more weekends with my male cousins never really understanding how I was supposed to change. I knew I was supposed to be different but I was uncertain whether I was supposed to imitate them or an inner reform would start gushing out at some point. I really made the effort to change. Maybe I’d be in the middle of an incredibly masculine activity and the spirit of manhood would usher in a rebirth. Was I supposed to be feeling or acting differently?
I knew for sure I had gesticulations. I knew I had mannerisms. I was already going to be different and I hadn’t even touched puberty. Imagine the devastation when I realized at eleven that I was attracted to girls and then also boys. It seemed to verify everything.
. . .
On that bad trip*, I took an unusual turn, away from the usual freedom and escape. I took a 2 decades trip back into what I’ve refused to see. I’ve spent my life trying to outrun effeminate notions about myself that began in childhood. Time spent struggling to believe that I was passing for something I may not be. I was petrified that I had failed to do so. I called my wife in a state of panic. I had spent 20+ years trying to prove something to everyone. Why?
My inner fat kid is a sissy boy. I get terrible anxiety when I think that I may still be that kid.
I try positive affirmations. ‘Loving’ that kid. I have tried convincing myself that he is an important part of who I am. I truly believe that. And yet, I cannot shake the feelings that have stayed with me for the past 2+ decades. I wish I could end by saying that I have learnt to let go of those feeling. But, I’m still working on that.
– Anxious Brother