SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2009 Personal Memory Ethnographies
The Spectrum of Fear
I was a 7th or 8th grader at Alhambra Traditional School in Phoenix, Arizona during 2000 to 2001. One day during class I was called up to the front office. Mrs. Tapia, the receptionist, told me that I had received a phone call from Kim Spivey, my mom (this was of course before the age of cell phones for adolescents). She was very concerned, and was calling to warn me that today, unlike most days when my grandma picked me up from school, my grandfather would be picking me up instead. I asked her why?
As the conversation with Mike ended, I pushed the end button and set the phone down in my lap. What had I just talked with my son about? I wasn’t quite sure what the hell was going on, but I was going to get to the bottom of it. I looked to my wife, Dorothy. “That was Michael,” I said. She nodded and said, “you seemed pretty upset, what is it Gary?” “I don’t know yet babe, something about little Gary exposing himself to Eric and Blaine? Apparently the boys say that he was showing off his privates over at the Juarez’s place.” Dorothy looked like I had just her a bad name. “What do you mean showing off his privates,” was her response. “I don’t know Dorothy, I just got done talking to Mike, but I need to call Kim and tell her what’s going on.”
She told me that he was going to talk to me on the ride home about an incident that had apparently arisen per a phone call from my Uncle Mike to him and my grandma, with whom I lived at the time. Apparently my cousins, Eric and Blaine, had accused me of exposing myself inappropriately to them. I knew immediately what the incident of supposed “exposure” was. When the three of us had been outside walking around at the home of our family’s friend, the Juarez’s, while my uncle and grandpa were inside, I had stopped to urinate in a rather large, well-like hole in the Juarez’s front yard. I had thought little of it at the time, aside from the usual trepidation of doing something adults would frown upon, and my cousins found it amusing. But evidently my grandpa took offense to my behavior.
An hour later I was still sitting in that chair, looking at the clock on the VCR. I was absolutely fuming, trying to figure out what on earth had possessed Gary to do something stupid like this. Was my grandson some kind of pervert? That’s bullshit. I thought Dorothy, Kimberle and I did a good job raising him; kids only come out wrong if they have crummy idiot parents. Fear; that’s what this feeling I’m having is. Uncertainty what something like little Gary being gay or a pervert means is scary as shit. Does that mean that I’ve failed as a grandfather? And what kind of future does that leave for little Gary? Jesus the psychos that walk around would tear him up if I don’t talk some sense into him, look what happened to that Matthew Shepard kid in Wyoming two years ago.
“Gary I’m gonna go pick up little Gary now.” Dorothy’s announcement stirred me from my reverie. I looked up at her and said, “no babe, I told Kim I’m gonna pick him up and talk to him, I need to be the one to do it.” “Now don’t you go losing your temper at that boy, we don’t know what’s really going on.” I knew she wasn’t being bossy, she was concerned for both of us…so was I. I threw her that look; “I won’t, I won’t, but I want him to tell me the truth.”
And so it was with fear and apprehension that I got into the truck with my grandfather that day. He was never a physically abusive man, but he had a temper that was wise to steer clear of. From the first moment in the cab of the truck I could tell that he was angry; he was quiet and frowned visibly. Then the subject unleashed itself upon me through him, and I’ll never forget how hateful it was; how much it made me cry to be the direct focus of such hate.
On and on he went, interrogating me about whether I was some sort of sick pervert, some deranged faggot, if I liked the thought of other guys putting themselves in me; this kind of rhetoric was my hell for the duration of the ride home, all for peeing in someone’s yard. Alone; that’s what I was feeling as the barrage continued. Alone, vulnerable, afraid…why was my grandfather so angry, why was this such an issue, was there no defense for me? Dry sobs were all I could muster after a time, and I remember the bright sun on a clear autumn day and the artificial cold of the AC beating on me with the same furious rage as grandpa’s words.
I had lost my temper with him, and Gary was sitting in the truck as I drove us back to the house, bawling his eyes out. I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel like crying too, this whole shit was damned upsetting. I wasn’t about to let on that I was that upset about this though; I’d have to wait till I could talk with just Dorothy and Kim. Little Gary says he was just peeing; there’s nothing wrong with that. What’s the big idea? Which one of my grandsons is lying? And why? I was going to have to talk with Michael for a while about this, and I’m sure Lori wouldn’t be satisfied unless Gary went to ju-vee or some shit like that. Lord I hate that woman, if she wasn’t Mike’s wife I’d pop her good, the way she sneers at Dorothy.
I cannot remember having received from my relatives any direct or subtle negativity towards homosexuality before, nor since this incident. But my grandpa’s vehement speech on that ride home from school was enough to terrify me at the thought that sex between men was so wrong that it was similar to the perversion of exposing oneself inappropriately to other people. What my grandfather didn’t know, and after this incident I was certainly not about to tell him or anyone else, was that I did have thoughts about other men, and that even then I was developing into the young gay man I am today. My only surprise is to that this incident never overtly stopped the development of my sexuality, although it did further encourage the suppression of it in the public eye for a few years.
Two days have passed, and I’m still not sure what really happened, and I guess I never will be. It doesn’t matter much to be honest, Gary seemed insistent on his version of the story, and Mike and his boys seemed to back off, so maybe it was all just some crappy pre-teen mis-understanding. I don’t really care much now, so long as they’re all safe and we can move on with our lives. (The news is on.)
Hmm, looks like Vermont’s going to be the first state to legalize unions for those gays, and I hear from Harry Calhoun that the legislature is talking about repealing our sodomy laws. I don’t understand these gays, but if Gary does turn out like em, I just want him to be happy. God forbid he turn out like Dorothy’s uncle Bill, that poor man is just so sad. Who can blame him, losing his lover to that AIDS shit…Gary’ll be ok though, we’ve raised him good…
Looking back on it now, this incident with my grandfather was one of the first events that I can recall in my life where I experienced a direct, attacking view against homosexuality. When I was a boy and this happened to me, I had no concept of why this was the focus of my grandfather’s concern. From the point of view of a family oriented and protective man like my grandfather homosexuality may or may not be wrong; I won’t know how he felt then unless I were to ask him. He absolutely would have seen it as a threat to my safety, especially with recent media attention involving the murders of gay or transgender people.
I admit that escaping my adolescence with this verbally hateful incident and not one of a more physically abusive nature, as many young gay people experience for their first exposure to how “wrong” being gay or lesbian is, is somewhat of a relief. Though the catalyst of this verbal bashing was an incident that I still see as separate from the idea of homosexuality (although the moral panic of gay=pervert would explain the bridge) it was my first experience with the idea that my choice of sexual orientation could be met with hate. The “otherness” of being gay isn’t always as easy to point out as the color of one’s skin or gender, but the reactions are just as powerful and moving.
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