WANTING TO BE WHO WE'RE NOT
 

Creative Nonfiction by Queer Writers
Edited by Jim Tushinski and Jim Van Buskirk
Now available from Harrington Park Press

 
 
 

ESCAPE FROM THE APPALACHIANS (excerpt)

by Frederic B. Tate

     As a child I simply did not fit in. I grew up in the 1950's in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains where the tips of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia all blended into one. Like the other children, I ran barefoot in the summer, swam in the cool mountain lakes, and caught fireflies in jars at night. Each autumn I was amazed by the beauty of the colored leaves extending as far as the eye could see. When the soft snow fell in the winter, I would hike with my friends to the top of the mountains far above the timberline and watch the white flakes cover the dormant mountain laurels.
     Any similarities with the other kids stopped there. I was gay, precocious, and found religion ludicrous, none of which were acceptable traits in the South during the Fifties—especially for a child. However what alienated me the most was that I loved to climb up in trees where I remained reading for hours. I would put my book down the back of my pants and with my hands unencumbered, climb until I found a good branch at a reasonable height. In a neighborhood filled with kids and me having an older brother, it was one of the few places where I could get some time to myself and see my world from a different perspective.


     For some reason this behavior, which I saw as perfectly logical, caused my poor parents more concern than my inability to play sports and my refusal to participate in a meaningful way with anything that was even remotely religious. My parents were less worried about my mortal soul than what the neighbors might say. Occasionally, my mother would bring out a peanut butter sandwich or some freshly baked cookies and hand them up to me. She always admonished me not to fall, and with look of grave concern, headed back to the kitchen to which most women of the Fifties were slaves.
     My father was perpetually inventing activities that would turn me into a boy who better fit his definition of masculinity. He started with baseball. This lasted for a month until I was knocked unconscious by a ball. Next was Boy Scouts. During the day we worked on merit badges and at night we drank, smoked, and had circle-jerks. None of these activities had the desired results. I have to give my idiot of a father credit for at least being persistent.
     Being gay or agnostic may not be so rare, but what was unusual is the fact that I came out of the womb that way. Even before I had heard the word "gay" or "homosexual" I was well aware of my attraction toward other boys. Being a smart kid, however, I learned that one needed to be very cautious about expressing these feelings. I also understood that I would have to travel far away from the mountains to ever be free.