Growing Up Not Knowing I Was Gay

In my previous blog post, I asked for ideas to write about for this blog. A regular reader suggested…

Perhaps you could share life experiences of what it was like to grow up gay in the era that you did.

I have a gay friend who is 87. His recollections are always of interest.

Man, I may be old, but not *that* old (LOL!)

Joking aside, what was it like growing up in the ’60s and ’70s?

I cannot really or truthfully say, “growing up in the ’60s and ’70s as gay.” Why?

I did not know that I was gay until later in life.

I have always wondered about stories of teens “coming out” as gay. I really have wondered if they truly knew they were gay or were just exploring. I feel that in one’s teens, one is figuring out a lot of things about oneself, including one’s sexual preferences.

In my case since the question and this blog is supposed to be about me, and to provide some historical context:

  • Since my Dad was a diplomat and was stationed in Europe for six months each year, I grew up in two places in the U.S.: With Mom’s family in small town rural Oklahoma from July to December when Dad was overseas and from Christmas to June when Dad was stationed in Washington, as a family in suburban Maryland.
  • I am one of 15 children in the family, my twin brother being the youngest.
  • My parents were very caring and loving, but with so many of us, they were definitely not “helicopter parents”. They knew where I was and knew who my friends were, but mostly kept out of my business and just let me be me (as long as I didn’t get in trouble.) My parents did not drag me to after-school activities and schedule my life 24-hours/day.

In this context, I had a lot of freedom to do different things. My twin brother was a natural jock, and played any sport gracefully.

Me? I was an absolute klutz (still am). I could not throw a ball worth the life of me. I hated to dance, I disliked anything that was “alpha male” oriented. I pretty much kept to doing things where I could either be alone (riding my horse or exploring on hikes), or where I could apply my nerdy interests in science and math.

Because I was short for my age and definitely different (and shorter) from my brother, as well as being very sensitive, other kids sometimes would pick on me. Did they know that I was vulnerable because I was gay? No, I don’t think so. That never came up. Sure, sometimes (particularly in high school) the bullies would call me names including “fag” or “queer.” But that was just name-calling. I never did anything that indicated a sexual preference because I did not have one.

Because I hated dressing up (suits? bleccchhhh!) and dancing (remember, I have been an awkward klutz my entire life, and so bad at dancing that five sisters ran out of the room crying after they tried to teach me how to dance) … I never went to school dances with a date. I sometimes would go to a dance to staff the juice/cookie stand (to raise money for the student government), but I chose not to do what other boys were doing — that is ask a girl to a dance.

I did, however, have to go to my high school prom. Why? I was class President so I was obligated to go. But read this past blog post to learn how I handled it rather uniquely.

With open-minded, non-judgmental, and supporting parents (and later, only my mother since my Dad died when I was 12), I was never pressured to “be like the other boys.” Never.

I felt peer pressure to try to do things that other boys did, so in my teens, I invited girls to go out with me on a date on weekends or in high school, to a school activity such as one of my brother’s football or baseball games, or go see a movie.

Nothing happened. No smooching in the car, no “necking” in the stands or the theater. Why? I just was not interested. All of my dates were platonic. All of them. If a girl was interested in those kinds of things, she stopped going out with me and dated other guys. In fact, I learned at high school reunions (much later), that girls liked going out with me because they could relax and not have to worry about sexual situations because they could trust that with me, that would not happen.

No one in my life (family, friends) said anything about my platonic dates. I might have been asked, “so how was your date?” and I would reply with what I thought about the movie or the activity we went to see. I never talked about my date other than saying nice things about her.

I guess that I was very lucky because my twin brother was known as the jock and “ladies man” and my rep was kept protected, quiet, and safe.

I also never thought about dating a guy in high school. Sure, there were times that I went out with a guy — usually my best friend — but we just drove around in his old Plymouth Fury III and drank beer. That was it. We never explored anything sexual because each of us never thought about it and were not interested in sexual activities with each other.

I was this way even in college. It was not until my mid-20s (1980s) that I began noticing other guys in a different way and not until then that I explored sexual interests with another male.

I do admit that I probably “noticed” other guys more than I “noticed” other women, but I did not know why. I was always admiring boots on other guys. Hard-workin’ cowboy boots on ranch hands in Oklahoma, and Frye boots when I was in high school. So my interest in other guys was limited to their boots. Seriously … nothing else.

So to this question, “what was it like to grow up gay in the era that I did?” Yes, I believe that I was born with the genes that control sexual orientation — in my case, gay. However, I cannot really say that anything was different in my youth because I was gay. I did not know I was gay. I just did things and interacted with family and friends as any awkward, klutzy, science geek in a loving large family would do.

Life is short: be who you are and on thinking back, cherish that your parents and family were non-judgmental and non-controlling.

2 thoughts on “Growing Up Not Knowing I Was Gay

  1. Thanks for sharing that part of your life. I was a lot like you and never really dated until I went to work and met my wife who was interested in me. Ending up getting married and having kids but when wife died my interests went back to men and that was bad as I have a family and have not been able to tell them different about me which has been hard for me. I like you enjoyed looking at boots and that is why I look at your blog to see all your boots. Just how tall are you ?

    • I grew 8 inches after graduation from high school. I was the shortest class leader in history at 5 feet even. My twin brother was 6-foot 4-inches, so he towered over me. Even today, I still look up to him.

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