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25 January 2011, 9:00 am 10 Comments

Gender Identity: 50 Faggots – The New “F” Word

Submission by Aaron Gray, TNG contributor

Aaron Gray is a 27-year-old Chicago native, working as an Associate Designer for one of New York’s leading private label fashion corporations, and has assisted in designing collections for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’s Carson Kressley, celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, and California’s leading couture designer Bradley Bayou. In his spare time, he works as a bridal and special occasion designer under his own self-titled label.

Check out more about Aaron in his TNG article on “The New “F” Word” .

You can also find Aaron and the rest of the faggots at www.50faggots.com.

Check out more from the 50Faggots on TNG TV

***

Side note:  As I’m sitting down to write my article for this month about my life growing up Queer, I suddenly had this moment of complete clarity about a “hook-up” that just left my apartment.   It was a great night, one of those “special” and kind of rare moments when somehow the stars align and for one night you become “soul mates” with a complete stranger.  These moments happened a lot more often when I was in my early twenties, but times (along with my needs) have changed.  I guess my moment of clarity was just the realization that I’ve changed as well. That I can now easily accept that sinking feeling that once he left I was going to forget about him just as easily as he was going to forget about me (or at least pretend to).  I haven’t figured out if this is a moment I should be proud of yet, but I just had to get that out of the way so I can focus on the below.

First off, I’ve never really identified with the word Queer.  In my experience Queer has been a term often self-assigned by that special breed of liberal, socially conscious, and politically involved gay men and women.  My closest friends are of this breed.  They also use terms like “Gender-Fucking,” and back in my college days, when I was involved with DePaul University’s LGBTQ group, I won the award for “Best Gender Fucking.” I still don’t entirely understand what that award meant as it was never my intention to violently combat or fuck gender.  I was just having an intense love affair with clothes at the time, and leaned heavily towards the androgynous. And somehow, by simply being myself, I was unknowingly making a political statement that inspired people to think differently.  I do like winning things though, so it was a proud moment for me. (Thank you very much)

I was born in Chicago then moved to Washington, D.C., where I lived for two years as my parents tried to save their marriage.  After their divorce, I moved to St. Louis with my mom, Barbara (Barbie for short), and a year later we settled in northwest Indiana. I lived in Gary (birthplace of Michael Jackson) for a couple of years, until my best friend’s brother caught us having sex in my basement. I was 8 years old. I was a “firecracker” of a little boy, way too smart for my own good. I LOVED playing Barbies with the girls. Cousins would often catch me trying on my mother’s heels in her closet. She almost had a panic attack when I got red lipstick on her ivory slip dress while playing Dynasty in the backyard (I was Dominique Deveraux). But my mother, an expert at denial, blamed the incident on my best friend and in order to “save my reputation” moved us, once again, to a small town next to Lake Michigan called Miller Beach, Indiana, where I spent most of my life growing up.  Within a week in my new neighborhood I had a new boyfriend.  It was a passionate affair.  We broke up because I wouldn’t share my gummy worms.

Now, I’ve always been “different.” I’ve never been close to much of my family, save for a small group of cousins that lived nearby.  For most of my life, it was always just been Mom and me. At some point, I think as a way for my mother to deal with me being different, and not really knowing how to raise me, our relationship shifted from a mother/son dynamic to friends/jealous sisters. My mother was and still is a strong, independent woman with a character that is stronger than any man that I’ve met. Her need to work and succeed in business matched her need to spend time with me, so I was given a lot of freedom to explore different ideas about life.  I never had a curfew, nor was I was told to make my bed or clean my room or take a shower — these were all things that I wanted to do for myself.

My only responsibility was to get good grades and I happily obliged.  I was a latch-key kid that spent a lot of time alone reading books and, like many a young gay boy from a single mother living in the Midwest, television was my Bible.  It shaped my perception of the ideal everything.  For example: Thanks to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I still find nothing more romantic than a kiss in a rain. I always end up feeling like Charlie Brown during Christmas. Though I like to play the role of James Bond, the coolest bachelor of all time—who, in my opinion has always been little gay, which serves as a role I can really get into — my idea of the perfect future for myself is still (and will always be) The Cosby Show-cast as Claire, of course.

Though as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to the see the fun in being Heathcliff.  And as of late, I’ve started placing this ridiculous pressure on myself to meet my future husband so we can date long enough to realistically adopt children at an age where we won’t be too old when we have our 50th wedding anniversary, complete with our grandchildren performing a lip synched routine to Beyonce’s Single Ladies on the grand staircase of our (Brooklyn? Greenwich Village? San Francisco? London?) town home.  I know it sounds silly, especially as a gay man to place this unrealistic pressure of a “straight ideal” on myself, but growing up in Indiana, there wasn’t this budding community of gay mentors waiting to take me in and push me along the right path.  The only way for me to survive being trapped in that town was to dream about a better life for myself.  And those dreams all consisted of these random moments and images that I studied as a kid on television during the late 80’s and early 90’s.

And in 1992, at nine years old, my young life was forever changed when I was introduced to one of the most magnetic and powerful women I’d ever seen on screen in my entire life.  A woman so glamorous and complex that she became not only a leading role model for me, but the epitome of strength and sexuality.  Her name was Catwoman.  And she became my dream, so big, that for an entire year it consumed my life.  And with my head held high, I carried around a “whip”—made from an old bike tire that I cut—and after every sentence I’d curl my “r’s” and hiss.  Luckily for me, the boys on my block just accepted this latest character development, as I was still the only boy that could do a cartwheel and land into a perfect split.   Unluckily for me, this was the moment my mother had enough of my “shenanigans” and thought it was time for me to “become a man.”  And just like that, my little life changed.  My whip was replaced with a baseball bat.  Barbie’s were replaced with GI Joes.  And no more “hissing” when I got upset.  Also, communication with my mother from that point on was replaced with arguing or chatting with random strangers in AOL chatrooms.

Years later, during my senior year in high school, as I was walking in the Mall on my lunch break from the Gap, I saw two gay guys walking together wearing tight boot-fit jeans.  And with a look of disgust, I remember saying to a co-worker standing next to me, “Ugh. I will never be like that. I will never be THAT gay.”  I’m not proud of that moment.  And being who I am now, I can look back and laugh. But this story only serves to show how confusing and complicated life is when you’re growing up queer and you have no support.

“I think bad parents are a source of a lot of the problems with Queer youth.”

—Morgan, 50Faggots: A Gay in the Life: “Growing Up Queer”

The above quote is an excerpt from our 3rd installment of our mini documentary series A Gay in the Life, which consist of street interviews with diverse gay men and women we meet while traveling across the United States filming our Season One cast of www.50faggots.com.  In the video below, you will be introduced to three amazing queer youth activists from St. Louis, Missouri who have a profound and very honest discussion about life, growing up Queer, and the problems facing gay youth today.

A few weeks ago, as I was getting ready for work, I happened to catch an interview on The Today Show with Cheryl Kilodavis and her five-year-old son, Dyson, talking about her book “My Princess Boy.”  For those of you who aren’t familiar, My Princess Boy is a nonfiction picture book that Cheryl wrote for (and about) her son Dyson, whom she has allowed to let happily express his authentic self by enjoying “traditional girl” things like jewelry, sparkles, dresses, and anything pink. When I saw Dyson on my television screen wearing his pink velvet jumper and tutu, I began to tear up a bit, not only from the joy of seeing a mother so proudly supporting her son for who he is and how he wants to express himself; but I saw a piece of myself in Dyson, and my heart ached a bit for the surely long journey that lies ahead for the boy, who at a very young age, has been thrust into the center of a heated dialogue about the importance (or lack of importance) of gender roles for children. My only hope is that Dyson will continue to receive the same unconditional love and support from his family as he enters into the next stages of his life.

Sidenote again:  I can’t decide if I should keep this guy’s number in my phone.  It’s really not a big deal…I just know myself well enough to know that if I do put his number in my phone it somehow makes the situation more real.  I don’t think I want it to be real.

Growing up queer is no easy task. To be completely honest, being a queer adult can be just as confusing at times. Now in my late twenties, while I’m no longer the young Princess Boy playing with Barbies and trying on my mother’s heels in her closet, I did paint my kitchen pink (with black trim), and I now have the Barbie logo tattooed on my chest across my heart—for my mom—for doing the best she could, and for all the times I was able to play and pretend.


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10 Comments »

  • Dante said:

    I’m really glad you wrote this article Aaron! Growing up Queer myself I can identify with a lot of what you’ve gone through – I too had my phase in my life when I thought I was a super-human, ultra-sexy, take no prisoners bad bitch! lol! Back then for me it was Storm nowadays it’s Evelyn Salt (some never grow out of it) My heart goes out to all the little Princess Boys – I know all to well the struggle that comes with living who you truly are in a world that doesn’t get it – but judging by this article there is someone out that who does! :-)

  • Aaron said:

    Thanks for your support Dante!!!

  • Ethan said:

    There is nothing unusual about you or unique about your experience. This whole article is just an OD of NPD. No one cares about your boring life.

  • Eric said:

    wow. judging by the comments I’ve seen from this “Ethan” character on other articles, it seems we have just another arrogant and jaded gay man that thinks he’s alot more special than he really is.

    I’ve been following your writing for a few months now, Aaron, and this article is by far your best to date. You have an honesty and a way with words that I find completely refreshing and original.
    Keep up the great work!

  • Allen said:

    @ Ethan
    Telling someone that “no one cares about your boring life”, when clearly YOU care enough to write a comment, is pathetic, and seems slightly personal.
    I don’t think the point of this story is to be unusual or unique. He’s simply sharing his ideas on gender identity by drawing references from his life, current events, and the video project.

  • queer blogger said:

    Yeah, this Ethan guy obviously doesn’t get the point of this site and your post, and for some reason is feeling threatened by it.

    Ethan, we love you. Chill the f*** out.

  • Aaron said:

    In all fairness, my life IS pretty boring. lol

    However, I do love that one negative comment about my post, generated 3 positive responses.
    Thanks Ethan :)
    And Thanks to Eric, Allen, and QB for your support!

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