Totally Jim

BY James Howe

September 26 2005 12:00 AM ET

I grew up in the
’50s, a time when to be gay was to be mentally ill,
immoral, a criminal, and at best invisible. Is it any wonder
it took me 40 years to come out, even if the evidence
was in when I was in grade school that I was a little
gay boy? I played with dolls, dressed up in my
mother’s clothes, and even held tea parties for my
stuffed animals.

My brother
remembers seeing me in a play in kindergarten. I played a
pixie. He was sure I was gay, even if we didn’t use
that word back then. In polite conversation, the word
was “homosexual,” and it was said with a
slight drop in the voice. In less polite conversation, the
word was “fairy” or
“queer” or “homo.” I heard them
all.

For many years I
put a lot of energy into proving my brother
wrong—changing how I walked and sat, having
girlfriends, and belting out show tunes only in my
bedroom.

When I came out
at age 51, I had been married twice. I produced my most
popular book, Bunnicula, with my first wife, and a beautiful
child with the second. I loved both women and for all
appearances was a happy heterosexual man. But deep
inside I knew who I was really, even if I
couldn’t deal with it. I was still living with the
labels and images I carried with me from childhood. I
was exhausted, and maybe it was out of exhaustion more
than anything else that I decided, Enough. I can’t
live this way any longer.

Coming out
brought not only joy in finally being able to be myself but
a release from fear. I hadn’t realized until I
said “I’m gay” out loud how much
my fear of discovery had ruled my life. With that fear gone,
I was free—and if I felt like being a pixie,
there was nobody who was going to stop me!

And there was no
one to stop me from writing about the kind of gay boy I
wished I could have been, the kind of gay boy who is much
more possible in fiction and reality today than when I
was growing up. Twelve-year-old Joe Bunch, one of the
four main characters in The Misfits, my
young-adult novel published in 2001, is fey and gay and
secure in who he is. Joe was written with love and
humor, and with the pixie in me very much alive and
dancing. But he was also written with a red-hot anger
toward those who would deny that he exists.

After The Misfits
led to the formation of No Name-Calling Week, a
national program sponsored by GLSEN and 40 other groups, I
visited many middle schools around the country.
Invariably the questions came around to Joe. Who was
he? Why had I written about a boy like that?

Clearly, a second
book was called for to answer the questions. I wrote
the just-published Totally Joe for boys like
me—the totally Jims and Marks and Bobs. I wrote
it for the girls too—the totally Lauras and
Anns and Robins. I wrote it for their families. And I wrote
it for the bullies, the elbow-jabbers, the gigglers,
the squirmers, and those who are stuck back in a time
when to be gay was to be immoral, sick,
criminal…or invisible. Those of us who are gay know
we aren’t any of those things. Like Joe,
we’re totally who we are—and that’s
exactly who we should be.

Tags: Commentary

AddThis

READER COMMENTS ()

Quantcast