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Totally Jim

Totally Jim


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.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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James Howe