"You know you're completely taking me by surprise," she told me over the phone. "I had no idea."
"Seriously?" I asked, wishing I could see her face for a sign that she wasn't screwing with me. Months later, when I broke the news to my mom, she had a similar reaction. To this day, I'm not sure whether they were being honest or ironic.
Sure, growing up, there had been a few red herrings. From third-grader to tween, I'd had crushes on female classmates (all of them out of my league -- maybe subconsciously I was shooting for the unattainable so that I'd never actually have to date one of them), and at the eighth-grade banquet, I spent all night sobbing into my punch after Kim LaRose turned down my invitation to dance. But now that I think back on it, would a heterosexual-in-training really have behaved like such a drama queen? Even without shoulder pads, I could have taught Alexis Carrington and Erica Kane a thing or two about over the top.
No, I never walked around in mom's high heels, admired her dresses or experimented with her make up -- but young gay boys generally only do that on TV and in the movies. Though my interest in charts, the Oscars and The Golden Girls wouldn't flourish until my teens, and the Lifetime years were more than a decade away, there were early signs. I couldn't be bothered with fast cars, playing catch with my brother, Pete Rose or Farrah Fawcett. Which brings me to the first of six hints that I'd grow up preferring Ken to Barbie (though I never played with dolls).
I was a Jaclyn Smith kind of guy. Boys wanted Farrah, girls wanted to be her -- or at least accurately simulate her flip hairdo. In a sense, she was on everyone's lust list but mine. I had my eye on another one of Charlie's Angels. Sweet, refined and beautiful in a wholesome kind of way, Jaclyn Smith was more my style. Unlike Farrah and Suzanne Somers, the top-two TV bombshells of the age, she never sold sexy. She was the kind of lady whose hand you could spend all night holding and never have to go farther than first base.
Actresses rocked my world. Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone were the major movie stars of the day, but I was too focused on the queens of the small-screen -- Smith, Lindsay Wagner, Victoria Principal and Jane Seymour at night, Bewitched's Elizabeth Montgomery and I Dream of Jeannie's Barbara Eden in afternoon reruns -- to care about the tough guys. I don't remember much about the moment when I found out that Elvis Presley died (other than that I was watching Star Trek), but I vividly remember every single emotion that swept over me when I heard the news that Grace Kelly and Natalie Wood had passed away.
I was obsessed with beauty pageants. I mean anything I could get my eyes on: Miss America, Miss U.S.A., Miss Universe. To me, Miss America host Bert Parks had the best job in the world. I still remember prancing around the living room as if I'd just won the lottery when Janelle Commissiong, Miss Trinidad and Tobago, was crowned the first black Miss Universe in 1977. By the time Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America in 1984, I'd lost interest, but beauty pageants and I had a good run. When I came out, one of the first things my mom said was, "But you loved beauty pageants so much as a kid!" Exactly.
I hearted Olivia Newton-John. Unlike many gay men of a certain age, it had nothing to do with Grease. In fact, to this day, I've never even seen the musical. My love of ONJ began in 1979, just as she was shedding her good-girl image with "A Little More Love." It was love at 25th sight, though I was more enamoured with her music than her sex appeal. I never got into Judy Garland (too tragic), or Barbra Streisand (too Broadway), or Madonna (too raunchy), and I was a bit late to the Kylie Minogue party, but to this day, my heart skips a beat whenever I hear "Xanadu."
I was addicted to soaps. Most people around my age remember being sucked into daytime soaps at some point as a kid because their mothers were hooked. I was no different. Some of my fondest pre-kindergarten memories are watching Love of Life, Search for Tomorrow (I'll never forget the sight of a young Morgan Fairchild, who played Jennifer on SFT, throwing herself through that glass door) and The Young and the Restless with mom every weekday afternoon. Nothing too out of the ordinary there. But surely mom should have suspected that she had a future diva on her hands when I insisted on missing the first day of third grade because I had to see the resolution of All My Children's Friday cliffhanger. If only we'd had VCRs, TiVo or YouTube back then!
I was a suburban metrosexual. Other boys my age were going to the Boy's Club, or playing football and baseball, but I couldn't be bothered with such manly pursuits because dirt and sweat repulsed me. I was more concerned with the crease in my straight-leg Toughskins (boot-cut and bell-bottom hems made me look fatter), and spent too much time frowning at myself in the bathroom mirror, warding off pimples, and patting down my hair, trying to get the Afro just right. I'm no longer quite so high-maintenance, but I'm hooked on Kiehl's, and I never go to bed without flossing.
Mom, if you're reading this, don't despair. Your gaydar may have been out of service for years, but at least you raised a son who's well-groomed and loves women.