January 18, 2013

Why Didn’t I Buy Nike?

Alright, folks. I warned you it was coming. I don’t have many readers anyway, and this may start driving them off, but if I’m going to make this blog anything but an honest record of one man’s coming to terms with his crossdressing self, it’s going to happen by showing how it’s never really just about crossdressing. I can’t promise these will all be worth reading, or that things will come in a logical order, or that some of it won’t sound like whining and self-pity. They are what they are.

Got it? Moving on then …

In 1985, the illness and eventual death of actor Rock Hudson was a major news story, as well as a milestone in the history of AIDS and LGBT issues. The revelation of Hudson’s homosexuality and the awareness that his death brought to the AIDS epidemic were unprecedented at the time. It made a whole lot of people aware of these issues. It got people talking. It got people thinking.

I was not one of these people. I was a tall, chubby kid just entering the fifth grade who didn’t pay any attention to the news and who didn’t know who Rock Hudson was. Despite that, Rock Hudson’s story would come to impact me in a major way.

I have tried desperately to keep this blog an anonymous affair. Everything I do online as Aria is divorced from my real identity. I don’t even follow myself on Twitter for fear of someone connecting the dots. But for this story to make sense, I need to reveal this much: my real name is one that is, in part, close to the name of Rock Hudson. Close enough that when Hudson became the topic du jour in the summer of 1985, even the kids at my elementary school weren’t too insulated to notice the similarity.

I was not a popular kid. Husky, nonathletic, and from the “boondocks” part of town, I wasn’t terribly friendly with a lot of kids, and I was sometimes the target of the meaner kids. But before the incident I’m about to describe, I don’t remember being *bullied*. But then, the bully who started it all — I’ll call him Mike — wasn’t in my class until the fifth grade. So maybe I had just gotten lucky before.

It happened I made the mistake of wearing the wrong sneakers. They weren’t fancy or flashy. They were just white, maybe with a little color on them; honestly, I don’t remember what they looked like all that well. That wasn’t important. What was important was their brand: they were Adidas sneakers. Me, with the Rock Hudson-like name, walking through school wearing Adidas sneakers. As in AD-didas. As in, AIDS-didas. As in …

“Your name is Rock Hudson, and you’re gay, and you have AIDS!”

I couldn’t tell you, to this day, what triggered it. I don’t know why he chose me as his target, or why he suddenly made the connections that he did. But sometime in the autumn of 1985 Mike made the connection between me, and Hudson, and my shoes, and he decided that it was worth harassing me over. And at that point,  “Your name is Rock Hudson, and you’re gay, and you have AIDS!” became the constant taunt directed at me.

At the time, I didn’t even know what “gay” meant! I just knew that if Mike and his asshole buddies were calling me it, it was probably bad. They chased me with it; they harassed me with it; they accused me of it. All because of the similar name and a pair of damned shoes.

That harassment continued for several years. The specific line about being gay and having AIDS died off a bit once Mike disappeared ( I can never remember if he was held back, or moved out of town, or what; I really didn’t care). But the subtext never went away completely. This was the 1980s, a decade where it was believed the kids would be kids in that bullying is just something that happens; and so it wasn’t until seventh grade that my mother decided that things had gone too far and demanded a school counselor do something about it. After the school counselor intervened the worst of it stopped, but I was never going to be the popular kid in school. I was tall and fat and socially awkward and the one who had been called “gay” for most of middle school. Kids don’t forget that.

I am not a firm believer in the idea that one moment can profoundly define your life. But if I were a believer in that sort of thing, this would be one of those moments. I can’t deny that there are still echoes of it in me today. My family didn’t have a lot of money in the 1980s, and so I had to wear that pair until they got replaced; but from that date to this, I have never worn another pair of Adidas sneakers. Whenever I see Adidas sneakers, to this day, I won’t try them on. Because to this day, those fifth grade taunts linger in my head. You’re gay. You have AIDS.

Maybe that’s what I need: a little shoe therapy. Maybe I just need to get over it and buy myself a pair of Adidas sneakers. Women’s sneakers, of course, just for the irony. 😉

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