My life, as I suspect it has been for most of us, has been one discovery after another. Many of my most memorable discoveries have involved the turning upside down of some of my most dearly held “unexamined assumptions”.
One of the first that comes to mind involves the “talk” my parents had, not around the birds and the bees, but rather the disturbing news that Santa Claus really didn’t exist and that this was also true for the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. I think my parents were only going to address Mr. Claus but my young inquiring mind also wanted to know about these other magical characters that were so important in my life. This chat happened I think around age eight which seems a little late. I mean the Catholic Church was already harping that seven was the age of reason and mortal sin possible.
Perhaps the delay in relaying this information was related to the fact that there were so many other younger kids involved and I was becoming suspicious so it became necessary to enlist me in the ruse to protect the younger innocent imaginations. I was certainly starting to question things; I mean we didn’t even have a chimney and the roof was very steep in the house I lived in until age 15.
A Christmas a year or so later, after the Santa bubble had been burst, was filled with almost unbearable anticipation due to a cash gift the family had gotten from an unmarried male relative who lived in a near by town called Valparaiso with his male “roommate”. They were described as bachelors, talk about unexamined assumptions. That ruse had no choice but to remain intact in rural Indiana in 1957. They sent the money to my parents to get something nice for the kids that year. I clearly recall the amount being $40.00 a large sum for a small time Indiana farm family.
The gift was purchased by my parents secretly and placed in a fairly large festively wrapped box under the tree several days before Christmas. The anticipation was sheer torture. The disappointment though was palpable when myself and four siblings got to open the prize. It was a large very colorful globe of the world. Every country at that time displayed with bright colors. It was mounted so that it spun around and could be tilted to reflect rotation on its axis around the sun I expect. I must say it did get a lot of use and certainly helped us in our geography classes, something actually taught in Catholic Schools at the time. In hindsight I wonder if this was not meant to stimulate exploration and perhaps discovery. I am uncertain though if this was my parents agenda or one my bachelor relatives had to subtly encourage us to explore beyond the narrow confines of rural Indiana.
At about this same time in my life I would engage with one of my favorite aunts in the springtime hunt and often-delightful discovery of wild asparagus. She would drive and I would be shotgun. We tooled along about 5 miles per hour down old lanes and along railroad tracks looking for asparagus, which grows wild often in bunches. She had an eagle eye for it at quite a distance. I rarely saw it ahead of time but was the gofer. She’d see a stand of it and I would get out of the car and follow her orders for straight ahead then to the left and right being exhorted continually to not run too fast until I was usually stepping on it. I’d pick the choicest spears and head back to the car. In a short time out we would have a large quantity to take home to be steamed and slathered in butter. Springtime wild asparagus remains one of my fondest childhood culinary delights. I like to think that my Aunt Dorothy helped to teach me the art of patient discovery. Take your time move with deliberation and who knows what you might discover at your very feet.
Looking back at my life as more of a whole though the greatest discoveries have not come from surprise presents at Christmas or wild asparagus but the amazing and continually evolving discovery of my ever-evolving queer identity. This seems to be one of many differences between straight folk and us. We really do get in touch with our queerness through discovery. Straight kids kind of have their sexual options handed to them on a platter. We of course are extended the same plate but when nothing on it is appealing we have to start searching around. Where do we and our desires fit into the world? Heterosexuality really is one of the most “unexamined of assumptions” in the world we are born into.
One of the most amazing discoveries of my life was the mind blowing erotic response to kissing my first lover. He was really a romantic so that our first few initial physical encounters involved only handholding and kissing. The discovery of simply holding another man’s hand and playfully stroking each others fingers was amazing and I can perhaps say that most of my extensive sexual exploration since then has been rather downhill.
I think this necessity to be explorers open to discovery is one of our great queer talents. We seem to excel at it for our lifetimes really and here we are at it again in this group. You only make the best discoveries when you take a bit of risk, which many of of us do weekly opening our souls in our writings to everyone around the table. As was stated so profoundly last week by Gillian “I can’t imagine a bunch of straight people doing this group”. I totally agree that it takes a group of seasoned explorers such as ourselves to make the delightful discoveries we do about ourselves each week.