The first play I remember is Puss in Boots. Puss was a worthless liar, but he had the baddest boots in town—tall, with heels tall enough to make even a little boy tall. Puss’s boots were exquisitely cool, and this at a time when coolness was my primary criterion for judging everything.
I dreamed about those boots, speculated about them in different colors and with steel caps. I spent years trying to do my boot thang. For a while I tried what we called engineer boots—big, black, and way too heavy for running. Cowboy boots were fairly cool, but not the least bit comfortable—nobody’s feet are shaped like that.
After high school, I found myself in the Chicago Loop every day and at loose ends between classes. One day I found them in a surplus store on Dearborn.
They were black, my favorite color, and reached nearly to my knees. I was working in the language laboratory at school, and I devoted a month’s wages—about $40—to making this dream come true.
When I wore them with a fuzzy, royal-blue sweater, I knew I cut a dashing figure certain to drive the girls wild. I fancied a hush fell over my classes when I walked in. I wore my boots as often as I dared, often with my pants tucked in, to give the crowd a treat.
Then Sid, my first gay friend, told me that since I spent half my time looking like a blue petunia and much of it hanging out with him, rumor had it that I was queer, too, and that he had recruited me. He was amused.
I was flabbergasted. They were pirate boots, for Pete’s sake! (I didn’t know much about pirates, either.) They thought I was a sissy! We used to call homosexual men sissies. Did I mention this was a long time ago?
I wasn’t about to stop hanging with Sid, but I didn’t have to be a petunia. I gave the sweater away, but I couldn’t bear to part with the boots, and they gathered dust until my self-confidence caught up with my wardrobe, but by then my feet were too big.
As a hormone-driven teenaged heterosexual in the throes of adolescence, I wasn’t willing to risk being labeled inaccurately. I couldn’t take the chance that some sweet young thing would write me off unfairly.
As an old guy, though, I couldn’t care less. I could’ve easily been gay, and there’s at least one male proposition I would’ve given some thought to, except I was imprinted early on by the female human form, mostly in Jet. You know how ducks and things are imprinted with whatever form they see first? Like that.
And now after knowing queer men and women, and being friends with them, and living with a gay man, I realize that I’m prejudiced toward them. Based on my experience, there’s something I expect a gay man to be, even if I’ve never seen him before. As open-minded as I am—and I am plenty open-minded—I still expect a gay man to be, more than anything else—smart.