As a child growing up in Toronto in the 70's & 80's I had a very free life. Despite the fact that little boys and girls often disappeared in the urban jungle that was our playground, our parents allowed us to play and roam the neighbourhoods like they were our own backyards. We woke up, jumped on our bikes and often only returned to eat and assure our moms that we were indeed still alive. I knew my neighbourhood like I knew my face. I knew every trail, shortcut, creek and forest that was to be found. It was suburban Toronto and it was safe and it was ours.
I would ride around on my brothers old bike wearing nothing but my little red speedo. My skin tanned and and my hair golden from the sun before the days of mandatory hats and sunscreen.
The kids of the neighbourhood were as familiar as the trails that we coasted our bikes along. We knew where to to go avoid the bullies and how to get away when we came upon them. One day I remember the consequences of those rules.
It was June, it was sunny and it was hot. I was alone, in my speedo and on my bike, tanned and my (pre-Bieber) golden locks blowing in the wind. I found myself at the edge of the creek in sight of a group of the "undesirable" kids gathered around looking for trouble. They found me.
When the leader of the group, with his BMX bike, cut off jeans and wife beater on called me over in a friendly way, I should have raced off. But I didn't. They never spoke to me before. Were they allowing me a chance to join this exclusive group?
I rode over to them like an animal would approach a trap, adrenaline and fear raced through me but I was also beaming with pride and excitement. I was, if not for a moment, hanging with the cool kids. I found myself in the circle, nervously fidgeting with my hand brake, waiting to see how I was going to fit it. Waiting to see how being cool felt...
"What the hell are you?" "Are you a boy or a girl?" "He's a FAG!"
The blood drained out of my innocent body. I instantly knew like a cornered animal that I needed to flee. I knew that I needed to get away as quickly as possible. I was paralyzed. I could not speak muchness defend myself against such questions or comments. I didn't even understand them. As quickly as "being cool" started, it was over. I did as I would do for many years to come and I laughed it off and ran away. Those bike peddles never moved so quickly. I rode that little bike along the trail, the weeping willow branches swatting me in the face as I peddled. The tears running down my face as quickly as my little feet could turn. Their words chasing me... "He's a Fag!"
What was a FAG? Why did they call me a FAG? I was only 7. That free, open world that my parents allowed me got much smaller that day.
From that day on I heard that word FAG often. Sometimes it was used against me, sometimes it was used against the other boy in school who like to play with the girls. Sometimes it was on tv or in a movie but I did not know what a FAG was.
One day I was watching TV with my father and the Local Toronto news was on. On this day they were covering a parade that had taken place in the city. It was a parade full of colour, full of fun, full of protest. I could instantly feel the tension in the room and knew that this was not a happy parade for everyone. I had never seen such a parade and I knew that my parents were not going to be taking us to it like they would take us to the Santa Clause Parade. As the News broadcast continued I heard that word again. This time from a more familiar voice. My father called back to the TV and said "Those FAGS should get the hell out of the city!" It was then that I knew what a FAG was. It was also then that I knew I indeed was a FAG and that I would never be loved by my family because of it. FAGS were misfits by birth. FAGS had to hide away in a part of the city and come out once a year to be teased and bullied by the rest of the community. I was just a boy and I knew at that moment that I was never going to be the same again. For years following the day of that parade I used that memory to suppress who I was. I told myself that I was a FAG. I also told myself that I would never be able to let anyone know that I was a FAG. I had this cross to bear.
It darkened my youth and it clouded my faith. That God damned word changed the way I lived and loved. It created self shame and made me think that my family hated who I was. It blackened my soul.
My father spoke what all men of his generation spoke. He never thought twice about that sentence again and today he loves me more for who I am than who I was. He is a light, he is a lesson, he is my father. His word, that word, used by so many in the past and today and will be repeated for generations in hatred and disgust is no longer the powerful weapon it once was.
Today, I am a father, a son, a brother and an uncle, a friend and a foe a blogger and a dreamer but above all else, I am a FAG. I represent generations of FAGS, past present and future. That word is mine and it will never hurt or scar me again. Peace!