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Lord of the Gays

August 25, 2009


In 1983, I learned “gay” had not two but three very different meanings. The first two were pretty obvious. Of course, it meant “happy” in an old-fashioned way. This was handy to know when tossing the word by its second definition, the better, crueler meaning–and by that, I mean “stupid”, of course. Get caught calling a kid a gay, or worse yet, a gay fag (meaning twice as stupid), and all you had to do to squeak out of trouble was claim, “I was just saying that kid seemed real happy is all!”

But, when I pointed out the window at Nicholas from down the block, as he strolled past pretending to be a retarded duh, and informed my mother, “God, he is so gay!” she set me straight, so to speak. Asked whether I knew the what that word meant, I rolled my eyes and heaved a tremendous sigh, suggesting my mother was clearly only a hair away from retarded herself, and assured her that of course I knew. Everyone knows that, even kindergarteners. Gay means stupid, duh.

“No, not really,” my mother replied. “It means he has a boyfriend, that he likes to kiss boys.”

Well, I didn’t know about that, but I did know Nick was a moron, and closed the conversation with, “Fine then, I guess he’s just a fag.”

This summer, I spent two weeks living on an island that houses, among other things, a handful of residents in awesome little cottages, an alternative school, two yacht clubs, a nude beach, a queer cruising ground, an artists’ retreat, and a children’s amusement park. Exploring one quiet night, I shot photos of the willows, the boardwalk, the beach and the sunset, and ended up at the amusement park shortly before dark. It remains unchanged since my family visited in 1983–the same year I learned to properly define “gay”, I also learned that even small rollercoasters can be terrifying and that haunted houses make me scream like a sissy. The little park has not yet been colonised by chain shops, food vendors and conglomerate names, and retains a funny sort of charm, tough to date since it bears the patches of renovations, ugrades and improvements made over the past twenty-five years. And yet, the rides remain rickety, the snack bar sells unbranded treats, and the miniature village is modeled on the Wild West, circa 1978 or so…

…including this little gem, which I cannot believe escaped my scrutiny when I was ten. “Attorneys at Law–Elgin Gaylord”? Come on! Even if you’re not down with the kids, surely you’re familiar with some of the oldest taunts in the book?

I must confess, even at age thirty-six, it made me snicker. My mom can teach me this and she can teach me that, but some things will always, always be funny.

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