STANDARD ISSUE

By Michael Perreault

 

I'm a sissy boy, a gimpy boy. I was intended for standard issue, but I failed from the get-go.

Four-and-a-half months after my birth my life took a dramatic departure from the path of the white, middle-class, abled, hetero boy who was supposed to go to college, get a good job, raise a family in Wisconsin and make his parents proud. Instead I lay in quarantine, paralyzed from the neck down with polio, arms dead, legs dead and a body unsure it wouldn't also be dead.

My parents, grateful I could still turn my head, collapsed in relief when my survival was finally assured. It was then, my aunt told me years later, that my father lost his faith in God.

Will he ever sit up, my parents asked? The doctors said, "not likely." But I did. "Will he stand?" Again, the doctors said, "not likely." But I did. "Will he walk?" "Probably not," they said. Eventually, I did. But it wasn't without cold hard metal inserts under my arches in ankle-height orthopedic shoes attached to heavy chrome braces that clunked and gave me Frankenstein-like movements.

The machinery forced my body into compliance should I fail to overcome on my own. Overcome, that was my job. Overcome at all cost. You must walk baby, walk like you've never walked before—which, of course, I hadn't.

There was a corset. It was pink, the only one available at a time of need for so many. I liked the pink. It was the corset I loathed. I always hid it from my mother in her vain attempts to keep scoliosis from weakening my spine and making me crooked.

If I was made in the image of God, it was a God gone awry. There's an old children's verse. I believed it was written for me: "There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile, he lived in a crooked house and had a crooked smile." In my case, there was no smile.

My family lived in quarantine, abandoned by friends. It was, after all, an epidemic. My dad was allowed to work, while my mother spent days in the hospital tending to her newborn. It was mid-September, still sweltering, and my seven-year-old brother had to sit alone in the car for hours, below the hospital window, so my mother could watch us both. He was quarantined too. I don't think he ever forgave me.

Years passed, highlighted with at least nine surgeries, many unsuccessful, most of their promises undelivered. In the meantime, my parents relented and let me have my bedroom painted pink. It was still my favorite color. Once, I chose a white rabbit-fur Davy Crockett hat. I thought it was pretty. I liked anything pretty. I played with dolls, dressed up in my mother's clothes and tried to walk with my braces forced into my grandmother's high heels. When I wore Mom's dresses she secretly called me Susie, the name that would have been mine had I been the girl they'd hoped for.

My brother, forced to contain his rage at me, was not permitted to beat up a cripple, but my dad would wrestle me to the floor, pin me down and not let me up. I would scream for my mother to rescue me. My father would glare at her when she ran in from the kitchen, yelling at him for being too rough. I was humiliated. He forced me to fail. He was humiliated. This wuss was his son. I hated him. I think he hated me then, too.

My parents were embarrassed when I fell, not because I fell, but because I cried so easily. I think it was the terror of falling that made me cry. I was embarrassed because I couldn't keep from falling and more embarrassed from crying about it. It was more evidence that I had failed to overcome. So, as if inevitable, my brother became my father's son and I became my mother's son, two families under one roof.

I know my father loved me, but he was disappointed that his second son, growing older, wanted nothing to do with hunting or sports. I tried to please him by doing the boy things that I did like. I helped paint the living room, asked him to teach me how to use his tools, but I couldn't help him change storm windows in the spring and fall. I started to avoid boy things even more.

My folks hung their hopes on any little shred of behavior which indicated that someday I might be a regular boy after all. But the cripple protected the sissy from ever having to be a regular boy.

I'm still a sissy boy. I'm still a gimpy boy. Fuck standard issue. It still doesn't fit.

©2002 Michael Perreault
Illustration: "Run for Your Life" ©2002 Robbo


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Let us know what you think of this BENT feature.

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Michael Perreault writes:
I'm a partly cloudy kinda guy. Always feeling "not a part of," I'm now trying to see how much of that is my projection, no easy task. Disability wasn't part of my family's vocabulary, so I grew up thinking I needed to overcome it. The same thing was true about my gayness. To be fair, my family only projected the attitudes of the times; did you see any crips and queers on the Mickey Mouse Club? Come on, we know they were there, but they were mouseketeers, after all! At 56, my body is a changin'. It refuses to cooperate with my gayness like it used to and the gayness I find in the world doesn't cooperate like it barely used to. I've had a scooter at work for ten years. I'm about to accept, gracefully, I hope, another change in how I'm seen and see myself as I begin using a power-chair in my neighborhood. Since walking with a cane is getting harder, I thought it better to make the transition now, when I have choices, rather than later, when I'm compelled to do it. What it takes to have a life!

 

 

 

 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/November 2002