I'm a sissy boy,
a gimpy boy. I was intended for standard issue, but I failed from
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
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 beforewhich, 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.
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
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
Let us know what
you think of this BENT feature.
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