The Peacock – Growing Up Gay in Moose Jaw – Part 2
Part 2 … The Peacock (out but never down)
Beginning high school was exciting and terrifying. Albert E. Peacock Collegiate (as it is now referred to) was and is (as far as I know) the largest of 3 high schools in Moose Jaw with 1000 or so eager young minds in attendance. Both my mother Kate and sister Dianne are alumni as are just about everyone else in the family that ever was.
Grade 9 was a bust as I adjusted to new surroundings and yes, new tormentors and the carry overs whose sole purpose was to inform the unwitting of my suspected “condition”. I have often wondered during the course of this re-visit – had I remained short and chubby with those thick glasses forever sliding down my nose (one of my delightful nicknames at Prince Arthur was RC Cola in the brief age of innocence before “faggot” became everyone’s most favoured utterance) – would the bullying have been more or less frequent. Not to imply that my new height made me intimidating but it may have conjured the notion that I was capable of some form of verbal or physical retaliation (which I was not capable of in any way, shape or form on any level). But I did however, stand out in a crowd with my long limbs and Ganymede face (now somewhat changed).
By the end of grade 10, I was friendly with all the girls that dated the jocks (strategic reasoning) and found a haven of sorts via the English, music and drama departments. In creative writing, I wrote blistering hormone infused epics about the lonely, misunderstood boy (in very bad prose heavily influenced by Jean Genet). Our music teacher was an ambitious “gentlemanly” bandleader from the United States. I became his pet and confidant (he was in his mid to late twenties which seemed very, very old to me at the time). I joined the regular choir, the swing choir (dancing and singing simultaneously although sadly, I could neither dance nor sing). BUT – there were the musicals (professional costumes were ordered from Winnipeg and dress-up took on an entirely new meaning). Peacock has a real stage (velvet curtain, dressing rooms, make-up rooms and a fly system) in a rather large capacity auditorium with theatre style seating. By grade 10, 11 and 12, I had become the comic lead in such noteworthy productions as Carnival, Camelot, Show Boat and Funny Girl – “when a girls incidentals are no bigger than two lentils” may have been one of my lines or I may have desperately wanted it to be. Everyone in town attended – my celebrity status however, did not quell much of that unwanted attention.
The thespian effort (drama class) was interesting because my instructor and ally let me do as I pleased. At his suggestion (certainly not mine), I played the delinquent Italian stallion antagonist Joe Ferone in “Up the Down Staircase”. Method acting was focused on steel toe work boots to “unlighten” my gait. As for the voice – well, we did the best we could. For my graduation project, my friend Nancy and I adapted Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray” for the stage. Guess who played Dorian.
I came out to family and friends at the beginning of grade 11. Not at all what you may assume because contrary to the usual horror ridden fear and angst, I was (and still am) ecstatic to be who I am – for one simple and glorious reason – as a gay man I could think, say and do what other boys, young men and older men could not. This is a mighty freedom.
*This and that
- I was in love with the quarterback of the football team because he had this exquisite aquiline nose (all things Greco Roman)
- I had clandestine meetings in the empty auditorium with a straight linebacker/tackle who fancied himself a poet and adored my poetic mind. This friendship continued at U of S
- I fell in love with a junior. When his mother heard wind of my attentions, he was moved to another school (heartbreak)
- I was elected to student council because everyone hated the other guy more
- On commencement day, I won every award but 3 – Science (blame it on physics), Math and French – and for very good reason (lousy at all). I was not present at the ceremony but my mother was and for years never stopped telling people how often she stood up and went to that stage
Not too shabby, not too shabby at all.
*final note – high school jocks and heroes (not all were bullies but many were)
Small town life can be difficult for high school athletes, heroes and otherwise “big young men” because unlike high school TV shows, real high school ends. Many I knew did not attend university or community college. Post-graduation could literally become a tragic denouement (pardon the pun). They married their HS sweethearts, had children and remembered their “glory days”. Within 10 years or less, several of my tormentors were dead; booze, drugs and fast cars on a dark prairie road. One summer (home from Art College) I attempted to help one of these men that had vilified me. I saw him at Buffalo Pound Lake in very rough shape. We talked briefly; he confessed that things were not going well. I asked for his phone number which (to my surprise) he gave me. There was a counselor in town and in turn (with some explanation) I gave her his number. Next I heard, he had also departed.