I can remember it like it was yesterday: sitting on the floor, listening to my second grade teacher, Ms. Dossett, read the class a story. I was wearing gray pants. I had to go to the bathroom. I didn’t want to disturb her, and I didn’t want to disturb the class. I sat and listened to the story, and, perhaps at some dramatic point in the tale, I made the decision that peeing my pants was a better option than disturbing everyone.
Flash forward two years, and my 4th grade teacher, Ms. Bodkin, was in front of the class explaining a worksheet we were to complete. For reasons lost to me, I wasn’t paying attention. When the worksheet was passed out, I was overwhelmed by the realization that I didn’t know how to complete the assignment. I panicked, feigning illness, and had my dad come pick me up at school. Unfortunately, or fortunately, he knew something was up and quickly took me back to school.
To say I was a jumble of nerves as a young kid is probably an understatement. I nervously chewed on my shirtsleeves. I hated the first days of school, often crying because I missed my parents. Who knows why I was so nervous? I’m sure, like most things, it was multifactorial, but I am pretty sure about one factor. It was a factor that stayed with me even once I tamed my anxiety and learned that I could ask to go to the bathroom. From elementary school to middle school to high school, I was a good little boy.
As I got a little older, I excelled in school and, more importantly to my inner self, I excelled at being perfect. Or, well, some version of close to perfect. I behaved. I got perfect grades. I never missed school. I won awards. I didn’t make bad decisions. And, if you were older than me, you loved me. Teachers loved me. Church ladies loved me. Band directors loved me. Bosses loved me. I craved the affirmation, and I worked hard to earn it.
There’s a theory that young gay men will strive to be perfect to gain the acceptance from others that they know would be withheld from them if the truth was known. I don’t know about that, but I was young, gay, and loved excelling, getting perfect grades, and receiving attention for being just the best darn little boy there ever was. I’m sure my parents would quibble about my perfection, but, hey, it’s my blog entry.
As is surely apparent, the problem with being the best little boy in the world is that who you are is dictated by others’ expectations. You do things to get grades or win, not because you’re actually interested. You repress your feelings because, to admit when you’re sad or angry or hurt would make you not the best little boy in the world, and that’s the worst outcome possible. You evade, misdirect, dissemble, pretend — all in the pursuit of acceptance, compliments, and affirmations. Who you are becomes who you think others want you to be.
I still fight the impulses to always be right, to always be the best, to always be up and happy, to always be unobtrusive and comforting, to seek the affirmation of it all. Certainly going to college helped in that regard. I was not only surrounded by people as smart and smarter than I was, but I also started to learn how to be honest with myself, about myself. To be the real me. I’m still a work in progress, as we all are. I’m sure I’m not unique in that, but I’m fairly certain that my dial to be the best little boy in the world was tuned a lot higher than most other kids’. But, hey, if I’m wrong about that, I can handle it now.