My idea was to mimic a famous TV commercial advertizing Old Gold Cigarettes. The commercial featured a tap dancer hidden inside a pack of cigarettes with only her legs showing, wearing a pair of white cowboy boots with tassels. At the end of the dance she curtsied slightly and stuck a cigarette out of the top of the pack. After hours of painting and lettering I presented myself to the judges. I was disappointed; even more so when I overheard one of the judges commenting afterward, “I would have voted for him, but I thought he was a girl.” I suppose the judging was about how far you defied your natural category. I guess a real witch couldn’t have won the “dressed as a witch” prize.
I didn’t enter the city-wide Halloween parade contest because the only category I could think of was “boys dressed as girls”. (They really had that in those pre-homo-hysterical years). I didn’t think of myself as a boy dressed as a girl, but as a boy dressed as a pack of cigarettes. Besides, I had dressed as a girl the year before and I just looked like a girl.
It was my second disappointment of the season.
Mere days before, I had lost another contest. It was the beginning of the sports season for eighth graders at our country school. Boys were recruited for basketball, which was the sport of the era for young teens. I was terrible at basketball, or anything with balls. But I certainly wanted to be included in the autumnal madness. So I decided on the spur of the moment to try out for the cheerleading squad. All my closest friends were doing that. Why not? So I got some of the girls to coach me on the steps and cheers of “Gimme a J!” and “One, two, three, four, who’we gonna cheer for?” Pep and a loud voice were what counted. The cheerleading squad had 5 members, just like the basketball team. 9 of us showed our stuff and then the class voted, very democratically. Clearly 4 of the girls were best. But the general opinion was that I was number 5. Still, when the announcement came out, I had lost. Then I was told that our principal had vetoed my selection. I was crushed. Before I could get too far in my misery, however, the coach, our classroom teacher, called me aside and said he wanted me to work with him as the team manager. Handling the balls, equipment and uniforms…well it was part of the team. I’d be on the bus for the “away” games, not stuck in a study hall. I also kept the record book during the game and ran the all-important time clock and buzzer. It seemed to me that probably the principal had vetoed me. But he liked me. I didn’t doubt that. Years later I decided that maybe he just wanted to spare me the fate of being the first and only boy cheerleader in Morgan County and maybe the whole State of Illinois.
That summer I also entered the County Fair. All we 4-H kids did. It didn’t occur to me to worry that the boys were showing their swine and beef, macho products, while I was displaying a chocolate cake. I got a third place ribbon for it, too. Some of the champion cake bakers grumbled when they found out they had been beaten by a boy, one decades younger than them.
If thirteen was a good age to know the score, and October was a good month for “coming out” (as it supposedly is nowadays), I missed the chance. I did not add up all my cross dressing and preferences until I was the age of the cake bakers I had such fun beating. In those days Halloween was just a day to dress up and get free candy. Gay and lesbian Americans had not yet taken it over as a “high holiday” for showing off without coming out.
Well, in that, I was ahead of the times.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.