Monday, September 24, 2007

GayProf, The Shy

Several things have crossed my mind recently. Things like, “Electric stoves are more annoying than I remember,” or “Why are bees mysteriously dying all across this nation -- except the nest in my house which has been doused with professional poisons?” Or, “Why do people mention how shy I am?” Oh, right, because I am shy.

There are two topics that people usually broach within a couple weeks of knowing me. The first involves the “g” word (I am currently taking bets on how long before the word “gravitas” surfaces among people who don’t know about the blog in MFT. We've come close with "contemplative," but not quite). The second is my shyness, especially in large crowds. Indeed, the amount that I speak at any gathering is inversely related to the number of people present. Of course, if they know me for a really long time, then they start to ask how I became such an astounding beacon of reason and truth. That, though, usually doesn’t occur until month three or four.

For those interim months, I am known as the shy boy – or, er – shy middle-aged guy (sigh). It’s always a little jarring because I don’t actually think of myself as shy. On the contrary, I think that I am really open to talking with anybody. Well, as long as they talk to me first. . . And keep a respectful distance . . . And don’t ask me any questions about myself. . . And I have Xanax in my pocket.

I kid, I kid. I am fairly quiet, but not really shy.

Maybe I don’t think of myself as shy because I know what shy GayProf really looks like. We need to turn back time and think about the era long before I was the “Prof” in GayProf, or even acknowledged the “Gay” in GayProf. Yes, we are talking about the dark, grim years of adolescence.

My tween/early teen years were my Vietnam. Only it didn’t involve gun play, Agent Orange, or all the drugs. Well, at least it didn’t involve gun play and Agent Orange.

All through grade school, I had no problems with shyness. Then my home life and school life went to hell all in one go at about the age of 11. I had the good fortune to go through puberty remarkably early compared to my peers. It’s true what they say about kids and cruelty. Any sign of difference will be a source of ridicule and embarrassment. Perhaps instead of wars we should just settle national disputes by forcing the adolescents of disputing parties to interact for a few months. Which ever group emerges with the least amount of emotional baggage wins!

Being early in puberty brought ostracization. The sense among my fellow students that I was queer brought total isolation (even if I was far from admitting being queer to myself).

Home life was even worse what with the unemployment, alcoholism, and nasty temper . . and that was just the family dog. Just imagine what was happening with the humans.

The way that young GayProf handled these situations was to go absolutely quiet in school. I had one (1) friend in grade six, until he moved to Arizona. Then I literally had zero (0) friends from grade seven to grade nine. Why? Well, it was hard to make friends when a typical conversation went:

    Fellow Student: Hi, [future] GayProf.

    [Youthful] GayProf: . . .

    Fellow Student: Aren’t you in my biology class?

    [Youthful] GayProf: . . .

    Fellow Student: What type of music do you like?

    [Youthful] GayProf: . . .

    Fellow Student: Are you fucked up or something, holmes? I am talking to you!

    [Youthful] GayProf: . . .

    Fellow Student: Screw you – and give me your lunch money, too.

Yes, I would have given Marcel Marceau a run for his money (Goddess rest his soul) in the silent category. He called it art, I called it a typical Monday.

Given how much I was beat up at school, I really yearned to be totally inconspicuous. I decided that the best way to accomplish that goal was to wear the exact same thing everyday. Monday through Friday, I wore a blue hoodie sweatshirt and jeans. Everyday. Yeah, it’s a real mystery why the other students tormented me. I kind of want to pick on twelve-year-old me and I am 33.

During lunch, I hid in the library and read. I was the only student in the whole school who used the library during lunch (or possibly ever). Well, until the school librarian asked me not to come back anymore because my solitary reading bothered her. Yes, she really said that. Adults can be so cruel.

After that, lunch-hour saw me walking around the dusty school grounds in aimless circles staring at my Pic-N-Save shoes. All I could do was wait for the bell to ring or the sweet kiss of death to release me from that mortal coil, whichever came first.

Because of the aforementioned chaos, I didn’t find a lot of good advice/ support/ much-needed-intervention at home. While I know that my mother was dealing with a bad situation for herself, it didn’t help me much that she would periodically ask, “Why don’t you have any friends?” Instead, she might have asked, “Why do you keep wearing the same thing over and over again, crazy boy?”

Now, that was shy. By tenth grade, I made a conscious decision to not be quite so pathetic. I got a job and started buying my own clothes (which involved more than a blue hoodie – To this day, I break out in a cold sweat if I see one hanging on a rack). I also made actual friends – Not just the imaginary ones who lived on the starship Enterprise.

So given how shy that I know that I can be (and have been), I don’t think of myself as shy anymore. Maybe I just use terminology wrong. Perhaps I am confusing “completely socially dysfunctional” with “shy.”

Alas, I have to embrace my quiet ways. I ’ll never be confused with the vivacious Doralee in 9 to 5. **sigh** On the other hand, at least I am not a mute anymore. Now, where did I put that Xanax?


dykewife said...

you're not shy. you're reserved. just like me. it has nothing to do with unfortunate social awkwardness. not at all.

jeremy said...

Reserved/shy/socially awkward--I find it all a bit queer.

Casdok said...

Shy is difficult, but you sound as though you cope really well!

tornwordo said...

God, this made me think of high school. What hell that was. The only problem with shyness is that others make up reasons for it before they know you.

The bee thing, I have the exact same problem and question, lol.

vuboq said...

Ugh. The awkwardness of the adolescence. I had the opposite of your problem, but dealt with it in a similar way. Puberty came late, so I pretty much stopped speaking/ interacting with my peers. Bleah.

And electric stoves are annoying.

Will said...

My childhood, if not 100% exactly then close enough for DIScomfort. Yes, alcoholism at home, and yes kids who tormented and used words like fag and queer long before I was prepared to come to grips with that in myself. And I feared people. Ironically, the people I most love to be with now--outgoing, masculine, successful and powerful [gay] men--were the ones who most intimidated me when I was growing up and left me tongue-tied. Thankfully, those days ended or I might well have bowed out of the scene with a rope or pills or whatever.

pacalaga said...

Dude, I would have been your friend in grade school. Or at least followed you around annoying you, trying to be your friend until you finally gave up because I wasn't going away. 'Course, I was odd enough that you might have been beaten up for your association with me, so it would have been a wash...

Sin said...

This isn't being shy. This is dignity and self-possession. I, on the other hand, am a mess as soon as I'm on my twelfth martini.

I know what you mean about puberty. I subsumed it by having sex with the gardener instead though, and consoling myself with the thought that I was so far ahead of the sexual bell-curve than anyone else my age, that no 11 or 12 (or 13, 14, 15 etc. etc.) year-olds could possibly give me shit.

Amazingly enough, they didn't, after I ripped them a new asshole verbally once or twice. But I suspect that high-school in Pakistan was (and is) substantially different from high-school in the US.

Baron Scarpia said...

I was relentlessly tormented at school, so I know where you're coming from about the shyness. (I've no doubt that some others had it worse than me, but it was still pretty damned bad) The odd thing is that I STILL haven't completely got over it; every time I introduce myself to strangers it's a real effort. I instinctively think they're going to end up attacking me on some level.

Artistic Soul said...

You're probably just introverted. I had the same trouble when I was younger, and I love the use of Vietnam to describe adolescence. I wonder if I could use that in an essay...hmmm...

I got my package!!! Thanks - totally made my day. I can't wait to load the playlist to my IPod - should do that now!

Cooper said...

I was paralysingly shy when I was a kid ... still am in some ways, although perhaps quiet is more an apropriate word now. Like you, the largeness of the group is directly proportionate to my shyness. During my school years, apart from my best friend, all my friends were girls. I was teased more about my family situation and not having a father than anything else.

Thinking of the 12 year old, lonely, blue hoodie clad you, breaks my heart. How beautiful that you've been able to integrate that pain into the compassionate, acutely socially just man you are now.

squadratomagico said...

Did you have a wicked sense of humor back then, too? Your blog is so eloquent and wry, I have a hard time picturing the person behind it as silent.

Marlan said...

Shyness can be considered sexy, if handled correctly.

Signalite said...

I tried to compensate for shyness in high school by giving out random indepth knowledge of Disney films to anyone who would listen. On second thought, I'm not sure that actually helped my social life either.

Sarah said...

Your anecdote about the evil librarian (I can't believe she kicked you out of the library!) reminds me of an evil camp counselor I had. After being socially rejected by everyone in my cabin (again), I went and cried in the corner. Evil counselor found me and it went down something like this:

Me: (crying)
Evil Counselor: Why are you crying?
Me: No one likes me and I don't know why! It must because I'm a mean, terrible person. I hate myself.
Evil Counselor: Oh. Well maybe it will help if you apologize to your cabinmates?

And that is just what I did. She got the whole cabin together and I sobbed an apology about what a horrible bitch I'd been. The really sad part is that I didn't become a bitch until much later (after I developed a sense of humor and a little self-confidence).

I told you summer camp was bad. So yeah, I was a shy kid, too.

Marius said...

I agree with dykewife, I'd say you're reserved. I used to be shy in my younger years--sort of. But then, experience and age have made me stronger. I'm also very reserved, which doesn't mean I'm shy. I'm just not as social as the average person. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Earl Cootie said...

I've always been shy around people I don't know, and it's gotten much more pronounced as I've gotten older. (Yes, thank you, Xanax.)

However, I've never had the slightest problem speaking or performing before large groups of people. Go figure. I guess it's the direct interaction that so unnerves me.

Laverne said...

I never shut up.

But it all comes from the same place. If I could make them laugh, then they wouldn't make fun of me. Or if I made fun of myself first, maybe they wouldn't.

Didn't matter. I carry around that same nerd complex that started when my books were thrown out the bus window a mile before my stop in junior high.

I wonder if there's anyone out there that made it through adolescence in one piece.

MaggieMay said...

Funny-- I never would have pictured you IRL as shy or even quiet. And I agree with what someone said about "self-possession". Those of us who are, er, sadly lacking in the self-possession area envy you muchly.

Antonio said...

I'm pretty introverted myself. Once I had someone over and thought I was making good conversation until he commented "Wow, you're quiet, aren't you?" I just shrugged.

GayProf said...

DykeWife: Reserved sounds so much more genteel.

Jeremy: Queer is as queer does.

Casdok: It seems like something that I still struggle over.

Torn: I often think the people who note other people's shyness are trying not to think about their own social anxieties.

VUBOQ: I really don't understand the alleged benefits of electric stoves. They take longer to heat up, the take longer to cool down. Where are the pluses?

Will: It is amazing any of us made it through adolescence alive.

Pacalaga: I imagine that you would have tired of trailing around after me when you found out that I would never actually say anything.

Sin: Damn! If only we had a gardener when I was growing up.

Baron: I don't think people will hurt me, but my first assumption is that they don't like me. I have to actually remind myself that is just crazy.

Artistic Soul: You are one of life's winners!

Cooper:It's amazing what kids will tease each other over.

SquatroMagico: I think my sense of humor developed because of that time. One can't live like that and not see life as somewhat absurd.

Marlan: Shyness can be sexy.

Signalite:I tried to compensate for shyness in high school by giving out random indepth knowledge of Disney films to anyone who would listen.

Wait -- That is my strategy today. Is that not good?

Sarah: We hate evil librarian and evil camp counselor. Even at the time I thought it was really outrageous that some adults had become so hardened to the ways that kids torment each other that they really didn't care. All I needed was a sanctuary. Though, to be fair, I probably was a little bit of creepy kid.

Marius: Maybe it is a frequency thing. If I attend too many social events, I do get burned out.

Earl: I have no problem teaching. Which is kind of funny.

Laverne: If there are people who do have a stress-free adolescence, I am not sure that I want to know them.

MaggieMay: That's because you have jumped to the "beacon of reason and truth" stage. If we met IRL, then we would start over at the shy stage.

Antonio: When people say that, I am never quite sure how to respond. What more do they want me to say? Or do they just want me to say it loud?

David said...

My mother instilled in a me a healthy disgust for electric stoves. They don't even cook properly.

I hit puberty a little early, too, but it actually got me one of the few moments of respect I ever enjoyed during my entire school career. Being the first with pubes held a certain cachet, at least at my school.

I was not shy, at least outwardly. I tried to deflect agression by being the class clown. Unfortunately for me, there was another closeted gay boy at school who was five times funnier than I was, so I was considered second-rate and not worthy of the protection that the primary office-holder received.

Roger Green said...

I'm still shy; some people haven't figured that out.

Sarah said...

I was wallowing a little too much at the time, but looking back I'm also astounded that evil camp counselor couldn't see what was going on. Whatever she thought was happening, I also can't believe that she thought the appropriate response to a kid saying, "I hate myself" was what amounted to, "Well, you have a reason to." Took me a little while to get over that one.

Bad counselor! Bad librarian!

Anonymous said...

Well, as you're probably already discovering, you'll fit right in here in MWF. We're famous for our Midwestern Reserve (tm). So much so that people can stand around for hours at a bar, party, or other social occasion and not say a word to each other all night. Though outsiders think we're either shy or stuck-up, neither are's just that we were raised right. :)

(BTW, I'm with you on electric stoves ... they suck. Electric ovens though generally heat more evenly than gas.)

adjunct whore said...

i ate my lunch in a bathroom stall with my feet off of the floor; the library was too public for me...

GayProf said...

David: I actually expected that I would have had a little more respect from my peers for my early development. Apparently I should have been in your school.

ROG: Which people?

Sarah: Yeah. I am still not over it.

Alan: I haven't done much with my oven. It does reheat pizza pretty well, though.

Adjunct Whore: Wow -- You were hard core.

pacalaga said...

Unlikely - if you never said anything at all, you'd never tell me to leave you alone.

Roger Green said...

actually, most.