I was 14 or 15 when my mom found my stash of women’s clothing. I remember that I almost re-hid them somewhere else because she was getting suspicious, but I didn’t. Maybe some part of me wanted to get caught. Maybe I was just dumb, I was a teenager after all. The fact of the matter is this: She found my stash and it did not go well.
I had moved my bedroom to the basement earlier in the year. There was a big extra room down there, and I, for unknown reasons, decided that I wanted my room to be the big room. I didn’t get the whole room, I only got a part of it. I had to share the room with a wet spot in the summer and the noise of the furnace in the winter. It was like a cheap apartment, but without a built-in bathroom.
I had a desk (old table), a big bookshelf, some miscellaneous shelves, piles of crap, a swath of carpet and a dresser. Living in the basement gave me some liberty to live my life a little bit more than I could upstairs. I could play music a little louder. I could fiddle with rewiring my stereo. Eventually I even setup a computer station that hosted a Phantom of the Opera themed Bulletin Board System (BBS). Overall, the basement room was a nice place to be.
In the top drawer of my dresser was where I kept my underwear. Not just my contraband underwear, but my regular skivvies, socks, t-shirts and the like. Among the contraband were some female undies, and maybe a bra I had secreted away. They were the wrong size, but they were what I could get. I also had a pair of nylons in there, and I wore them on occasion, when I could.
Then, for unknown reasons, my mom was putting clothes away in my drawers. Maybe she was suspicious, or maybe she was just trying to reclaim the bygone days of my younger childhood when I couldn’t manage to put away a thing. More than likely she was just sick of asking me to do it, soshe she decided to do it herself. She opened the top drawer and started putting clothes away. It wasn’t long before she noticed that there were additional undergarments in there that did not belong to me. I tried to play it off like they had gotten in there on accident, and I took over the job of putting clothes away in my room. She had taken some of my illegal clothing, but I managed to mitigate my losses.
Looking back on it, I cannot understand why I thought this was a foolproof plan, but I did. I thought, “Oh, surely she’ll never think to look in the same drawer for more articles of her clothing that I have hidden!” The amazing thing is that the basement room was one of infinite hiding places. Literally any place in that room would have been better than my tried and true cliche of an underwear drawer.
Spitting into the wind, I went to bed and then school the next day, hardly thinking about what secrets my dresser might reveal. It was fall, I remember, and I was probably staying after for marching band. (Ok, yes, I was super nerdy in high school too… some things never change.) After I had gotten home and had eaten some dinner, my mom came down to talk with me.
She asked me about the clothes. I tried the same line, but she was openly not buying it. There were too many clothes, and ones that she knew could never have accidentally gotten into my clothes. Then she started probing me to see if I was gay. She asked, “Are you sure?” when I assured her I was straight. I even pointed out that there was a girl I liked. I later took her to homecoming, partially as a means of pointing out how not-queer I was. I even dated this girl for a little while, but that ended miserably.
This conversation sticks in my mind for reasons other than the quality of my dating life in high school. It was something that my mother said that shut down my life for a very long time. When I assured her I was not gay, or a sissy, or anything like that, she said, “Good. You know what your father would do.”
I did not, in fact, know what my father would do. I assumed it would be bad, but I did not have any actual working knowledge of what he might do.
The message that I got from this conversation was that being queer was wrong, and I should work to be straighter. It’s the most explicit time this message was conveyed to me, and probably the most effective. I still play this conversation over in my head, but I don’t know what else I could have said.