Inequality: Being More than I Knew I Was

January 2, 2022

Young Man Comic Book Comics

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

by Michael Haehnel

My default was the less-than sign.

Before I knew I was queer, I knew I wasn’t good at sports. I wasn’t only not good at sports, I was no good at being interested in sports.

Or cars.

And that was less than. Less than a real boy. I was a Pinocchio.

I liked science fiction and superheroes. Other boys I knew grew out of those things, but I lay awake at night, creating my own secret hideaway deep under a desert island where a society of mighty beings headquartered to protect truth and justice.

Another boy my age—a friend more or less—was losing interest in the Mormon Church. His mother lamented to my mother about it. My mother relayed the conversation to me:

The boy’s mother had said to the boy, “Why don’t you talk to Mike?” She knew we used to talk, and she thought I was a good influence.

The boy replied, “Mike is never serious about anything.”

My mother told me this, and I don’t think she understood why my friend would have said that. But I knew. He had moved on to baseball while I was still deep into comic books. He was growing up the way a boy should. I was hanging back in less-than land.

When I hit puberty, I was still into superheroes, but I abandoned the secret band in the island lair and took up with a Tarzan-like figure who could shoot lasers out of his fingertips. I drew many pictures of my nearly naked, sleekly athletic, uber man. I hid the pictures away. This was not right. One more indication that I was off base. Askew.

Less than.

Jumping to my twenties, I couldn’t keep a conversation going. I didn’t know how to do simple things like putting an arm around someone’s shoulder. I wasn’t much into parties or hanging out. I had my friends, but no best friend. Books on mental health said a well-adjusted person would have at least one best friend. Not only did I not have any such person in my life, I didn’t really want to. It seemed like too much maintenance.

I wanted to want such things. But I just plain didn’t.

I had a missionary companion tell me that people as aloof as I was didn’t have the stuff of eternal life.

Introversion was a less-than state of being.

By then, of course, I knew I was a full-fledged homosexual. The ultimate malfunction.

Mike < Pretty much everything

Throughout my young-and-middle-adult years, I deferred to others’ judgment in social situations. Everyone knew better than I did how to be, what was appropriate, where the boundaries were.

As I slid into my fifties, I decided to come out as gay. That was the first step toward accepting my homosexuality. Accepting, then embracing.

Thank God for those who taught me to love my own queerness. Derek, Joseph, Lucas…and others whose articles I read, whose stories I drank in like water from the wells of Bethesda.

It is pretty dysfunctional for a society to marginalize natural human variations to the point where being oneself requires a coming-out process. Yet…

Coming out as gay became a template for more changes in my life. I began to ask myself, “If I mistakenly cast my queerness as a deficiency, what about other character traits that I thought were weaknesses?”

Like a spiral of dominoes, I put down my put-downs and saw myself take shape.

It’s all right that I find sports boring.

I don’t have to know what happens under the hood of a car.

My imagination is as florid as the gardens of Versailles.

Introversion tempers the spark of humanity like the vacuum inside an incandescent bulb—it keeps the filament from burning out.

But I am more than an introvert. Most recently I have come to accept that I am a loner. For most of my life, I have resisted that word. It seemed wrong. Antithetical and averse…

To everything.

Now I realize that being a loner is how I survived the closet for more than forty years.

And it holds the key to my future.

Loners aren’t antisocial. Just very selectively social. Which means that our kind have a high degree of focus.

Which is a great way to spend the late afternoon of life.

So while I decry a world that forces anyone to hide who they are, I personally have benefited from the closet to non-closet transition. It taught me how to turn over more than one coin in my life.

Like flipping the less-than sign.

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