Growing up gay in Cranberry in the 70’s and 80’s
By JP Brosseau
Even in kindergarten, I knew that I was different. It was 1972. At Cranberry Lake Elementary School, I preferred to play “kitchen,” making meals with small, replica boxes of food and plastic fruit and vegetables, instead of the brightly coloured, wooden tools and trucks.
Too young to notice the gender-bending antics of David Bowie, acknowledge the gay humour of Billy Crystal in “Soap” or to realize that Liberace, Paul Lynn, Merv Griffin, Rock Hudson, and numerous others were gay, I lived with the ingrained anomaly of shame, self-hate, confusion; an inner turmoil not wished upon my worst enemy.
I hid my sexuality through stress eating, an obese 5’ 9” boy weighing over 250 pounds.
My fat boy boobs were bigger than most girls in junior high, yet I looked in the mirror and saw beauty. I tried to feather my hair like “Charlie’s Angels.” I wore “fruit boots” and satin shirts. Disco was everywhere.
At the time, “lean & mean” teenagers ran Cranberry. Their mentality seeped onto the streets in the form of rock throwing, beatings, stealing Halloween candy, and even destroying other kids’ ghetto blasters for playing the “wrong song.”
Junior high brought me a strong circle of girls who surrounded and unknowingly protected me. Boys liked girls, and girls hung out with me, so I went to parties and tried to fit in by being a comic and, even though I wasn’t a smoker, I’d buy them to hand out.
I lost 100 pounds before graduation, with the help of my Mom – as she knew I wanted to sing and act and write and model, so she supported me in everything. I was a founding member of The Powell River Boys Choir, took private clarinet and voice lessons for years and went away often to perform in festivals and concerts.
One night, in Grade 11, uttering the words, “I’m gay,” to someone other than my reflection ignited an ember within me. Trusting her like a sister, I whispered her my truth, she accepted all with love and questions. The bricks began to fall from my impenetrable wall. I started to care less what others thought.
Two weeks after graduation in July 1985, I moved to the West End of Vancouver to start modelling school. I’d idly roam the streets for hours, sensual stimuli filling me with wonderment, finally noticing that there were people like me everywhere.
Jobs dried up, so I lived with my parents in Cranberry for the summer of 1987. I sought out a counsellor to help me tell my Mom, Edie Rae, that I am gay. Those were different times back then: Being gay was not talked about.
Mom and I enjoyed stretching out on the sundeck to play Scrabble in the hot sun, our Gin & Pink Lemonades filled with ice beside us.
After three games, “Mom…um…I need to talk to you about…my sex life.”
She sipped her drink, lowering her sunglasses so I could see her eyes, “Do you prefer girls or boys?”
“Um…if I preferred girls, we wouldn’t be having this talk,” I laughed.
She laughed and we went on to talk about absolutely everything I had been going through since the age of five or so, when I truly knew that I was gay.
Today, kids at Brooks Secondary School offer unending support to each other as they wade through the quagmire of labels, boxes and stereotypes, expressing themselves as straight, gay, bi, sexually fluid, pan-sexual among others.
In writing this, if one small child or adult is somehow affected in a positive way, then the journey hasn’t been for naught.
This story has been condensed for Powtown Post. Read the original in the May edition of Powell River Living!