Last month I spent 10 days at home in the Yukon doing research for a new project.
I went through as many family photos as I could lay my hands on, sorting through the magic red bag of memorabilia my Aunt Roberta keeps in her basement and sifting through the gigantic mishmash of memories crammed into a box in my mother’s guestroom closet.
My Grandma Pat won the organization award; hers were some of the only photos actually placed in albums, and each album had a glossary of subjects and decades listed on the inside cover in her bold, confident script.
I found a citation for drunk driving from the ’70s for one of my uncles — not totally out of character for him — but it was issued at 10 o’clock in the morning, which was impressive.
I unfolded a stiff and stern letter written by the principal of my father’s high school, which would later be my high school, explaining to his parents just why he was going to have to repeat Grade 10. It wasn’t for lack of intelligence, he made sure to point out.
I found a lot of pictures of me as a kid. Way more than I remember anyone taking at the time.
There is the one of my dad and my Uncle Rob, on either end of a broomstick loaded down with lake trout. I am crouching underneath the fish between the two men, blood spattered up to my elbows, proudly holding up a string of grayling.
In a campground somewhere, exploding out of the willows carrying a giant log of firewood on my back.
The first day of Grade 1, in a line up with all the other little girls on the block. All the neighbour girls and my little sister are in sparkly new dresses, their chubby knees scrubbed and squishing out of the tops of sparkling white knee socks. I, on the other hand, am wearing blue corduroys, black rubber boots with red-brown toes, and my Davy Crockett fringed buckskin jacket.
Grade 2 class photo: a front-toothless me in a plaid shirt, pearly snaps done right up to my chin, sporting an Andy Gibb-ish shag do.
Me smiling in full hockey gear, lined up with all of my teammates, the only girl in the boy’s league.
None of this was surprising to me, I appear to be the same kid I remember being. What I couldn’t believe, in retrospect, is that anyone in my family could have actually been surprised when I came out of the closet at 18. The evidence was everywhere, right from the start; how could anyone have missed it?
I decided to investigate.
I called up my Aunt Roberta first, because it was almost eight o’clock in the evening, and she goes to bed early. I asked her if she ever suspected that I was gay when I was little, if she ever wondered about the hockey and the buckskin jackets?
I heard the kitchen chair complain about being dragged across the linoleum, and she sat down.
“I know this sounds silly, but I always just thought you were just who you were. An amazing little strong personality. Thought you got it from your Dad.”
I asked her if Gran had ever said anything to her about me and the gay.
“Gran’s gone to bed already, but I do remember her saying to me that you were exactly right. All you kids turned out to be exactly who God meant you to be. I mean, you can call her in the morning if you want to, but I know that’s what she’ll say.”
My grandma Pat was good for an awesome quote, as usual.
“I never labeled you as anything. You were just boyish, and you did boyish things. Keep in mind that we just didn’t think like that back then, you see. Any knowledge of homosexuality I might have had would have gone back to Victorian times. All those novels. You probably skirted under my radar, no pun intended, because you weren’t wearing hoop skirts and high button boots.”
My mom swore she had no clue whatsoever. “My mind never went there. I just let you be what you wanted to be. Not very helpful, I guess. I’m sorry.”
My Aunt Cathy echoed my mom. “I just thought you were a brat because you refused to wear a dress to our wedding.”
My Aunt Norah thought my sister and I were just polar opposites, that was all. “Carrie was the prissy little girl, and you…weren’t. You were just your own little people.
“When you were in your teens I remember thinking… knowing somehow that you weren’t happy, you just seemed tense inside your own skin. I knew there was something going on with you but I didn’t know what it was. We didn’t have to have a label for everything back then.”
My Uncle John was cooking an omelette in the background when I talked to him. “Sorry, kiddo, but I can’t identify the moment we realized you had gone to the dark side. We were just glad you weren’t stupid. There’s no cure for stupid.
“There was that one time, you were only six or so, when you gave me supreme shit for not attending to my fishing rod, but I don’t think that had much to do with your sexuality.”
My Uncle Rob was pensive, thinking over his response a bit before speaking. “Well… you can see why we wouldn’t have thought much about it. There’s lots of hetero butch chicks out there, to be honest. Especially up here.
“On the other hand,” he continued, “maybe a guy should have twigged due to your aversion to wearing a dress, but who cares, anyway? I’ve always said, ‘it’s your soap and your dick, and you can wash it as fast as you want.'”
So it appears that for all those years, in all those photographs of that little tomboy, there was only one member of my family wondering about me.
And that was me.