I was straightening up the papers on my desk when I found the manilla envelope with my elementary school class pictures. Then I recalled the picture of my brother in his Cub Scout uniform. It sat on the piano in our mother’s apartment, opposite a picture of me in a dress.
Some people seem to have complete recall of their childhood, and can flip it on like a television show on reruns. Not me. I can not put together a linear narrative. It is a disorganized jumble of images and half-obscured scenes.
When I was seven I had to face up to being prohibited from joining the Cub Scouts, being barred from trying out for Little League, and being forbidden to study drumming. I was offered alternatives. I refused to become a Brownie. I refused to go to gymnastics. I refused to study dance. I took piano lessons and music theory.
The reasoning was clear to me, but I did not have the vocabulary to explain that I was butch or transgender. The Brownie uniform included a skirt. Gymnastics required wearing a leotard. Dance required wearing a tutu, tights, and ballet slippers. It would have been impossible to pretend that I was a boy in any of those outfits. I wanted to do exactly what my brother did.
Music school was not gendered. In theory class we learned about rhythm and instruments, including percussion. All the composers we studied were men, but curiously feminine. Their hair was styled like my grandmother’s and they wore knickers and lace. I learned to read music and pick out themes on the piano. I borrowed Jon’s drum sticks and practiced on his drum pad. I could tap out time signatures, but I couldn’t dance to them. Unfortunately, I believed that dancing was for girls. I don’t dance.
I liked music, but I really wanted to be a Cub Scout. I wanted to wear the uniform. I wanted to earn badges. I wanted to do good deeds. I memorized the handbook, practiced the two-fingered salute and the two-fingered handshake, and followed the Cub Scout code of honor. A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Jon was a lazy scout; he lost interest after a year. I could not understand why.
The closest I got to being a Cub Scout was going to the Cub Scout parties. There was a Halloween party; we had to attend as a duo. I wasn’t going with him as Boris and Natasha or Clark Kent and Lois Lane.
Before my mother could intervene, I threw out a dozen options to my brother: Tom and Jerry, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Batman and Robin, Wally and The Beaver, Lennon and McCartney, Roger Maris and Micky Mantle, and finally, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I got to go as Kuryakin.
I wore black pants and a black turtleneck. Jon wore a white shirt and a skinny black tie. We both carried guns and U.N.C.L.E. identification. I vaguely remember parading around in a circle in the church basement to show off our costumes. Then we ran around shooting villains and drinking Hawaiian Punch. It was a perfect afternoon.
The Cub Scouts are an anti-gay organization that promotes traditional binary values. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an obscure and sexist piece of reactionary Cold War propaganda. Even though I find their politics objectionable, I remain a Cub Scout wanna-be. I want to earn my badges and do good deeds, but I want to do it my way.