by: Derrick Clifton
I was roughly nine years old when I first considered joining the Boy Scouts of America. But it just didn’t seem like a place a kid like me could ever fit in.
My childhood before high school was spent mostly indoors as a latchkey kid playing video games, watching Wheel of Fortune and enjoying a slice of granny’s lemon cake after school. But I was still eager and curious to explore the outdoors and step out of my air-conditioned, carpeted comfort zone.
There was just one thing — the gay thing — getting in the way.
Being raised in a Baptist family, I’d already internalized messages from church pulpits. If it wasn’t a bastardized retelling of the Sodom and Gomorrah story, it was an off-cuff remark bashing marriage equality advocates. I was instructed to believe that being gay was not morally equivalent to being hetero.
So given all those gay jokes I kept hearing at my Catholic elementary school, and would hear for years to come, I figured a kid like me had no place in the Boy Scouts. Every time I thought about joining a troop, I only chided myself with negative words I’d heard so often from mean-spirited kids, church ministers and small-minded adults.
Too sheltered. Too nerdy. Too weird. Too much of a sissy. Bratty. Stuck-up. Sensitive. Problem Child. Abomination. Deviant. Not enough bass in my voice. Spoiled rotten. Can’t play sports. Can’t run. On the way to hell. Waste of space. Uncool. Smart aleck.
I didn’t actually believe most of that about myself. I just didn’t want to. I couldn’t. Something inside of me wanted to silence those voices, so that I could prove to myself and others that I was becoming the young man I was meant to be. And, for some time, I thought being a Boy Scout would do just the trick.
But I internalized some of those remarks so much that they basically became part of my DNA. I clung to being sheltered, nerdy and weird. I took pride in not playing sports, even though my elementary school didn’t offer many options in the first place. If reading books, obeying adults and playing Jeopardy! on PlayStation meant I was uncool, then I wore it with a badge of honor.
So I had more of a “Troop Beverly Hills” kind of childhood, minus Shelley Long, palm trees and filthy rich parents. But who’s to say I couldn’t be a ‘Wilderness Boy’ just because I was a nerdy kid that “like” liked boys?
I didn’t know it at the time, but the voices of the many bullies around me spared me from being disappointed and feeling ostracized yet another time.
Yet as a child, I always volunteered during the church’s food and clothing drives for the homeless. I minded grandma when she asked me to take out the garbage or go to sleep for school in the morning. I said grace before every meal, sometimes even guilting adults into praying after they hastily took a first bite. I sang in the choir. I attended Sunday School. I barely got in trouble and stayed out of fights. I only crossed the street when the pedestrian light came on. I even helped other kids with their homework when asked.
I thought I was one of the best little kids in the world. And I feared that image would be smeared if anyone ever had an inkling that I “like” liked boys.
But what about that Scout Oath? The one that says:
On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and
To obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
Sounds to me like I would’ve made any troop leader proud. I guess my nine-year-old self would have never measured up.
Note: This piece was originally featured on the author’s blog and was reposted with permission. You can find the original here.