At the tender age of four, I already know exactly what I want. Usually, it’s toy horses, or a Barbie, but today I’ve got my heart set on a pair of Indian moccasin-style suede shoes, covered in exquisite beads. They’re girls’ shoes, of course, with alluring tassels that have my name written all over them – and I know deep in my young heart that I was born to wear these shoes.
My mother and her friend have taken me and the friend’s daughter, Victoria, who is a year older than I am, to a retail outlet store. The shop is located somewhere outside of our hometown and the excitement is palpable as we set off – the thrill of an excursion, enhanced further by the promise of a purchase. Shoe shopping is probably not an activity that fills your average four-year-old boy with excitement, but then I am not your average four-year-old boy.
At nursery age, I have already discovered a passion for hairdressing and often fix my older sisters’ dos before they head out for a night on the tiles. By their own admission, I do a better French plait (this is 1980, after all) than they themselves can muster, my tiny hands working with confidence and zeal.
In fact, it’s fair to say that by this stage of my life, I have developed a natural affinity for most things that would conventionally be categorised as girly. Horses, ponies and anything with long, flowing hair are major buzz triggers, but any item or activity that resonates with my sense of flair does it for me.
Which brings me back to those shoes. The minute I see them, I’m gripped by the conviction that I need them in my life, and on my feet. In that moment, they are the embodiment of desire, and there is no hesitation in my stride as my chubby little legs drumroll their way to the moccasin display in the ladies section.
Unfortunately for me, my mother is not onboard with the whole beads and tassels thing. In fact, my girly antics in general are one big thorn in her side at this point, and while the shoes embody desire to me, my mother probably sees them as the most recent physical representation of everything that worries her about her only son. In 1980, being gay is still something to be ashamed of to the majority of people, and gender stereotypes are largely seen as gospel.
Obviously, I’m not aware of any of that, as I clasp the moccasins to my chest and present my chosen footwear to my mother – but she is, and it concerns her.
So, in an effort to turn my attention in a more favourable direction and orchestrate a happy resolution, my mother gently steers me towards the manly deck shoes on the opposite end of the display table. Still holding my precious moccasins tight, I stare blankly at the deck shoes. The boring, ugly, bead-and-tassel-free deck shoes. And as the significance of my mother’s action starts to dawn on me, a fleeting, almost undetectable tremor registers on my bottom lip.
I look from the deck shoes to my mother and back, not quite willing to acknowledge what is happening, my inner voice defiant: “No thanks, mum – I’m getting the same shoes as Pocahontas!” But mum is losing patience and before I can even say My Little Pony, the inevitable ultimatum has been announced – it’s the deck shoes or no shoes at all.
And that is how the first hissy fit that I can recall throwing, starts. There is some tearful – yet futile – pleading, followed by full on waterworks, then howling rage. I throw myself on the floor wailing – oh how I hate the smug, brown, uptight deck shoes my mother is attempting to appease me with. There is no way I am putting them on my feet – I’d rather die. Yes, that’s right, someone just kill me right now; life is no longer worth living! I don’t care that people are looking and mother is angry, my fury and despair cannot be stilled.
The excursion is over, as is all the fun. I spend the whole journey back to my hometown sobbing. Next to me in the backseat is Victoria, wearing her brand new Indian moccasin-style suede shoes. They make her look really fat, I think bitterly.