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When I was younger, around 16, I worked in a hardware store.  A man came in this store every now and again.  Ex-navy.   Big man, barrel-chested and at least 6’1’’.  Being that this was about 5 minutes from Mayport Naval Station, Jacksonville, Fl., this was not unusual.  What was unusual was that this man preferred to wear dresses and high heels.  He was large enough (I assume) not to get too much grief about it, but the mere fact that he did it was extraordinary in the context of the slow-moving “Bold New City of the South”.  I knew I was gay at 16, and I wish I could say that this example of gender non-conformity gave me the power to be myself.  It didn’t.  I reacted as many other closeted 16-year-olds might, by laughing and taking a picture with my cell phone while hiding in a different aisle.  That man saw what I was doing, and all he did was shoot me the finger.  In later years I’ve deeply regretted this incident—while I think it caused no lasting harm to the man, it certainly caused lasting harm to my own self respect.  So, whoever you are, sir, I apologize for mocking you for being yourself.  Being myself was not an option I thought I had, and however obvious I was about ogling some of my contemporarily aged co-workers, I wasn’t open enough to admit it.

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