I’m a child of the 80s. It was the age of Aqua Net, Z Cavaricci, and Doc Martins — sometimes all on the same day. I wore polka dot dress shirts, crimped my hair, and wore eyeliner (even if it was just once at a nightclub.) Being a kid who was more interested in music and dance clubs, I didn’t exactly win over most of my peers in middle school and high school.
Being considered different in a suburb of Portland, long before it became the hipster paradise we all know it as today, I was called every a slanderous name used against gay men even though I wasn’t gay. Wearing a letterman jacket and a baseball hat was something I never did. I never wore jeans or baseball hat until the 1990s. My heroes weren’t athletes. Instead, my heroes were on MTV’s 120 Minutes or on a Bones Brigade VHS. I wore a lot of black and white and spent a lot of time listening to music and discovering obscure films.
Looking back there were key pivotal moments growing up that took me out of the mainstream. I was a kid that played football, basketball and baseball when kids did that in the neighborhood. Granted we also played a lot of Risk and Dungeons & Dragons too.
My best friend in 7th grade Steve had an older sister who exposed us to a cassette tape of Ministry’s “With Sympathy.” It was unlike anything I had ever heard before. It was 1983 and everything on the radio was from Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, and Daryl Hall & John Oats. Ministry was early synth-pop new wave, before they became what we later called Industrial music. I wanted to know more of what I was missing. A whole new universe of music opened up. There was nothing-called “Alternative Music” back then. You simply had MTV that mostly played hair bands and Top 40 and the local radio that only played Top 40. The Cure, The Smiths, and Soft Cell were some early discoveries.
One day at another friend’s house we watched a film called Suburbia. It was about a roaming bunch of homeless punk rock kids who would get in fights and attend punk shows at night. It was an early intro into punk rock where I found about T.S.O.L., DRI, and The Vandals. I was skateboarding at the time and we all started emulating the kids in the films with their leather jackets and flannel shirts. I recall often tying my shirt around my waist and wearing Jimmy-Z chef-like hats, popping ollies and jumping curbs as we skated through downtown Gresham and Portland.
James, a tall lanky skateboarder who lived close to my house, had a dad that travelled Internationally and would bring home vinyl imports of Misfit albums for his son. I remember listening to Danzig screaming “Angel Fuck” in his Elvis like voice while hanging out at James’ house as we did axel grinds on a quarter pipe ramp in his driveway.
This combination of punk rock and early alternative music had a significant impact in how I dressed and how my attitude was forming. For a while it was all black and white though I would dress it up sometimes with a tie or so shoes that looking back were some really bad decisions.
Later my group of friends in high school would head to downtown Portland teenage dance clubs where we met girls and danced in front of mirrors, okay that last part was pretty stupid. We had a lot of hair and looked nothing like the popular kids at school, which brings me back to raising kids to ignore the hate.
Because I didn’t care about the cultural mores of most of my school, I did what I wanted and dressed, as I wanted. My friends and I all mocked others for being trendy because we wanted separation from the mundane and mainstream, even if we followed our own micro-trendy habits.
Our small circle stood out in the middle class mundaneness of Gresham, Oregon. We looked different. We did different things. We had no desire to be normal or as we saw it – boring. With that came a lot of self-discovery in finding out what art exists outside of the mainstream. All of that later developed into going to art house films, a love for obscure documentaries, listening to a ton of amazing music, and developing a love for fashion and style even if I am now too old to wear any of it.
I want my kids to be free to discover the unusual. Find things that are harder to find. Hear music and watch film that doesn’t sell well, but tells a better more interesting story. While I hope other kids have moved away from calling the individually minded kids at school names, I hope my boys will find their unique way around the world and explore what isn’t so obvious.
And you know what, being called a faggot or queer never bothered me. If that was the hate meant to hurt me, it never worked. I enjoyed being unique and still relish it today.