One of my father’s deepest concerns for me as the only son in a family dominated by females is that I would turn queer. My own experiences with exploring my sexuality and also exposure to the homosexual community as I waded through my teenage years provided me with a number of opportunities to convert into an alternative lifestyle, but it is safe to say that through it all, I have developed a healthy amount of respect for all manners if sexes to declare I do not know what I have missed by remaining heterosexual.
My father’s fears, however, stemmed from a much more micro view of my behavior, mainly two things in my childhood: my toy stuffed dog, and the voice I gave him whenever we have a conversation.
I first saw the dog in the hands of one of my sisters. It was a gift from her boyfriend, and when its big floppy ears, smooth short brown fur and big sad eyes beckoned, I decided it had to be mine. Said boyfriend had to get her a replacement, the same Samuel the Spaniel, but somehow puffier and less enticing. The dog stuck with me for a pretty long time. I went everywhere with it, I tucked it into bed at night, I slept with my arms around it, and I couldn’t sleep when it wasn’t in bed with me. eventually, I grew so attached to it that my family members thought I was into soft toy dogs and I got one almost every birthday and Christmas; by the time they wised up, I already had about 9 stuffed dogs in my room.
My dad was not impressed. This was my first soft toy; previously my father had gone to great lengths and much expense to ensure I had a straight boy’s education in play. Expensive Lego sets, Star Wars action figures by the dozen, more construction sets, Matchbox cars, even an Atari 2600 (which he ended up playing with more than I did). But I guess there came a point where I needed to manifest my expression of love onto something that wasn’t hard or needed assembly, and the dog was my opportunity.
Perhaps I could have done better to alleviate my father’s fears. The fact that I practically wrestled a soft toy away from my sister didn’t really help things. Then there was the fact that I named it Valentine, mistakingly identifying the martyred lover’s name as female. But the kicker for my dear old dad was that I used a nasal, high pitched girl’s voice to mimic the dog’s responses to my conversations.
That voice irritated the hell out of my dad. I’d do it everywhere as long as my dog was with me; in the house, in the lift, in the car, at the dinner table, and in public too (before I was old enough to realize it looked and sounded kind of weird). At one point, while I was teasing my mum with the dog in the elevator, my dad could take no more, and threatened to bitch-slap me with the dog if I ever used that voice again. That was the moment I decided maybe it would be a better idea if I spoke to my dog in private from then on.
My dad needn’t have worried about me all that much. For a long time his homophobia rubbed off on me very much the way he wanted it to. Imagining the physical relationship stemming from such a lifestyle was like doing a math question and deriving the wrong answer; it just didn’t seem logical to my teenage mind, and early encounters with sexual predators in my secondary school life deepened the fear. Subsequent (friendlier) independent encounters with the alternative lifestyle would not only drill in my own sexual preferences further, but also allow me to understand exactly how and why homosexuality exists. But that’s another 2 or 3 more stories for another 2 or 3 more posts (update:?one of which I would later publish that got picked up by Pink Dot).
My relationship with that stuffed dog was slightly more complicated, though. I had a hard time weaning myself off of my childhood security blanket, and ended up sleeping with the thing all the way till I was 24. In fact, the dog is still in my old room back at my parents’ place, a little worse for wear and the lining for its ears patched with pieces of an old flannel shirt I used to wear. That room has now been converted into my dad’s study, and my dog has been staring at the back of my dad’s head every time he sits at his desk ever since I moved out 4 years ago.
Update: My mother threw the dog away without informing me. I was going to take a photo of it to include in this post when I republished it, but after crying for 8 months, I decided to republish this post in its memory. Goodbye, Valentine.