Join Date: May 2012
In 1962 my brother and I went off to a summer day camp. The day camp was located in Calumet City, surrounded by what was still farmlands and forest preserves. The owner and director had been in that business for years and was a respected PE teacher.
I think what happened to me could be described as the perfect "how to" manual. How to rob a young boy of confidence, self worth, and dignity with a single insensitive and perhaps a criminally abusive act. Near the end of the summer, the camp invited all the parents to spend an afternoon visiting their sons and daughters at activities and to watch each age group perform some kind of skit.
Some time prior to this visiting day, my age group was gathered into the drama hut and we were sat down with our counselor and there was a lady who seemed to be in charge of the show. Our counselor said, "We'll sing a song and half of you need to play girls. Raise your hand if you want to be a girl?"
Some of the boys laughed, but I thought, "want to be a girl?" Who would WANT to be a girl in a skit for everyone to see? I couldn't imagine and no one volunteered. The counselor asked again and then said that if no one raised his hand, he'd choose. Then he declared that his first choice was me. A chorus of laughter rang out amongst the boys. He continued and, in a pattern I couldn't discern, chose who'd play boys and who'd play girls.
In retrospect, I suppose, I was chosen because I was cute, small, and not one who caused this young man trouble at day camp. Of course, those qualifying traits meant nothing to me. My companions who'd be allowed to portray boys quickly cut to the core issue by taunting the so called "girls." We were told we were "fems," sissies, in fact they declared: we were girls. I felt dread, humiliation, and even a bizarre guilty notion that being chosen corroborated a truth.
I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. I didn't tell my brother or my parents. I had this belief that somehow I'd get out of doing it. I'd pretend to be sick. Hopefully someone would offer to trade parts or maybe a big meteorite might smash the Earth. As a seven year old, I didn't know what to do and I was too ashamed to seek help.
That lady paired each "girl" with a boy and we were taught a love ballad. We were told to sing and walk around the stage arm in arm. Parent's day arrived, the world had not ended, so I'd convinced myself that if I simply, meekly performed, most likely no one would have any idea of what I had done. After all, I'd be dressed up as a girl so who would recognize me? If asked, I'd deny and undoubtedly get away with it. How painfully naive and innocent a child can be.
My dad, to my relief, was not going to leave work to attend, but mom came. She had no idea of what I was battling inside. The parents were herded into the drama area. We were told that all of the "girls" were to go to Lou's, the camp director's house, to get ready.
He was there, along with that lady in charge. We took off our pants and tee shirts and each boy was put into a pink dress. Then, one by one, this lady applied makeup onto us, eye liner, mascara, rouge and lipstick. Each boy was fitted with a kind of hat that had curls attached which hung down onto our faces. I looked at myself in a mirror and felt a wave of relief, in the belief that I was unrecognizable.
The lady told us that she needed to leave to start the show, but that we should wait with Lou, we should sit and watch TV, and be careful not to mess up our makeup or our dresses.
What the HELL was Lou doing there anyway? I was seven. I had no concept of a Perv alert. Had I been older, bells, whistles, red flags and emergency warnings would have been blasting as this ***** gave us glasses of lemonade.
One time Lou showed up at the camp swimming pool wearing his wife's bathing suit. I remember he swam and pranced about in the one piece skirted swimwear. It didn't occur to me until I was much older that being forced to dress up as a girl that day wasn't about me. It was all about Lou.
My theory is that each year Lou had the seven year old's perform some kind of skit that resulted in most or all of them being dressed up as girls. One year earlier, I remember that the 2nd grade boys were all Hula girls in that same show. Why, because Lou got off on it. On one hand Lou was respected, a teacher and coach, and our parents entrusted their children to him. In return, he ran a nice day camp, but on the other hand, he saw to it, each summer, that some of us played out this fantasy of his. Perhaps, we re-enacted something that happened to him. Maybe it gave him a visual which gave him sexual satisfaction. Perhaps it was a prelude for some kind sexual abuse the he played out on a boy or even a family member. I have no doubt that he was a sexual predator, but luckily, I know I was not touched.
It was our turn to go on stage and I still believed that no one would recognize me. Of course, I heard my name called in a jeering manner, but that was nothing compared to the roar of laughter as we began our song. Quickly, it was over and I ran as fast as I could back to Lou's to get out of that dress and to furiously wipe off all that make up. It didn't come off so easily and until I got home, I bore a shameful kind of scarlet letter or temporary tattoo that identified my female role in that show.
I don't know how the others who'd stood on stage that day felt because I never talked about it again. I believed that if I blocked what had happened, it was as if it hadn't happened. I denied to my friends that I had played a girl. When they teased crap out of me, I lied and denied it. They knew I was lying and I knew that they knew I was lying, and unwittingly I gave them fuel for their taunts. Some friends didn't limit their taunts for just that day, but for weeks and some felt the need to bring it up for years.
I only felt shame over that incident. I am still humiliated when I think about it. I trembled as I wrote this account. I love to laugh and I love to be funny, but I don't like being laughed at. While my humor can be self-deprecating, I never make myself look foolish. I developed an intolerance for injustices, bullying, and stupid P.E. teachers. With my own child, I tried to insure that nothing such as this ever happened to him.
A couple of years ago, I noticed Lou's obituary in the Sun times. I hadn't known he was still alive. At seven, everyone seemed old. I wondered if he ever realized that he'd caused me and perhaps a number of other boys so much pain to satisfy himself. I doubt he cared.