The Small Bang Theory
The posse with pinking shears surrounded the scared gay kid, grabbed his bangs and snipped. Such was life at tony Cranbrook Prep, Mitt Romney’s alma mater in 1965.
Nearly 50 years later, Mad Men would become a hit series chronicling this exact period of Americana: the lives of those privileged and/or climbing white men. Yes, today Mad Men rules TV. Little would be written about the sad men that were left in their wake. Indeed, when reached about the incident at Cranbrook, Mitt Romney said of the speculation that he and his friends had taunted a gay kid: “We didn’t discuss such things back then.”
I guess no one knew what “gaydar” was. Just snip a forehead of bangs to get rid of a potential problem.
Fast forward to present day, and Jim Parsons, star of the hit TV series The Big Bang Theory quietly came out during an interview about his role in Larry Kramer’s iconic play, The Normal Heart. The star of The Big Bang Theory meets the story of Mitt’s small bang theory—and somewhere lost in those five decades, is indeed a normal heart. Perhaps we shouldn’t judge the young men of Cranbrook for the times they lived in. It was, after all, four years prior to the Stonewall riots, and decades before Jerry Herman would write his brilliant lyric in La Cage Aux Folles: “I bang my own drum. Some think it’s noise. I think it’s pretty.”
While we were all invited to bang our own drums in the ‘80s, we didn’t dare grow bangs in the ‘60s. Will and Grace wouldn’t surface for decades. Harvey Milk hadn’t served—and died—in public office, Barney Frank wasn’t yet known, and Ellen DeGeneres was in diapers.
So how could Mitt “Scissorhands” have anticipated that we gay folk would actually one day stand up for our rights? How could he have known then that “gaydar” would one day be used almost affectionately and without so much as a bat of an eyelash? It would have taken a normal heart. Back then, the world of bullies with expensive loafers went for the cheap shot.
And here it gets personal. It was about the exact time Mitt snipped that I snapped. In my middle class suburban New Orleans home in 1965, I was a scared 10 year old sissie immersing both my hands in the hottest water I could stand. Rock salt lined the bottom of the wash basin. Forget growing bangs—that was out of the question. I just needed to survive, and my soft skin was the telltale sign that I was a budding fruit.
Barry, one of several neighborhood bullies, kept saying that I had the softest skin in the world—in his taunting words, “Softer than my sister’s!” It was a slippery slope once you got pegged as a Nancy boy—and I wasn’t about to have him grab my hand again and announce my horrible sin of such soft skin. The hard truth was I needed to at least hide—and if possible change the texture of my skin. The solution seemed simple. My aunt always complained how rough her hands were after she made home-made ice cream with rock salt for the freezing process.
Rock salt is cheap, and you can buy it on a kid’s allowance. Hide it under your bed and—when no one’s around—soak your hands. (It’s the young sad gay boy’s “Calgon Take Me Away” moment—an ad campaign written by those Mad Men). It was to erase everything. My problems were over, until I went to dry my hands and saw the limp wrist that horrified me, the same one I now let flutter with abandon. We Nancy boys knew there was a Mitt around every corner just waiting to score cheap points and humiliate us. We stayed in the closet, dated women, flew under radar, and hoped some smug frat boy didn’t hone in on us. Sad Men.
Last month, when the story about the Cranbrook news hit, it was BANG!...back to the ‘60s and for me, the fetal position. Ann Romney had been on a concerted campaign to convince voters Mitt’s not stiff. He’s wild. He’s crazy. He’s fun. He’s a freakin’ barber. Thanks for rubbing rock salt in the wound.
From tony Cranbrook of yesteryear to the 2012 Tony Awards nearly 50 years later —Neil Patrick Harris introduced the much-anticipated Broadway awards show as “50 Shades of Gay”—a play on words about the popular best selling book. He later introduced our out and proud Jim Parsons. His big bangs were worn to the side—a style of his own choosing. Time has moved on and people—especially youngsters with truly normal hearts—are overwhelmingly in favor of our rights.
And now, the Mormon who was running with scissors in prep school is running for president—and with cunning intent. What will happen if an actual bully occupies the bully pulpit? I shudder to guess. Mitt once ran to the left of Ted Kennedy on gay rights. This champion of Latter Day Saints formerly supported gay rights, and assured gay folks of it. But that was in a deep blue state and the primary color he now seeks is red. Let’s be clear: that’s pride, then prejudice.
So a dozen years into the new millennia, this ain’t your father’s prep school. Today, I soften my skin with lavender-scented hand cream. I wore lavender at this week’s Gay Pride Parade. And if you look real closely, you’ll see my bangs growing.
We’re here. We’re queer. Drop your scissors and get used to it.
Brent Mundt makes a living in DC and a life in Rehoboth.