By James Falciano
My earliest feeling of bliss was through an affinity for flowers, very early on in my life. One of my first memories was staring in wonder at a patch of crocuses coming up out of the snow in early spring. I picked one that had yet to fully blossom, and the warmth of my hand caused the petals to fall open. I was enthralled, totally in wonder and awe at the beauty and power of nature. This love of flowers became a passion for me. I asked for books on botany and learned the names of various different species of flowering pants. Before I was an artist, I always thought I’d be a botanist. The instinct to create art was always present in me as well, but my subject matter was flowers, more often than not.
This pull towards what would be considered a more feminine interest was raw and natural for me. It was just who I was and was my earliest form of self-expression and passion for living. I was the little boy who always had a bundle of flowers in his hand. This tendency towards the feminine spilled out in other ways besides the floral elements. I was given trucks and balls and the typical “boy things” but as I started integrating with other children, such as my cousins, it was always the girl toys that I gravitated towards playing with. I tended to also want to play with girls more than other boys. It was natural for me, like I stated earlier it was just who I was. The boys were rough and loud and aggressive, and it just didn’t appeal to me. I was more sensitive, and introspective, and wanted to draw and pick flowers and twirl around in my cousin’s fluffy dresses with her.
This freedom of expression was very short lived for me. Kindergarten is my earliest memory of being walloped over the head with a toxic version of masculinity. I can’t have been any older than 5 or 6. I remember the incident clearly, and I doubt it will ever fully leave me. It was recess, and I was playing with a group of girls. I believe we were playing a dress up game, because a feather boa and little purse were definitely in my chosen attire for the occasion. The teacher’s aid saw me prancing around in my “girly attire” and pulled me to one side. From the look on her face and the tone in her voice I could tell I had done something unspeakable. She was horrified, and fearful. “What are you DOING?” She cried, as if I had killed someone. “That is NOT how little boys are supposed to play. Why are you wearing all of this? This is for girls.” It was the first time an adult had spoken to me in this manner, and from the intensity of her reaction I could tell I had done something truly awful. I felt shame for the first time in my young life.
I consider that experience to be the beginning of the end for me freely expressing myself. It got harder the older I got. My love of flowers was the next casualty. The other boys took notice and teased me for it. I was the “flower boy”, and it was spoken at me with disdain. I was a bit of a running joke to them, who harped on the constant love of flowers as if it were something silly for me to enjoy because I was a boy and “flowers are for girls!”. The first, purest form of passion was taken from me. I stopped picking them and I stopped pursuing any form of botanical interest. I buried this interest and stamped it out of myself. And the sad thing was it was barely a conscious decision. It was just coming through to me from the outside world that my behavior wasn’t “normal” and so I figured I was broken in some way and needed to fix myself. I was a child. I already had a terrible self-image and I hadn’t even lived on this planet a full 10 years yet. And it was always like this. All my most natural inclinations towards any kind of interest were always the wrong ones. The other boys talked sports and cars and I was interested in clothes and art and flowers.
Hiding became my strongest inclination. I studied the other boys, their interests, their mannerisms, how they held their bodies and how they talked. And I emulated them as best I could. Every so often I’d have a “slip up” where I’d betray some feminine interest and I would pay for it. I was always called out for it. There was always that fear that I would lapse into some feminine mannerism. There was always that fear that someone would sniff me out as gay, as I eventually came to realize I was. Living in fear and intense anxiety was just the only reality that I knew at that point. Constant fear. I would make sure to only listen to male musicians, I would make sure to get better at gym class even though it didn’t come naturally to me and was always a struggle. Can you imagine what this must have felt like? How exhausting, degrading, demoralizing? Why should a young person be put through this? Why couldn’t I just play naturally and be myself? What would my life had been like if I didn’t have to waste so much energy policing my every move? These questions resound in my head often when reliving these memories.
By the time I got to high school I truly believed that I was just a mistake across the board. Sensitive where men were expected to be tough, introspective where men were expected to be loud and extroverted, artistic where men were supposed to be athletes, and gay where men were supposed to straight. This struggle with self-hatred, fear and anxiety lasted well into my teens and early 20s, even after I had come out. The legacy of self-doubt has been my life’s greatest challenge to overcome. Essentially I am still coming out, making peace with the my femme qualities and coming to respect, love and own the duality of masculine and feminine energies found within myself. It is sometimes hard to manage the acute feelings of intense anger I have towards religious and political institutions for waging their war on queer identities; making children grow to hate themselves purely because of the way they are. So many queer kids end their lives, and I certainly came close a few times. It seems so pointless, as we are perfect the way we are and have been since birth.
I have to believe we can come to a place where there is no longer a need to “come out”, where you can just “be” from day one. I think what straight people don’t understand, even the most well meaning ones, is that essentially queer people have been robbed of a large chunk of their lives. For me, I lost a childhood and my teen years, but was lucky enough to come out in my 20s. For many, it isn’t until 30s or 40s or for some it’s never at all. And it’s a damn shame, because humanity is missing out on the wonderful gifts we queers have to offer if allowed to grow into our authentic selves. As I continue down that path towards authenticity, I often think of a certain little boy who picked flowers. Am I doing him justice now? I so desire to be the adult version of him, as if the years of pain and struggle didn’t dampen his fire. The more comfortable I get with myself, the more flowers have found their way back into my self-expression. They’re in the prints on the shirts I wear, they’re in the art I create, they’re in vases in my bedroom…and someday when I have a home of my own my garden will be one big vibrant bouquet. By incorporating floral elements back into my life I feel as though I am reclaiming a part of myself, the most innocent and liberated part of myself, that was taken from me. I used to be called “flower boy” in a derogatory manner, but now I embrace that as a badge of honor. I was, and will always be, that flower boy; expressing himself purely, openly, fearlessly and authentically for all to see.