Charles Blow’s memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones shows the hardship of growing up as a boy who betrays society’s masculinity standard. Blow captures the experience many gender-bending non-heterosexual boys have growing up in American society: bullying, sexual abuse, alienation. Most resonant is Blow’s pain and confusion when determining if his sexual abuse caused his same-sex attraction, especially when society deems it unnatural. Blow says, “Abusers don’t necessarily make children different, but rather, they are diabolically gifted at detecting difference, often before the child can see it in him or herself.”
When Blow is called a “punk,” he says, “Punk was the word young people used to describe boys suspected of liking other boys. The world around me made it clear: punks were a waste of a boy, an offense to God, and a violation of nature.” The violation, however, is more about gender deviance than attraction. When Blow speaks about Lawrence’s effeminate behavior, he says, “Being himself was dangerous. Lawrence represented the full gender deviance of which boys are taught to want no part.” I was an effeminate child, and like Blow, I didn’t know it until people ridiculed me. It was just who I was, so it’s devastating for boys who are bullied for this, because it imbrues our self-image. Then without having much, if any, awareness of our sexuality, we were often targeted for sexual abuse because of our perceived sexuality, compounding our diffidence.
Blow also attests to the existence of bisexuality and where for him the gradient of opposite- and same-sex attraction falls on the sexuality spectrum. He gives voice to the shame of the label. He says, “I would come to know what the world called people like me: bisexuals. The hated ones. The bastard breed. The ‘tragic mulattos’ of sexual identity,” and he recognizes society’s limiting beliefs about bisexuality (about sexuality, really). He says, “To me it seemed too narrowly drawn in the collective consciousness suggesting an identity fixed precisely in the middle between straight and gay, giving equal weight to each, bearing no resemblance to what I felt.”