“Let your freak flag wave. Let your freak flag fly.” When I saw Shrek The Musical and heard “Freak Flag” years ago I thought, “Yes, this is amazing. These lyrics are so incredible.” We are all freaks in our own way. We all have quirks and we are all different, but not enough do our children or the youth see our freak flag because we are conditioned to keep it hidden. Even as adults we keep our quirks in the shadows even though it is our quirks that make us unique and different and special and weird and memorable and the best person we can be in this life. The other day a co-worker said to me, “I don’t think we let our kids see our quirky side enough.” I completely agree which made me want to write this post.
A few weeks ago that same co-worker came to my office and told me, “Nine is singing Whitney in the Variety Show.” Nine is a talented group of nine young men who sing acapella at the school where I work. One of my students who is in Nine was in my office just days later. I said to him, “I hear you are singing Whitney Houston in the V-Show.” He looked at me quizzically. I sang, “How will I know if he really loves me? I say a prayer with every heartbeat.” He said, “Oh, Sam Smith.” At that moment, I knew we had a problem. This generation of kids don’t know Whitney Houston. I knew I had to right this wrong. The next day I wrote to one of his teachers and asked if I could come in and give a 20 minute presentation. I emailed other students in class to give them some answers so it looked like they knew way more than him. Luckily he is one of the best students I have met in my 16 year career. Plus, this was a leadership class with only 10 total students so I knew my Master Class Lesson on Whitney Houston would work.
I went into his class on Friday and gave this presentation.
When I arrived this young man said, “Are you here to teach us about Whitney Houston?” The other students smiled then we got started and they enthusiastically answered the questions. One young lady, another of my students, got up and started doing the “How Will I Know” dance moves from the video playing. We laughed, they answered questions, and my heart raced. I am almost 40 years old but I was still nervous. What are these 10 students going to think of me? I don’t care, but what are they going to think? Even though I’m not trying to hide my freak flag in the shadows, I still was a bit nervous. And even though I don’t care what they think, I was nervous. Maybe I care a little more than I think but I really don’t care what they think. In almost 40 years of living I have learned to be confident in me, but in this moment I was nervous. Have you ever been in this situation? We are adults and we have been through our teenage years and our 20s and our 30s, but the moment we put ourselves out there it is like we are 15 again. AH! What was so wonderful is that from what I could tell, these students got it. They let me have fun and they laughed and had fun with me. I thanked them for letting me fly my freak flag, and I encouraged them to fly their own freak flag because we all have one or two or three or more freak flags to fly. As I walked down the hallway back to my office I could hear some of them, “And IIIIIIIIII, eeeeee, IIIIIII will always love youuuuuuu.” Mission accomplished!
What started years ago, and I’m not quite sure how, was an ability I had to be me. When I first came out as a gay man, people would ask, “When did you know you were gay?” I mean, there were signs all along that looking back could have been indicators to other people but to me, I just always knew I was different. I did not want to play football after school with the other boys on the street. I wanted to put on shows and pretend I was a Hollywood star accepting awards and I wanted to play The Price Is Right and I wanted to create dance shows and I wanted to reenact Days of Our Lives: Cruise of Deception scenes(the clean ones), yes I did! Ha, that memory just made me laugh. I wanted to lay in front of the living room stereo on Sunday mornings and listen to four hours of The Weekly Top 40 and I wanted to watch Star Search on Saturday at 5 p.m. and then the same episode repeated Sunday at 4 p.m. About the only thing I had in common with some of the boys on my street was WWF wrestling but secretly I liked Lady Elizabeth and the pomp and circumstance of Macho Man Randy Savage and his sequined robes more than anything else. I was different than the other boys and I knew it; I felt it, but it did not stop me from enjoying what I enjoyed. I just pretty much had to do it on my own because no one else was interested in the same things as I was at the time. I knew I had to hide my interests as not to get teased. I knew that I had a safe place at home but taking my interests out of my house was risky. Finally in middle and mostly high school, I was able to be in band and musicals and I found other people who were like me. Finally boys and girls were starting to hang out together in mixed groups which made me way more comfortable. Finally I started to feel more like I could express myself. Don’t get me wrong, a lot was still hidden, but I didn’t shy away from my love of Whitney, or Paula Abdul, or Kristi Yamaguchi. I did not shy away from making up a dance to “Vogue” for a band fundraiser. In a way, I had a confidence to do what I wanted to do. I found the right people to surround myself with and that allowed me to be me. I am thankful for my high school friends for allowing me to be me, for laughing with me and at me and loving the young person I was being. I am very blessed to have had the childhood and friends that I did back then.
Although for 26 years I hid one aspect of myself to the world, I still feel like I said YES to life and let people get to know all the quirks and freak sides of me. Honestly when Whitney Houston died people from elementary school sent condolences because they remembered my love for her. Whenever there is a pageant on television, people know I’m watching. When I was in my first year of teaching, I taught my students the *NSync “It’s Gonna Be Me Dance”. At work now, right next to my marathon metal mug is my Whitney Houston mug. Are my quirks because I’m gay? Hardly. My freak flag flies because it is me. Are my interests different than other men? Perhaps. Or, are other men afraid to fly their freak flag because society has taught them not to? Like I said above, I felt different way before I knew what gay was, so I am thankful that I have always been able to pretty much express my quirks with the support of my family and friends. My dad is the one who actually suggested I tape the 1987 Miss USA pageant, “seems like something you might enjoy.” He was right. The pomp, the circumstance, the SEQUINS! For what it is worth, I’m different and I celebrate it. I Say YES to Life!
Get out there and fly your freak flag. Let your kids and other people experience your quirks and encourage theirs. Let them know that being different is just fine and actually what makes life interesting. When they mention someone else’s difference, that is an opportunity to encourage seeing uniqueness in the other person as wonderful. Let them see you celebrate being different and flying your freak flag! Say YES to Life!
“All the things that make us special
are the things that make us strong.”