"Mom, I Kind of like Him."

Article excerpt

When I was 10 I asked my mother to buy me two record albums for my birthday. Two movie musical soundtracks (first clue). One was for the Oscar-winning Oliver!--a respectable enough choice, even today. The other was for the low-budget kids' film Pufnstuf, the big-screen version of a cheesy Saturday morning television show about a boy named Jimmy who is marooned on a magic island where a bumbling witch wants to get her hands on his golden flute.

Pufnstuf starred British teen heartthrob Jack Wild, who was the Artful Dodger in Oliver! "I kind of like him," I remember telling my mother while we were shopping at the Meijer Thrifty Acres in Grand Rapids, Mich., circa 1970.

It felt weird to say that out loud, although I didn't know why it should.

I got the records, which I added to the Partridge Family and Donny Osmond albums I already had (second clue). I played the Pufnstuf soundtrack repeatedly and sang along to Mama Cass's song "Different": "Different is hard, different is lonely / Different is trouble for you only / Different is heartache, different is pain / But I'd rather be different than be the same."

Mama Cass was singing about being an overweight witch. It didn't occur to me until years later that the song had a rather glaring gay subtext.

It also didn't occur to me--nor, I suspect, to my mother--that my attraction to that "older man," Jack Wild, had anything to do with my future sexual identity. Digging Jack was a compelling orientation for my 10-year-old self, but it wasn't sexual. I didn't want to touch his flute or sneak kisses behind Pufnstuf's pad or settle down and adopt baby dragons together. …