Ever since I was a little boy, and became aware of Disneyland, I've been utterly obsessed with the place, spending twenty of my vacations there between 1976 and 2007, at considerable expense traveling from Western Canada. I've long wondered if there's a connection between being gay and being a Disneyland freak, and I believe John Cloud, in his recent article "Gay Days in the Magic Kingdom" (Time, June 21, 2010) has made as good an attempt as anyone trying to explain it.
Cloud writes, "For many gays and lesbians who grew up in the latter half of the 20th century, childhood was a time of anxiety and secrets, faggot jokes and spitballs. There was, literally and figuratively, no Glee. Going on the teacup ride or getting wet on Splash Mountain was a way to reclaim an unfinished adolescence [p. 70]."
Amen! How many of today's gay and lesbian adults enjoyed a long and carefree adolescence? I didn't. In fact, I don't think I even had an adolescence, let alone a childhood, for that matter. Long before I moved into my teenage years, I was earmarked as a fem, a fairy, and a faggot, and I spent the better part of my school experience with my bully radar on, trying to keep my head down in the hallways as I came and went, while being acutely aware of everyone around me, so I'd be sure not to attract attention to myself, yet get safely from A to B without facing the usual humiliation and abuse.
In retrospect, I see now that going to Disneyland, from the age of sixteen to forty-eight, was therapy. Once safely inside the park, I knew that not only would I find myself in a world far removed from the real one, but also I could comfortably let my guard down. I didn't have to be on the lookout for my tormentors. I didn't have to worry that, at every turn, I might run into someone who'd throw my books on the floor and kick them down the hallway; who'd point at me, call me names, and laugh; or who'd try to trip me or punch me or physically abuse me in some other way.
I've long considered Disneyland to be home in a way that nowhere else on earth is. It's been a place where I was able to escape from my tyrannical father and my embittered mother; where the kids at school were far, far away from me; and where I could, finally and at last, be myself without facing ridicule and judgement. The need to escape has been an ongoing theme in my life for as long as I can remember--escape from everything that was hurtful, and even escape from myself sometimes, as I struggled with being gay and trying to accept it.
Well into middle age, Disneyland continues to be a refuge for me, the only place that allows me to be the child I never was, and that helps me see there is good in the world, as well as enchantment and compassion and love. Even today, when I race headlong toward the park entrance, after getting up at 3:00 a.m. to catch various shuttles and flights to Anaheim, Town Square on Main Street, U.S.A., just seconds away, I know I can exhale. I know for the short period I'm there, I don't have to toughen up against the world. I don't have to be on my guard for anything that might cause me pain. I don't have to be anything more than I am in that exact moment--a little boy who wants nothing more than to feel free, to be safe, and to have fun.