Even as far as we’ve come as a society, coming out as LGBTQ+ is always a big deal. For kids of the Baby Boom generation, it was often even tougher, as the culture wasn’t ready to accept kids who were “different.” And yet, so many were.
Artist and author Dan Crowley, who spent part of his growing up in Wilton, knew that he was “different” from an early age, and he’s taken that experience and put it into a new book Danny, Growing Up Gay and Creative. Over the course of fifty drawings with captions, the reader follows Dan on his journey from birth to age 18, how he expressed his difference, and how he grew into his own authenticity.
Crowley says the project was born out of the COVID lockdown. “I was working on several different book projects of my own, and then the lockdown happened last March. I decided that I wanted to use the lockdown time to create something important to me. I had been to a party years ago where I saw this old doll house, and it turned out it was the host’s grandfather made it during the 1918 lockdown. Wow.
“And so I, I thought, well, if I’m remembering the [current] lockdown, I want to create something. This was my chance, and so I decided to write a book or make a book about what it was like growing up gay and creative, and to make something that would help kids and families who are going through this or have gone through it.”
The geography of Crowley’s growing up was different as well. “I was born in New York, and then we moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil. And I spent a few years of my young life speaking Portuguese and living in South America. Then we come back to Connecticut, and I go into first grade in a Catholic school. This was a completely different world than anything I’d ever experienced in my life. So, I couldn’t help but stand out. And the nuns used to think that I was trying to speak in tongues when, when Portuguese would come now, I kept getting punished for trying to be a class clown.”
Crowley found his way to fit in as the class artist. His drawing talent made him popular, and as he says, it was his “weirdness” that made him different and at the same time gave him some power, and prestige, with his peer group.
That didn’t solve all the problems, however. When he was in middle school, his family lived in a fairly remote area, and so he turned to drawing and creativity as a means of expression, and he says he found teachers who supported and mentored him. Still his awakening as LGBTQ+ wasn’t easy.
He says that seventh and eighth grade were particularly difficult. “I think for a lot of us who grew up gay, that was a pivotal time. We were aware that we were gay. We were aware that we were outside of what was happening with our peers who were starting to date members of the opposite sex. And because we’re virtually of the same age, we were hiding completely.
“My peripheral vision really got developed during those early years. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was looking over here.” Crowley mentions one drawing in the book where he is looking at the beauty of another boy but trying not to be noticed. He says, “I got really good at hiding.”
Today, Crowley is no longer hiding, and he’s sharing his stories in a warm, witty and highly approachable way. Readers may see themselves reflected in some of his vignettes, or they may recall their own. As Crowley says, he wants everyone—of every age—simply to be themselves, however that may be expressed.
Danny, Growing Up Gay & Creative is available on Amazon.
You can hear my entire conversation with Dan on the Voice Out Loud Podcast.
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