The Best Little Boy: How Growing Up in the Bronx in the 70s Led to Perfectionism

Welcome to the third installment of Tales of the Wave. In this series, I’ll share recent conversations with friends and acquaintances whose insight about the wave might help you, too.

Bronx best boy-in-training. Victor B at 4 years old.

Bronx best boy-in-training. Victor B at 4 years old.

He was Dr. B when I met him. He was great at his job—diligent, detailed, and genuinely interested in everyone around him. Victor B loved his work and his practice, which he had built from the ground up. 

Two years ago, along with the rest of his patients, I was shocked to hear that Victor was leaving his practice. Crippling physical pain had stopped him from being able to continue his work. It was terrible news.

When he reached out to me about this project, the pieces started to fall into place. The way he ran himself into the ground while making everyone around him happy (and love him). His success with his business. His focus and determination. Yep, this was a fellow voyager alright. We met here in San Francisco on Mission St for chai, and I learned more about Victor's background. I asked if he'd be willing to talk publicly about the things he's learned in the hopes of clarifying things for others, and this conversation is the result.

I'm so thankful to Victor for his openness and strength. These things aren't easy to talk about. Sharing them often brings up its own anxieties and black holes in our stomachs. Thank you, Victor! I hope that sharing will prove rewarding in the end.Meredith

Me: When we spoke, you educated me about the writer Andrew Tobias's notion of The Best Little Boy in the World. Can you talk about how that book affected you? How did growing up gay when you did affect your anxiety? Has it changed as our culture has changed?

Victor: I think a lot of my anxiety stems from the same place. It starts with the question: What will people think of me if...? The "if's" are many. The biggest one was: What if they find out I am gay?

My biggest fear was rejection. They won't love me, they won't like me, they will be mad at me, they will think something is wrong with me, they will be embarrassed by me. The list goes on...and on...and on...

I simply always felt and believed I was not good enough. I don't like to put it all on being gay, but it honestly did do a number on me given I was always trying to hide the person I really was. The Best Little Boy in the World  definitely helped put things in perspective. But I didn't learn about the book or idea until I was in my second round of therapy in my early 40's. I think having an older gay man as my therapist at the time helped quite a bit.

The Best Little Boy in the World

Growing up in the Bronx in an Italian-American, Catholic home the message was is wrong to be gay.  Were these words ever directly spoken? I can't say. But I absolutely understood it and moreover, I believed it was true. 

Where did the message come from? Hearing the men in my family talking; hearing my brother and his friends talking; the implied expectations of being a male...when you should be dating, who you should be attracted to, games and sports to play, also games and things you should not be playing with...even television shows and movies poked fun at the effeminate/gay characters. Attending Catholic schools through high school, and attending church regularly...the message of Catholicism was clear: to be a homosexual is a sin.

My family was very actively involved in our church. Alter boys, lectors, ushers. Imagine my confusion as an alter boy, standing on the alter serving mass, and at the same time feeling such attraction to my fellow alter boys, priests and men in the congregation.

To conceal my true self, I truly became the "best little boy": A-student, perfectionist, mommy's helper, meticulously clean, neat and organized. By excelling, I was hoping to distract anyone from discovering my secret...or stopping them from questioning who I was.

My other big source of anxiety is/was worry.  I have a tendency to want to take care of everyone and "fix it" as best I can. I make everyone else feel good. This often time resulted in making myself the sacrificial lamb and thereby being taken advantage of both emotionally and, in some cases, financially.

Not having a true sense of self allowed me to put everyone else first. It was easier.

Me: Do you know other "best boys"? Is the behavior talked about openly? 

Victor: I really do not? I have touched on the topic with some friends, but I don't think many people know about it. Each experience growing up feeling "different" varies. We all have the same story of hiding the truth for as long as we could.

Me: What would you say to young kids who feel the best boy traits within themselves? Do you have any advice for them?

Victor: Absolutely! Be true to yourself and honest with those who love you. Do not fear rejection! Everyone who loves you will continue to do so. If they don't, then it is not your place to change their beliefs or perspective.

Continue to be the person you are. If they cannot see the beauty in you, move on. It's their loss. They don't deserve you, and have no right to make you feel bad about yourself and who you are.  You do not have to do anything or try and be a "best boy" in order to "make up" for being gay. Being gay is not a bad thing. It is a beautiful thing. Who you love does not matter. How you love yourself makes you the best person you can possibly be.  This will allow you to form deep and true friendships and relationships with everyone in your world...from family members to friends, classmates and colleagues.

Oh how I wish someone would have said that to me about 45 years ago!!

Thank you to Victor B and all of the other "best boys" out there who push their way through the confusion to forge their own paths. Your work is helping others in ways that might even surprise you.

Originally published May 12, 2016. Updated April 17, 2017.