When I was in middle school, I fell in love with a singing trio that protected me for the rest of my school years. Nowadays, I have to wonder how Tony Orlando and Dawn (TOAD) became such a strong interest of mine and why I was so obsessed with them—and I do mean obsessed—throughout my young school years.
The 1970s were a time for iron-on decals pressed onto your t-shirts. I went crazy and purchased every TOAD decal and differently-colored shirt I could find and even wore a different one to school every day. My peers—and even some teachers—made fun of me for wearing them. But I wore them proudly. I would audiotape their shows on my tape recorder and listen to the shows over and over at night until I fell asleep. When their albums and records went on sale, I was the first in line to buy them. I became a card-carrying TOAD groupie.
Even back in the 1970s, their biggest fans were adult women and the elderly. In fact, when the group finally reunited in the 1980s after a long break-up, their audiences’ average age was 65 and above. So why was I, a young gay male teenager, so taken with them? They weren’t even gay icons—except that by ironic coincidence, they renamed the second season of their TV show The Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour. The opening segment to the show featured various rainbows as did the set.
After much reflection, I’ve come to realize that at the tender age of 11, my very public, outspoken interest in TOAD drew my peers’ harassment and ridicule off my homosexuality and onto my love of TOAD.
I was laughed at, bullied, spat at, and beaten by my peers—both male and female—and even some teachers for being gay. I had effeminate mannerisms and played only with girls. I was very much a gay little boy, and everyone knew it—even me.
In order to survive their childhood, children unconsciously make decisions on how to adapt to those who care for them—or neglect and abuse them. In my case, I now see, I made an unconscious decision to become obsessed with TOAD—to draw people’s fire toward that and not my homosexuality. Let them heckle and abuse me over my love of TOAD, but bullying me over my homosexuality was too painful and traumatizing, and too close to my core.
As an adult, I was a proud member of the TOAD fan club. Alerts from Yahoo and Google told me everything that was going on with them. It was so much fun hearing Tony Orlando, Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent sing together. They were often criticized for their songs being mostly bubble gum and pop, and that they’re a group for the “older folks.” But say anything you want about this pop group, it will never change that for me; they were my saviors.
Years later, they released a DVD of their 1970s TV series and re-released their albums on CD and came out (no pun intended) with a Christmas album. I was in TOAD heaven! I could not get enough, and if they had decided to tour, I would have taken the first flight to their reunion concert!
Who were your “shield heroes” from childhood and what did they mean to you? What do they mean to you still today? I would love to hear from you through email to tell me your stories.
A version of this post was originally published on JoeKort.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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