I’m Short, I’m Queer, and I Don’t Belong Here, but Rod Serling Said I Can Stay

No, I’m not telling you my favorite episode of The Twilight Zone (the first run of the series). That discussion starts an argument no matter what I answer. I should know; I’ve started those arguments. 

I will tell you these episodes were not only regular watching material for me between ages eight and ten, they were essential. (Thank you, Syfy marathons.) There was nothing like spending the Christmas and New Year’s holidays revisiting episodes. 

I imagined the past as though it had once magically existed in this perfectly filmed black and white.

It didn’t seem odd to me that a girl could be into horror, science-fiction, and strange TV. I’d already watched most of the reruns of the Adam West Batman series. More recently, I’d been allowed to tune in to Tales From the Crypt, and the Nickelodeon show Are You Afraid of the Dark? was also allowed. But something was different about The Twilight Zone. It wasn’t just old; it was vintage. It had style and class. There was something different about this black-and-white TV show. It held an art—a mastery of angles, shots, lights, and shadow. It was expressive and deeply poetic. While I knew the world had always been in color, I imagined the past as though it had once magically existed in this perfectly filmed black and white. 

And the classiest thing about the show was its host, Rod Serling. His deep, calm voice, which intoned the monologue over the opening array of surreal images and sounds immediately transported me to a state of pure imagination. 

I could not get over the sound of his voice. I watched the opener in all its variations for every episode just to hear him say it. I would anticipate his witty, trite roundup of the episode at the end of the first scene before the commercial break, and I stayed tuned till his one-sentence closers. 

I couldn’t get the image of him out of my mind, either. He wasn’t just a well-dressed man from another dimension. He was cool. His demeanor was collected, in command. He was a voice of guidance introducing me to the strange tale I was to encounter with just enough, but never too much, coy narration. He calmly puffed a cigarette and informed me reality was turning inside out, but never how—that I would have to discover myself. And, yes, I knew nobody was supposed to smoke cigarettes, but that just made it still edgier. 

No, I did not have a crush on Rod Serling. My feelings were more complex. He was old-school, masculine, macho, but he didn’t need to flaunt it, for why flaunt the obvious?

I wanted to be him. 

Image: CBS Productions

I didn’t come out as a child; I thought other girls wanted to be Rod Serling too. But I was still the size of an alien when adolescence rolled around. The sprouts of breasts came, then stopped. My curves grew a miniscule amount, then stopped. My height stopped squarely at four feet eleven inches, my waist at less than twenty-four inches, and my weight at ninety pounds. I knew fairies were not just slender, prissy, nude women who arrived, makeup done and airbrushed, from Neverland; they were also sloppy, unruly tomboys. 

It wasn’t that I wasn’t becoming masculine; I also wasn’t becoming feminine. I was staying childish. 

My height was laughable. My clothes didn’t fit. If they fit in the waist, they wouldn’t fit in the bust, arms, or legs, or they just didn’t fit right and no attempt to pin, hem, or alter them made them right. No matter what I wore, it looked like I was wearing someone else’s clothes. It didn’t take long for me to realize I had no style, so I wore jeans, plain tees, and hoodies every day, even in the California summer weather. 

Yes, I did feel less alone when I did a research report on my favorite TV series. 

Yes, I learned how tall Rod Serling had been. The host, the epitome of cool, with his strange, wicked wit and effortless stage presence, stood five feet four inches; taller than me, but not by much. His bare sets, known for their stark, eerie ambience, were no mistake; they masked his height. If that gave him the confidence to be that damn suave, I didn’t have to let my body stand in the way of my style, either. Sure, I didn’t have clever sets to help me, but I knew it was possible.  

If this were TV, this vital moment would have turned me into an out-of-the-closet, proud queer teen who had all the style pro tips and a complete masculine/feminine wardrobe that fit me. It would have at least had a fade to black and come back with me possessing subtle poise.

Of course, I didn’t end up coming out until half a decade later, and I’m still working on that swagger and building that wardrobe. But it planted the idea that I could find a way to be that suave someday. 

If Rod Serling taught me anything about being in this dimension, on this side of the screen, it’s that you try suave on and, eventually, a size fits. I’m finding one that fits me, sometimes. 

Coolness and queerness have no substance; they don’t have clear-cut parameters. They’re shadows.

Cool isn’t natural for anyone, but when you pull it off, you pull it off. It doesn’t mean flaunting. Flaunting is the opposite of cool. No, it’s balance, looking as if you know what you’re doing even when you don’t, but not showing off. It’s knowing how to walk without stumbling or parading. In an odd way, cool is humble, and nobody’s cool is the same. 

My queer-cool is neither masculine nor feminine, but it’s sometimes both or neither. It’s a flux, its zen, it’s a balance, and it’s complex, best left to the dimensions of the imagination. 

We do live in a world of shadows and substance, forms and ideas. Some of them are more concrete, and some are more discreet. Coolness and queerness have no substance; they don’t have clear-cut parameters. They’re shadows. Sometimes they fade away entirely, and sometimes they’re sharp. Our forms never really reflect our ideas, and that’s where things will always get strange. 

Being queer is strange. I don’t come out once; I come out of the closet to the world every day. So I might as well walk through that strange door with all the nonchalant style I can manage.