A few weeks ago a woman found me on facebook, like folks do. We went to elementary school together and were friends. Not close friends, but friends. The last time I saw her I was probably ten. She looks great, is now married and has 3 kids. We have emailed back and forth a few times and the last email she sent me made my eyes pop out of my head. The line that did it was this:
“…I can’t think about you without remembering us putting on your brothers underoos and stuffing the crotches lol..”
This email has totally rocked me and here’s why: I have been packing since I could pee by myself! AND clearly I wasn’t hiding it and I just don’t have any recollection of this. I do remember wearing my brother’s underoos now and then when I was little and refusing to wear my superwoman ones until finally my mom gave in and let me get the boy kind (Batman and Luke Skywalker.) But before this email, my own narrative for being a young little genderqueer, which at the time was dubbed “androgynous” and “tomboy” by others, was that I hid that part of me, at least a little bit… or at least I thought I did.
I certainly don’t remember being so intentional or obvious about it, that is for sure. I use to wear my brother’s clothes now and then but he use to wear makeup and my mom’s dresses. And when my brother and I played make-believe I was always a boy. I remember that I use to wish that I was a boy but I think that was mostly because I started having feelings for girls and didn’t have the language for things like ‘lesbian.’ (And when I did discover that language it was NOT a good thing to be.) Also, I was taught that female equaled feminine with no variations: Ken = boy, Barbie = girl and that certainly didn’t fit who I was at all. And I’m not sure if I was just protecting my mom or if I truly didn’t mind, but up until around the 4th grade I let my mom dress me up, never in dresses, but she would put pink ribbons to match my pink LL Bean turtle neck in my hair that I would then “misplace” every single day at recess only to do this over again the next day without resistance.
My narrative, before this email from my old friend, was that when I started to understand the social lines between boy and girl I hid my ‘boy-ness’ intentionally. I think a lot of it was in attempt to protect my mom, she really, really wanted a ‘girl.’ But also because I wasn’t a boy, I was a girl. I embraced “tomboy” and “it’s just a phase.” I believed that. I believed that one day I would magically want to wear make up and play with dolls and have a husband but that I just didn’t right then.
My narrative, before this email, was that I kept what I considered the ‘boy-like’ pieces of me mostly hidden until this one very particular defining moment in my life. I’ve told this moment to folks all of my life, any time it comes up. This was what I had been telling myself. Before getting this email from my old friend my gender-bending revolutionary moment was this:
For all of my life, up until this particular moment, I hid my boy-ness and put up with and gave into the fact that I was a girl. A tomboy, but a girl. I did this until the week before the 6th grade started when, for a reason I still can’t explain, I had this sudden and uncontrollable outburst. My brother and mom and I were school clothes shopping and I remember watching my brother go off into ‘his’ section, where all of the cool clothes were, while I was stuck in ‘my’ section attempting to find sexless, genderless t-shirts and jeans and shoes (oh unisex Converse Hightops, how you saved me from so much gendered-footwear-angst.) I remember my mom’s face as I refused to shop unless she would let me go to the boys section. I saw something in her break, which still makes me break to think about. She looked so worried for me and so sad. I know it really hurt her to agree to this, I saw it, but she did anyway. For whatever reason, all of a sudden, right then, shopping in the boy’s section felt desperate and both my mom and I could feel it.
I have always thought of that moment as a coming out of sorts. But now, I’m not so sure.
So, this email from an old friend has me shifting and questioning my own story of how I feel I came into being authentic and comfortable and right in this gender-place that makes me feel like me. It is making me wonder if I thought I was hiding it when really the boy in me was just totally obvious to everyone and always there the whole go? Or maybe I just didn’t hide it like I thought I did? Maybe I didn’t even know to hide it then because it was just who I was and I thought it was normal until I was told differently?
I remember my 2nd grade teacher telling me I couldn’t sit with my chair backwards because, “that is not how a lady sits” and thinking, ‘well, now I know.’ I didn’t like that rule, but now I knew. I remember running around outside in a pair of my brother’s shorts and no shirt and my dad watering the lawn and asking, “jesse! Are you wearing your brother’s shorts?” and feeling really embarrassed but not sure why. I remember my mom’s friend telling me that I couldn’t marry Valley because she was a girl, and I didn’t like that either, but now I knew, so I stopped telling folks I wanted to marry her. I always hated dresses but I just knew that sometimes I would have to wear them, until I became an adult and realized I didn’t. Ever.
My mom has very seriously asked me, as an adult, more than a few times, if I wished I was a boy, to which I very honestly answer, “No, not at all.” And I use to think the question was a bit out of left field or maybe just because I get mistaken for a guy sometimes? But I guess if, ever since I was 5 years old (or maybe younger, I don’t know anymore), I’ve been prancing around in boys clothes with a fruit-of-the-loom-sock-bulge in my pants (which, as an adult I never ever do in front of family) well, I can just see a bit clearer where her question is coming from.
I have been sitting on this for a few weeks now and wish I felt more of a solid reason for why I am so fascinated by hearing this from my old friend, but I’m still not sure exactly. I do know I am going to ask other friends of mine, that I have known since our underoos days, what they remember.