I have so many gender-based memories, some subtle (preferring legos, robotics, antique cars, climbing, and karate to barbies, gymnastics, horses, shopping, or dance). Or the screaming, crying tantrums I would pull at age four when I got a dress for Christmas (I was otherwise a meek and quiet kid). But some are undeniably about gender and take on a special poignancy now that I’ve made sense of my gender identity.
Just Make it Straight
One of my earliest memories is mustering the courage to tell the barber to iron out my curls. I hated how everyone constantly told me how cute and precious they were. I may be reading too much into it, but I think I thought if the curls could be straightened, I’d stop being categorized as a sweet little girl all the time. I did muster the courage (maybe with some help from my mom), and I think he blowdried them out. I know it’s impossible that a single trip to the barber permanently straightened my curls, but in my memory of the event, I never felt burdened by them again. (More likely, my parents learned to stop complimenting them or letting others call attention to them.)
The Wind on My Skin
On the hot days in kindergarten, the boys were allowed to take off their shirts and run around outside. The teachers told me that I couldn’t (I was the only girl asking)
and it sparked my burgeoning sense of injustice. “Why not?” The only answer the teacher could give me was that boys could and girls couldn’t. I pointed out that our bodies looked exactly the same. When she couldn’t argue, she relented, and I remember that day vividly, running bare chested through the shaded playground with all the boys. (They ended up running away from me, the half-naked girl chasing them, but still, it was glorious.)
When I Grow Up I’ll Be a Boy
I’m not sure how old I was when I told my mother that I would grow up to be a boy. All I remember was being absolutely certain about it. That there was a magic age (I guess I was thinking about puberty) where I’d get taller, a penis would come in, and I’d get to pick my boy name. At least I was more or less right, even if it took much longer than I thought it would.
There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Line
My brother, 4.5 years my senior, was my hero and role model. When my mom took us back-to-school shopping, I had to get the smaller version of everything he was wearing–the blue and black striped windbreaker, the hightops with the blue hologram, the red
and blue backpack. And the same haircut. I walked to school with him so proudly, looking like his miniature twin, and got into the little kid’s line by the schoolhouse door, while he walked around to the big kid entrance. At my entrance, boys and girls lined up in two separate lines, for reasons I can’t make sense of even now. After a few minutes of waiting, feeling pretty cool in my big-brother imitation threads, a girl’s voice piped up, clear as day, “There’s a boy in the girls‘ line!” I never saw who said it, but I stood there, undefended even by teachers, knowing suddenly and shamefully that I was a girl, in the right line, but completely out of place.
The Prince, the Pauper, and the Patriot
I sure liked to dress up in drag when I was 10 and 11. Only one of these was taken on Halloween.