a good girl
not a good girl.
I don't mean that I've been misbehaving, but that
I'm not very good at being a stereotypical female. I've never been
good at it.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a boy. I didn't want a penis
I never felt like I was born in the wrong body, just the wrong world.
I was born in the mid-'60s, when girls were still supposed to wear
skirts or dresses and, if they wore pants, these pants were called
dungarees and were to play in, or these pants were made of polyester,
worn with a jacket of matching fabric and called a "pantsuit."
Girls like me the ones that didn't want to wear white tights,
or frilly dresses, or play with Barbies in a way that can only be
called obsessive, or talk romantically of getting their first periods
(What is so great about bleeding out of your crotch one whole week
of every month for the rest of your life? It seemed more of a punishment
to me than something to celebrate.) weren't even called girls.
Our girl-title was removed and we were called "tomboys."
So, I decided, if I wasn't allowed the appellation of girl, if
"girl" meant only one type of person a person I
was not I would just be this other: neither boy nor girl.
It was very disconcerting to not belong to my gender, but I found
ways to cope with my outlaw status.
In second grade, I started the "Monster Club." To join
my club you had to do something hard, like climb up a tree and jump
out of it on to pavement. To stay in the club, you had to denounce
the use of the following words:
If you were to say any of these words, you were out of the club
and the only way back in was to kiss a club member of the same sex
as you. (I wonder now how I had learned homophobia so early.) I
only had four club members and each one, when kicked out for using
the forbidden language, failed to go through with the reentry requirements
until my club membership dwindled to just me. I was able to remain
pure and never once said the forbidden words.
Although I did not want to have a boy's body, I wanted all the
rights allowed to boys:
The right to get messy. The right to play outside. The right to
wear clothing which had pockets. The right to be comfortable. The
right to sit on the bus with your legs spread out, taking up more
than your half of the seat rather than smushed up with your legs
pressed primly together. The right to play with toy trucks and not
just dolls. The right to play with blocks or racing cars or penknives.
The right to learn how to whittle or whistle through blades of grass.
The right to be taken seriously. The right to not have to apologize
every time you dropped the Frisbee during a game of catch. The right
to get a G.I. Joe doll with all the cool and practical accessories
(plastic backpack, plastic dagger, plastic gun) rather than a Barbie
with useless accessories (shoes that had to be jammed on deformed
feet, purses, fancy hats). The right to wear Converse high-top sneakers
instead of slippery-soled girls' shoes. The right to take shop class
in junior high and learn how to use power tools, instead of home
ec, where the only thing I learned was how to make shrimp cocktail
and sew an apron.
When I got a little older, I wanted the right to not have to menstruate
or develop breasts. I was so mad about the onslaught of puberty
that I tried drastic measures. For one year, at about age 13, I
bound my chest in ace bandages, topped with tube tops, topped with
constricting shirts. I figured that if the flesh was not encouraged
with training bras or bikini tops, it might decide it was easier
to stay flat. Instead, to the great delight and mockery of my more
girly friends, I got "the biggest tits of all of us."
Similarly, my determination to divert all unneeded blood from my
uterus by picking at scabs on my perennially skinned knees did not
work and, eventually, womanhood overtook me.
The world has changed around me and girls have a lot more choices
these days. Sure, Toys R Us still has a pink aisle for girls and
a camouflage-colored aisle for boys, but now girls can choose to
not be Pink Girls. Whereas I was angry that I didn't fit in with
straight, feminine women or with masculine lesbians, women younger
than me have been able to instead assert who they are. I am jealous
of them, a little, and proud of them.
And still, even at age 41, I don't fit in with most women. I don't
know what to say to them. I don't know what to talk about when we
are sitting around, so I try not to hang out with women much and,
when I do, I pretend.
I pretend to care about makeup and pretend to be grossed out by
coarse things that, in reality, probably fascinate me like
farts or warts. Girly women really confound me sometimes,
when excited, they clap and giggle loudly. I don't know what to
do when someone around me claps and giggles loudly. Or squeals.
If my dog is jumping around squealing, I make him sit. I don't think
women want me to do that to them.
I don't gush, either, unless an artery has been cut. But I'm getting
better. I comment on haircuts and clothing. Except I get it wrong
and tell men that I like their new "hairdos" or ask women
if they've "been to the barber recently."
Recently my sister made me go for a pedicure. I'd never done anything
like that but, once I got over my guilt at having an Asian woman
kneeling at my feet, touching my tough-heeled, plain feet, I started
to enjoy the feeling: the massage, the soak in a small, bubbly,
foot hot tub, the sanding of my calluses. I had to pick a color
of nail polish. I picked a pale pink that I thought would look more
like healthy toes than M&Ms.
I've never worn nail polish, but as soon as I got over the sensation
that my nails were struggling to breathe under three layers of polish,
I started to like how it looked. My heels and calluses were remarkably
smooth after the sanding and my feet tingled with pleasure for the
rest of the day.
I'll never be as much a woman as the drag queens I've admired.
They know how to apply makeup and fix their hair, they know how
to dress in a sexy way and walk like Marilyn Monroe. And if they
were ever to decide to dress like a man for Halloween, they'd never
have to look at their wardrobes and realize that everything they
own already looks like man-clothes, so what's the point?
But I may just go back for another pedicure. My toes looked so
pretty in pink.