Another in the series from my old blog. This pertains to a paper I wrote as a teen in my early college years.
I used to own the comfiest pair of sandals ever made. They were these cheap, $10 things hanging on an aisle end cap that I bought on a whim. I have yet to find more comfortable footwear.
During a performance of the play Prometheus Bound, I was playing the role of Hermes, and so I volunteered my sandals to be part of the costume. I figured, hey, they were $10 and I can replace them pretty easily. (I was totally wrong there, they were sold out and I never found anything like them since.) But it involved painting them with glitter and adding wings. After the show was over, the wings came off but the glitter paint was permanent.
That’s when I said: fuck it; these are the best sandals ever made. I’m not gonna stop wearing them just because of some glitter. People made jokes about it, but my attitude was always one of, “Yeah, there’s glitter on them. And?” And that usually shut it down.
Then, in first semester of my sophomore year of college, I was taking a human sexuality class. I don’t remember what the assigned topic was anymore, but I wrote an essay about the sandals and what they say about gender roles.
While packing to move this past week, I came across that essay:
My first lucid moment on my way to full, conscious memory came when I was less than a year old, standing naked in Nana’s sink, taking a bath. I was still too young to be bathed in a full size tub, so Carol, the next door empty-nester who took care of me while my parents were at work and I called Nana, would use the sink instead. I don’t remember much more than the image of her kitchen as it was two decades ago, being delightfully naked and thoroughly enjoying splashing water all over her counter tops. That would be the last time I was comfortable with my body for a number of years to come.
Children have a way of discovering one’s greatest flaw, whether it was in fact a flaw or not, and amplyfiying it to a size that can only be described in two places: an astronomy lab and an elementary school playground. Physically speaking, I was significantly larger than the other boys in all proportions, and I had a lack of coordination to match. This gave my would-be taunters the advantage of teasing with impunity, for no matter how large I was, I could never catch them. The object of their scorn was my stomach, and I still carry the mental scar of five years of relentless playground harassment.
It was no surprise, then, that my closest friends tended to be female. From R— that lived upstairs in the duplex to J—r, my neighbor, I socialized with girls more than boys. I was fascinated by my babysitters’ skirts, and earrings. For a long time I dreamt of actually being [emphasis in essay] a girl. I wondered why boys couldn’t wear dresses, like pink, or have long hair. My staunch Catholic mother explained that it was because boys just didn’t do girl things, and that pre-adolescent and adolescent girls have a language of their own that boys could never possibly understand. I was suddenly one without a place in schoolyard society. I had earned the boys’ scorn, but I had one penis too many to be one of the girls.
I was not completely without friends, however. One boy that lived on the end of the block named J— was the first to sate my sexual curiosity. I had seen my mother naked before, and knew girls didn’t have a penis, but until J— came along I didn’t know what they did have either. As soon as I heard it, I set about burning the word vagina into my mind so that I could be the one who knew what no one else knew. Knowing the word alone, though, brought a barrage of questions, the most significant of which was: What does it look like?
My physical insecurities plagued me in middle school. The one time I was not keenly aware of my stomach sticking out that unacceptable inch further than everyone else’s was when I was with my girlfriend of ten months, L—. It was an astonishing length of time for a relationship, and what drew us together was that we were both outside our traditional gender castes. She was the tomboy who was always regarded as dirty, or in some intangible, ephemeral way wrong. So we celebrated our relationship in secret, knowing well the social implications it would have for both of us. Our relationship ended when she moved to Ohio, but I knew what I strong relationship was, and suddenly wanted it again very badly.
I saw high school as my chance to start over with others that never knew me as the big kid with the bad temper in elementary school. [“Reaction to harassment?” This was the note my professor marked in the margin on this line. I’ve said elsewhere in this blog that yes, that is indeed the case. No one sees the first punch, they see the second one.] For the most part it was a success, and my freshman year was a year of many firsts. My curiosity was never sated though. Health class was fine if you wanted to know how to conceive a child, but sex was solely for reproductive purposes. When I gained access to the internet, however, things changed significantly. Suddenly I had access to all the information I wanted, uncensored. Sexual health websites offered all the insight I had been looking for all along. While my parents would always have been willing to explain things, they were clearly uncomfortable with the topic, and very biased toward Christian ideals. It was also around this time that I turned away from the Catholic Church, which had a surprisingly large impact on my decisions sexually.
No longer was I confined to strict rules mandating that sex should only take place within marriage. Armed with my new-found data, I was free to form my own opinions, and make quite a few decisions I still adhere to today. I can say “no” to sexual intercourse, even when presented with the opportunity, and I can offer a stronger argument than just simple religious opposition. More importantly to me, though, is that I can say “yes” as well, and for my own reasons.
Most of my friends are still female, and I admit to having quite a number of so-called “effeminate” habits in my daily life such as the amount of time I spend on my hair in the morning, crying at movies, or choosing female avatars in computer games. However, I am still confidently heterosexual, and I wear sandals covered in glitter to prove it.
- I came right out and said I wanted to be a girl. Seriously. Read it again if you missed that.
- I am indescribably reassured to have hard copy evidence that yes, it’s not in my head, I have always been this way.
- The wording is a bit clumsy. This was written almost a decade ago while I was still a college sophomore.
- There’s an awkward transition that could be misleading. I tied my desire to hang out with girls to the bullying by the boys, but my desire to hang out with girls went back much further than that. So the cause-effect relationship I hint at with that transition phrase simply didn’t exist. If anything, it was reversed; I was bullied because I didn’t identify with the boys.
- There’s a lot of this that I could clean up and make more clear. It reads like a first draft, and I’m pretty sure it was.
- One other thing that has always been this way? My love of commas.
- I forgot the gender flipped relationship I had with L—. I remembered the relationship, I forgot that she was bullied for being a red-haired tomboy, and how we had bonded over that.
- I didn’t really come out and say this in the essay: my sexual curiosity really was one of wonder and longing, not sexual desire. I wanted to experience vaginas first-hand because I was lacking one of my own, not because of some innate sexual desire to stick things in them. This is one thing I know I’m not playing revisionist history with. I really did spend hours reading womens’ health websites to find out everything about the female pelvic region. I spent hours reading about how the clitoris worked so that I could please a future partner. This was in 7th or 8th grade, contrary to the implication in the essay that it was in high school.
- Clearly, I was still confusing sex and gender. But c’mon, it was ten years ago and this class was my very first dip in the academic gender studies pool.
What do you all think?