Ok. This is the beginning of my new essay "Girl's Room." Eventually I will post the whole thing here. Lately I've been delving into my life long questioning of androgyne and sexuality, which is difficult whilst in a commited relationship and with three children to focus on first. So I'm talking openly about it with my husband and writing about it instead of sleeping with a lot of people. While the trade off isn't as exciting, hopefully it will make for good writing. (shakes fist) It better!
Oh, and by the way, for those of you who don't know what I look like I'm much more feminine now. Just felt like I had to throw that out there because, damn it, I'm still insecure about the way I look and still feel the need to let everyone know that I'm a girl.
My first hint that I wasn’t a real girl came to me when I was kicked out of the bathroom in the third grade. I remember the little girl who’d gotten the wrong idea. She was shorter and stouter than me, her blond hair done up in a vertical ponytail on the top of her head. She was washing her hands when I walked out of the stall, and in the moment before she screamed we both regarded one another with wonder. She gaped at me because she thought I was a boy, and I stared back at her thinking, “Who did that to your hair?”
“You can’t be in here!” she hollered. She pointed at me and backed towards the door. “Boy! Boy in the bathroom!”
“I’m not a boy,” I said.
She ran out into the hall, and bumped into a teacher. As the bathroom door drifted to a close I heard the girl rat me out, and a second later a teacher who I didn’t know stormed into the bathroom and glared at me through thick glasses.
“Boy, get out of here! You know you’re not supposed to be in here,” she snapped, pulling me by the shoulder.
“No, I’m a girl,” I protested. “I’m Genevieve.”
“Who?” she asked.
She yanked me into the hall. Some kids had stopped on their way to class, and they were laughing and whispering things to each other.
“Genevieve,” I told her. “I’m a girl.”
Looking back I can understand her confusion. I was tall with a pixie cut, a Pac Man T-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes. I looked like an 80’s version of Peter Pan.
A few minutes later a teacher I knew came around to vouch for me, and the other lady pushed back her glasses and shook her head at me, probably imagining that years later I would shave my hair down to a crew cut and wear my wallet on a chain hooked to my jeans. And you know. Sleep with girls.
All arrows pointed in that direction when I was a kid. Athletic +short hair+ hates dresses+ no makeup+ riot in the girl’s bathroom= lesbian. The devilishly comforting thing about stereotypes like this is that they’re supposed to tell us who we are. When the average person meets a woman wearing aftershave and a tie, they’re going to assume she’s gay because through their experience they have often found this to be true. And when a seven year old girl dresses as Luke Skywalker for Halloween (I looked awesome) odds are she will also march in some sort of pride parade later in life.
But none of this told me who I was. I was crazy about boys. In the third grade I avoided school work by daydreaming about the kid who played Elliot in E.T. There were other girls in my class who liked him too, but that was about the only thing we had in common.
If I was able to get past the roadblock of my shyness, my conversation with another girl sounded something like this:
Me (pointing to an E.T. lunch kit on a girly girl’s desk): I like your lunch kit.
Girly girl (tossing back waves of golden hair): I know. I love it.
Me: Elliot is so cute.
Girly girl (sneering, leaning across her desk, and sniffing at me): Are you wearing aftershave?
Well, maybe that’s not exactly, word-for-word how things went, but it never got much better than that.
Somewhere around that time I began to get the impression that the difference between me and these girls was that they were real girls and I was not. Boys, other girls, and even grownups felt comfortable with the girls who wore cute sandals and barrettes in their hair with ribbons streaming down, or the days of the week written on them. At recess they played Hopscotch, or pretended that they were My Little Ponies or Madonna. I wanted to run on the blacktop with the boys, play Keep Away, or basketball. I had no interest in playing dull girl games, and boys had no interest in competing with a girl who could do more push-ups than they could. So most of the time I just sat around by myself, wondering how to pull myself out of that social slump.
...To be continued