I was fortunate enough to see my amazing trans friend T and his lovely partner C this past week, and it was one of those evenings that was almost too good to come to an end. The conversation carried us from my front patio to the delicious vegan restaurant (T and C’s preferred cuisine – I certainly would have gone for BBQ) and then back to the street outside of our house over the course of five hours. We would each take one step away – my gf and I up the front steps, T and C towards their gigantic rental car, which would immediately propel one of us into another amazing and hilarious story guaranteed to magnetize us right back to our places. In one of the final of these multitude of exchanges, we somehow got onto T’s guilty pleasure of terrible movies where women dress in drag (aren’t they almost all terrible?). He mentioned that he believes his “root” lies in this pleasure – from an evening during his elementary school years where he caught the end of Just One of the Guys on tv. Having missed the premise entirely, T’s eyes still lit up as he explained feeling enrapt, watching the antics of Joyce Hyser parading around her highschool, disguised as a boy. His genuine delight registered as “I know you’re a girl, but you’re dressed like a boy, and everyone else thinks you’re a boy. I want that. ”
This got me thinking about my own root, which is tangled in the fact that I’m the youngest, by far, of three girls and spent most of my young, introverted life trying only to be whoever it was my sisters wanted me to be.
But my root may be clear – my earliest memory goes something like this: I am three years old. I am sitting under the kitchen table, wearing my everyday uniform of light blue Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, black denim shorts, and red suspenders. Oh, and also my ratty green Peter Pan hat with my given (girl) name embroidered on it in yellow thread. I am squeezing my eyes tight shut, praying in whatever words I understood, that when I opened my eyes, God would make me a boy. Every time I opened my eyes I was sad.
I think that’s where it started. Other moments pop up in my memory, but nothing as definitive. I remained a tomboy through childhood, but was deeply embarrassed whenever anyone pointed this out, which was one of my late grandmother’s favorite pastimes. My mother generally let me dress however I wished, although she did impose a terrible “Tuesday Dress Day” rule during elementary school. I was “sick” most Tuesdays. My teenage sisters would also routinely play dress-up with me, make me “model” for photos in lacy things with flowers and nonsense, and give me dolls and makeup. I wanted desperately to be cool enough to hang out with them, so I endured it, which only deepened my overall shyness. I never wanted to say out loud how much I hated all of it.
In middle school, I became obsessed with how sex worked, and with having a boyfriend so I could be “just like my sisters”. Sometime during seventh grade, though, as each of my girl friends starting coupling off with the bevvy of 12 and 13 year old guys in our grade and the one above, I realized that I was jealous of the pairings, but not because of the dudes. I wanted to BE the boyfriend. I became a stalker, trolling around the playground, hiding behind corners and judging the fledgling dating around me. “I would hold hands with her differently…. I would open the door to class for her… I wouldn’t make stupid jokes like he does…” I never really considered actually dating a girl though – I don’t even think I knew what being gay was. I just knew I would much rather wear a suit to the school dance than a party dress.
I think these kinds of feelings are where it starts for a lot of us, butch, femme, genderqueer, trans, other notwithstanding. I’m still digging through my memory-trove, trying to make peace with my own inner kid. Trying to get over being embarrassed that by most people’s standards I’m still a tomboy, because I still get that “But you’re so pretty!” exclamation when I state that I identify butch.
Sometimes I think I’m living a new root each day. Each day I wake up again and remember why I’m different, and why that’s ok.
I’d love to hear some of your roots, if anyone cares to share.