This comes from Chapter 2 – “When I Knew”. It is the story of how the real me began to disappear into the male facade that I would wear for more than a decade until I was finally ready to come out.
When I was in third grade I told a friend at recess about my wish, about wanting to be a girl. She was always a sweet friend, but she looked at me with a side-eyed glance when I revealed my innermost desire.
“That’s weird,” she said, the word “weird” delivered like a shoe stamping on a bug.
There was to be no further discussion of that point. That day I learned that as much as I desired to be a girl, it wasn’t “normal”. It wasn’t “okay”. It was “Weird” with a capital “W.” So I started to push it down. I still admired my female role models, the witches of my early childhood, the Queens of England, the Empresses of Austria and Russia, but I would no longer pretend to be them. I still loved television or films with strong female characters (or even better yet female protagonists), but I was more cautious about emulating them. Being a “boy” and wanting to be a girl was weird.
I began to build a male facade. Though many messages in children’s media and elementary school would tell me “be yourself!”, I knew that to be a polite fiction. “Be yourself” has a big stinking asterisk next to it. “Be yourself; if yourself is a gender-conforming individual who will have the right interests and perform according to societal expectations. Otherwise, be the self we want you to be.”
I worked hard to build the male facade. I tried to follow my father’s encouragement and participate in sports- because that’s what boys were supposed to do. Unfortunately, I am intrinsically ill-suited to physical activity that requires a great degree of hand-eye coordination and concentration. Playing softball I always took the outfield, and never caught a single ball- I’d be staring off into space while it would land with a thud next to me, snapping out of my daze only when a team-mate called out “Get the ball, stupid!”
As I built this performative male facade, the real me grew more and more disconnected. She shone through in her passion for history, in her love of unusual foods (for an American child) such as mussels and escargot, but she went into hiding whenever the expectations of society demanded the performance of masculinity. The older I got, the more performance was demanded of me. This produced a disconnect between the real me, the girl at the centre, and the performative facade, and the disconnect produced dissociation. I have far fewer memories of my elementary school days than most of my peers, simply because I was putting on the facade so much of the time. When I was performing as male, I wasn’t myself, and since I wasn’t myself I wasn’t forming memories, or at least not the fond memories of childish bliss many people form in their elementary days. I remember most clearly moments of pain or great shame, for they lanced through the facade and pierced the girl within, leaving scars that still twinge when I recall them today.
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