NBP Guest Post
As a little kid, I was always partial to boys’ clothes. My parents were fairly fashion liberal from the start and let me off the hook from forcing me to wear the uberest of girlish clothes…for the most part. Upon ability to communicate (which, as you know, was rather delayed), I made it clear that pink was not my color. Before I had any say in it, though, I did wear dresses—even pink frilly ones with tights (barf). There are even photographs of me in dresses (gross). But my hatred of dresses literally reared its ugly head at a very early age. I couldn’t have been more than three when a “lovely velvet smocked dress” arrived as a gift from one of my mother’s friends. “Just try it,” my mom cajoled. I acquiesced enough to let her place the dreaded garment over my head. The contorted face that emerged from the neck hole disturbed her so much that the devil-made garment was immediately ripped off me. My face relaxed and the dress photos became a thing of the past. Soon after there was nary a ruffle nor a hint of pink in sight.
I was then allowed to dress in little shirts with stripes and collars and matching running shorts or T-shirts, button-downs, and even sweater vests (think, like, total ‘80s). When I played dress-up, I wore my father’s clothes. I required only a button-down shirt and a vest—maybe a baseball cap to top it off. I liked to play dress-up so much that eventually I received my own little red tie that I would don to feel dapper. It was pre-tied and went around my neck with an elastic band. I wore that tie as much as possible until the elastic wore out.
By the time I was in school my mom and I had arrived at a uniform that was acceptable to us both. No more girly surprises for me and no more wretched faces for my mom. My uniform consisted of a striped rugby shirt and matching sweatpants. I had multiple sets in a range of primary colors. When I had worn out or outgrown one set, we could just open to the corresponding pages in the latest Lands’ End catalogue (in the boys’ section no less!) and pick out my new colors and sizes. On any given day, I could be seen sporting green sweatpants with a green and black striped rugby shirt or perhaps blue sweatpants with a blue and red rugby shirt or perhaps even red sweatpants with a red and yellow top! Oh, I was so eclectic and fashion-forward!
In these clothes, I could pass for a real boy (Pinocchio, eat your heart out!). But looking like a real boy had its own problems. The image I presented to strangers was of a little boy, but my name was clearly that of a little girl. Strangers—waiters, teachers, shopkeepers—all thought I was a boy…until they heard my name. Then sometimes they’d ask for confirmation. Their eyes surely didn’t deceive them. I did. They judged this book by its cover, and were oh so right, but technically oh so wrong.
My hairstyle added to this confusion. In kindergarten and early elementary school, it was cut short. I paid very little attention to it. It was there on my head, but it didn’t look girly, and it existed easily without being combed or brushed. It was perfect!
Those awful mandatory school pictures where each kid is individually posed sitting at a desk reveal the evolution of my hair. It’s boy-short in the styling of Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory in kindergarten and then gets progressively longer, so that by second grade I have become Kenneth Parcell of 30 Rock. By third grade it is longer still, mostly in the back. I won’t make you read between the lines. I was unwittingly cultivating a mullet (eeek and oops!). All I knew was that longer hair meant girl and shorter meant boy. My unconscious solution, I guess, was to have both. The mullet marked the beginning of gender conformity. It was the perfect allegory for me: I needed to be part male to match how I felt on the inside, but part female to match my anatomy outside and my name. Unfortunately, as most of you know, mullets should never be the solution. Sigh, I was trying so hard to live on both sides of the fence.
Biology though dictated that I was on the girls’ team whether I liked it or not. If I were to be truly accepted, I would need to act…and look like…a girl person, and this was going to require a conscious and concerted effort. In the early years, I had tried to dress in a way that would help me disappear into the woodwork. But those rugby shirts and sweatpants made me look like a nerdy little boy. Unfortunately, I realize now that particular outfit highlighted the fact that I was the weird girl who looked like a boy. I clearly had not yet learned the subtle art of tailoring the appropriate suit. And now, I had to; the school outlawed sweatpants! How could they?!? Change was coming, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
(concluded January 17)