(Guest Post from the the NBP–the Non-Binary Progeny)
I didn’t realize it as a child, but now I see that I was pretty angry about a lot of things in my young life. I didn’t look like my parents (other kids looked like their parents!), and besides that, I was trapped in a body that I really didn’t like—a body I came to hate, but more on that later. When confusion and anger overwhelmed me, I would go into a zombie-like meditative state and lose myself in my toys.
Several toys consumed me. Whether it was G.I. Joes or Transformers, I became transfixed. I also had an assortment of Lincoln Logs, Matchbox cars, plastic dinosaurs, and other animals for whom I created worlds for us to get lost in. Sometimes those worlds only consisted of marching the dinosaurs around and having them meet the cars and the tigers, but it was enough for me to forget about myself for a time. I loved my “boy” toys.
I hated dolls. I once had a doll my mom named Chamomile (I wouldn’t even deign to name her), given to me by a family friend. Chamomile was a Japanese doll with a porcelain face, straight jet-black hair, and a red kimono. Didn’t this couple—Japanese scholars both—know that Koreans and Japanese aren’t the same thing? Well, I didn’t at the time, so I thought I was supposed to look like this doll; I couldn’t have been more insulted! Okay, well, they couldn’t have known that this Asian (I barely knew I was Korean, only some brand of Asian) toddler despised dolls of any ethnic background. No dolls. Period. This doll was not allowed in my room. I wanted to put her six feet under because I wholly rejected any resemblance to her and flat out thought she was creepy with her piercing eyes and her perfectly puckered lips. [Shivers!] My mother consigned her to a closet, where I wouldn’t be able to see her, nor she me. Obviously, dolls were forever banned from my toy repertoire.
One Christmas—I was about five—my grandpa made me a dollhouse. Built it himself—an old man building a dollhouse. Awww, sweet. I destroyed it. Like a little ungrateful brute, I kicked it in because it screamed to me, “YOU ARE A GIRL.” I feel guilty about demolishing it, and I know my parents were upset that I had done so since it was such a nice thing my grandpa did (and, apparently, he wasn’t always the cuddliest fellow in the world), but I couldn’t stand it. In hindsight, I could’ve at least tried to use the dollhouse as a G.I. Joe headquarters.
The only other “girly” toys I remember owning were My Little Ponies. They were stupid and pink and purple and “girl” colored but ultimately accepted into the mix because they were useful as beasts of burden. All my action figures were allowed to use them as mules and horses for carry and cargo. Mwahaha.
I was a huge fan of Legos and spent hours building Lego cities, both modern and medieval. These were extravagant constructions with multiple dwellings, roads, vehicles, people. Sometimes these architectural masterpieces remained assembled for quite some time…months at least. After a while I would notice that the yellow, blue, and red blocks started looking more and more like the gray ones. Excitedly, I would go majorly OCD. Paintbrushes of all sizes would be assembled and used to dust every nook and cranny. Fan brushes were especially effective, in case you were wondering! Dusting became another therapeutic zombie activity. It required few brainwaves and at the end, when I snapped out of my dusty reverie, I would feel a sense of accomplishment. All my knights, castles, pilots, drivers, and civilians now lived in an allergen-free world! It took hours—blissful, non-thinking hours.
Talking about paintbrushes, art was another outlet for me. Not only was it easy to get lost in, but it was an activity relatively free of gender overtones. My zombie self was an abstract artist veering towards Modernism with lines, colors, patterns, and shapes plunked all over a page; we (my Zombie and I) used crayons, markers, watercolors, pastels, colored pencils, acrylics. These artistic adventures could last for hours in which I would achieve my “zombie-zone”—anger synapses asleep. Pages upon pages would pile up on my art table. Once I had a formidable stack, I would gather together as many pages as the stapler allowed, and add a cover with a clever title (e.g., “Lines and Shapes”) and my name. It amazed and impressed my parents when the zombie state came on because I’d be intent for such long periods of time that they thought it indicated a profound ability to focus on a task. They didn’t know—and neither did I—that it was really a way to unfocus and go to another, less complicated place.
Later on these drawings became distinctly warlike. Knights, axes, swords, battleships, and airplanes shooting fire, bullets, missiles, bombs, ahem all manner of projectiles, figured prominently. The knights or the soldiers were always either armed or had rippling arms themselves. These drawings required total concentration, and the time spent drawing them—images of death-inducing weapons though they might be—had a calming effect on me. Whatever the zombie and I did, it was done subconsciously to calm an inner rage, and it sort of worked.
Warrior wannabe (or disturbed child, ha. Ha. Ha?) though I may have been, I loved stuffed animals. They were cute and soft and uncomplicated (boys had them, too!). Stuffed animals were also good friends because if you felt the need to hit things or throw things against a wall, they could take it. They didn’t get upset or scream or cry. They just pleasantly smiled (hopefully without crying on the inside).
I always had one favorite, and he was never in harm’s way. The first favorite was a super soft leopard with wonderful spots named Larry. Larry had plastic whiskers great for chewing on. Then came Steven who was a tan mini-Gund bear. He loved to have his tummy rubbed and rubbed and rubbed.
Needless to say, all my animals were male, except for one pink Gund bear named Susan. Me, the blossoming little sexist, made her the bitch. Talking about sexism: Loving stuffed animals—being suckered in by cute things—seemed like a disturbingly girly thing to do. Dusting Legos also made me feel girly because neatness and cleanliness were attributes associated with girls. I tried not to think about this too much, because even if they were girly, they were necessities.
Then came William, William T. Bear (his middle name was “The” not “Teddy”). When I received William, a chocolate brown grizzly bear and held him for the first time, he felt so new and soft and was the ultimate in cuteness and comfort—100 percent ergonomic…for hugging. Oh, he even smelled good. I knew we’d have a special bond. He was a present from my father, which made him already special—even magical. I gave him a voice, and in turn, he gave me one. I manipulated and animated him like a puppet (but he’s not a puppet, damn it, he’s real!). I brought him to life by moving him: body, limbs, even ears. I gave him emotions and ascribed body movements to each feeling. I was never without William at home, and I dreaded leaving him behind when I went to school. He was a shield and a security blanket, and a rather excellent companion. William was also a useful communication conduit to my parents. My parents, not bears of small brain themselves, caught on quickly. They would ask me if William were tired, or if William were sad, and William, less guarded than I, would answer truthfully and unassumingly. I, who rarely spoke more than a word or two even at home, became quite vocal and lively when William was around. He was a bubbly bear and made even me laugh. William was who I wanted to be. He was funny and simple and innocent and silly and male. He was not evil, though naturally being a bear, he grrrred a lot. He made my anger disappear. He was the light side to my dark. (Shhh. Don’t tell, but he’s watching Top Chef next to me as I write this.)