The Confessions of a Cub Scout Wanna-be

I was straightening up the papers on my desk when I found the manilla envelope with my elementary school class pictures. Then I recalled the picture of my brother in his Cub Scout uniform. It sat on the piano in our mother’s apartment, opposite a picture of me in a dress.

The-butch-wolf

My brother’s Cub Scout handbook

Some people seem to have complete recall of their childhood, and can flip it on like a television show on reruns. Not me. I can not put together a linear narrative. It is a disorganized jumble of images and half-obscured scenes.

When I was seven I had to face up to being prohibited from joining the Cub Scouts, being barred from trying out for Little League, and being forbidden to study drumming. I was offered alternatives. I refused to become a Brownie. I refused to go to gymnastics. I refused to study dance. I took piano lessons and music theory.

The reasoning was clear to me, but I did not have the vocabulary to explain that I was butch or transgender. The Brownie uniform included a skirt. Gymnastics required wearing a leotard. Dance required wearing a tutu, tights, and ballet slippers. It would have been impossible to pretend that I was a boy in any of those outfits. I wanted to do exactly what my brother did.

Music school was not gendered. In theory class we learned about rhythm and instruments, including percussion. All the composers we studied were men, but curiously feminine. Their hair was styled like my grandmother’s and they wore knickers and lace. I learned to read music and pick out themes on the piano. I borrowed Jon’s drum sticks and practiced on his drum pad. I could tap out time signatures, but I couldn’t dance to them. Unfortunately, I believed that dancing was for girls. I don’t dance.

I liked music, but I really wanted to be a Cub Scout. I wanted to wear the uniform. I wanted to earn badges. I wanted to do good deeds. I memorized the handbook, practiced the two-fingered salute and the two-fingered handshake, and followed the Cub Scout code of honor. A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Jon was a lazy scout; he lost interest after a year. I could not understand why.

butch-dreams

Illya is on the left. Solo is on the right. There is a cadaver in the middle. Happy new year!

The closest I got to being a Cub Scout was going to the Cub Scout parties. There was a Halloween party; we had to attend as a duo. I wasn’t going with him as Boris and Natasha or Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

Before my mother could intervene, I threw out a dozen options to my brother: Tom and Jerry, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Batman and Robin, Wally and The Beaver, Lennon and McCartney, Roger Maris and Micky Mantle, and finally, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I got to go as Kuryakin.

I wore black pants and a black turtleneck. Jon wore a white shirt and a skinny black tie. We both carried guns and U.N.C.L.E. identification. I vaguely remember parading around in a circle in the church basement to show off our costumes. Then we ran around shooting villains and drinking Hawaiian Punch. It was a perfect afternoon.

The Cub Scouts are an anti-gay organization that promotes traditional binary values. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an obscure and sexist piece of reactionary Cold War propaganda. Even though I find their politics objectionable, I remain a Cub Scout wanna-be. I want to earn my badges and do good deeds, but I want to do it my way.

12 thoughts on “The Confessions of a Cub Scout Wanna-be

  1. noelyreese

    And you should be able to be that! They say always follow your dreams, but society makes it really hard because they put everything into “perfect” little boxes and it’s great because most people naturally fit into those boxes, or do they? Don’t we just accept things sometimes, even though we are horribly miscast? I don’t have all the answers…. or even any of the answers… but I wish you happiness and hope that you can follow all of your dreams!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I agree. What parents and other adults do not take into account is what is the emotional cost, over the years, of continuously denying children the right to express themselves. How do you learn what you want to do if you are continuously thwarted from trying things? How do you learn to make mistakes and recover from them? Maybe I would have hated the Cub Scouts (found them boring) and wanted to go study Astronomy at the Musuem or Circus Arts at the Y. But I never got the chance to see whether I liked it or not (so I spent umpty-ump years thinking about it).

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      1. noelyreese

        True… isn’t the whole point of coming here experience and learning? That’s what I personally believe, though the lessons are incredibly hard and the experiences are not always great… I think I am getting something out of this at least some of the time…

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  2. middleagebutch

    I got to play Little League baseball. It was 1976 and Title IX had just passed.

    But I never got to play the drums. “Drums are for boys,” my mother said. I didn’t see how that was true, and I found it incredibly unfair. I ended up playing the flute … badly. Even today, I resent the fact that I wasn’t allowed to take up the drums. I have to let that go someday.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Or find a drumming circle. I managed to learn piano, guitar, recorder, and harmonica. I could do a good Bob Dylan impersonation (not sure what the difference is between a good Dylan and a bad Dylan impersonation) and sing everything from the Pete Seeger song book.

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      1. middleagebutch

        That’s the cool thing about being a grown-up. I can take drumming lessons now if I want to or shop in the men’s department. The thing about the drums is that I have no musical talent. It was that “drums are for boys” statement that infuriated me and seemed so unfair. My mother probably thought that playing the drums would lead to *gasp* lesbianism. Guess she couldn’t win.

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  3. RonaFraser

    I am still planning to learn drums one day… though sometimes I think bass would be better (rhythm plus notes)… I am undecided. In school it was clarinet (all the kids with overbite seemed to get clarinet…) and then sax. My friend Catherine, a grade below me in school, was drummer in their music class and I envied her — the closest I got was Xylophone – woohoo – that is girly percussion if I ever saw it! 😉 Funny, I don’t associate drums with guys – maybe because of Catherine. Now that you mention it though, I guess you don’t see many female drummers. Unless you play Rock Band at my place 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      But steel drums and marimba are male. The sex segregation of music instruments makes absolutely no sense at all. It is not like you do much heavy lifting or need your private parts to play an instrument! I’d like to play the clarinet or the accordion so I could play Klezmer, Zydeco, or Ragtime.

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  4. transiteration

    I wanted to go into Cub scouts too! I was encouraged to try Brownies instead and lasted but a couple weeks. Sewing and singing in circles.. just couldn’t do it. Maybe by the time we have children they can be in whichever they want.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      What I find interesting is even as children we were into the symbols of trans-identity. If boys sewed it probably would have been fine (and if girls tied knots I would have refused). I like the term transliteration – my childhood would probably have been referred to as transobstinate.

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  5. transiteration

    I agree. I wanted short hair like nobodies business for years, but if more guys had short hair back then I probably wouldn’t have been as desperate to get it off. Transobstinate! I like that, nice!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I cut my hair off when I was 5 years old. My parents let me keep it short after that (pixie cut), but wouldn’t let me go to a barber, I had to go to a salon. Even at 5 I probably would have insisted on a shave.

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