I first knew I was in trouble when I was three. I went on a play date and there was nothing in her room that I wanted to play with. She offered me a set of plastic vegetables and I thought they were the dumbest and most unappealing toys ever. She had dolls. She wanted to play house. I wanted to get out of there but I could not say why. I picked up a plastic tomato and threw it on the floor. I refused to play with her, and was not invited back. I was not gracious about it.
I turned into a quiet tomboy because it was easier to be quiet than to try to explain what I was thinking. I was a loner because It was easier to play by myself than to explain how I wanted to play. I knew I would be teased by the girls and I knew I would be shunned by the boys. I did not try to fit in with either. I never learned how to hang out with kids my own age.
I was discouraged, or forbidden, to play with my brother’s toys because I was a girl. When I asked why, the answers made no sense. Once I realized that “you can’t do that because you’re a girl” was a lie, I refused to obey. I didn’t want to try to like what girls were supposed to like.
I developed crushes on girls and women. I didn’t correct adults when I they called me young man, or son, or buddy. I didn’t break rules because I thought it was the right thing to do. I didn’t do it to be subversive. I did it because it was less painful than pretending to be normal.
Once you question what clothes you should wear, what games you should play, what books you should read, what toys you should like, what TV programs you should watch, and what teenage idols you should pine for, you are ready to question every other pre-packaged “choice” that comes your way.
The first time I saw other butches I was a senior in high school. I had a fake ID and I was ordering a rum and coke in Bonnie and Clyde. As soon as stepped into the bar, I realized that those butches played by rules as rigid as the rules followed by the girls in the playground at P.S. 40.
It was a rough crowd. I didn’t know how to look cool or strike a nonchalant pose. I didn’t want to shoot pool or watch others play. I was a nerdy nervous kid without an ounce of toughness. I didn’t know how to hang out in a bar. I knew I’d never be like the bar butches. I was right.
I’ve never been good at pretending. I’m not going to adopt a particular butch style or transgender narrative so I can claim one as an identity or meet a medical criteria. I don’t believe that there is a definitive way to be a girl, or butch, or queer, or genderqueer, or transgender. I will probably always feel that I am caught somewhere between butch and transgender, somewhere on the border line.
Note: While looking fruitlessly for pictures of the bar Bonnie and Clyde, I found the website Lost Womyn’s Space, and I ran across a couple of interesting articles about lesbian bars. Here are the links: Bars in L.A. in the 1950’s and 15 Awesomely Named Lesbian Bars,