Bonnie and Clyde

Now I like to cook, but when I was three I refused to play with them.

Now I like to cook, but when I was three I refused to play house.

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.

Bonnie and Clyde's

Bonnie and Clyde, photo from the Lesbian Herstory Archives

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,

15 thoughts on “Bonnie and Clyde

  1. RonaFraser

    I hear ya. I mean, ya, I’ve always been fine with being a girl (even if I’ve never felt happy with my body, if you know what I mean), but I was uncomfortable in a lot of the play situations as a kid. I never wanted to play those pretending games, like house or barbies or school or dolls or dress-up or whatEVER. I was also no good at any sports and too fearful to climb trees. I could ride a bike and play board games and lego… kinda sexless when I look back. Too bad we didn’t know each other as kids – I could have been a non-threatening friend! 😉
    PS. Was just travelling on the weekend and thought of you whenever I was looking for a public washroom. I don’t have any suggestions on how to make life easier for folks in your position (of not being comfortable whichever gender bathroom you go in), but at least you have opened my eyes to the issue. I always feel knowledge & communication are the keys to making the world a better and more welcoming place — so you are doing a great job!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I was a puzzle and board game kid, and a big reader. I think I did my “pretending” through reading because it was private and therefore safe (no one can make fun of what you are thinking if you don’t tell them).

      Glad that you get the gender bathroom stuff – the more people who get it the better off for all.

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  2. Khai

    It frustrates me to no end that there are all these strict rules within the communities created by people who subvert the rules (intentionally or otherwise). Like, isn’t the whole POINT that the strict rules didn’t work for us??

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      There are some people who want to create their own butch or trans-A list because they were not in the “in group” in high school. In my experience, the people in the community who try to be gatekeepers are the ones who are insecure about their own identity and therefore make themselves secure by setting a lot of rules for everyone to follow. The medical/psych establishment gatekeepers are just cashing in on us.
      Although full on transition is absolutely right for some people (most trans people?) I worry a little about the medical industrial complex (and peers) pressuring adolescents and young adults into a binary transition with a pre-fixed narrative (name, pronouns, T, top-surgery, gender marker etc.) when in the long run that might not be the best thing for the individual (hello non-binary?).
      Americans are too into diagnosis and protocol treatment, as opposed to ambiguity and choice.

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      1. Khai

        We’re definitely into straight lines and clear definitions.

        If it doesn’t fit in a tweet, we don’t care

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  3. Mrs Fever

    Growing up, my primary playmate was my younger brother, and I always preferred to play with his toys. I had stuffed animals that sat on shelves and Barbies that never got played with. I don’t even remember what was in my toy chest, really. A bunch of stuff that never got touched. He had Matchbox cars and G.I. Joes and superhero action figures and firetrucks and ambulances. We played Dukes of Hazard (without Daisy… who was, as far as my brother and I were concerned, a completely useless character) and War and we argued over who got to be Incredible Hulk and drew straws over who would be the bloody one and who would be the policeman (police*woman* wasn’t even a ‘thing’ in our community at that time) or the fireman (ditto the non-woman-ness of the profession) or the doctor.

    Those play times played a huge part in what I perceived as ‘norms’ as a child. I didn’t really discover that my norms were not the norm until about the time I hit puberty. That was when I realized I didn’t understand females (I still don’t), that I preferred the company of males (I still do), that the activities I preferred ~ playing sports, working on cars ~ were ‘different’, and that the clothing I preferred was ‘not girly’.

    You said:

    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.

    I guess this essay’s worth of a comment is just my way of saying… In my own way, I *get* that.

    And I’ll take “made-from-scratch” over “pre-packaged” any day.

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    1. RonaFraser

      Loved the post – especially the final comment. It seems to me that, when I was a kid, we were more “made-fron-scratch” — none of my friends or their parents seemed bothered by whether they were playing like a girl or boy — we were just playing! Toys are so gender-specific now.

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    2. Jamie Ray Post author

      My brother is two years older than me and mostly did not want to play with me – but I did surreptitiously play with his toys, and I read all of his books.
      Mostly I hated being force-fed all the tween magazine cultural stuff, and listening to girls talk about it over and over. Turned me into a bona-fide bookworm.

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  4. Lesboi

    I think the beauty of who all of us are as individuals is that we don’t have to allow society to dictate our identity. We’re all used to using labels because they seem to make life simpler but the truth is that even within a certain label there is so much variety within that each label could have hundreds of subdivisions and even then, some of us may share qualities from several of these micro labels that ends up creating our own unique “label” or “brand”. I, for one, value uniqueness and find the ordinary completely boring. In my opinion, it’s good that you’re not a caricature of “butch” or “transgender” or any other label. You are uniquely Jamie and that’s all that matters.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I have some serious butch stereotypical characteristics (I tromp around as if I need to leave footprint indentations everywhere and I have over a dozen plaid flannel shirts – I am wearing one now), but it is more about feeling pressured to conform to someone else’s narrative that I find problematic – whether it is as a girl, or as a butch, or as a trans-masculine person.

      It is like what you wrote about being expected to be a role model – “this is what lesbians should be like” or “you not really transgender if you are not actively (or successfully) trying to be read as male”. It is constraining instead of freeing.

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  5. tsoihawk

    Oh wow, Bonnie & Clydes! I heard about this place, but I didn’t get to NYC until 1990, and I think all the rage then was The Cubby Hole, Henrietta Hudson’s and Meow Mix. I was so shocked at the butch/femme dynamic and how closely it resembled the stereotypical heterosexual relationship dynamic from 1950’s TV sitcoms. I could not be *that* butch, nor could I be femme. So where did I fit? Meh… I just stayed at Meow Mix with the punky queers. If not for that place, man, I’d have been more lost! And if it weren’t for bloggers like yourself, I’d have never found a place I felt safe. So thanks for sharing 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for the note – sometimes reading the transition diaries of the 20 year olds make me feel like an anachronism.
      I live very close to The Cubby Hole, and go there every once in a while because it is comfortable and they have a very happy happy hour, and they don’t give you the evil eye if you bring in a gay friend. The bars in New York never appealed to me – they started up late and I was always trying to get home to so I could get some sleep (I work for NYC Transit and was getting up at 5AM) – I always seemed to be leaving just when things were starting to happen.

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      1. tsoihawk

        That’s how I feel, now. My younger friends stay out until 4am, I’m done just after sundown. 🙂

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