I must have been six or seven when I tried to tell the girl across the street that I was different from her. She didn’t understand. Nor did I. All I knew was the pervading sense of loneliness I felt when the boys in the neighborhood refused to play rough when we played street hockey—even though I was often the only one brave enough to rescue our ball from the cranky old man’s lawn.
I didn’t really understand skip rope. I didn’t see the appeal of analyzing crushes (especially at such a young age) when I could be pretending to be a Power Ranger or a dinosaur. I hung out with other squawky, awkward, knobby-kneed young boys. We built snow forts with zeal.
I was always ashamed and unhappy when changing for gym in the girls’ rooms. To fit in, I learned to undress slowly and to procrastinate by chatting to pass as “normal,” instead of zipping out of there as fast as I could.
I remember having crushes on boys. I had a crush on my sixth-grade teacher, too, who was a snarky lady. She taught me about the existence of sarcasm. Now, I am bashful when anybody flirts with me—but that’s cute, right?
When I was 12, my mom had to pick up my brother Matt from his friend’s house. The father looked at me and said, “Oh, are you Matt’s brother?” I felt happy and guilty and ashamed all at the same time. I said, “No, I am his sister.” The father looked horribly awkward and apologized. I wanted to cry, but didn’t understand why.
In grades 10 and 11, it came to the attention of two boys that I was a rather masculine-looking girl, with my baggy clothes and heavy jawline.
“Why do you look like a boy?” they’d ask.
I remember my French teacher telling me to ignore them.
At one point, a friend of mine tried to get me into women’s clothing. I think I enjoyed the act of shopping, because I do remember a certain joy—perhaps I’d become an acceptable member of society at last?
While I did get many compliments and discovered a liking for vests, I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t care that my girl friends were pleased to see that I could wear a bra and jeans that showed off my ass (actually, that’s a transferable skill—I can still wear jeans like that when I want to!). I quickly went back to band t-shirts.
When prom came and I finally put on my dress, objectively, I knew I looked good. It was a long bullet grey dress that matched my eyes. I hated it. If you look at my prom pictures, you can tell. I went to prom with a dear kindergarten friend, who later came out as gay. For whatever reason, our actual graduation ceremony was in October. Many of us had moved on to college.
I had cut my hair short. Not quite a boy’s haircut—you might’ve classified it as dykey. It made me look androgynous enough that I’m certain strangers peering at the photograph in my dad’s house will just assume that Oliver had an androgynous phase in high school before becoming a dandy (also thereby saving my dad the explanation of his transsexual son, if he doesn’t really feel like explaining my history to a stranger).
When I started coming out to former high school friends, many expressed relief that I had found what I was looking for. They made comments like, “Oh that sounds like something you would do!” or, “I think I always kind of knew,” and, “Finally!”
I guess that I could give you a fairy-tale ending. Boy goes off to university, makes good friends, meets some gorgeous person to ride off into the sunset with… but the story’s not over yet! Until next week, then.
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