At some point around when I was in elementary school, I made the mostly disastrously decision to play softball, which is, as it turns out, an incredibly boring sport which involves spending 90% of your time standing around kicking holes in the dust waiting for something to happen.
But there was one good thing that came of it.
I was on my way to practice, or coming back, I don’t remember which – but the important thing was that I was still in my uniform: black shirt, those staticky white pants, a baseball cap over my short-so-I-barely-have-to-brush-it hair. My unisex uniform. We had stopped at a garage sale to look around, and I was picking up this pink and brown fleece vest (which, in retrospect, sounds like a horrible color combination but young me wasn’t exactly known for good taste in fashion) when I heard a voice from behind me:
“Oh, I think that one’s actually meant for girls”
Someone else at the sale quickly jumped in to correct them – “that is a girl!” But I was still stuck on the first comment – someone actually thought I wasn’t a girl! I had always been a tomboy, sure, and I’d never have anyone pull out the old gender roles and tell me I couldn’t do something because I wasn’t a boy. But at the same time, I’d never had anyone believe that I could actually be a boy.
At the time, I didn’t really think much of what that meant, that that single comment had left me with such a lingering warm and fuzzy feeling, to the extent that I remember such specific details even to this day. But I think it was the first time that the question of gender first started to crack for me, even if it’s didn’t really start hatching open til years later.
When it comes to talking about gender and all that, the thing that has always shaped my experience the most has never been the negative things – sure, there have been the body issues with breasts and menstruation; there has been odd discomfort with being in a room full of women and being told that you belong because you share something special, yet still feeling out of place. But those never stuck with me in the same way.
What first comes to my mind when I think of how to feel about gender is joy – that feeling of joy I felt the first time I had someone assume I was anything other than female. The thrill I wish for but haven’t quite managed to find since.
I can use drugs to make the bleeding stop. I can bind my chest on the days where that’s what I need. And that helps, it really does. But it doesn’t bring that same kind of deep-seated satisfaction that I had that time.
It’s not that I’ve ever been that invested in passing. I don’t even have anything that I really want to pass as. I’m just painfully aware, that no matter what I wear or how I wear it, I get read as a girl. A girl with with an androgynous look, or a girl in really great drag – but still a girl. Maybe dfab instead, if people are a little more enlightened. Sure, people are great about asking for pronouns just in case, and all that. They do exactly what they are supposed to – but it’s not the same. And it’s not like I hate it – I still identify as mostly just a cis-girl, at least nominally. But there are some days where I just wish for something else.
I’ve always had a bit of a baby face, and smallish frame. I’m not particularly feminine, but not particularly androgynous either. I’ve always had hips that are a little too wide, shoulders a little too small, face a little too delicate. And I don’t really plan on changing that, or really need to. But I also wonder – what it would be like, if there were ways to change ourselves without painful surgery that yields limited results. If I could drag the sliders on a character design too for the real world instead of just fantasizing in my head. I wonder if I might be calling myself something else, in another world or another life.
Unfortunately, we live in a reality where that isn’t available. And my identity is shaped but that reality. But sometimes, I wonder.
* * *
The closest I get to that feeling again is something like 15 years later, when I’m walking down the street downtown, past the rows of resident panhandlers. Most of them are quite polite, but sometimes they get a little aggressive. This one is muttering an insult about my hair and my clothes under his breath as I pass by:
“…can’t even tell if you’re supposed to be a dude or a lady…”
It’s supposed to be an insult, but all I can feel is joy.