It’s not my fault, that I’m not a boy. – Book of Love, “Boy”
I actually have some experience with this. I played Prince Charming at age ten in the first play I ever did. There were a couple of reasons for this. It was an all-kids endeavour, and there wasn’t a greater theatre enthusiast around. Which meant I adapted The Brothers Grimm’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, directed it, made all the props and had little time to actually act. Also, I happened to be the tallest, which was a general, peer-based fact at the time and not the consequence of having a curious number of short girls in the group. And thus began the first of many forays into imagining the male experience in a made-up world, through many plays in years to come, even if the women who played my love interests kept getting taller than me. So what if I stopped growing and started to look like a woman just two years after being Prince Charming?
But, life wasn’t always charming for this sometime prince. A label that I absolutely hate till this day started to get attached to me – tomboy. And as is the tendency of the general populace, even as kids, to correlate gender expression with sexuality – that novel, hush-hush word ‘lesbian’ started to be thrown around too. F*** the fact that I was too young to even be aware of what my sexuality or gender preference was. I was labelled, and labels always stick.
Perhaps, I was bullied less than a lot of young girls (and boys) who get recognised similarly, because I had a lot of friends who were kind to me, and bothered as I was about this, I didn’t let it inhibit my life. It only complicated things when from that young age, to even as an adult, I had women who were attracted to me, especially because of my “male” side. I am proud of my younger self who, even though she was a kid who did not understand the spectrum of sexuality, did not herself practise bullying or harmed the girls who claimed to love her. It was very painful, but I never actively did anything to make it worse.
Part of this tomboyishness was that I could not afford to be sufficiently feminine. You hear a lot of empowering messages these days – all women are beautiful, real women have curves, acne, whatever. Well, as a kid, there was only one kind of beauty I was aware of, and it wasn’t me. I was lanky-shamed, I couldn’t imagine asking my parents to buy me the prettiest frock, makeup, brightening skincare, whatever people said would make me look more like a girl they would approve of. Once, a couple of teachers pulled me into a corner and asked me why I was so dark, and told me to ask my parents to buy me a fairness cream. Which I went home and did, as if it were a homework assignment, to be further ridiculed by others as news spread of my affliction. When I was given the pink tube of cream, I could not bring myself to use it, because my shame at being unlovable was only superseded by my childhood version of “F*** you!” I was angry, and I threw it away.
The other reason I was perceived as a tomboy was exactly this. I just couldn’t give a damn. Yes, it hurt. Yes, I could see how it limited my life. And yet, I was too stubborn to adapt. It is unfortunate people still equate this with manliness, even as adults. A lot of the negative perception of feminist behaviour comes from this association between stubbornness and masculinity. And it seeps into countless areas where it shouldn’t be. Even as a student in a progressive university, I met with friction for having opinions from men who, I assume, were meant to have the same intellectual capacity as me. If those partaking in one of the most privileged higher education opportunities available couldn’t look above such petty generalizations, should I really judge a sixteen-year-old boy who slut-shamed me when I was the same age for being opinionated?
The point of education, or simply becoming an adult, is to be able to think for yourself. I have always been open to that idea, and absolutely abhor having anything imposed on me. Including public perceptions of my gender and sexuality. But, I do sometimes wonder, would life really have been easier had I been a boy? That I was exactly this, this five-feet two organic lump, but only assigned to the opposite gender. The bullying would have been much worse. So would have been the social pressures of having to be athletic and more intelligent than a woman. I couldn’t talk freely to women, because even as I’d innocuously engage in an interesting conversation, they’d think I was flirting with them. Heck, if I had been exactly who I am now, there’d be much more homophobia to be had, for then I would be inconveniently attracted to men. Most of all, as a socially recognised member of the superior gender, I’d be expected to abide by such rigid perceptions of men and women. There’d only be a couple of advantages anatomically, but even that would be compensated by the assumption that I should be able to strip anywhere and be naturally expected to work at becoming a brick sh*thouse, to be found attractive this time around.
It’s a lose-lose either way. But, I’ve gotten too used to this skin to ever want to change. I’m not a boy, I sure as hell am not a tomboy. And it’s not my fault.
What do you imagine it would be like to be the opposite gender?
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