I grew up with the privilege of parents who didn’t care. Not didn’t care as in neglect, but didn’t care as in they never told me how to be, or how to dress or how to think about myself. At age 4 I wanted to be the Beast for Halloween, and so my mom made me the costume, and sewed up a beauty costume for my doll and I marched in my preschools Halloween parade as the beast with beauty on my arm. And in the subsequent years I refused to wear dresses, flowers, the color pink, and my mom never cared, we avoided sections of the store, she removed the flowers from hand-me down t-shirts and sewed jumpers and outfits for me to wear to family events so that I did no have to wear a dress. And when I came home crying one day because someone asked me if I was a boy or a girl she simply said boys don’t wear flowers, and she bought me a pair of flowery pants, and I tried it, but then I gave up, or I didn’t care, I forget which.
In the search for an education my parents moved me out of 3rd grade at public school and into 4th grade at a Jewish day school. At first I loved it, but as I grew I could see the atmosphere smothering the independence that had been fostered in me as a child. I wanted to fit in, and so I started wearing dresses, and skirts and I even stole make-up from the local drug store. And I tried, but the skills and desires that are inherent in other girls to put effort in, to be comfortable in a skirt and to want to look pretty never formed in my brain, and so I was awkward, and clumsy and messed up a lot and still I never fit in. And I remember the first time they told me that I was supposed to be a woman, I think that’s when everything changed, in 5th grade when gender mattered and boys and girls started dating, and the girls asked me to be on their basketball team because I was the best girl at basketball.
Every year in elementary school each grade did something appropriate within the scheme of Jewish Education and every year they would have a ceremony to show off a new skill or ability and then each member of the grade received a book. In the younger grades they were significant Jewish texts: prayer books, the 5 books of Moses, etc. But in 5th grade we received, “Women of Valor”, I still have that book, its nametag written out in Hebrew, with pictures of the other books I had received and would receive. It was then that it hit me, I don’t know if it was just 5th grade, or if it was my best friend who started hanging out more and more with the cool girls and less and less with me, or if it was the couples in our class, constantly rotating but never including me, but it was then that I realized that I was supposed to be a woman. I guess it changed my mindset in a way because I started to try; I pored over fashion magazines, bought books on makeup and beauty and how to be perfect. And I tried, I tried SO hard, I would stay up late at night trying to make my hair perfect and practice the art of being a woman. But it never worked.
As I grew I started to acknowledge to myself that I did not fit in as a woman and I chalked it up to immaturity and inability to accept responsibility. But then I continued to grow and I started out high school on a new foot, I would be a woman! I bought the skirts and had the hair and the makeup and I tried to make the friends. And I tried and I tried and the more I tried the more it built up until I bought my first pair of man pants. They are ripped now to the point where I cannot wear them, but I remember them. They were 10$ on sale at Kohl’s, they were dark denim with a hint of green, and I wore them with my men’s “Kiss Me I’m Irish” (I’m not really Irish) sweatshirt and something clicked. It would be a while until most of my wardrobe transformed, in fact it would be until I got out of high school that I would stop feeling the need to wear skirts or dresses when I needed to dress up. It would be until midway through my first year of college that I became comfortable enough to put my breasts away, to stop using them to get the attention that I always craved and until I was comfortable enough to try to shape them around who I wanted to be, and how I wanted to be seen.
Now I don’t bind that often, but I cannot remember the last time I did not wear a sports bra. Women complain that sports bras flatten their chest, and eliminate their cleavage. Now I don’t know what their talking about because even in a sports bra they do not disappear, and if I dare to wear a tank top you’ll see just how much cleavage I still have. But when I’m in a sports bra I can feel my self start to be in that in-between place I want to be. I never thought I would grow up to be a woman, the thought didn’t even cross my mind until 5th grade. But I also never thought I would grow up to be a man. I think of myself now as a 14-year-old boy, because 14-year-old boys are so often caught in that place between adulthood and childhood. And I haven’t met a 14-year-old boy yet who didn’t have some complex built around masculinity. I never deny growing up as a girl, a confused girl but a girl nonetheless. The question is where am I now, who am I now. I know that I am growing up, but I don’t know where it will take me. I know however, where it will not take me, I am not growing up to be a woman, and I am not growing up to be a man. Perhaps I will never know where I am going or when I get there, but hopefully I will be able to find some footing in the in between space that has evaded me so long.