Sunday, July 27, 2008

adolescence II (journal entry)

An entry from my personal journal

High School came along, and life continued to complicate. I recall one evening, at the end of the summer before High School, I took what I judged to be my most delicate and feminine blouse (it was a warm coral color, a loose-necked polo shirt in a very lightweight, thin stretch-knit cotton) and padded it (after shutting my door and being sure nobody might be stopping-by). I didn’t have anything like a bra; it didn’t even occur to me to borrow my mother’s — they’d have been dreadfully large, anyhow. I used kleenex, wadded-up and shaped, held against my chest by tucking-in the blouse into my pants as tightly as possible.

In retrospect, with a little coaching and better materials to work with, I would have made a quite convincing girl: my hair was already lengthening, I still had relatively delicate features then, and my shoulders and jaw had yet to broaden and square-out. At the time, however, the effect was devastating. I had no idea how to feminize my haircut, but that wasn’t the real issue — all I could see were wrinkles of kleenex poking at the inside of the shirt. Then one form slipped down a ways. I was horrified; it was awful. I felt SO DEVASTATINGLY FAKE, a feeling that I’m not entirely certain has ever quite left me. I tore out and threw-away the little pastel-apricot kleenex forms and struggled to put the whole episode as far out of my mind as possible (which wasn’t very far; this scene haunted me for years).

Interestingly, I think that this was when I really started actively fighting masculinity. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t think I could be masculine, but that I didn’t want to be in the milieu of “boys” and “girls” — I saw the ultimate end of masculine presentation as being seen a certain way by girls and women, and that was a way I simply didn’t want to be seen. I wanted to be accepted among them, I wanted to interact without the wretched fence of gender roles. I wanted to ask for help caring for my hair, which I’d begun to let grow (and honestly didn’t know what to do with). I wanted to ask what their adolescence had been like, so far — a deep, taboo subject, to me. I wanted to know what it was I was missing. I already felt I had a pretty clear handle on what the boys were experiencing, and it was unpleasant, dull, and tedious. Muscle development, facial hair, some bone growth, infatuations, and voice changes. Ech.

Socially, I still had the small cadre of somewhat intellectual, nerdy boys that I’d been friendly with in middle school, but I tried to encourage and develop friendships with girls who seemed open to it1. Until my junior year, though, I didn’t really grow close to anyone at school (in the sense of having anything like a confidante) except for my three friends from early childhood (all male, one [we would later learn] bisexual), only one of whom attended the same high school as I did.

Role-wise, I continued to avoid athletics, pursued music and academic extracurriculars, joined a service club, and began singing. Vocally, it was an issue of significant, perverse pride for me that, while I sang tenor, I had a rich, strong falsetto with a coloratura range that could outdo any alto in the choir, and several of the sopranos.

Still, I think the weirdest thing now, looking back, is how I related to clothing. In some quirky sort of pseudo-logic, I latched-onto white cotton pants as the uniform of choice. I think part of it was that there seemed to be nothing the least bit masculine about them. They were about as emasculating as I could get and still be reasonably age- and gender-appropriate (albeit hardly tasteful). I wore literally nothing else. I owned no jeans — no denim of any sort — no khakis, no more cargo pants, no nothing. Just white cotton uncreased slacks, or white linen.

Some days, I’d couple them with intensely white sailing shirts. When the clothes were new, before the UV-reradiating pigments left the fabric over successive machine washings, I would seriously resemble a lighthouse beacon walking down the hallways of the high school. I suppose I might have been slightly embarrassed by what I could clearly see was a bit of an obsession, but I think any such feeling was eclipsed by a sense of how embarrassed and humiliated I would have been had I dressed conventionally, had I looked like any other boy. It’s even hard to write that phrase, now: “like any other boy”. It makes me shudder.

I was building a fragile little fantasy overlay for my world, wherein I could avoid the unpalatable fact of my assigned sex (or at least avoid considering it).2

1 Ironically, the one young woman out of these upon whom I developed a crush (and, at one point, to whom I confessed the infatuation) turned-out to be lesbian — I still haven’t quite figured-out how to interpret that.

2 Incidentally, I threw away all my white pants about a month into college and bought a new wardrobe of blue jeans and cargo pants. On the one hand, I’d begun a romantic relationship (with a young woman) and was trying to see if there was any way I could fit the gender role; on the other, I think I was trying to deal with the fact that the little fantasy of denial-of-masculinity wasn’t working. Plus, they really did look horrid.

adolescence I (journal entry)

An entry from my personal journal …

This has been percolating for some time.

My adolescent sexuality was … strange.

I think it was shortly after having sex ed. classes in 6th-grade and deciding to experiment with my developing genitalia (I mean, they said it was supposed to be pleasurable …) that I discovered that transformation was an erotic idea for me. I can’t recall which came first — the idea of changing sex being erotic or the idea of changing form being erotic. Actually, no, that’s not right: I’m pretty sure it was the idea of transformation itself, independent from sexuality or gender being involved in the transformation; transforming into a woman was simply doubly erotic, I supposed at the time because the female body itself was a turn-on (I’ve always been pretty solidly gynephilic).

Meanwhile, as adolescence progressed, I became progressively more difficult to dress. I’d expended little effort developing a wardrobe to that point, save for a preference against T-shirts, and against anything with a designer’s name or slogan on it1. When middle school struck, the first thing to change was pants: slacks were out. That much I could tell, and I didn’t care to cross that line. Actually, I’d almost come to that conclusion on my own, a priori, but a couple standard middle school jibes were all it took to ensure that nothing with a crease made it into my standard wardrobe for some long number of years — it's still mostly the case today.

So, my standard article of clothing below the waist became cargo pants. I believe it was around this time that I ceased wearing shorts … I think it had a lot to do with the feeling that I wanted my legs to be athletic and attractive, and they were manifestly not (to me). I was not particularly athletic, period — I was pretty wretched in endurance sports, and not much better at team sports — it was solo or bust, and I didn’t derive enough pleasure from solo sports to make them a priority. Anyhow, I had this notion that my legs were pasty and flabby and hairy — which in retrospect I very much doubt they were, but nonetheless — and I resolved not to wear shorts any longer.

I think I was also very sensitive about “exposing” my body, physically, to the environment. Years of outdoor activity in scouting had inculcated a certain paranoia when it came to underbrush, grasses, trees one might climb, pretty much anything not artificial/manufactured and regularly cleaned that might come into contact with bare skin in such a way that I might not notice. Since I didn’t make a habit of a regular VSE, nor did I care to keep my attention steadily on my legs and feet while walking about outside, it became SOP for me to always wear pants, and wherever others might go barefoot, to retain my socks on my feet. I put a great deal of wear into my socks, this way.

So, throughout my 2 years of middle school, I wore cargo pants or loose, uncreased linen slacks, and a poorly-coordinated selection of polo shirts and turtlenecks. The polo shirts … I think that sort of just fell-out of some things my mother picked for me, and the volume of polo shirts I’d received as hand-me-downs throughout elementary school. The turtlenecks …

I think that might be one of the earlier appearances of body dysmorphia. To me there was an undeniable rightness to something in how they made me feel I appeared; I think it must have been the snug-fitting aspect, the de-emphasis of shoulders, and the smoothness of the arms. I loved the colder months because I didn’t have to bare my arms, which were starting to develop a bit of disturbing hairiness.

It was also during middle school that I began to notice that there were clothing options that I wished to have that weren’t available to boys. I couldn’t wear fluffy, delicate, open-necked sweaters (this was the end of the ’80s). I couldn’t wear cashmere (not without guaranteeing it was the darkest, dullest, most neutral, boring, and masculine style possible, with a minimum of decoration). I loved cashmere. I felt rather cheated that stockings and long gloves were too effeminate to avoid ridicule (at least, to my perception).

I also happened to strike-up a number of friendships with other girls at this time, which I enjoyed primarily for the sense of being taken as an equal — just someone like them. It so happens, I note with some bitterness, that three out of four, it turned-out, had in fact developed crushes on me; two confessed this by mail a year or so later, after moving away; one I learned-about near the end of high school.

This is not to say that I wasn’t myself developing crushes on various girls. Of course, they generally didn’t give me the time of day, but I just figured that was normal, and stuffed it away. Great sense of self-esteem, there. To some degree, I’ll note, the existence of these crushes tended to conflict with — and to obscure — any developing sense of gender-role confusion; I hadn’t really encountered the idea of homosexuality yet, so my attraction to girls was sort of a tangible barrier to thinking about being one.

It would have been so much more helpful if 6th-grade sex ed. had actually discussed the social and communicative aspects of sexuality and sexual relationships, and had explained that sexual interaction is conceptually possible between any two individuals, regardless of sex, and that — barring actual reproduction — all the same issues of consensuality, hygiene, potential for abuse and exploitation, and emotional involvement apply, regardless. Yaright. Ha. Ha ha.

Oh well. Maybe someday. If it doesn’t gross them out too much (and probably even if it does), I’m pretty sure that’s the talk I’ll be giving to my children.

Anyway, that was middle school. I also began to grow some peach fuzz on my face, which I didn’t much care for, but didn’t really mind since it wasn’t pigmented.

1 I was not a fan of commercials as a child, and was convinced that marketing was a quintessentially hostile and aggressive act, competing for the belief and attention of consumers with dissimulation, misdirection, deception, and misinformation. And no, I’ve never voted for Nader.