I am uncertain how this all began. I was five, I think. Corduroy seemed to be the culprit. I was shopping for “school clothes” with my Mom. I learned later that “school clothes” would become next year’s “play clothes”, but I digress.
Mom and I were at some store or other and she was trying to convince me that tan corduroy pants were “cool”. Personally, I was disinterested in (what this event would teach me are) “boys'” clothes. There were dress shirts, collared shits, and T-shirts, all provided in a dismal array of 4 colors. Then there were slacks or jeans, usually coming in tan, blue or black. Why anyone would want their legs to look like dirt, I will never know.
But corduroy was the bridge which allowed me to discover the fact that I was born differently than most other people. I didn’t like the tan ones. As my mom put them back, I wandered to the next aisle. I saw a similar pair of corduroys which were purple. They were vivid. I took the pair (with some difficulty) off the rack and held them up to my mom. “Can I get these instead?” I asked gleefully.
“NO!” she said as loudly as possible without yelling. Then she lowered her voice and sternly added: “Those are girls’ pants!” She grabbed me by the arm and in some weird kind of controlled conniption, dragged me out of the store as if I’d just done some unfathomably evil thing, mumbling phrases similar to “…having never been so embarrassed…” and “…never being able to shop there again…”
I didn’t get it. Why couldn’t I wear what I wanted? Being an only child and in a neighborhood with few kids –most of which were “too old” for me to play with– I had spent my preschool days playing by myself, blissfully ignorant of what I was expected to wear as a “boy”. Hence, I didn’t understand my mom’s extreme reaction to this simple question of mine. She drove me, quite hastily I’ll add, to another store. Her choice had some weird irony to it, because we ended up having to walk through the “Girls” section before getting to the “Boys'” section.
Wow! What choices! Not only were there various styles of pants (in a vivid rainbow of colors) there were poufy skirts and flowing dresses as well! I suppose Mom caught me looking and said something to the effect of being glad that my dad wasn’t there, for he would have a heart-attack, and snapped my head in the direction she wanted me to focus on. When we got to the “Boys'” section I noticed the same dismal array of about four colors, and there wasn’t anything with ruffles, puffy sleeves, or flowing gowns in this section. I felt cheated.
Again, she tried to sell me on a pair of tan corduroys. They even came with a matching jacket here. (Ew!) I wanted the green skirt that was hanging across the way. I was looking again I suppose, because she grabbed my arm like a boa constrictor and ominously conveyed: “I am NOT going to tell you AGAIN!”
My mind registered it this time: my wanting pretty clothes was equal to killing someone. In fact, most of the time something undesired happened, my mom behaved similarly. Every little error became a cataclysm. Also, when she used that tone of voice it meant a spanking was soon to come. I decided I wanted the tan corduroy/jacket combo, mostly because Mom told me I did.
On my first day of school, the only difference I noticed between the genders was what they were allowed to wear, and what they were expected to play with. It was an odd experience for the first few months. All the things I was expected to play with were not what I was drawn to. I had no idea the kinds of toys girls got to play with before going to school, and I was upset because I somehow knew it was wrong for me to play with them. The boys were filled with aggression too; with me, and with each other. I wanted no part of their world. I felt even more isolated than before.
About two years later, the economy demanded that my mom find work, as well as my dad. Having the Fear of Mom put into me, I was a well behaved and incredibly responsible child, and thus could be trusted to be a latch-key kid. Mom knew I would do my homework right after school, not snack on anything but fruit, and be certain to let the dog out. A few months after my seventh birthday, we got new neighbors. The couple had a little girl named April who was about half a year older than I. Our families were fast friends, and April became the first person I was ever comfortable being around. We’d walk to and from school together, run and play on the playground together. I was having so much fun that I didn’t notice that other boys in our class began to look at me with even more disapproving and disgusted expressions than before.
Like me, April was a latch-key kid. After I finished my homework we’d often go play on her swing set, or play a board game if it was raining or too cold. Little did I realize that April would be the first person to have a “bad influence” on me, at least as far as Mom was concerned. On one particularly frigid and dreary day –the weather had been like this for weeks now– we grew tired of all the games we had between us. After leaving the customary note for Mom, we went to April’s house for a couple cookies. (I knew Mom wouldn’t find out.) As we snacked she asked if I wanted to play something called “Dress-up”. Evidently this was something she and her cousin Cheryl would do from time to time. I had no idea how to play, so of course I jumped at the chance.