A little girl with pigtails and glasses who shunned wearing jeans because they were scratchy; who played with dolls longer than she should have; who tattled when her younger sister said shit; who loved all things pink and who cried all of the time: how in the hell did she grow up to be such a dude?
It’s happened more than once: a comment on my supposed masculine traits. My oldest friend from high school told me back then, “You’re just one of the guys…with tits.” When I laugh, and I think it’s a really good laugh because if I’m tickled down into my soul, I can’t control it and my head flies backward and pure joy sings out, my mother cringes. “Oh, that laugh,” she says, “You sound like a guy…or Eddie Murphy.” Even my husband, who is as antagonistic as I am (we’re both the oldest in our families; it comes naturally), has been known to chuckle, “My God, what have I married? Are you sure you’re a woman? Can you be any grosser?” Yes, yes I can: I’ll give my husband that one; I have a filthy mouth and a sick sense of humor but hey, with him I have the freedom to be who I am, fart jokes and all.
I know the exact moment I began to change. I could say something very profound: that it was a reaction to my parents’ divorce or a defense mechanism when life had become tough. But I’d be lying. It happened when I was a freshman in high school. After a drama club meeting, a boy who was a senior gave me a ride home. He was a typical drama geek with floppy blonde hair (I guess you could call it romantic; it just looked messy) and he was full of his talent and testosterone. Gallantly, he opened my car door for me and walked me to my stoop. Thanking him, I opened the door. A smirk crept up his face and no, he didn’t lean in to kiss me, nothing like that. He asked a question meant to shock, “Hey, do you masturbate?” Without thinking, without my face reddening, I shot back, “Doesn’t everyone?” I closed the door on widened eyes and a mouth in suspension. I heard his laughter through the door. That moment, the little girl curled up on her pretty pink blanket, put her thumb in her mouth and fell asleep in a corner of my brain. That moment made me the man I am today.
Or, so others say. I am definitely a woman. Jeans are still scratchy and I still cry a lot. And what is labeled as masculine, I see only as honesty. Women aren’t always soft. They can be bullies, they can be cruel, they can kill and maim…and get a group of women together and you’ll see just how profane and gross and sexual they can be. And men aren’t always hard. They can have tea parties with their daughters, cry from the soul with their wives, sit with mothers who are ill and just want to get some sleep rather than have sex. All of us are complex: equally masculine, whatever that means, and equally feminine, whatever that looks like. I believe this. But isn’t it funny: the moment I used humor to defend myself, the moment I began telling the truth, the moment I became more fully myself is the exact moment I somehow became less of a woman.
Why? Men aren’t more truthful than women. But I think men have been given—by themselves and by women (because let’s be honest, there are a lot of mothers who have created entitled pampered monsters)—a lot of latitude to be more straightforward, to be more demanding and sure of their place in the world. To go after what is meaningful to their lives. To ultimately, become more fully themselves. That’s not a masculine trait. That’s a learned one. And that is a trait worth learning, for either sex.
So, go ahead, call me a dude. I’ll just tilt my head back and laugh like a joyful buzz saw; it’ll be the most honest and beautiful laugh you’ve ever heard.