Sunday, March 11, 2007

Story 1: Reflections On Discovery & Gender

It's kind of odd that I don't understand women. I grew up around them. Then again, I didn't--and don't--understand those women, either. My mother is my opposite, except we are both conservative in our thinking in most of the same ways and are conservative in the way we carry ourselves. But, boy, is she feminine. She's one of those women who will take hours to get ready to leave the house. She spends a lot of time on her hair. Looks are very important to her. She buys clothes so much that she has to hide them from my father, and she uses so much closet space--in several closets in their house--that he has nowhere to put his clothes. She dresses "nice," kind of conservative and a bit preppy, and she wears "girly" colors I wouldn't be caught dead in. And she talks a lot. She's very emotional. She knows she's attractive, and a lot of people think she is.

I think the younger girls in my family are going to be much the same way. One of my nieces, who is almost 6, tells me I can play with her Barbie house when I come to visit. She likes to look "pretty," and she asks my mother if she is. My cousin, who is almost 16, has been referred to as a little version of my mother by her mother (my mother's sister). I remember both my sisters--both older than I am--talking about boys and cheerleading and talking on the phone (and arguing over the phone with each other) all day and all night. My nephews are learning gender roles. The oldest one, who is 7, wants to know why I don't want to have kids--I'm a "girl," I'm supposed to have kids. And he says blue is for boys.

So I only have one question, then:

Where did I come from??

My favorite color, for the record, is blue. Also black. I only like to wear blue, black, brown and gray. I like white, but it's not a good color for me to wear. Red is cool for some things, such as a sports car...which, I prefer sports cars. I hate all other colors, especially stuff like yellow and pink. And I'd rather play with my nephews' toy cars and video games than play with a Barbie house. I still play video games, and I like to play basketball and watch football. I'm a tech geek. If you're trying to impress me or make me fall all over loving a gift, flowers and jewelry are not going to do it. You're going to have to bring an mp3 player, a dvd recorder, a lap top, a cell phone...or, if you're not trying to spend that kind of money, some good-quality headphones, a hand-held or computer game, etc. Other than that, I like books and exercise equipment.

I care just enough about looks so that I won't look homeless daily. I don't like to spend time on how I look, and I've never found myself attractive. I almost wish I didn't have hair, because I hate dealing with it. I hate shopping for clothes because it takes too long. Anything dealing with looks takes too long. I have started going online, picking what I want, clicking the shopping cart and getting my clothes that way. I don't waste time with makeup. As I mentioned in another entry, I like jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, tennis shoes. I like comfortable clothes that are easy to just throw on and easy to move around in. Sometimes I dress "better," but I'm in school...what do I need to dress better for?

Looking back, I think I was kind of lucky to have the kind of family I did and to grow up how I did. I think my family let me be who I was. I never grew up thinking I was a boy or should be a boy, but I always preferred "boy" things and my parents let me. When I first started elementary school, my mother and I struggled over dressing me...she would try to dress me as a little version of her. And to imagine a kid dressed like's too sophisticated on a kid. But I also just didn't like those kinds of clothes, not for me. So she gave up and started letting me dress myself, and I dressed kind of "like a boy." Nobody in my family ever really said anything, and I don't think that was about acceptance so much as about their seriously not seeing what was wrong with it. I think had I been a boy, for example, dressing and acting more feminine, there would have been a problem. But when it's girls doing these things, it's a different story. People don't really notice as much. So I dressed like I did, got teased for it only once to my face, as I can recall, and played with "boy" toys like cars and guns.

In the first neighborhood I lived in, most of the kids were boys. That's who I tried to play with. But I didn't fit in with boys almost as much as I didn't fit in with girls. I was not one of those girls who was just as good at sports as boys were, and I wasn't interested in proving that. In short, I was never actually a "tomboy." But I wasn't "girly." But I preferred guys to girls as friends. Girls talked about other girls behind their backs too much and chased after boys too much. Guys acted bad in class and were class clowns that kids thought of as funny, and I started being the same way. They would get caught and punished; I wouldn't, because I was "smart" and, therefore, "good." Girls were always mean to me...well, the black girls...and I think that has colored some of how I think about women, especially black women. Therefore, I've never had as many female friends in my life as I do right now as an adult, and I must say it surprises me to know that there are women out there I can trust, relate to, get along with, have interesting/non-shallow conversations with, and really love and value as friends.

I wasn't really thinking about boys romantically when I was a kid. At the same time, I wasn't really checking out girls--well, not at school. When I hear the stories of celebrities as they were growing up, I just completely understand because I was the same way--one-track mind. All I ever thought about growing up was music and success. All I wanted to talk to kids at school about was music. So I wasn't crushing on girls--I was too busy thinking about songs. And when I wasn't thinking about that, I was worried about making 'A's. By the time I was in 8th grade, I was announcing to people in restaurants that I wanted to attend Yale. When I got to high school, I was telling everyone I wanted to attend Duke and then I eventually realized I wanted to attend Harvard Medical School. I had gotten teachers to put me in all Honors courses, and every time a really good college came to town for information and recruiting sessions I made my mother take me to hear them speak.

The ambition thing is also something I have to question, because no one in my family is like that. I was never interested in cheerleading like my sisters were, and my mother can tell you everyone's personal business but...not really what a quadratic equation is. I was the artsy intellectual. Just about everything that is creative and artistic, I liked to do it. My favorites were writing stories, painting and drawing, dancing and making up songs. I've never been much of a talker, but--obviously--I'm a writer. And though I get mad more than I'd like to admit, I'm definitely more logical than emotional.

And everyone thought all the Yale/Duke/Harvard Med stuff, and even the Honors and AP courses, was insane. I remember people in my family would ask me if there were boys I liked at school, and it was just kind of like, "There are boys at my school???" But I didn't really know there were girls there, either, to be honest. I just knew Stanford wanted me to make 'A's in advanced courses and have leadership positions in activities at school, as well as a good SAT score, in order to gain admission.

When I was 17, I met someone who didn't think all that was insane...because she was even crazier than I was, and she came from a family that had even less ambitious plans for her than mine did for me. Now, I've got to stop and tell you about where I grew up. I'm originally from the South. (Gasp) No, it was great, really, even though it's not going to sound like it. You see, I grew up around conservative religious white people in what I would call countryside suburbs. The way they operated was that there were just certain things you didn't talk about and certain things you didn't think about. And as kids, we picked it up. So you might have been thinking that I was so engrossed in school and music because I didn't want to face the truth about myself. But the relatively few times kids made gay jokes, I didn't really know what "gay" was or that there were seriously people who were like that. I mean, I had a general understanding, but I never once thought "That's what I am--they're talking about people like me." I never connected it to me.

Other than those few gay jokes, homosexuality was something nobody talked about. We could barely even manage to ask our close friends if they'd had sex yet. I mean, we didn't even talk about teenage pregnancy. We would just gawk at the two girls in our high school who were visibly pregnant, because that was like whoa! If we talked about anything related to sex--heterosexual sex--we'd whisper it. Homosexuality didn't even register! My family environment was different from my school environment in most ways, but not on the homosexuality tip--it was just never spoken about. And I did not attend a religious high school, but it might as well have been one. Teachers mentioned religion on a regular basis, and so many of my classmates would talk about bible study and would have church parties, etc. But this was a time when homosexuality was not condemmed by "Christians" because they just weren't talking about it.

I think this was helpful to me, that they didn't talk about it. Because when I met this girl--who was from a completely different world, i.e. Southern California--and I realized that I liked her, it wasn't a big deal for me. There was no inner struggle or self-hatred, no "this is wrong" because I'd never heard anybody say it was wrong. I knew enough not to run off and announce to people in my family, "Yea, I've finally found someone I'm really interested in, and it's a girl!" Now that I think about it, maybe I should have done that. But I just didn't have any problems with being romantically interested in her. Besides, we had enough problems without that...such as being from completely different planets.

No offense, okay? But...everyone I've ever met from Southern California has seemed to have issues. I don't mean that in the same sense for every one of them. Some are just too weird to deal with, for someone like me. And some have these life stories that are just out of this world. Those are the two main things I mean when I say "issues." I think this girl was both, because, honestly, everyone I meet from SoCal is weird, to me. There's just a big culture clash between being Southern and Southern Californian.

One second they act like you're good friends; the next, they don't know you. They don't learn the same kind of manners that us Southerners are taught, so I often find myself thinking of them as rude. They will talk about sex or sexual content with anybody anytime any place, that to what I wrote above about where I'm from. They seem like they're sensitive, easily offended and/or defensive, and the things that bother them are...well, weird. I mean, you can tell me your sexual and other personal business, but you can't tell me exactly what part of Southern California you're from???? And now you're mad because I won't share my personal business with you when we just met????

Not to stereotype, but I've met more than one person from SoCal who fits that description. And we never get along. So, long story short about the girl, we spent three years arguing, not speaking, lovey dovey, I-like-you-as-a-friend-only, misunderstanding, miscommunicating...yeah. Confusing. But we understood each other on one thing, and one thing only--and that's ambition. And I think at 17, dealing with someone who has been physically and sexually abused and has run away from home is--especially for someone like me who has one of the very good dysfunctional families and has never really been through anything--too much.

Skip forward to my last "thing" with a woman...who was, interestingly enough, the only one who was not from Southern California. That could have been the best "thing" of my life, except that she ditched me for a dude. I understand where lesbians are coming from now when they refuse to deal with and hate on bisexuals, but I'm not bitter at all. We were so much alike but different enough for it to be interesting. It was creepy, because pretty much as soon as we met we could do the finish-each-other's-sentences type of thing. We had some of the same quirks and ways of speaking. Unlike the other women I've had "things" with, she understood me, so we didn't have all these communication issues. We were often thinking the same thing and would say it at the same time, and if I was bothered about something she had this uncanny way of putting her finger on exactly what it was and why. If something bothered one of us, she wanted to talk about it and work it out--she didn't just give up, stop speaking to me or let me stop speaking to her like other women tend to do.

Neither of us were involved with or particularly interested in the GLBT community, but I also think this turned out to be a negative, i.e. why she picked a guy over me, since neither of us were ready to be out. She was very feminine and was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. She wasn't the most intellectual person I'd ever met, but she was funny, fun and didn't seem too bothered by my teasing...and that was good enough. I seriously couldn't believe she liked me and that we clicked as much as we did. When I first saw her, I assumed we would have nothing in common and dismissed her. But she came after me, and I like that. She wanted me to attend law school wherever I wanted to and not just pick a school because it was near her...which I seriously was considering doing, which is the only reason I ever started looking into the law school I currently attend...even though I didn't ultimately choose it because of her.

I thought she was my soulmate. So did everyone who knew about her. In fact, when I first met her, I was with a friend. She and my friend were talking to each other, and my friend was trying to flirt with her. Later, my friend came back to me and, kind of out of nowhere, said, "She's perfect for you" and started trying to hook me up with her (then, oddly enough, got irritated by the whole thing because my friend turned out to be interested in me). But she ended it, and I got a great law school out of the whole thing. ;)

To be continued...