[Ed. Note: So this is just really cool. Dr. Janie Long is the Director of the Duke LGBT Center, not to mention surrogate mother to Us all. Her Ph.D. is in therapy, and personally I'm not sure where I'd be without her open-door policy. Janie's been hinting that she wanted to write for This Blog for a while now, but her email this morning with this piece attached was still a pleasant surprise. Show her some love, Readers? And I think it would be interesting if We used her last paragraph as a thesis for our own stories in the comments. We weren't all born this way, so to speak.]
So here’s my story… Dar Williams sings a wonderful song entitled, When I Was a Boy, it’s a song about me. You may ask what does that mean…it means I was someone who stood on the outside…I didn’t fit…I was harassed…I was demeaned…I didn’t wear the right clothes…I didn’t play the right games…I was raped at twelve years old for being who I was. You see…they wanted me to be who they thought I should be….But wait…don’t stop reading here.
Let me back up a bit to when I entered school in first grade. This is when I first realized that I did not fit gender binaries. I LOVED to play baseball, basketball, and football, and I WAS Tarzan. I was the first girl in my elementary school to wear pants to school because girls were not allowed to wear pants to school. I remember even my teacher making fun of me because I did. In fifth grade my teacher called my mother and told her I was playing too hard at recess, my face was getting too red and she should tell me to stop playing ball and just play with the girls. Thus, I virtually stood on the sidelines when it came to being what a girl should be. It took two much older boys hurting me badly at the end of sixth grade to show me what being a girl meant to them to get me on the “right track” to becoming a girl.
Then came junior high and because the older boys felt the need to spread ugly rumors about me I spent the seventh grade being ostracized by everyone. Literally, no one talked to me when I was at school the entire year. I was even run out of the local movie theater by people throwing chunks of ice at me from their fountain drinks. I wasn’t a part of the popular crowd. I wasn’t a part of any crowd. I was awkward. I didn’t wear my hair right. I did not know how to put on make-up. My mother made many of my clothes. No one asked me to their parties…No one said I understand. I thought I was the only one. Thank the goddesses I know differently now.
I wasn’t the only one. There were others like me who felt they didn’t fit in. They fell short of the “ideal”. And most importantly…I realized that the ideal really varied from person to person and guess what….only I got to determine my ideal. Imagine that…I got to determine what was ideal for me.
I didn’t have to wear the right clothes, own the right gender identity or sexual orientation or even own the right things…I just had to be me….yes, that’s right….ME. The me who is authentic…who hurts…who has self doubts… who was almost stripped of all dignity…who finally said no, hell no, you will NOT define me….I will define me. I am strong, I am unique, I have a purpose in this universe. And once I started to see the special in me I did find friends and I no longer sat on the sidelines.
You may say but there is no one else like me. Guess again, my friend….many of us have been there…we were/are the sideline kids, the quirky ones, the geeks. You may look at me now and say but you are a leader. Privileged, yes, I know I am in my current position but was I way back in the day when I was “not a girl” oh no, I felt like these lyrics from Dar Williams:
I won't forget when Peter Pan came to my house, took my hand
I said I was a boy; I'm glad he didn't check.
I learned to fly, I learned to fight
I lived a whole life in one night
We saved each other's lives out on the pirate's deck.
When I was a boy, I scared the pants off of my mom,
Climbed what I could climb upon
And I don't know how I survived,
I guess I knew the tricks that all boys knew.
And you can walk me home, but I was a boy, too.
I was a kid that you would like, just a small boy on her bike
Riding topless, yeah, I never cared who saw.
My neighbor came outside to say, "Get your shirt,"
I said "No way, it's the last time I'm not breaking any law."
And now I'm in this clothing store, and the signs say less is more
More that's tight means more to see, more for them, not more for me
That can't help me climb a tree in ten seconds flat
When I was a boy, See that picture? That was me
Grass-stained shirt and dusty knees
And I know things have gotta change…
But I am not forgetting...that I was a boy too
I may have confidence now, but I will never forget that part of me. Every person who comes to the Center has a story. Many of those stories have been told here but many more have not. We are a varied group. Some of us are very quiet, some of us are very loud, some of us buy our clothes in thrift stores and some of us wear designer things, some of us study abroad and some of us study in von der Heyden, some of us are out to friends and family and some of us are not. Don’t just come once or twice to large gatherings where it might be difficult to connect with others. Some of us love Fab Friday and some of us do not. Come during the week between classes, get to know the staff, check out a movie and some books, take a nap on one of the couches, watch your favorite show on Hulu on our laptops. You are not alone…just ask the small boy on her bike.