There was a bit of an altercation over the weekend that’s left me feeling particularly fragile and vulnerable today. I won’t go into details, because it’s sort of still going on, but it reminded me of my childhood, and I think it’s about time I started talking about some of the things that happened to me.
I don’t remember my early childhood with any clarity, and large chunks of my later childhood are also fuzzy or missing. I’m told this is abnormal, that I ought to have clearer memories going back further, and that it may be a trauma reaction. I don’t care to press too far into it; if my brain doesn’t want me to have a clear memory of the bad times, that’s fine by me.
What I do remember is I was never popular. I had friends, sometimes, but rarely more than one or two, and often boys rather than other girls. I remember being envious of the Boy Scouts; I never wanted to be a Girl Scout, because in my head they just baked cookies and did girly crap. I wanted to do boy crap, like racing toy cars and tying knots and going camping and whatnot. Since they wouldn’t let me join, I didn’t want to “settle” for gender-appropriate activities.
I did play with Barbies; I had no interest in what they wore, but rather used them to tell grand sweeping epic tales. The one I recall best involved them working on a ranch, riding stuffed dogs. I had a Sleeping Beauty doll I often decided was “deathly ill” (since she had a soft body and so didn’t stand or sit on the stuffies), and made the other dolls ride out in search of rare medicine ingredients. It annoyed me to no end that their feet were permanently in high-heel shape and thus would not stand flat.
Other than that, I didn’t behave much like a little girl. I liked to play pretend, but my fantasies were very action-oriented and involved exploring the “wilderness” around my house rather than tea parties. At school, when I was in elementary school, I declared war on a group of guys over territory (a coveted spot to play on the hillside) and threw rocks and generally had a fun time play-fighting them. I did like horses; I remember playing horse-rancher with another girl for a while until she changed schools. We were both teased and outcast so we found each other.
I was also overweight, pretty much my whole life. I have pictures of myself at age 5 or 6 where I was skinny, but I remember being proud of being the first kid in my class to reach 100 lbs because that meant I had a weight advantage on my playground rivals. My hair was also unmanageable, and I recall being self-conscious that my hair didn’t behave like the other girls’ hair.
Eventually I reached middle school and, well, the boys who used to be my rivals saw me as some kind of freak for not being girly, and the girls who I’d never really gotten along with continued not getting along with me. My name became a curse sneered at me: “Ew, Bayley!” people would say as they passed by. Probably that’s why I don’t like my name to this day. I spent a lot of time alone, reading books rather than playing with other kids.
I had two best friends in 5th grade: Angela and Jennifer. Angela had been my friend first, and then we added Jennifer to our group. I remember vividly a conversation in which I outlined the social dynamics for Angela, explaining how the girls broke down in to groups and tiers, and how I was at the bottom of the pecking order and technically lowered her status by associating with her. I was quick to point out how grateful I was that she didn’t care about that and wanted to be friends, but in hindsight she began to grow distant fairly shortly afterwards.
I was away from school for a week or so for some reason or another; I remember coming back, being excited to see my friends again, and watching Angela walk right past me to go greet Jennifer, babbling about her weekend. From then on, I was tagging along after them, and they went to increasing lengths to make me feel unwelcome: constantly talking about one trip to the zoo they’d taken together just so I couldn’t join in, playing with each other’s glasses even though I wore glasses too and was never asked to join, playing with a korean phrasebook ignoring my attempts to change the subject… I remember crying, begging them to talk to me, and they just ignored me. I tried a number of stupid things to work things out and eventually ended up sitting alone at lunch.
I knew it was bad when the recess monitor felt bad for me and started eating lunch with me.
In high school, well, I was fat and clumsy and did my freshman year at a different school than the other three so I missed the crucial bonding period. I eventually found a group of guys who played card games at lunch, and later a group of girls from the Animanga Club, and reveled in my new identity as a geek. Again, though, I was much more comfortable with guys than girls.
I used to say I hated girls. Guys were so straightforward and easy to understand; girls, I insisted, were manipulative and prone to lying almost as a matter of course. Girls would never, ever let you live something down, and once you were out, you were out forever. Guys were much more sensible. Obviously that’s a product of socialization rather than nature; with some distance, I now am much kinder in my opinions towards people in general. But I’ve still only rarely had female friends I felt close to, and usually geeky ones who also admit to not quite “getting” the whole fashion, makeup, boy-crazy thing that is held up as the archetypical “teenage girl mentality”.
I don’t wear makeup. I wear male clothing to work (omg pockets, you have no idea). I consider myself not quite a good fit for the gender binary. And my best friends are guys.
Maybe if I could have just convinced myself to try harder to be feminine at age 8 or so, I’d have grown up much happier. I guess I’ll never really know, though. All I can do is try and push for a world in which kids like me are accepted as perfectly normal.