Putting in the Effort
A friend of mine, let’s call her A, came and told me that her sister, who was 2 classes ahead of us, said that I should decide if I am a boy or a girl. I was a 14-year-old socially awkward teenager trying to understand why there were two mounds of flesh aggressively sprouting on my chest.
Growing up in Kenya, I had never heard about being transgender or even seen a transgender person. I did not even know there was a word to describe what I felt about my gender identity.
I felt angry about that statement and here is why:
One, this person did not know me enough to make such a comment. We were not friends. I rarely talked to her except the courtesy ‘hi’ ‘hello’ ‘good day’ that was a part of the school culture. It felt rude that she should say such a thing to me without ever having had a conversation with me about me.
The second thing that annoyed me was the realization that someone else had seen my struggle with identifying my gender. I had been struggling for a while since I joined form one or before that. I did not know the entire time that the struggle manifested on the outside and that other people could see it too. I knew it was something that just existed in my mind- I felt like I was not a girl and that there was nothing I could do about it. I wanted to be a girl, just like everyone else.
And the pressure to be pretty, in an all-girls boarding school, made me want to neatly pack that struggle away – I did not want people mistaking me for a boy. I would observe the girls that I found very feminine. I would look at how they talk and how they walk. How they hold their books how they write, how they do their laundry, how they dress, what kinds of clothes they wear other than uniform, how they wear their ties and scarves, how long their socks were, their stride, their poise and posture, how they keep personal space, whether they use lip balm or not. How they did everything, down to the minute details.
When alone, I would practice talking like them. I had this corner under a tree overlooking the swimming pool at the field where I would sit and talk alone for hours imitating some of the girls whom I liked how they talked. I would imitate their intonation and the softness, taking aggression out of my voice because I had been constantly told I was aggressive in my speech and told I was intimidated by one of my teachers.
I would also practice how to walk. I had been told that I walk like a robot and my body parts weren’t moving when I walked. I would go to the pavement and walk on a straight line on it while swaying my hips and moving my hands just so I walk in a ‘girly’ gait and stride.
I would write down things to buy over the holiday and come back with me to school. Whether it was a fruity fragrance of perfume or soap or lip balm. I remember this particular glittery lip balm. It was bluish with glitter. Now that I think about it, it was so wrong. I even bought an eye pencil which was not allowed in school. I just wanted to look girly.
Did I really have a choice?
It felt really insulting that with all that effort, someone could still say that I should choose whether I am a girl or a boy when I was doing all those things to be as girly as possible.
I did not know that there was any other way of being a girl. Being a girl was something that I was going to teach myself until I master it. I put in the effort when others were revising and reading I was teaching myself how to be a girl. I just wanted to be a girl and that statement broke my heart.
The third reason why that statement annoyed me was that at that point I did not know that I had a choice of being either a girl or a boy, no matter the gender that I was assigned at birth. I was born female, I was a girl, and was expected to be a girl. I was going to be a woman. It was a trajectory set in stone. There was nothing to change about it.
So when someone says that I should decide it alluded to me having a choice about my gender identity. A choice that my 14-year-old self did not know that I had. And it hurt because why would someone say something so careless. What if I was a boy?
What would I have done then? I was already born in a female body, I was a girl, and I was going to be a woman. There was nothing I could do about it. So when someone said that it was something I could choose, choose from what? What were the options? What was I going to do to be a boy? I mean, I was already a girl, what was I going to do?
Yes! I have a choice, it’s okay not to be a girl…
That statement tormented me for years. I wish that I knew at that time that I had a choice and that she was right and was guiding me towards that path. I wish she would have told me the options I had. I wish I hadn’t just been an angry teenager at such a remark and maybe asked how? How do I get to choose whether to be a boy or a girl? And if I am a boy, how do I vacate this body that is clearly not mine and get into one that felt like me?
How do I become comfortable with myself knowing that I am female but I am not a girl? How do I love myself with that knowledge? How do I accept myself with that knowledge? And if I cannot choose whether I am a boy or a girl, and I am both, what then?
What would I be called? What would my identity be? And how would I navigate it? How do I talk to my peers about how I feel about my gender? How do I talk to my parents about how I feel about my gender? How do I tell everyone that I am not a girl? How do I un-become a girl? How do I become whatever gender I am?
To be continued…