As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently got married. That is not a sentence I ever thought I would type, say, think, or even want for myself. I was not the kind of little girl who wore plaid jumpers and used my precious recess time picking flower like weeds for fake weddings. In no reality did I imagine myself as a princess destined to have prince charming. No, not me. With bruised needs, baggy flannel hand-me-downs from my older brother, and my favorite pair of tellingly rugged work boots I always volunteered to play the husband role in the childlike rendition of the game House. It was a fairly straightforward game consisting of mostly other little girls, like myself, trying to puzzle together what a happy family really looked like by quilting together scraps from our own personal dysfunctional experiences. It was not often that boys our age (or any age) wanted to reenact the frequent squabbles about bills or child rearing that we had all seen our parents have (especially when they could be out climbing trees, or playing freeze tag, or doing just about anything else that didn’t involve analyzing things completely out of our control). I reveled in the preconceived structure of gender norms because in this prepubescent world, I reigned king! Yes, I was better than my simple-minded playmates, who could not fathom what it would take to pretend that they were of the opposite sex. It was only I that knew that I was not really pretending to be a boy. This was just my means to an end; secretly playing out the only reality that I saw for myself.
Even during these rousing games of House, I never wanted to play the stereotypical husband role. I found it uncomfortably bland and well below my apt ability to delve into true character development and really pull a character out from where ever characters came from. My dedication for the part I played, as a boy, was often under appreciated. It was seen as more of filler role – a stand in – due to the absence of a player that came equipped with the right parts. I wanted more for myself than that. I was more than just a filler. In my mind’s eye I was a leather jacket wearing, crotch rocket riding, badass who would have made the coolest husband. My imagination, and in turn myself, felt consistently dejected. These girls did not want a girl, built from the same rib they were. They wanted the hard-lined jaw of the man I would never be. Eventually the other girls stopped inviting me to participate in these games. I took the rejection hard by bitterly hanging up my imaginary leather jacket and throwing away my fictitious Fonzie inspired pocket comb.
The fact that the only schools I ever attended were Catholic didn’t exactly make it easy to grow into a comfortably well-rounded queer. In fact, it made it quite frankly impossible. I figured out my orientation when I was in the sixth grade, not that it was really that hard to figure out. My dad would later say, astoundingly, “you could see it from space!”. It didn’t matter what I knew to be true, however. I knew that this epiphany had to be kept a secret, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Sealed Lips. Just in case the five days a week of forced prayer, chapel visits, and religion class weren’t enough, my parents deemed it necessary to attend church every Sunday as well. It was there, I think, that I picked up on the subtle clues about the stance the church had on sexual orientation. It was wrong, but not really too wrong, unless the perceived homosexual were to act on these sexual desires. If one were to act on such demonizing desires, they were destined for hell. Unless! This deviant repented for their sins. Living a secret seemed a much more plausible and easy answer to me than to be condemned to eternity roasting in the fire pits hell had to offer.
At 10 years old, the shame of the truth sutured my mouth closed for four more years. While other girls my age swooned over dumb boys, I sat in the rafters, envy scorching my insides. I wanted so badly to possess whatever masculinity these girls found so irritatingly attractive. I did not know that this small circle of girls, my focus group of sorts, was about as skewed as you could get. 98% of them were white, upper middle class, religious fanatics. Even if they did happen to share the sinful fantasies I had of experiencing a true human connection, they would never admit to it. The thought of such a miscreant existing in their presence utterly disgusted most of them. A prayer club existed in an attempt to fend off just this, praying for the lost homosexual that they might find their path back to god, their true destiny: the heterosexual lifestyle.
This was it. I was going to be alone for the rest of my life; my inevitable cats, library card, and me.
Getting into high school was, in some ways, a welcome sigh of relief. The horrors of middle school were over and I could invisibly exist in this vastly bigger school. Mandatory prayer and religion class were still a thing but the school itself seemed much more progressive than my middle school had. Uniforms could be subtly altered. I could now distinguish myself with rebellious buttons, etched with the disdain of adolescence, and filthy Chuck Taylors, that were more duct tape than fabric. Gradually, I began to relax and lean into all of the things that made me stand out. I started listening to volatile feminist punk bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. Angry feminist literature by feminist authors like Naomi Wolf and Inga Muscio started taking the place of textbooks in my backpack. These women quickly became my heroes; they were loud and articulate – seen and heard. I became emboldened enough to decorate my personal effects with buttons and quotes. This is what a feminist looks like. Finally, I had a voice for the years of pent-up frustration I had been storing in my heart! (albeit, I was angry for an entirely different reason than these ladies. They demanded for their femininity to be seen, recognized, and respected. I, on the other hand, desperately just wanted the potion – key or the cocktail that would turn me just boy enough to entice anyone tiptoeing the line of their sexuality.)
I came out of the closest during high school. I had done my research about what to expect upon dusting my shoulders off and entering the world with a brand new description to attach to my name. I was prepared for the unavoidable questions about how sex could possibly be achieved when both participants lacked a penis and if I had picked my career out of the two I could now choose from: lumberjack, or carpenter. I had entered the stage of teenage rebellion that dared the outside world to judge me. I dyed my cuticles black with sharpie to match the thick ring of eyeliner around my eyes. I wrote angst ridden poetry which was equal parts whiny and cringe worthy. I listened to wrist-slitting emo music and donned a black hoodie with the lyric from my then favorite band, ‘I’ve Hung Up My Guns’. Looking back, this was probably a subconscious ode to my recently silenced aggression. I had not gotten the recognition I had wanted through my adopted feminist agenda. I still did not have the awareness that it was going to take to name the mental illness that had been seeping into my bone marrow. I turned all of my frustration inward and it immediately solidified into shame. I felt constantly misunderstood and unrepresented in school textbooks and assigned reading. There was still no place for me.
Despite my obsessive self loathing, I managed to experiment with the disasters of dating. School gossip tends to spread like a zombie apocalypse, especially when that gossip left certain students sinfully curious. It became fairly normal for me to get berated with surreptitious instant messages on my computer screen from fellow classmates. This usually followed the same template which would start by them telling me their deep dark gay secrets and ended with them blatantly interviewing me from their self-made gay checklists, as if there was some secret gay publication I was unaware of. Suddenly, I became the clandestine gay tabernacle, holding all of the queer confessions from my peers. I was also duped a few times into being the local science experiment for girls exploring their unorthodox and unfounded attractions. It turned out all of the practice I had while playing childhood games made me the perfect candidate to make girls question their sexuality. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was the recruiting pamphlet that all of my classmates parents were so afraid of.
My body was soft, the way girls bodies should be, but my demeanor seemed cold and detached. The disconnection I felt within myself turned out to be the perfect combination of gender – until I would inevitably screw it up by having sometimes uncontrollable emotion. I would then become instantly unattractive; the swollen tears on my cheeks irreparably tipping the scale in favor of my inescapable estrogen. This ended up being a humiliating discovery, that these secret romances were nothing more than an inane charade; nothing but a recreation of the archaic heterosexual model of gender normative roles in relationships. It was mortifying and constricting to think that this was all that my life would be, as if I was some kind of faux boy to date when all of the other options have already been investigated. They wanted me to be nothing other than a doll, to play with and use up until the next popular toy came out.
The convoluted way I learned to view myself was inherently damaging. I was not capable of seeing myself for who I was: a smart, quick-witted, independent individual who happened to also be queer. I saw myself instead through the preconceived ideas about who I was; through the distorted lens of a hundred different retinas. It became increasingly difficult to navigate the exact path to take. I jumped from dysfunctional relationship to even more dysfunctional relationship, from uncomfortable friendship to emotionally hazardous friendship. Although it is a seemingly honest explanation, it is usually not considered a favorable excuse, with shoulders shrugged, that growing up Catholic is the reason I have self-sabotaged every single relationship I have ever had. The booby traps I set for myself, whether in the reasons or the people I chose to get close to, were all exactly that. The choices that I made were the reason all of my relationships were sabotaged, by me, so that I would never truly have to get close to anyone.
That is, until I met her.
It is impossible to sum our relationship up into a few well-organized paragraphs. I know this because I have just spent the past couple of days trying to do just that. Our relationship is not something that needs to explained because we both know that we belong together. I do not need to lace our depth in romantically flowery imagery. Tiff is just my person and I am hers. It has always been that easy for us. We do not need to be defined by our gender because we both flow effortlessly through the various roles we need to fill. Tiff and I feel the same way about a lot of things – commitment, support, respect, and laughter. She makes being a good person look easy and in turn makes me strive to be the best person I can be.
We have a beautiful and magical life together. It doesn’t consist of a lot of the work I hear other married couples sourly talk about. Because it doesn’t have to. We’ve done, and continue to do, the work required on ourselves to grow, to become more. We allow each other the space and the freedom to do that without the unnecessary distractions of passive aggressive guilt that we have both experienced in other relationships. We realize that we are human and that we are allowed to be mortals, with attributes and flaws alike. We got married because we believe in the foundation we took the time to build with commitment, friendship and trust. I no longer feel the need to wear the macho masculine mask I once felt confined to. My spontaneous crying and unavoidable knowledge of my uterus is no longer something I have to be ashamed of. We not only accept but celebrate each other’s neuroses because we know that it only adds to our quirky relationship. I am free to pick my cuticles (as long as she cannot feel it happening), and she is free to feel both happy and sad at the same time (those are often the simplified versions of about a thousand different emotions she feels at the same time).
I know that things will not always be this easy but I am prepared to go through everything with her because I know that our journey will be filled with love, human decency, respect, and a copious amount of laughter.