I discovered my identity as a woman when I was eight years old. I was obsessed with the movie Tarzan and loved the idea of running wild with all the animals and just being free in every way. I would run around my house in my ballet skirt and bare chest so I could be just like him. I had no concept of “girl parts” and “boy parts,” so I didn’t see a problem with what I was doing. I was just being a kid and imitating my favorite character from one of my favorite movies.
I have two boy cousins who are like brothers to me. When we were little, they would always come over to my house. One day, I was doing my usual thing and pretending to be Tarzan when they came over. As soon as they walked into my room, they were horrified. They wouldn’t look at me and I didn’t know why. I was so confused. I saw them walk around without a shirt on all the time and I was never shocked or mortified by it. I asked what was wrong, and my older cousin told me that girls aren’t supposed to walk around without shirts, that is only a guy thing. This really struck me. I never understood a difference between girls and boys, or between me and my favorite cousins.
After that, I began to see how differently I was treated because I was a girl. I couldn’t play in the grass for fear that I would get my clothes too dirty or that my hair would get too messy. For the first time I realized that I would not be able to do all the things that the opposite sex could do. I fully realized my identity as a girl, and understood how this identity would affect my life every day after that. I began to change my behavior to fit this “girl standard.” I changed my favorite movie from Tarzan to Beauty and The Beast, and instead of playing around outside I started to paint my nails and do other things my girl friends did. I wasn’t trying to be a “tomboy” before—I didn’t even know what that meant. I never knew there was such a clear distinction between being a boy and being a girl.
My aunts and uncles began to judge me based on my appearance while my boy cousins would get away unscathed. “Wow, looks like you’re gaining a little weight,” and “What are you going to do with your hair?” were things that I heard more and more often while growing up. I know these things weren’t intended to hurt me but, somehow, they always did. Commercials, TV shows, and movies that reinforced the idea of femininity were constantly shoved down my throat. I began to doubt myself a lot and I was no longer the confident, strong girl I was when I was little. Where did that girl go?
I was so sick of struggling with my identity that, around age eleven, I began to really question who I was. I would ask myself, Do I have to be a girl? Is there any way out of this? I wanted to escape me. I was constantly craving acceptance from people who expect so much. It took me years to figure out that my gender identity doesn’t completely define what I like or who I am. As a girl, I can still like Tarzan and Harry Potter, have messy hair, and be myself without being heckled or told that who I am is wrong. I should be able to strut around, pounding on my chest without being judged or accused of “not being girly enough.” I could also like American Girl Dolls and painting my nails because material things don’t define me. I define me. After learning that, I accepted myself. I was at peace. I could finally rest.
From the 826CHI Student Publication: I Remember... A Labyrinth of Old Toys