I describe my childhood-self in two words: Space Cadet. Every moment when my immediate and full attention was not required I would go off in my own world. I had a difficult time with bullying that manifested in ways such as hiding in the bathroom during math class only to be found, ten minutes later, by my teacher while skidding gleefully across the slippery floors in my puppy slippers.
There was even a phase in my young life when I had a couple of friends who would also join me on my fifteen-minute escapades around the park at recess. In full form, our troupe would consist of a tawny owl, a bear, and a black Unicorn with flaming mane and tail. I was the heavy metal Unicorn, and not only did I go for the most flamboyant of the animals but I always insisted that I was a boy-Unicorn. There were a few arguments about whether it was possible to be a boy-Unicorn or if Unicorns were boys and Pegasus’s were girls. I always won with the wise 9-year-old argument that Unicorns were boys because of the phallic horn on top of their heads. I also wanted to have Pegasus wings, but at that time we were not aware of hermaphrodites and I had to settle with the exclusively male Unicorn anatomy. If Disney had been a little more graphic then it would have saved us a lot of time and energy.
This was not where the story ended. I would also make-believe that I was White Fang, the famous folklore wolf (also male), and I had an inexplicable crush on the cartoon fox Robin Hood from that children’s animated film.
I had been unable to dissect this strange tendency towards the male until fairly recently. I tried to theorize that I am really a gay man in a woman’s body but the truth is I enjoy having my lady parts too much for this to be true. When I was 9 I called myself a tomboy. This is also no longer true since I have finally moved past traditional conceptions of male and female thanks to university and living in a modern age with a few good female role models. Now I can happily walk around in a shirt and pants discussing how I would like to have a penis for a day (or week) just to satisfy my curiosity without fear of being judged as sexually confused.
Going through the thick library of childhood photo albums, I can find at least three photos where I was playing the groom in a make-believe marriage. I had three wives, one of them being my own sister and all of them wearing the same dress. For the first time in my life, I wore a real wedding dress in summer 2013 for a bridal photo shoot. I realized I have never once fantasized about having a white wedding dress.
I finally found out the answer to my strange male-fascination by changing my question. It turned out not to be why I wanted to be a boy, but rather why I did not want to be a girl. In my years of physical self-discovery and the social training institute called ‘school’, I was surrounded with kids classified by ideal girls, ideal boys, and the weirdos who fit somewhere in the middle. The girls wore the right clothes, colors, experimented with makeup, and ran away laughing from the boys who tried to kiss them… The boys wore the right clothes, played the right sports, and ran away screaming from the girls who tried to kiss them, alienating them and making them question themselves for wanting to kiss just as much as the boys. Outside of this, there was also the whole world of new media, advertising, and Disney, reinforcing these gender stereotypes that I’m sure we’re all aware of. To be honest I’m tired of hearing about it, but I keep hearing about it because it’s still true.
Don’t get me wrong; I had no problem with girly things. I liked girl’s clothes and I often played with Barbies and horses but I still wanted to be a boy.
In my housing society, there was a group of boys with whom I played street hockey and other games. Kick-the-can, water gun fights, and Nintendo-64 were also some of our favorites. I was the only person of the female gender in the gang, and I was intent on making sure the boys treated me like one of their own. I became a tomboy because I wanted to partake in the same games as them, and it was almost a perfect plan.
I remember one day the boys decided to wrestle. They all partnered up and nobody wanted to wrestle with me. I couldn’t understand why, because unlike the kids in school, my neighborhood boys had never excluded me from anything. At first the argument was that I was girl, but after I became very upset, a short blond boy admitted it was because I was bigger than half of them. Being big and being a girl were my two tender spots, so I punched that boy in the eye and went home very proud of myself but also very angry.
On the other hand, the girls around me were very fond of playing house and that was all well and fine except that I wanted to play the husband. If I was ever asked to be a princess or a wife or a helpless kitten, I flat-out refused to cooperate and be a good playmate. I would then turn into a heavy metal Unicorn and obliterate everyone and everything girly. I think what got to me was the image of the soft hands of the princess trapped in the castle, gingerly lifting the teacup with the pinky finger raised and waiting to be rescued. For some reason, being female had already become associated with being powerless. Whether or not my girl friends enjoyed this feeling of being girly and being rescued, I sensed that it wasn’t for me and decided to act like I was a boy at every possible moment. It empowered me to jump over trees, build forts in the forest, punch a kid in the face, and wear hats in ways they were never made to be worn (like a backwards baseball cap, or the classic sideways, upside down visor). To my child-mind, these things would not possible for a girly girl to do.
Remotely related side story: I was a nail-biter, and to convince me to stop biting my nails my mother had to tempt me with the reward of a remote-control monster truck if I didn’t bite for 6 weeks. It was the only thing that worked since I wasn’t excited enough by the thought of having long, pretty painted nails.
Even now that I am all grown up and can dabble in both ends of the gendered behavior scale without fantasizing about Unicorns and wolves, I come across this perception almost every day. My men’s dress shoes are cool, but my high heels are hot. Somehow, wearing men’s clothing adds a new facet to my personality, while a dress just makes me look good unless it is unusually funky. Again, this is all just how I’ve been trained to perceive it and I can get past it all now as I’m sure many of you readers do as well but I hope you are getting my point.
Of course you might not really care. It’s all just a matter of how important these things are to you. As a child, I didn’t succumb to fitting in one gender or the other and suffered through the bullying until being a tomboy became cool when Avril Levine became famous. However, I like to think that if people had been more open to the idea of girls and boys being similar in taste and behavior, life could have been a lot easier for myself and numerous other children. Also, let’s take a moment and empathize with all the grown-ups who continue to live their lives according what they believe they should be, rather than who they are.
Being a human includes so many interesting and sometimes taboo aspects of our psyches that we should always feel free to explore them in some way that is safe. Whether they are our dark sides, our masculine or feminine sides, or our completely unmentionable sides, we should all feel empowered to explore them without fear of social alienation.
Unicorns can have wings too.