Originally performed for The Femme Show, 2015
Memory, 3 years old
Gender was not mine. It was 1985 and my mom brought me to the hair dresser. Her name was Sally and with her long, red acrylic nails tapping on the gun, she pierced my ears. She gave me an orange lollipop to soothe the throbbing. While I enjoyed the specific attention that pierced ears, barrettes, braids, and little girl dresses occasionally offered me; my parents could never quite escape their own drama to really discover who I was alongside me.
Ten years later, 13 Years Old
The pinkish corduroys were my favorite pair. They were a part of my daily uniform: the trunk to my baggy black t-shirt tree, hiding my growing breasts, my long limbs would dangle quietly. I loved the faded fuchsia. It must have satisfied some deeply rooted need in me for vaginal colors. I loved the way the soft grooves felt under my fingernails. Satiating the need to escape any and all events in my life; the tracing of the cords was rhythmic and sent me to far off worlds. It was more than a simple twirling of the hair, it was a brilliant and tactile coping skill; it was the perfect way to disassociate from my family… my alcoholic father and his manipulative rages, my bipolar mother and her unpredictable manias, and my older republican brother who didn’t have a clue.
That Christmas my pinkish cords and I spent the holiday at my grandmother’s condo in Florida. I slept on a lumpy cot for a week in the air-conditioned living room. I bucked at this particular family vacation longing for a snowy New England Christmas. I longed for the perfect family. I longed to understand myself. I didn’t know how to describe it then, but I was coming out queer in MY family; and rejecting femininity purposely, because gender wasn’t mine, femininity wasn’t mine. I resolved to my cot, my journal, and my pinkish cords. I scratched away on paper for days, dreaming of something bigger and angry at feeling trapped. Secret words on pages surrounded the lyrics of The Cranberries and glue-sticked cut-outs of Melissa Etheridge.
I wanted to punish my parents for ruining my holiday; for ruining my life. I refused to swim all week and protested the pool by wearing my heavy New England corduroys with black t-shirts instead of beach shorts or bathing suit. I said nothing but please and thank you between gritted teeth all week. I spent every last drop of energy on stubborn politeness. I barely had enough energy to walk my wretched grandmother to the beach. I had to carry her insanely heavy folding lounge chair. I dragged the metal in the sand and my pinkish cords scuffed the sand as we walked the miles of white beach to her “perfect spot on the ocean”.
Finally it was Christmas Day and the last day of our trip. We would be headed back to Maine on a Delta Airlines flight the next morning. I held my breath as we unwrapped presents. My mom still disguised her handwriting in all caps and said each gift was from SANTA, but I knew better. Again, my older brother Kenny was clueless and I maintained the Santa charade as to not burst his holiday bubble.
I picked up a small gift wrapped in red paper that had my name on it in Santa’s handwriting. I slowly untied the bow to discover a small box of shiny gold hoop earrings. I could hear my heart sink inside my chest. The stubbornness I had so fiercely maintained all week, well for years really, finally broke and I exhaled an audible breath from my body. I said: “thank you” politely for my gift. I hadn’t had my ears pierced since I was five. I hadn’t worn earrings in 6 years, not since the right ear got infected in Kindergarten.
I had given up on earrings and Santa and femininity years ago, and that Christmas I gave up on family. I went back to the pleasure of my corduroys as my brother passed out the next present excitedly. The grooves in the fabric felt sweet under in my hands and I focused intently on cleaning the dirt out from underneath my fingernails.
Ten Years later, 23 Years Old
I’m alone and standing in a small dressing room in a kitschy thrift store in Portland. The tiny room is not much bigger than a stand-up shower and the full length mirror has a brilliant gold renaissance-like frame that shines in the light. A simple click of reclamation happens behind the curtain. The fuchsia flare skirt has a delicate lace trim and I move the lace between two fingers slowly and something about it just sends me into a different dimension. The stitching looks tiny but sturdy. The pinkish fabric is soft against my thighs and I twist my hips slightly to watch the flare. The reflection looking back at me is confident, strong, queer, sexy… it’s mine; all mine.
As I take the skirt to the counter to pay its like I’m holding a secret treasure. The clerk folds it fast and sticks it into a small paper bag. It’s so much smaller than all my jeans, cargo pants, and sweatshirt hoodies; it’s strange but exciting. As I count out the cash from my wallet a pair of gold earrings in the case catch my eye. Their just simple hoops made out of hammered metal, but they sparkle in the light every time I shift my weight from one foot to the other, I feel my heart beating. They’re the same gold that surrounded the dressing room mirror that reflected back to me a new kind of queerness. A secret treasure; a Renaissance; a 2nd coming out to myself. Without thinking I quickly ask the clerk if I could have the earrings too. I exit the store with the precious gems, holding the bag close to my chest, walking down the old brick sidewalk towards home. A simple click of reclamation indeed.
Ten years later, 33 Years Old
Where has my femme gone? I thought as my five year old asks me to put on another tutu and pretend I’m a princess again. I didn’t want to. I was tired with a headache and I wanted to finish making dinner and lunches. We compromised and I put on a fascinator and pretended I was a magical kitchen fairy. In character, she began to organize her jewelry and hair accessories in rainbow order. She’s this incredibly, tiny, sparkly, femme that always appreciates the small ascetic details of life. When we sat down for dinner she immediately noticed the stitching on the table cloth and the cut flowers on the table. She’s still wearing her princess costume still, shifting in and out of character while we eat. While I offer other gender options for her, kindly nudge science toys and sports, it’s very clear that she’s confident and certain in who she is. There’s some spark innately femme in her biology, and it’s simple, beautiful.
We’re eating and I can barely stomach the roasted chicken and mac and cheese. I feel defeated, I let her watch My Little Pony while she finishes her dinner and I retire the bathroom floor with a cold compress on my face. I can feel her tiny sibling growing inside me shift around and the hormones are making me feel queasy again. Whenever someone asks if I have pregnancy intuition about gender, I say I’m hoping for a genderqueer. While I roll my feminist eyes at the pregnancy stereotypes, I can’t help but get excited about who this little person will be and how their gender will take form.
I finally slide off my pink flats that are hot from the workday and the immediate relief changes my entire body temperature. I stand and plainly see my reflection. I lean my head to one side and unclasp my gold hoop earrings, right ear and then left. While I have less energy these days to indulge in femme, it’s still always there. It’s there with simple gestures and small golden tokens, and in the mirror’s reflection. I hold the golden hoops to my chest and they calm me as I feel the small bits of metal; cool on my warm skin.