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As I move through the school my footsteps echo in the corridor with the iconic clickety-clack cadence of heels on tiling. I, a female instructor and student of femininity, am in that Wonderland age between twelve and thirteen (thank you E pill), where They say everything is off-limits and, therefore,I say, everything is worth exploring. ::If I wear my hair like this, how will people perceive me?:: ::My make-up looks especially good today and I coördinated my outfit well:: ::Today I feel fake and queer (that is unusual); why do I feel like a fraud today? How can I change my presentation to avoid this feeling?::
As I walk to my next meeting, a female student joins me. Though I don’t recognize her (she isn’t one of mine), she and I have a lot in common. Our bodies are changing as we sit on the cusp of womanhood, that bizarre middle ground where radioactive hormones bombard us like mutation promoting Gama rays, misinterpretation cues our social signals, a moods torture us with oscillations between euphoric highs, drama-laced lows, and tearful frustrations. (Yes, I know you can only oscillate between two things, that’s another oddity of Wonderland.) If I told this girl, who is growing up in a world twenty years and two thousand miles from my own experiences, that I cried for five minutes on Saturday because I couldn’t find my black flats with the sparkly toes (the ones that went great with the outfit I was wearing) would she understand? I believe she would; just as she and any other woman can understand the fear and humiliation I felt when a crusty, dirt-caked man followed me around the mall and offered to “allow” me the “pleasure” of giving him a blow job. There is a new bond forged between her and I. A new bond drawn from an ancient well of common experience. A well or perhaps just an impossibly deep hole leading somewhere as equally strange and delightful as I.
I have fallen down the rabbit hole and am navigating between who I was and who I am and who I might be. This Wonderland of emotions, physicality, relational breakdowns and creations. All mixed with a colorful cast of supportive, un-supportive, hostile, zealously approving, and indifferent characters. And this girl beside me surely counts as one of these characters. She is African-American, wears her hair flat-iron straight, and has two blonde strips of weave dangling from the place where her bangs fade into the hair about her temple. She is a unique sight—almost as queer as I am. This rebel without a purpose says to me, Miss Ell-ah, I’m glad you is a woman. You make a much better woman than a guy.
I thank her, which becomes a signal for her to continue, And you, like, fine with your make-up and nails. You know how’a do it right. And besides boys is stupid. Why would you ever wanna be one?
Preach it, Sister! Girls rule; let’s burn our bras then do our nails just so we confuse the shit out of the men who love us. And I can hold tea and no tea simultaneously in this beautifully befuddled borderland.
My meeting is with the staff counselor. Just a little check in and an opportunity to find out how to exert some control over this new-found well of emotions—drink deep draughts without falling in. She laughs. You’re a woman now, she says, you’re going to cry . . . a lot. But there’s something that helps.
A stiff drink. Just do it at home, not here. She smiles then hugs me. This is also a new thing: physical contact. I was never much for it, but now I find myself wanting a hug or a hand on my arm and, curiouser and curiouser, wanting to give others a reassuring hug or to place my hand on theirs when we talk to show understanding, to share comfort.
On the way back to my classroom, I encounter a female colleague in the hall. As a member of Gender M this woman never spoke to me, but while walking along side “Miss Caitlin” she starts up a conversation. We talk of inconsequentials as we walk to our rooms and are soon helloed by another woman, who joins our conversation by pointing out how easy it is to call me Miss. The first colleague agrees, As a man I would never have talked to you. You were dark and not friendly looking.
The second instructor agrees, You are so much more approachable as a woman. I like you a lot better this way. You should have done this a long time ago.
And you are always dressed so nice, the first one adds.
Yes, says the second. I’d love to go shopping sometime.
This touches me, moves me nearly to tears. ::Not now, my waterproof mascara will surely run.:: Being so readily embraced by these women is an honor. And, yet, it’s sad that it took a gender switch for these women to view me as approachable and to feel like they not only could, but also that they wanted to talk with me. And the feelings and acceptance become particularly peculiar when balanced against the boy who said, Dude, you ugly. Or the male colleague who is no longer able to look at me without laughing. Or another male colleague who said to me, You are currently Song in a wig. (Though sans wig).
I don’t say these things to point names and name fingers nor do I say them to make anyone feel bad. Rather, The contrast between views strikes me as important. One side of the mushroom makes me feminine and the other side makes me queer and, like Alice, I need to eat a little from the left hand and a little from the right until I find the correct combination to combine my past, present, and future selves into a complete woman with whom I am comfortable and I can recognize as myself.