My world has always been pink. Whether by social program or by personal choice, until marriage, my world was pink. Not Steel Magnolias pink, but every shade of girlie pink, mixed with yellows and peach. Yep. My childhood was a MaiTai, and not the fun one.
Living baby tender love taught me to nurture. Barbie taught me fashion and an unrealistic body image. My family taught me to be a lady. I can still walk with a book on my head, and know, not only how to set a five course table, but which fork to use. I extend my pinkie when holding a cup of tea, and play a mean game of croquet.
My skateboard was a yellow banana, and the one year I was given a set of hot wheels, they were promptly put to the back in favor of the doll house and it’s fully stocked kitchen.
I was also taught that ladies are seen and not heard, and that our purpose is to keep our men happy at whatever cost is required. I saw the female role models in my life being powerful outside of the home, and lose their voice the moment a male came into the room. It wasn’t done consciously. In fact, I was told to embrace my voice and never doubt myself. Yet, what I saw was a carefully orchestrated ballet with the male dancer, motionless at the center, and the women in constant frenetic movement to keep the dance alive. I carried this into both my parenting and my marriage, and am only just learning that my days as a prima ballerina are over.
As I get older, I desperately want to identify with the crone – that woman who is wise and centered, can offer stability and exist at a point of spiritual apex. I want the rich hues of color in my pallet that I envision when I think of depth of character and soul. I am not there yet. There are moments where I feel like I really have a handle on it. Those are the moments when I’m not thinking about it, and have a random conversation with a younger woman and they remark about my perspective. “You’re like the mother tree in Pocahontas,” one girl told me. I wasn’t sure if it was a commentary on my words or my wrinkles, but I think it was a compliment. Most of the time I remind myself of an squirrel, running around tending to my various stashes – my marriage, my son, my job, my dissertation, my hobbies and my second job, all the while realizing that for every task I complete there will be two more to follow, winter is coming and I can never be well enough prepared. My mother calls it, “EBNE Syndrome.” Excellent, but not enough. I think it’s a gender thing. Maybe it’s a personality thing. It’s definitely a ME thing. It’s a ME thing that I’m working on.
Then, there’s men. I suppose I still consider my own gender identity relative to the men in my life. My first best friend was Guy. He lived next door, and I loved his company.
He loved my Barbies more than I did. This should have been a clue, but I was five. He was, however, the first in a long string of gay men who became my loves, my friends, and my safe place. I suppose because I was sexualized quite early, these gay men were a place of refuge. On the flip side, my high school peer group was the brass section of the marching band, and their friends. I love men. I love their company, how straightforward they are, and how I much power one woman can have in a group of men! I embraced it, and I think it aided in my healing and finding a bit of personal power. I could be myself with these men, and not worry about the gossip, back stabbing and jealousy that I experienced with my female cohort. I had my first true love with a young man from this group, and there are ten of us who are still good friends 30 years later.
I can’t talk about gender identify without addressing the issue of sexuality. It’s something that I struggle with. I was an early entry into the world of “me too,” so carry the all too familiar scar tissue. My family didn’t do a great job of teaching me about sexuality. It was sort of a don’t ask, don’t tell situation. I turned 18 and kind of lost my mind. I learned that my body could be a well guarded weapon.
As long as I remained in control, I had power. I used that power. A lot. Looking back, I am blessed by the Goddess that I didn’t get hurt, pregnant or any range of STDs. I don’t have any shame around it now, though. It was the only way I had of healing, and finding a modicum of control over my own universe. I remember my mother once attempting to counsel me about relationships. She observed that I had a tipping point, and once a man got too close, I ran as far as I could in the other direction. She wasn’t incorrect. It was a survival technique, and it served me well. In my life, the only time I have been emotionally or physically eviscerated was when I let loose the reigns of that control, and trusted it to the hands of someone else. Which, ironically took me straight back to the beginning, where the lessons were to be pretty, quiet and compliant. The behavior in childhood was molding. The behavior in adulthood nearly killed me.
So, here I sit. A 53 year old woman, who paints her walls dark red, drives a 1961 Chevy Impala that looks just like a Hot wheel, and is learning to say no. Like I said, I’m not there yet, but at least I know where I want to be – a rich rainbow of color, with a dash of pink!