"When Did You First Know You Were a Woman?"

I'm reading Bossypants by Tina Fey and really missing 30 Rock (though Parks and Recreation is good, too), and this question comes up when she talks about writing Mean Girls. And it seems like a lot of the answers to the question have to do with catcalls and men shouting at women, but I don't have any vivid memory of that ever happening. Maybe no one has ever catcalled at me? Or, just as likely, I wasn't paying attention and/or assumed they were shouting at someone else.

So when I thought about this question, I really had to cast my mind back, and the summer of 1989 sprang up almost immediately. I was 13 and in love with Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever and Don Henley's The End of the Innocence. Seems very apropos in retrospect.

Two years before, we'd moved from Georgetown to Lewisville [Texas]. But two of my best friends were still in Georgetown, and I got permission to spend a month down there—two weeks at Emily's, two weeks at Tara's. We went and saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade over and over again, making ourselves sick on hot dogs and Nerds and oversized dill pickles.

Now, Emily is the same age as me, but she was always the more mature one, interested in boys long before I was. But Tara, who is like a sister to me, is four years younger. She and I lived right next door to one another and spent every possible minute together. I was as comfortable in her house as I was my own, and her little brother, when asked who I was, would often answer, "That's just Mandy. She's like my other sister."

This is important because of what happened. I was staying with Tara and her family, and though I was 13 and physically mature, Tara (who was 9) and I were still playing silly kid games. We would play Indiana Jones, and I would be Indy and have to rescue her and so on. We had a game in which the entire goal was to avoid being kissed by the evil Fish Lips. Kid stuff. I was brilliant but a late bloomer in the socio-emotional sense. (Not uncommon for Asperger's, I believe.)

Tara's dad had a friend who would come over. His name was Mike. I didn't think much of it, but after a while I became aware Mike looked at me a lot, in a way that made me uncomfortable, though I wasn't sure why. Then Mike quit coming to visit. And I found out later Tara's dad had given him a thrashing because of some things Mike had said about me. Inappropriate things.

Not long after, my dad's friend Jim came to visit us up in Lewisville. I'd known Jim since I was itty bitty and thought nothing of sitting on his lap, same as I always had. But one day my mom took me aside and told me I couldn't sit on Jim's lap any more. She didn't elaborate, and it took some mulling on my part to understand why.

Putting two and two together, I began to realize I had become interesting to men. That the bodily changes I took for granted were drawing attention. And for reasons I'd rather not go into, I thought this was the worst thing in the world.

I attacked the problem in a variety of ways. 1. I started wearing my dad's t-shirts. They were huge on me and covered everything up. I also started wearing men's hiking boots for some reason; I'm not sure what that was about. 2. I grew a curtain of hair to hide behind. 3. I quit eating. And no one could tell because I became skilled at pushing things around on my plate to make it look like I had eaten, and I had huge clothes on anyway.

Basically, I was trying to disappear in every way possible.

I didn't know that at the time, of course, but looking back it's pretty clear.

So, yeah, that's when I knew I was a woman. And I fought it for as long as I could. Which is probably why I didn't date much in high school. (I had two boyfriends, both very safe church boys.) At some point, I gave in. Cute dresses could no longer be foresworn or something.

Oh, but Tina Fey does also mention buying a white denim suit, and it reminded me of something similar in my life. I was at the mall with a couple friends, and I found a white v-neck sweater at . . . I dunno, Lerner New York & Co, I think it was. It was displayed with all these brightly colored turtlenecks, and my friend Christopher said, "Amanda, you have to buy it. That would look great on you." And flattered that Christopher could be bothered to even think about what might look great on me . . . And also mollified by the fact the sweater was massive and would cover all the things . . . I bought it and a cobalt blue turtle neck. And I wore them as often as Texas weather allowed.

1 comment:

Chemist Ken said...

Sounds a bit like my 14 year old daughter. She wasn't too pleased when she started showing signs of womanhood.