Every year I grow older, I reflect on who I am in comparison to who I was. There was a difference in my appearance and I wondered what would happen if I reverted to a teenage version of myself. Plans don’t always go the way we want, however.
Passing the Marley Station Mall, I remembered how I used to spend time there as a kid. People used to look at me as though I was a freak. Their eyes traveled from my steel-toed combat boots, to my baggy, boy pants, up to my oversized hoodie. They would focus on my hair, shaggy, raven black, and short; and look into my eyes. It was disgust that I believed people felt when they looked at me.
I didn’t like dressing as a girl. It made me feel weak, my father’s view of femininity. I absorbed his perspective, that girls aren’t supposed to…, or girls can’t be heroes. I didn’t want to be that kind of girl.
I didn’t want to be too feminine or too girly. I did not want to be someone whom others underestimated.
Though I’ve changed since then, I wondered about the parts of my personality that I hid. What would it be like to act and dress like a boy again?
I turned back and entered the mall, starting at a beauty store where I picked out a black, shaggy wig. The woman working in the wig section helped me try it on. When she touched my hair, she said, “You’re so cute! How old are you? Why do you want to wear a wig and hide your beautiful hair?”
She didn’t believe I was in college. She thought I was a freshman in high school.
I grinned, complimented her back, and explained my experiment. Though I was more accepted by people, I was just as lost and alone as I ever was.
Next, I stopped at Macy’s and bought a few dark shirts from the men’s section along with a black, jean jacket. I thought that the jacket looked cool, it wasn’t just for the experiment.
I cut the bangs of the wig when I got home. It felt amazing as I put the wig and clothes on. I wasn’t afraid or nervous like I usually was. Appearing more like a man made me feel the confidence I never did when I dressed like a woman.
As a girl dressed like a boy, I thought others would take me more seriously. When I dressed in pink, I was harassed. It was as though others thought of me as a bimbo or even a slut. I had become a child in their eyes or available to the men I passed on the street. I would subdue my voice and force myself into a role that I rejected.
I waited for my dad to see the new me. He usually spent a lot of time shut up in his room doing work. I waited in the kitchen for him to come downstairs. My heart pounded as I heard him slowly make his way down the steps. He smiled at me when he entered the kitchen, “Good morning.”
I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t sting a bit. I thought that being a boy would make him love me and see me as the strong person I wanted to be. It was a suffocating reminder that my dad has never truly looked at me. I pretended I didn’t care. I usually did that with situations that ignited intense emotions.
Years ago, people would come up to me to try to see if I was a guy. I remembered walking past a mother and a child when I heard the child ask, “Mommy, is that a boy or a girl?” I don’t remember the mother’s response because I ran out of the store, embarrassed. Another time, I went into the women’s restroom and an older woman screamed at me. It was comical and saddening.
This time, no one cast a second glance in my direction as I walked through a grocery store. No one looked pissed or disgusted. All I got were casual, happy smiles. I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had changed.
I was glad that people had become more open-minded, but I wanted to piss them off.
The next day, everything went downhill. I woke up, put on the wig, and dressed in green flannel with dark jeans. Along with my confidence being amplified with my attire, I began to behave the way I used to as a kid; carelessness of others’ feelings. My stride had more confidence and I said whatever I felt like saying. I cursed more with no filter; a side of me that I hadn’t shown to any of my college friends. My friend, Sara, the only one who knew about my experiment, was a little bit more than shocked when she saw me that morning in class. She was surprised not just at my appearance, but at the way I started talking and the things I said.
I have always had a morbid sense of humor and have laughed at things that weren’t funny. For example, when the closest person I had to a grandfather died (my godmother’s
father), I laughed at his funeral. I was eight years old and I was hurting so much inside. But I laughed as hard as it hurt.
I said mean things to Sara and I was rude. I didn’t think Sara would take it seriously, but she did. Kyle, another friend, whom I told about my experiment before I recited hurtful jokes to him, also took it badly. I thought that both he and Sara would understand that everything I said was just me stepping into a character. But I ended up hurting both of them.
I told them not to take anything I said seriously, that it wasn’t real. What was the big deal? Wouldn’t they do the same? Or was it because they weren’t used to sweet, pink-clad me acting so aggressively? Did they not like this other me; the one I kept hidden? Or was I really out of line?
What I did know was that in the two days I conducted the experiment, I was in crisis. Simply dressing the way I used to, made me revert back into the person I rejected. I didn’t know who I was. Was I a girl who liked dressing in pastel colors, shy and anxiety-ridden, or was I someone who cursed a lot, was mean, violent, and didn’t give a damn about anyone else?
Acting like a boy gave me strength and acting like a girl made me weak. I struggled with what I’d learned about being female, containing my violent nature, and hiding my snarkiness. Of my two sides, one subdued and the other free, which was stronger? Which one was really me and which was an act?
If I’m being completely honest, I’m terrified of myself. All it took was two days and an experiment I thought was clever. I hate that I hurt my friends. But I’m also afraid that if others know what’s inside me, they’ll see how twisted I am. I’ll be alone again.
I took off the wig and loosened my hair. I felt like crying. I didn’t hear a word in the class in which I sat. My experiment had failed. I apologized to my friends, but they still seemed bothered. I tried explaining my weird identity crisis, but I didn’t think anyone understood. They said they didn’t care, but their eyes said something else.
It bothered me. I apologized a second time to Kyle but he did not respond. Reverting to my old self brought back hatred, anger, sadness, and loneliness. Who was I? Did I truly like being a girl? Or did I feel like I had to rebel?
After class that day, my friend, Ash consoled me. I hadn’t known him as long as the others, yet he’d quickly become like a big brother to me. I trusted him. He knew something was wrong when he saw my face, so he took me on a long walk around campus. I told him everything even though I hated people knowing about my private life.
Of all my friends, he was the most understanding.
Ash said, “The most important thing is that you changed your behavior to stop yourself from hurting the people you care about. You’re a good person who’s just been through a lot.”
Thanks to Ash, I understood a bit more about myself. There were still many questions, but hopefully, I would answer them in the future. Being worried about hurting the people with whom I was close made me a good person. Sara and Kyle were still my friends, but I was afraid of doing something wrong again. Maybe I would be able to piece together who I was without hurting the people I cherish.
The experiment may have gone badly, but it forced me to try to figure out how to completely accept myself. To try to just be me.
© Amanda Martin
Amanda Martin is a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This is her first published work.