WARNING! ADULT CONTENT
I recently turned eleven. Thanks to my mother’s gentle tact, I’ve bathed by myself since the start of pubescence. Now both my sister and I have more space to splash.
I lock the door against invaders,
but the peace of security evades me.
I imagine prying eyes, spying through the frosted window,
dribbling at my prematurely curved body.
I hide my breasts and genitals beneath clean flannels
that my she-devil nipples and the wilful triangle of hair
are concealed from peeping-toms,
and also from me.
I could soak and scrub all day,
but it won’t change the way I’ve become.
It won’t make me clean.
I can never be Me again.
It’s a cruel error,
this forced, false femininity;
this stealing of self.
It’s the end of everything.
Please Lord, if indeed God you be,
let me be a boy.
Let me be me.
I want to wake up free from this monstrous body, throw off my vest and run in the fields
unencumbered by the trials of Eve, but I don’t know how to strike a deal. In my panic, it doesn’t occur to me that a boy must eventually morph into a man. Recent events have made me less sure than ever of whether I like men.
Smashing up against all of this angst and agony, is the worst secret of all, one that often creeps up on me when I see my father’s photographs, and whenever I am alone in the bath. It’s a humiliation that I try to press down, but I can’t. It thrums in time to the pulsing of my blood, a tantalising tickle way below the belt, lurking low in the belly, beneath budding flesh.
A flimsy flannel may cover up the sight of that rebellious part of me, but it cannot desensitise the site.
The beat is taking me, strumming deep inside,
I try to block advice from some devilish guide
plagueing me with vile and wicked temptation
to stroke and to probe the inner inflammation.
Apalling visions are swishing in my head
of naked women kissing in a sweat soaked bed.
I abhor the excitement which billows within,
insisting that I execute a dark, exquisite sin.
The thrills explode, but as the water grows chill,
I’m chagrined and angered by my weak lack of will.
I wallow in disgrace and I’m sure of one fact
It can’t be normal to commit such an act.
I’ve a nasty suspicion that I’m to blame,
For my father’s iniquitous act of shame,
and not only that, but the juvenile attack
is starting to feel like an earned comeback.
More ignominy awaits. My mother, with her kind sensitivity, has left it as long as is practicable, but one evening she brings the subject up, in as casual a manner as she can muster:
“When we go to town tomorrow, I’ll buy you a couple of bras.”
Heat presses against me, insinuating itself beneath my skin. My heart is hammering. I taste metal, a flavour that’s becoming familiar to me. I knew there could be no remission, but this feels like proof; the final nail, hammering into the coffin of childhood..
“I don’t… I can’t… I… All right,” I reply.
Her eyes slide in my direction, assessing the situation, then look quickly away. She knows I’ll shut shut down or hide my agony behind a mask of anger if she shows too much kindness or empathy. A brief sentence is all I’ll allow. I deal with unpleasantness in my own way. I don’t like soppy stuff, it’s for weedy girls, who burst into tears and let mum cuddle them and make it all better. My problem can’t be resolved, and expecially not in that way. I mustn’t show weakness.
If I was a weedy girl, I would probably be pleased to have reached this landmark. I no longer know what I am, but I’m not like the sissies in the village nearby, with their busty Barbies, frilly skirts, and pink hairslides.
“You’ll be more comfortable in a bra,” she murmers.
It’s evening, so I can’t run off to my world at the bottom of the field below my house, but when I go to bed I can plan how my first conversation with Paul will go. I see him, sprinting through the field towards me, his hair bouncing. In a moment I’ll reveal myself…
The next day, mum and I go into a low-key shop, a shop that’s not brazen about its bra display. I can’t look at the bras. To me, choosing one would be like selecting which type of lethal poison to take when you have no wish to kill yourself. Mum rummages around, then picks one up and asks me if I like it. I’m several feet away, trying not to look like someone who’s being bought a bra, so I mutter that it’s fine. I’m too embarrassed to try it on, so she guesses the size, gets two, and says that if they don’t fit she’ll bring them back and get a different size.
At home, I obediently go to my bedroom and try on one of the bras. It’s a horrible white pointy thing – this is 1966, and horrible white pointy things are fashionable. It feels uncomfortable, but I was expecting that. I can’t bear to look at myself, so I don’t know whether or not it fits. I take it off. I only plan to wear it for school. I go downstairs, where mum is trying to look indifferent.
“Do they fit?” she asks.
“Yeah, thanks mum, they’re lovely” I say, attempting to sound keen.
As it turns out, they don’t fit. Anywhere. I endure months of increasing itching and chafing before mum risks suggesting that I may have grown out of my first bras. We go through a slightly different routine, with a marginally less painful result. My mother, without fail, does her best for her strange, repressed boy-daughter. She has many difficulties in her life, and, however it may seem, I do my best not to be one of them, perhaps with less success than I would hope. Wanting to please me, she asks me if I like the style of my current bras. I don’t want to her to feel she’s failed in any way, so I say yes, thereby precipitating the purchase of exactly the same ugly, uncomfortable style. The fit is little better. I come to the conclusion that the mistake of my birth is worse than I thought. Not only have I inadvertantly been made into a girl, but my shape has been inaccurately designed.
Still, I think, at least this time I didn’t have to go through the discomfiture of being present when my mum bought the bras.
My father has taken to covering up his disgrace with fake jollity, adopting a hail-fellow-well-met attitude whenever I’m present. This is an in-between time in our relationship; it could go either way. He could apologise, and make whatever dumb excuse he may please. All my life he’s been a hero to me, so I’d be eager to forgive him, but in addition to being sexually driven, he is proud, arrogant, and selfish, so there’s little hope for real repair, and anyway, maybe I’m in the wrong, too. I’m the one who’s turning into a filthy monster. What he did could be partly my fault.
©Jane Paterson Basil