January 8th, 2017
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
When I was three years old, I saw my father break my mother’s ribcage. I also saw my baby sister being born. As she herself grew, Emily became everything I wasn’t- pretty, good at making friends, she just fit in so well as I struggled with interactions outside my home. I was very shy. I didn’t “click” well with other children and would prefer to spend hours or days by myself, making elaborate stories in my mind, playing chess or drawing pictures. Making friends with girls was particularly hard. Most of the friends I had growing up were boys. Emily also had the “natural compassion” that is such the calling card of femininity. When my father would pick a fight, she would try to intervene or console my mother afterward. I usually ignored it outwardly but in my mind, I reveled in it. She’s getting what she deserves, I gloated, for being so stupid, worthless, weak. She’s getting what she deserves for being a bad mother, a bad wife, a bad woman. I was small, she still had power over me. I could not name my demands, dictate the movement of others. I saw weakness in my small, female body and I was terrified of it. But on my father I projected myself. I empathized with him so strongly as if it was a prayer or protection. I thought I was so smart when I would subtly rile up my dad into anger just for the vicarious catharsis of watching his acts of violence. It was easy and such a rush. I never thought much about my own gender- I didn’t think much on being a boy or a girl. All I knew was that one day, I would grow up and be just like him.
The years passed. My father would take me to chess tournaments and he was so proud when I won. He encouraged me to do physical things, to be traditionally “masculine”. I did well in school and though I remained shy, I had some close friends. Things were going alright for me. I had friends I would play video games with, participated in the school wide game of Cops and Robbers as the only girl, but this was never really focused on, save a little teasing about being a “tomboy”. Though I was playfully teased, my behavior was much more encouraged than not. This was 5th grade, my last year of elementary school. The next year, the following things would occur: I would get my period and begin rapidly developing secondary sexual traits, my father would leave the family for a new girlfriend, and my mother would fall into a debilitating depression. It was as if the rug had been pulled from under me, leaving my entire life lying on the floor. Suddenly, my role model / surrogate self had left me with my mother and sister. Me! Was I being conflated with them? Demoted? There must have been some kind of mistake! I wasn’t like them! I wasn’t weak, feminine- I was strong! Why was I left with this broken woman who wanted me “to be the mommy”?!
To compound this, when I said I started developing, I mean puberty hit me just as hard as my father’s abandonment. As if overnight, breasts swelled, weight congregated and conspired to give me away. Suddenly, it wasn’t okay for me to play with my friends- my hideous transformation had morphed them too. In the eyes of the parents, teachers and other adults around me, while I had gone from “student” or “my child’s friend” to Girl, they were suddenly told to be very aware of the fact that they were not other kids but Boys. When a year ago our friendship was unquestioned, they were now taught to be wary of me, for I was what they were not, the Other sex. I’ll never forget being invited to play at my friend Andrew’s house. We had come to play his new computer game, the whole gang. I remember being taken outside on the terrace by his father, who had eyed me like I was a predator when I walked into the apartment. He told me, hand on my shoulder and kneeling down so that his eyes could be just above my level, that I couldn’t stay over because I was a girl and that something Bad would happen if I did. What Bad thing could have happened that wasn’t happening then?! I was never asked if I was interested in any of the kids there, I’m sure they were never asked if they saw me that way. Defeated, I walked home.
It is true that as someone born with a gender conflicting with the one I was assigned, I felt the need to “shore up” my masculine identity with toxic, hyper-masculine actions- dominance and violence to those that crossed me (or those weaker that I used as proxy punching bags). But so many cis-boys and men are also constantly seeking to prove their “manliness”. Drawing on his research and direct experience with perpetrators of violence, psychiatrist James Gilligan notes that “the basic psychological motive, or cause, of violent behavior is the wish to ward off or eliminate the feeling of shame and humiliation … and replace it with its opposite, the feeling of pride.”. Competition, posturing, treating women and girls as objects to be won, game pieces in an All-Male Race to the Top where losers are thrown into a gender limbo- failed men. I observed the transformation happen in my former-friends from afar. The only major difference I saw was that while I was in middle school, I was not accepted- my violence and loudness were not just punished, they were not tolerated.
This is the plight of boys and men everywhere. How males in our society are socialized to be stoic, always striving to be on top, rough in words and actions- this constitutes society-wide child abuse. When I was that way, I ruled my apartment- everyone was to answer to me and if they didn’t yield to MY way, they would be punished. As I felt more and more stigmatized and powerless in the outside world, I started to beat my sister and/or mother even when they were doing nothing “wrong” just so I could feel better, so I could feel in control again. But by doing so, I was hurting myself so much. My family was not my family- I could have them under my control, be the top of the hierarchy, but because of my position I could never be close to them, never expose my weaknesses or insecurities. I had to be a wall- rock solid and menacing so no one would dare to question my power. It was a life where I was on top of my sphere, and it was one of the most isolating, painful feelings of my life.