Monday, April 25, 2011


If your parents named you after the hero from one of the greatest children's fantasy epics of the 20th century, don't you think they would have showed you the movie so you could learn why you have such an unusual name? If you're old enough to memorize hip-hop songs about sex and drugs, then you're mature enough to appreciate the awesomeness of The NeverEnding Story.
But most importantly, if your parents meant to pay homage to this classic, don't you think they would have spelled the name correctly?

Gender Police

Today was unaccountably distressing for me. On the one hand, they're just kids and they know not what they do. But on the other hand, kids say out loud what (most) adults have learned to keep to themselves. 
Last night I had a late-night DIY haircut accident. I forgot to put a guard on my clippers and ended up taking a chunk out of my fro, and the only way that I could fix it was by buzzing my hair into a more severe version of my usual high-top fade. The back and sides of my hair are now at about 1/16th of an inch long instead of the usual 1/8th or 1/4, which doesn't sound like much of a difference, but I have learned by experience the following rule of female barbering: Thou shalt not show a woman's scalp.
Anyway. My happily half-shorn self strolls down the hall to greet my first-grade students for the day, and what do I hear? Over the usual giggles and whispers that I've come to expect as a genderqueer adult in a primary school setting, some boy snarls, "Bald-headed freak!" So as I'm unlocking the classroom door, I turn in the direction of this ugly slur and say thanks before ushering my kids in the room. Then again as I'm taking my students to the bathroom, I hear the same boy's voice saying "bald-headed freak" again, just as loudly, but I can't be sure exactly who is verbally assaulting me like this, and of course no one will tell me, so I let it go. I'm learning that a mean-spirited, ignorant child is a problem that no substitute teacher is equipped to deal with, so I pity him and wish him the best and let it go. Then again on the way back from lunch, he snarled the same thing at me, and this time his teacher heard it, although she couldn't figure out who said it either. She lined the suspects up outside her classroom and gave them a stern talking-to in which she emphasized that I was a guest in their school, an adult, and a teacher, and for those reasons I deserve respect; she also gave them the old line that if you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything at all. Then she sent a gracious emissary (one of her prettiest, best-behaved girls) to apologize to me on behalf of whoever was so disrespectful to me, which kind of made everything all right with me because it showed that this teacher had my back and that not all of these kids are brutish little animals. But I wish I could have made those moments teachable: I wish I could have explained that I am a woman with short hair, but that that doesn't make me a freak; that everyone has the right to have as much or as little hair on their head as they like; and that you should keep your mouth shut if your parents didn't raise you to have any sense of respect or decency; etc.
But a part of me was just so angry at the fact that I am always surrounded by gender policing, and that I still haven't figured out a way to deal with it. I can't style my hair or put on clothes without someone commenting on my (in)ability to conform to gender norms. It tires me. I find myself thinking more and more of what it would be like to go butch: to let go of the unnecessary feminine fetters and trappings I still carry around, like make-up, purses, and uncomfortable shoes. It might be easier for myself and others if I could present as a visual "fuck you" to the gender binary, since my own daily shifting between slightly feminine to slightly masculine of center is so confusing to others.
Just a thought.