By Mariah Cruz
I never played with dolls. Okay, I did, but not in the typical way that girls play with Barbies or boys play with robots. I did have a Barbie, but she never went on dates or wore dresses or had tea parties or went shopping. I had a G.I. Joe action figure, but he never saw combat, went on a secret mission, fired a gun, or fought anyone.
Mostly, my dolls piled into Barbie’s convertible sports car and got pushed around on the rug in the den, sometimes stopping to drink a special soda (an upside down “Lite Brite” peg) or watch a movie at the drive-in (i.e., the TV). My dolls never aspired to anything. They never wanted families or careers. The motley crew was okay as is, even offering a welcome to the strays from my plastic cowboy/Indian playset or the bright green pet-shop turtle escaping its palm-tree-clad bowl.
Mismatched, rag tag, some of this and some of that. It’s how I’ve always rolled.
All the kids in my neighborhood played together each night. There was an open field in the middle of the back streets just perfect for the evening game of kick the can, wiffleball, or tag. I’ve always loved sports and, though not much of an athlete, was down for whatever game was on tap that night. One evening when my neighbor, Flint, took a pee break in the outfield (for some reason we were both playing right field) and pulled out his small, bald penis, he said “Don’t you wish you had one of these so you could be more like a boy?”
Hmmm. Why would I want to be more like a boy? And what would I do with a penis? I rode a boy’s bike and didn’t need a penis to do that. I read my cousin’s Boys’ Life magazine every time I went over to his house. Again, no penis needed. I wore pants all the time, played sports, built model cars, and basically did the stuff that most nine-year-old boys did, all without a penis.
A penis seemed like extra baggage and I’m a minimalist at heart.
Like most kids growing up in the 1970s, I was a huge fan of The Partridge Family TV show. Like millions of preteen girls, I had a huge crush on the show’s star David Cassidy. But I also had dreams at night and in those drams, I was having sex with Laurie Partridge, the teenaged girl character on the show. And I was doing it with my very own dick.
These drams never emerged during the day, especially not in my David Cassidy poster-infested bedroom, but at night, that’s when this dick-possessing side of myself would come out. I found the dreams to be most confusing. While I didn’t mind being a girl, there wasn’t anything about becoming a woman that interested me. I didn’t want to be a mom. I didn’t want to have a husband. I hated shopping. I didn’t want to do any of the things I saw women doing.
Being a man wasn’t something I had ever considered. Plus, I would make a lousy man. I’m not competitive. I can’t watch sports for hours on end. I would hate having facial hair. And I would really hate having to be around other men most of the time.
So I didn’t want to be a man or a woman. Was there another option?
And what about my dream dick?
In my prepubescent astral wanderings, it seemed natural and logical to be able to pick up a piece when you needed it and put it down when you didn’t without it becoming a part of your identity. Being able to move fluently between, among, and within non-gendered spaces is most comfortable for me. I’ve never wanted to be male or female if it also meant being on board with the long train of associated gender characteristics. I’ve always felt freest, and most me, when I’m neither/nor instead of either/or.
I remain anatomically female, but I identify most with something that hasn’t been defined yet and perhaps never will be. Just like Third Space theory offers a fresh way to look at space, so too, I feel the need for more ways to look at gender.
Clothes shopping has always been a nightmare for me. I’m not attracted to the square shapes, dark colors, and plainness of the men’s department or the willowy, billowy, wraps, scarves, and florals of the women’s department. High heels and clunky boots are equally distasteful to me. Maybe if I was more comfortable with nudity my problem would be solved, but as it is, flannel shirts, corduroy pants, tight sweaters, and minimalist footwear will have to do. “Tomboy femme” is a label I can live with in regard to finding something to wear.
I remember always feeling jealous of boys. They had strong, athletic bodies which seemed very practical and handy to me. My preteen self couldn’t imagine what I’d do with breasts. It seemed like they’d always be in the way of something. And I was certain I’d never be feeding a baby with them. My adult self, however, really likes breasts, both on myself and on other women.
Boys had “buddies.” They got to work on cars, lift weights in the basement, and build stuff. Exactly what I wanted to be doing! Instead, I was stuck in the teenage hell of being with other girls who were waiting around for guys to call (this was before texting), shopping for clothes, talking about prom dresses, and babysitting. Horrid!
Thank goodness I survived those years even though I’m still trapped on occasion by chatter about children, grandchildren, husbands, and pets. It’s a lot easier to escape now than it was as a teen.
I wanted the kind of freedom and camaraderie that guys had. I wanted to be free from the expectation that I was supposed to live my life around children and men.
I wanted male privilege without having to be a man. I wanted all of the assets — such as women being interested in me just because — without any of the dude, the bro, or the dick. Especially not the dick.
Mariah Cruz lives and bikes in Portland, OR.