Looking Back in Disbelief

a reading for
word is out @ midsumma 2002
melbourne's GLBT arts & cultural festival
Sponsored by Hares and Hyenas

session: Rapid Fire - Looking Back, Looking Forward
Seven writers 21 and under join five other writers in 12 six minute readings around the theme of looking back, looking forward
Saturday 26 Jan 2002
The New Ballroom, Trades Hall


Even though I'm now 50 I'd like to point out that I'm the sort of person who does a lot more looking to forward than looking back. But I did choose to look back for this reading. And when I did take a look back I found it surprising what I dredged up.

Looking back in Disbelief

You won't believe this. But when I was a child everyone told me I was a boy. ... Unbelievable isn't it!

They called me a boy's name. They cut my hair short and dressed me in pants. I didn't understand why they picked me.
- slugs and snails and puppy dog's tails -
I really knew I wasn't slugs and snails and puppy dog's tails. I knew I was sugar and spice and all things nice. I mean just look at me! I mean really! How could they?

I remember I was standing by the gully trap doing something important with a bucket of water when I dropped THE faux pas of my then short life. It was Port Melbourne 1958 and I was seven.

<< When I grow up to be a lady, I'm going to ...>>

<< No no. Boys grow up to be men. >>

<< Why? >>

<< Because. >>

<< Why because? >>

<< BECAUSE!! >>

I quickly realised this wasn't an argument I was going to win, even though I knew I was right and she was wrong. Adults think they know everything. But I was shocked how adamant she was. "Boys grow up to be men" No! It can't be! I thought they were just being mean to me telling me that I was a boy. But then to also insist that I'd grow up to be a man. This is insane! cruel! What am I going to do?

I knew there was no point arguing. She was determined. I need to thinking time.

That was the day I it occured to me that sometimes it might be better to not share your deepest thoughts with everyone. The day I learnt to be silent. The start of my loss of integrity.

It occured to me that they'd better if I pretended I was a boy, one day to be a man.

... one day to be a man?!! At seven I knew I had no future.

The everyone-will-like-me script seemed easy at first. ... just tell them what they want to hear.

<< ... yes, I'm a boy. >>

<< ... yes, I'm a good boy. >>

I was distracted by our move from Port Melbourne to the brand new suburb of Broadmeadows. We were moving up in the world. But I had this nagging doubt about this gender thing. My dad showed me which way I had to walk to Glenroy to get to my new school (at 2.1 km it gave me plenty of thinking/dreaming time). Boys become men and girls become women? Yes but why is someone a boy or a girl in the first place. I could grow my hair long and have it in plaits and green ribbons if they didn't keep cutting it.

Sister Cecilia has a class of 56 grade threes. I'm quite. I'm passive. A pretty young nun with too many wild grade threes all demanding attention, she hardly notices me. She rarely talks to me.

But I make a mistake. It's a rainy day. I'm bored with the main road to school. I decide to take my usual short cut through the paddock. But they've started the road works for what will become Keith St. I've committed to this route now. I'm not going back and around. I climb down the slope into the quagmire. My new boring boy's shoes with buckles come off in the sticky mud. I slip and get muddy socks. I try to lift my foot. My sock sticks in the mud. I pull it out and get muddy feet. I get through the mud and up the slope on the other side, put my muddy shoes on my muddy socks on my muddy feet. I arrive very late for school. Sister Cecilia makes me take off my muddy shoes and seeing I'm still muddy she makes me take off my muddy socks and then she sends me out to wash my muddy legs. Grade three laughs at me. Sister Cecilia looks sad.

I've learnt a lesson. Don't be noticed. Be quiet. Be passive. Look normal and no one will notice me. No one will know I'm a sissy girl.

Sister Cecilia talked and struggled to keep the 56 grade threes in rein.

I lost all focus. What's the point. I can't be who I am. What's the point. At eight I see no future. I just go through the motions.

I sat at the back of the class and dreamed. I liked my I-am-a-girl dream so much that I sat and dreamed it and dreamed it again and again and again whenever I could.

I felt good dreaming.

Sister Cecilia told me to get my books out. I did. I did some sums. I dreamed.

Spelling is stupid. I like stories.

I did the least school work I could to keep out of trouble and get the most dreaming time.

Playtime and lunch time were the most gendered times. We had separate playgrounds for boys and girls. The girls played on the asphalt in the quadrangle between Widford St, the old school, the new school and the shelter shed. The boys played in the dirt and long grass beyond the shelter shed.

One day a week I played on the edge of the girls playground. I was allowed in the girls yard if I was throwing rubbish in the incinerator. So I ran around like a manic tornado collecting rubbish and with Colin's help we lifted the heavy metal door and threw in the rubbish. And being a responsible rubbish collector I waited by the incinerator for my rubbish to burn and watched the girls play girls' games. Some of the teachers on yard duty were starting to worry that I might be a pyromanic. I wonder why Colin liked collecting rubbish.

One day a week I played with the boys. Colin didn't join me playing fights and British Bulldog and football and watching the builders. The boys picked on Colin but they didn't pick on me. I always ran with the small gang. We were out numbered 4 or 5 to 1. We gallantly defended our small mound of builders rubble. The non-spoken agreement was that we would always stand just beyond where our opponents would throw rocks towards us. We knew that if there were real injuries the teachers would stop us playing fights. Being the smaller gang we invariably lost our mound of builders rubble. And being the smallest in the small gang the bigger boys in my gang would always be gallant and protect me from the members of the large gang. I liked this feeling of being protected.

But for three days a week I chose to be alone. The boys yard was huge. It was easy to find a quite spot. I might start by watching the builders building the new two story school. But I'd always end up dreaming. Dreaming was the thing I enjoyed the most ... dreaming my secret dreams ... my warm happy secret dreams ... I had my favorite every-one-now-recognises-I'm-a-girl dreams and dreamt them over and over. I never became sick of them. They improved with each telling. They became my best friends, friends who could always cheer me up.

Sister Cecilia said I was a dreamer. My mother said I was a dreamer. But no one knew my secret dreams. I felt strong. None of these adults in my life knew my secret dreams.

But of course it was a Catholic school and I soon learnt to feel guilty about my secret dreams. But that's a different story.

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Contact Julie at julie@natasha.ironbark.id.au
© Copyright Julie Peters 2002