Gendered Memory

CW: gender dysphoria, coarse language, LGBT slurs

Image caption: a shoulders-to-knees view of a person with a white tote bag with an abstract pattern behind it.

 

You know that game? That memory game where you go around the circle and say what you brought to the beach, each person adding more items each time. “A towel; a towel and a ball; a towel, a ball and some sunscreen.” They used to do that shit on Playschool when I was a kid. I liked it because I had a good memory back then, and every item told a story.

When I was in primary school, I told the kids on the bus to call me Jack. They laughed at me and I thought I knew why, but none of us had the words for it.  In those days I would run around our garden with a slingshot and wooden sword, feeling blissfully unaware that anything was different about me. As far as I was concerned, I was a fantastic kid. The doubts crept in, as they so often seem to, with the beginning of high school. As soon as I knew the concept, I felt that I was an effeminate man. Like, a campy gay dude. This worried me. This still worries me.

Yesterday I was walking aimlessly around the Canberra Centre with a bag of shopping, feeling uncomfortable every time someone walked past and looked down at my unshaven legs. I felt invisible and very in the spotlight all at once. I played that memory game in my head.

I’d gone to Big W and I’d bought a pair of men’s board-shorts.

They were hanging on the rack in lots of colours. I looked around surreptitiously, but nobody cared that I was standing next to this display of incredibly tempting men’s swimwear. They were out of the smaller sizes — I needed an XS but all they had was medium. I got it anyway.

I’d gone to Big W and I’d bought a pair of men’s board-shorts and an XS sports bra.

I wore both items as a complete ensemble to Dickson pool. I felt the best I’d felt around water for a long time. I had a beachy necklace and tousled long hair — maybe I could look like a beachy guy. My girlfriend said it was “very eighties lifesaver”; I felt seen. I suddenly had an image of myself with a tanned and muscly chest, maybe even a shifty-looking blond goatee. I felt uncomfortable again. The bra bound my chest tightly and the elastic cut into my skin. I had mixed feelings about it, but wasn’t that why I’d bought it in the first place?

I’d gone to Big W and I’d bought a pair of men’s board-shorts, an XS sports bra and a packet of men’s briefs.

The undies had a dick pouch. They looked dumb on my body, my hips. I wanted to cry; I still fight the urge to throw them away. My parents are visiting soon, coming to stay with me, so I’m going to need to hide them. Mum once said to me that she never thought I was “like that …” and she had “never got those vibes from me.” I better wear a dress and some lippy when she comes.

Words are dangerous, because I don’t really know who or what I am. I’m just a person who went to the Big W men’s section and then cried about it. I don’t know what you want me to say.