I don’t remember the moment that I learned that I was a girl. I don’t remember being told by my parents that I was to wear pink and be pretty. I don’t remember feeling sad or glad when I learned that I was different to the boys or that the boys were different to me.
I don’t remember these moments because they never took place. I do remember, however, my first pair of pretty shoes. They were gold pumps. My sister and I got matching pairs. There is a picture of us standing on our veranda, gold pumps, skinny brown legs, shorts, t-shirts and big white smiles.
I remember being told that these shoes were for special occasions. I remember my first two dresses. The one was a handmade Indian silk dress with intricate beadwork and elaborate threaded detail, the second was made by my aunt, again my sister and I had matching dresses. Again, we were told that these dresses were for special occasions.
For me, special occasions have always basically meant, no tree climbing, cartwheeling, puddle jumping, wrestling or racing. For me, dresses and pretty shoes have always meant restriction in some way, shape or form.
The other day, while cutting my mom’s hair, I thanked her for raising children, not girls – whatever that means or doesn’t mean. I don’t have brothers, so I don’t know what raising a boy looks like, but I can guess that my parents would have raised a son exactly the same way that my sister and I were raised.
I remember being 18 years old and being told, in front of a room full of high schoolers that I had to go to finishing school to learn how to become a lady. My teacher was horrified by the way I sat with my legs open at my school desk. I was wearing jeans and nothing could be seen, but still, she was horrified, disgusted and chose to highlight my so-called masculinity in front of the whole class, embarrassing me.
The first time I put on a pair of heels was at age 21. I wore them for a dance piece that I was performing in as a performance art student. My mother never wore heels or make-up. These things were foreign to me. My mother did not own a raiser and was heartbroken when at age 13, I shaved my beautiful, young legs because a friend told me to do so in order to get a boyfriend.
Wanting a boyfriend is what I was told and expected to want. I remember a sleepover that I hosted at my house. It was all girls, I must have been 10 or 11-years-old at the time. I remember wanting to kiss one of the girls at the sleepover and learning, very fast, from her reaction and the shocked faces of our friends, that this was not normal. Girls kissed boys, and boys kissed girls, nothing else.
I did not even know what heteronormativity was until 2016. I had not needed that word because my upbringing had been such that it included everyone and made sure to allow for anything new. I was lucky. I suppose when society sees you as abnormal, anything abnormal is pretty easy to see as normal.
Our society has fashioned little He’s and She’s who don’t know how to truly answer the question, “What do you, want?” Most He’s might answer, “I want a wife, sex, respect and money.” Most She’s might answer, “I want a husband, children, beauty and security.” These are stereotypes of an illustration of reality. This is heteronormativity at its most basic form (the way I understand it).
We have not been encouraged to open our minds to ideas outside of what is taught. Heterosexual relationships, expectations, judgements and goals are what we base and create our dreams and wants around. We are so well conditioned that even in our search for freedom we use the methods conditioned in us to get there. Yellow room for a gender neutral child, really? Is this freedom?
I can only hope to be a parent like my parents were and raise a child like a child, and allow them to see and experience the world in shades other than pink or blue or yellow. I have always loved men and women and never really felt like that was something to be discussed. As I get older and society starts to reinforce the walls of the boxes that have been built around me, I find it important to let people know that you can’t live your life without asking what people want, what you want and most importantly, “Why we want what we want?”
My answer: “I want what I want because life is long and beautiful and why settle for anything less than your perfect truth?”