You said in a comment on your book that Cinderella Boy was based on your story. Can you tell me what you mean? Like did that stuff happen to you or did you mean a romantic story?
*cue the music from Princess Bride*
Alright kids, settle in…Let Anti-Kris (what my niece calls me) tell
you a story…It’s a story of love, of adventure, of personal discovery…It might be long, but I hope it will be worth it.
I’ve known for much of my life that I was not “normal”. When I was a little girl, I hated when people called me a girl, and little boys on the playground often like to say “You are a girl”, to exclude or to discuss, either way. Any time someone said it to me, I felt a kind of rage. When I was five, I told my my mother I never wanted to wear a dress again, and when she tried to put me in one for picture day, I threw such a tantrum that she had to buy me off with ice cream. She never made me wear a dress again.
I had my first crush in first grade, and it was on a girl named Tara. I thought Tara was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. She had these turquoise eyes and this soft curly hair in a bob. She had freckles. Freckles for fuck’s sake. And she was tiny and sweet and she smiled at me in an amazing way, and held my hand when we went on Girl Scout trips. In our innocence we did not know what it was, just that it felt wonderful and huge and completely incomprehensible. She told me “I wish you were a boy, so I could kiss you.” And all I remember thinking is, “Why does that matter?” I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach, because if she needed me to be a boy, it meant I’d never get to kiss her.
A few weeks later she
left the troop and told me her mother didn’t want us to be friends
anymore. Several years later, in sixth grade, I was on a volleyball
team, and we traveled to a game nearby. I saw Tara with some of her
friends and nearly died. I smiled and waved to her. She gave me a
dirty look and walked away. I never knew why. I have my ideas. They all feature social conditioning by her mother…
I was picked on a lot as a kid. I read a lot of books, really mature books. I read “Johnathan Livingston Seagull” when I was four. Crack it open some time. See what that shit is about. I read “Interview with the Vampire” at six. Didn’t really like it, because I found the Christian ideology forced and unnecessary to the narrative. Read all the Sherlock Holmes books by 8. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, I felt caged, because whenever I’d try to tell the kids around me that it was fine to be gay, or straight, or whatever I was, any time I made a case for those who were different based on my reading, they would make fun of me for my evidence. Books and knowledge were evil, and I was evil for knowing things they didn’t. For having reached conclusions that did not make sense to them, for identifying as something I couldn’t quite name, I was tormented. If I tried to be masculine, I was beaten up by boys. When I tried to be feminine I was teased to the point of tears by the girls. One of my neighbors, who was popular, came to my house one day with her sister and asked me if I wanted to go on a bike ride. I said yes, because…friends! They helped me cross a plank bridge over a canal. Then they left me there, with my training wheels stuck in the dirt. I had to throw my bike into the canal, wade into it, drag the bike across, and up the soft landslide on the other side. When I came home, I was covered in mud and disgusting muck from the top of my head to the bottom of my bare feet (my shoes stuck in the canal and I couldn’t pull the bike up the other side, So I took them off, thinking any moment, I could die.) and my mother flew into a rage. She walked to the neighbor’s house and confronted the parents. Demanded to know why they had done such a mean and dangerous thing. I never found out the answer. When my mother came back she said she didn’t want to repeat the filth they had said. I intimated it had something to do with me as a person, and so knew that there must be something very wrong with me.
I didn’t talk about myself with anyone after that.
When I was ten, we were involved in a major traffic accident. A drunk woman in a Volkswagen was exiting a parking lot, turning left, while fastening her seat belt. She misjudged her turn, jumped the center divider, and slammed into us head on. My sister wasn’t wearing a seat belt. She flew into the dash. The entire front end of our van was flattened, and the slug bug was like one of those cars you see in semi pileups. As our car rolled past, I looked out the window and saw the entire front of it had been ripped away. The driver was on the opposite side of her car, covered from head to toe in blood. I don’t remember much except screaming “She’s dead! We killed her!” My sister was so badly hurt that my mother had to accompany her in the ambulance. I couldn’t fit. My mother left me in the garden department at Walmart, our car smoking in front of the door. The staff took me inside, sat me at one of the patio furniture displays, gave me some gum. A man came up to me and saw I was shaking. He took off his flannel shirt (this was during the beginning of “Grunge”) and gave it to me to wear. I just remember thinking, “This shirt is soft. I’m very cold. I like this man.” And he sat with me until my mother’s boyfriend could escape work and come pick me up.
That flannel became like a good luck charm for me.
The insurance settlement was for $12,000. It was enough to put a down payment on a house in the city, rather than our farm out in the country. When I found out we were moving from that shitty place, with all its shitty religious white asshole fuckwads, I was so happy, I thought I would die. I told my mother I didn’t want to be “that kid” anymore. I was going to be the kid I wanted to be. I don’t think she knew what I meant, but i told her. I bought baggy jeans, workman’s boots, more flannel shirts. I bought long sleeves and a sports bra and felt amazing. I went to the new school, which had an honors program, unlike my old school, and I told myself I was going to stand my ground and declare myself. I wasn’t sure what I would declare, but god damnit, I was me, and I wasn’t going to be anything but me.
Luckily, what I was, fit nicely into the new group. On the very first day, I made friends. People asked me questions. I told them about my life up to that point, about being picked on, about being mocked, but nothing about how I felt about me. After I finished talking, the two boys I was sitting with said, “You need to meet Ben. You’d like Ben. He’s not here today.”
“Is he sick?”
“No, he skips days to go to college.”
“Yeah, he’s like a genius or something.”
And I thought………. “I have good luck with intelligent people. The smarter they are, the easier they accept me. Maybe I do need to know this kid.”
He appeared two days later. I met him in art class, because it turned out I was at his table. When I met him, it was like the first time I had ever found a boy attractive. Not in the “Ohhhhh damn he’s hawt” way that other people seem to feel, but in the “Wow, he is really smart, and his personality is kicking, and omg he has something behind his eyes that I love.” It was the first time I met someone I felt like I could talk to, not because he was a genius or anything, but because he was smart enough in the right ways.
We dated for a week after knowing each other for a few months, but he dumped me because he “didn’t like my friends” which to me was really weird, because we had all the same friends. But I’ll get back to that.
He vanished a few weeks after dumping me and never came back. One of our friends said he’d gone to college full time. I was really disappointed. Felt like I had been abandoned or missed out on something amazing. But oh well, that’s life.
I was reasonably popular in Junior High, and High school was even better. I had the AP classes and the NJROTC and I was in a bunch of clubs. I had a group of friends and a niche and things to do that allowed me to sort of be in the middle in a way that worked, even if I didn’t tell everyone what I was. But it wasn’t all fun and games.
My mom was married to a conservative minister who is an amazing guy, but at the time was not so down with “alternative lifestyles”, so I was still hostage in my own house. I wasn’t on speaking terms with my biological dad, and had lots of tough feelings with regards to that. And in freshman year, just as I got the lay of the land and found my place…I got sick and lost my eyesight. I’m not going to talk about that here, because I have in a previous post, but it is important to mention, and you’ll see why soon.
When I was 16, I went to a Renaissance fair in my town; it’s kind of a big deal there. I remember wondering if I’d see Ben. I was looking for him, because he was so much a fan of it. I had had a few boyfriends and secret girlfriends since he and I met, but I just didn’t really click with them. I was dating a really amazing boy named Billy, who was really smart, but I still didn’t feel myself with him. Not completely. And we’d been together in a comfortable way for almost two years. Then there was Ben, standing in front of me.
He said, “Hi Kris!”
And I said…”Ben?” Because remember…I’m blind and can’t really see him anymore. Plus he was taller. We talked for a bit. I was kind of stunned I’d actually bumped into him.
Two days later, I got a phone call. It was Ben.
“How did you get my phone number?”
“I never forgot it.”
We talked and talked. I told him about my eyes and how sick I had been. I told him about the problems I was having at home - not about how caged I felt, because I had never told Ben about my sexuality or identity. I still didn’t even have words for that and was deeply ashamed of it. Instead, I framed it all as religious oppression of my personality or my atheism or whatever. I broke up with my boyfriend and we started dating. I’m not gonna lie, it was not great. Ben was a genius, he was dynamic and charismatic, and forceful and arrogant, and a complete jerk when he wanted to be. He wasn’t very grounded, and there was something weird about the way we interacted; I couldn’t quite explain it, but it seemed like he constantly misunderstood me. I’d make an offhand comment about something and suddenly, he’d go silent. I felt like maybe he was seeing my secret. I got defensive. We started bickering, and we broke up.
Then he dated my best friend.
So…I was kind
of annoyed. But really, I still thought it had a lot to do with me. I
knew I hadn’t been completely honest with him. I hadn’t told him about
how I felt inside because I was sure it was bad, or weird. I was pretty
sure that if he knew I didn’t feel like I was a girl, he’d mock me or
something and I couldn’t handle it. I just couldn’t take that from
someone I thought of as kind of a kindred spirit. I knew he wouldn’t
love me. How could he? I didn’t love me very much.
I didn’t date anyone else for the rest of high school. I told myself that when I could get out of my house (a not so great environment) I would again become the person I wanted to be and stand my ground, and it would only get better.
I feel like I need to talk a little bit about my home life. I want to make it clear that I get along fine with all my parents now, as they’ve learned and evolved because of the honesty we’ve embraced with each other, but it’s important. My biological dad was a cop and he was also very abusive in a specific way. I was terrified of him. He was the one always saying things about how “Ladies don’t climb trees” but at the same time, he’d always wanted a son, and so I was taught to shoot and climb. It was very contradictory and it scared me. He was also angry all the time and believed in physical punishment. My step dad was a very serious minister. At the time he had some very constrained beliefs about sexuality. Very negative prejudices that he wasn’t shy about vocalizing. He was kind to gay people, but there was definite disgust there and the certainty that gayness was a sin and could be corrected. When I was getting ready to fill out college applications, we were talking about it, and he said “You’re going to go to college and come home with a hole in your face.” He meant a nose piercing, because I’d always wanted one and he forbid it. I said “Oh yeah, dad, I’m gonna dye my hair blue and become a lesbian.” It was ironic, because actually those were my first plans - to dye my hair blue and join the Queer Student Union. He stopped in his tracks and looked me in the face. I will never forget his voice when he said, “If you did that, I’d be very disappointed in you.”
How could I tell him that I’d already had girlfriends? How could I be honest with him or trust him after that?
night we got a phone call close to 9pm, which was our hard line for
phone calls from friends. It was a boy I knew. He wanted to talk to me and
said it was an emergency. He was crying. I took the phone into my room.
He told me he wanted to kill himself. He didn’t know what he was going
to do. His mother was a devout catholic and he knew she would hate him
forever. I asked why. I mean why would your own mother hate you? But I could imagine…because well…if my mom knew about me, she’d probably hate me. He
changed the subject. Said he wanted to ask me questions. He gave me like,
this survey. What would you do if a friend of yours was a, or b or
c…or gay? I told him I didn’t care. He told me he was gay.
wanted to kill himself because he was gay and he thought his mother
would hate him. The person who made him. The person who brought him into this world, just as he is. He wanted to die, because she wouldn’t love him.
I was like…..wow. I didn’t know what else to do. I had to let him know that he wasn’t alone. I broke my code. I told him some of my secrets, about some of the girls I knew, how I didn’t feel quite right. I told him anything I could think of so that I wouldn’t be hanging up on his life. My mom stuck her head in and told me to get off the phone. I told her it was an emergency. She asked what could possibly be so important. I told her my friend (I didn’t give his name) was telling me he wanted to kill himself because he is gay. I thought it would shut her up. She stared at me.
“Tell him you’re very sorry, but you don’t condone his lifestyle and hang up.”
No. No I will not hang up. No I will not. NO.
No I will not let you tell me that you hate me because of what I am.
There wasn’t anywhere for people like us to go. Our
high school gay club had very strict instructions. We weren’t allowed
many of the other privileges. We couldn’t have trips. We couldn’t have
school resources because we were on the same level as the “Pray around
the flag pole” people. And yes…our administration banned gay couples
from junior prom. Namely my friend who was a lesbian. Senior prom they
were told they weren’t allowed to dance together or take pictures
together. It was a tiny kerfuffle, because no one gave a shit. The only
kids who cared were people like me, and in those days, it wasn’t the talking point it is now. There wasn’t as much awareness. Queer was still a slur.
There was a boy who was out, a couple years older than me. His name was David. He was a Junior when I was a freshman. He was treated so badly…people calling him names, people spreading all sorts of rumors about him - that he was a gay prostitute, that he was on drugs, that he had AIDS. It was horrifying. I hated it. I hated hiding and feeling unsafe. I really couldn’t take it.
day, in a home ec class, of all places, I was being sort of sexually
harassed by an older kid, someone who was popular and a jock. I told him
I was not interested, and I would rather date a woman. He was so surprised
that he looked like he was going to vomit. And from there on out I was
harassed in a different way - asked all kinds of questions about what I
liked about girls, what I would do with them, if I minded being called
a “Taco muncher”.
Yeah, I fucking minded, but how could I tell him that? If being a “taco muncher” made me a good anomaly rather than a bad one…if it made me amusing instead of the subject of disgusting slander like the bullshit David endured…I didn’t have a choice. I had to take it.
But I couldn’t take it. One day I nearly knifed this kid. I just exploded at him. I told him that if he made one more fucking comment about my sexuality, I was going to cut off his pecker. I told him I wasn’t a joke. Who I am is not a clown that exists for his amusement. I am not a fucking taco muncher. I like girls, I like guys, I like whatever the fuck I like. I’m not a girl, I’m not a boy. I’m me.
I think I really made an impression. He apologized and never made fun of me or asked me another question.
Anyway, I went to college. I got a hole in my face. I dyed my hair blue. I dated a girl. I joined the Queer Student Union. I did gay things. I went to gay parties. I dressed in black. I listened to loud music. I rebelled in all the best ways, taking care of myself and being responsible, because rebellion wasn’t about doing everything the opposite of the way my parents raised me…it was about being myself for the first time.
Ben and I had another go of it my sophomore year. It was even weirder than the first time, because I felt so awkward trying to be the person I was at college around this kid who’d known my since i was 11. I didn’t know how to talk to him. He told me that whole breaking up with my in Junior High because he “didn’t like my friends” thing was bullshit. He told me that all the times we’d had awkward moments as kids were because he was just trying really hard to figure me out and that he didn’t feel like his upbringing had prepared him to meet me or understand me. He told me he left junior high because of me. That somehow I’d made it clear to him that he needed to stop wasting his time, and just go for it.
That was flattering, but what “it” was, didn’t quite make sense to me.
It didn’t work. I was still too scared. He seemed to like me with an intensity I could not quite deal with because..what if he found out? What if while we were making out I told him I didn’t want to be submissive? What if i told him I like girls? What then?
I went abroad. Living in England, I made a friend named Jaime. She was so fucking cool, like a queer ally of the most laid back sort. On Valentines day, Jaime, my friend Nick, and I were the only ones without dates. We got hella drunk and sat in my dorm room talking about shit. I was so messed up I finally just let fly. I told both of them all the things I’d been wanting to tell someone, that I’d come to think about myself. I talked about all the new things I was hearing people say, like “transgender” “gender fluid”, all that stuff. And then I brought up Ben.
“I never told him. It was the best and most honest relationship I’ve ever had, with the coolest person and like the most potential, and I never fucking told him about this shit. I just let it fail.”
Jaime was sitting on my floor and staring up at me. “Why the fuck?”
“I was too scared! Like what if he hated me? What if he said it was gross?”
“Do you think it’s gross?”
“No. I think it’s me.”
“You said he likes you. So why wouldn’t he like that too?”
“I don’t know Jaime! We grew up in a shitty town and he was a weird kid and I felt like nothing between us made any fucking sense.”
“But you like him?”
“I like……what he promised to be.”
“Don’t you want to know what that ended up being?”
Nick was a quiet kid, a total cis/hetero male, but in the best possible way: kind, friendly, gentle, and just a fun dude to hang with. Never made me or Jaime uncomfortable.
He made a face. “Can I just say…I’ve been listening to all this, and I don’t get anything of what you feel, but that’s fine. You’re you. And I think whatever makes you you is awesome, even if I can’t even imagine ever feeling that way. Like I love girls. I get why other people like girls. They’re fucking fit. So whatever. And if you’re not a girl, or a boy, or whatever…that’s really complicated, and seems like it would be really hard for you, but I’m your friend, and I’d want you to be safe and stuff. What I mean is, if he likes you and you’re his friend, he would feel the same. I mean, maybe he doesn’t love you for it, but that’s fine. If you don’t fit you don’t fit.”
Jamie nodded. “But you can’t judge him till you give him a chance. If you like him enough to try being with him again, then you need to tell him and see what kind of person he is.”
They worked on me for hours.
Finally, I made a decision. I wrote a blog post…yeah, blogs existed
back then, for about three years, anyway. I wrote out an entire
confession of who I am in my gender identity (we didn’t have those words
then) and my sexuality. I posted it and I sent a link for it to Ben.
He called me the next day.
I asked him if he read the post and if that was why he was calling. He said yes. He told me to go to the book store, and to buy a book called Imajica, by Clive Barker. He told me to read it and to look for Gentle and Pie’oh’pah. So I did. And I read the book. And I called him back.
Pie’oh’pah is a genderless being, an alien. I can’t
really talk about them at all, because it spoils the plot, but Gentle is
a main character, a man’s man sort, who ends up becoming completely
entwined with Pie’oh’pah. Their romance is the core of the book.
Ben told me that if I was Pie’oh’pah, then he didn’t care. If I wanted to become a man, or stay a female, or whatever, he didn’t care. We wracked up hundreds in phone bills because the free calling stuff didn’t really exist back then. But the main takeaway was this comment:
“If we got married…and you became a man…We could have the marriage license embedded in a ceramic sword…and cut off the heads of the conservative assholes who get in our way.”
Yeah…I like this guy. And it’s a double win, because we happen to be genetically compatible in the creation of children. He’s got the boy bits. I have the girl bits. We made a baby. She’s fucking rad.
But there’s more. When this conversation happened, I was a Junior in college. Ben was already into his doctorate. In genetics. Because he wanted to fix my eyes. And hey…that’s how it had to be done. So he changed his focus. Without telling me. Without me even knowing.
See, he was as scared of me as I was of him. He
was just terrified of me, because I was to him, what he was to me - that one
person who gets it, and who might see the truth and that is fucking
scary - so he ran away.
It hasn’t all been perfect. We’re both very big people and we both have ambition. We still bicker, but we do it differently. We know each other. All those things we have been through, we know. He doesn’t confine me. He let’s me dress how I want. He thinks I’m sexy when I feel sexy. I think his brain is hot.
What is the point of all of this?
Love is not one thing in one form, like a heart-shaped cookie. It is a super faceted and amazing thing, and it changes depending upon the light that hits it, or how it’s framed. Love is having someone who knows you completely and is totally down with that. They don’t confine you. They want you to be the best you. They want you to succeed however you feel is a healthy success. They’re not competing with you. They’re pushing you to keep moving. Sex is just a thing that happens if you want it to, but it has to make you feel comfortable and strong. Romance is that amazing feeling when you know that person with you wants you to be there, wants to know what you’re thinking, always, and cares about what you care about, because you care about it. There are so many things my husband loves that I don’t really seek out on my own, but I enjoy them through him, and I’m better for it.
Sometimes you get lucky, but luck is just a door opening. You have to have the self-awareness, the fortitude, and the ownership to walk through that door. If that door opens…walk through. And if you part ways, part ways. It isn’t a waste of your time. It teaches you who you are. It helps you find something slightly better for you, the next time around. And if you meet someone special, who sticks in your craw and won’t be budged, don’t let that go. Figure it out. Solve the puzzle. The puzzle of you, the puzzle of them. The puzzle of the two of you as a unit.
On the surface, Ben and I look like your typical young cis couple. I’m a girl, he’s a boy. We have a daughter. I mean, I have weird hair as a general rule, but meh…But Ben loves fashion and perfume. He loves shoes and art. He has discerning taste. He listens to the poppiest pop music you have ever heard. He does all the cooking. Me? I have power tools and big boots and I wear a leather jacket. I cuss, I shit-talk. I drink beer and whiskey and he drinks white wine (and yes it makes me fucking angry when my waiter brings me the wine and him the beer). I teach my daughter how to climb trees. He buys her pretty dresses. He reads every word I write and cries like a baby. I edit all his grants and tell him to speak up for himself. He knows what my eyes are doing instinctively and doesn’t need to be asked to read me a menu. I know about the things that enrage him and hold his hand when he’s furious.
You can have that. You can find that. No matter who you are or what form that takes. It will hurt. Everything hurts. If it hurts, it means you care about it, and if you care about it, it’s worth doing. Be strong. Stand your ground. Be you. The person who will love you will love you, not that thing you pretend to be.
That is what Cinderella Boy was meant to be. Me celebrating that. And yes, Carter is Ben, or who Ben would have been if he’d gone to High School. He’s a Kirk. I’m a Picard. Well… I’m like a Picard-Sisco hybrid.
It’s never simple.