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[personal profile] garran

It's difficult to do archaeology on your own former self, like studying an ancient settlement people have continually lived on and built over. I have some memories of the people I used to be, but they're partial, selective, and already in the context of the narratives that are explanatory to me now. Things that didn't matter to me, that contradicted me, that I didn't realize, are all elided. Without external landmarks with which to orient myself -- public records, intersubjective corroboration, things I wrote down at the time -- it would be close to impossible to check or complicate these memories, but even with those things available there is so much in my relationship to them I have to guess at, what I was unable to acknowledge or articulate at the time, or just forgot.

In March of 1995, when I was 11, I left the mainstream school system, where I had been unhappy, isolated, unpopular and unmotivated, to go to Windsor House, a non-coercive democratic public school in North Vancouver. There I had a primary say in what happened to me and how I spent my time, I wasn't continually under attack (and when there was a problem I was treated sympathetically and able to participate in resolving it), and I was welcomed and included in a sizable community with a sense of humour and a culture of mutual respect. Since so much of who we are is bound up in the way others mirror us back to ourselves and the stories they tell about us, this shift of milieu transformed me, and everything else here is in the context of the relative health that made possible.

It offered, among other things, an outlet for my fannish enthusiasms. For some time before I got there, I had been reading the Dragonlance series of D&D tie-in books, but it was still a year or two before it would become thinkable for me to look for community on the internet; Windsor House was the first place where I found other people who had read or were interested in reading these novels, with whom I could enter into conversation about them, and so it was the first place it was possible for this fandom to be part of my public identity. Of the things that I can remember being a fan of at this time, Dragonlance has been the least enduring, and is now the most embarrassing. At the same time, though, it had a disproportionate impact on my future, both because I would go on to meet my best friend of the next 17 years and counting in an online forum dedicated to it, and because, some time when I was 12, I told my mom that I wanted to try growing my hair, so that I could wear it in a topknot like my favourite character, Tasslehoff Burrfoot the kender.

The kender were what Dragonlance had instead of hobbits or halflings; they're characterized by being perky, curious, friendly but socially oblivious, and kleptomaniacal. I don't think I ever explained why it was that they resonated so much with me -- I seem to have thought it was self-evident -- and so it's difficult for me now to reconstruct. Here are some guesses I can make. Kender offered a masculinity that was explicitly childlike, at a time when I still felt like a child (I wasn't much taller than they were...), but which was very different from the standard boy-masculinity that I associated with physical threat. They were irritating to everyone, as I still expected to be, but the good characters liked them anyway. They were socially eccentric. They were fundamentally kind and non-violent, and I was ashamed of the fights I still sometimes got into. It's probably also significant that I was getting used to a much more permissive social environment; a boy in my old school could not have safely grown out his hair, and on some level I was probably testing the limits of my new freedom.

In any case, it doesn't seem to have occurred to me right away that the obvious side effect of longer hair while I was still mostly pre-pubsecent would be to feminize my features. Once my hair was just long enough, I remember one day standing in front of the mirror and using an elastic band to bind it up, as best I could, at the top of my head. (Proper hairbands came later, when it was longer, and by that time I had decided I preferred a ponytail.) I was surprised to feel like I recognised not Tasslehoff, but Marle from Chrono Trigger. I could probably dress up as her pretty effectively, I thought, and there was something pleasant about the idea.

I was less pleased with the ways in which others noticed. For the years I was 13 and 14, by far most people meeting me for the first time assumed I was a girl, sometimes even in the face of being explicitly corrected. 'Andy' could be short for 'Andrea'. The regular waitress at the local Chinese restaurant made such a point of addressing me as my mother's daughter that I, too fatigued to correct her at first and too embarrassed later, avoided going in for years after my voice dropped. I got used to double takes and baffled apologies in the washroom, but I was never, that I can recall, harassed by a stranger. At Windsor House, people made uncomfortable but mostly good-natured jokes about it, and I tried not to let on that it bothered me. My instincts about my old school, however subterranean, were good ones; it was people who knew me in that context, people who still went to school with my sister, who were most hostile. If I met them on the street I would be peppered with misogynistic, homophobic, and anti-Hanson slurs. (It was the nineties.)

I felt, throughout this time, misrecognized -- felt strongly I was a boy, and the people who saw me as a girl were seeing me wrong. It's strange, then, that I wasn't tempted to retreat into a more traditionally masculine presentation; but I was stubborn. I liked my hair, and I liked the way it looked. Although it wasn't a corrective for gender dysphoria, and indeed it brought me into a less comfortable place than I had been with regard to my public gender specifically, I think that it was serving to address something about my body that I hadn't previously felt at home in. I remember some time before Windsor House -- probably I was 8, or 9 -- catching a sight of myself in a mirror and stopping, transfixed, because the person I was looking at looked (I thought) nothing like the person in my head. And I remember later, at maybe 16, when my hair was still longer but my face more pubescent and people weren't misgendering me so often, looking in the mirror and realizing not only that I did feel like I was seeing myself, but that it had been that way for a long time without my noticing the change. There are a lot of things that had changed in that time, of course, in my personal confidence, in my social milieu, in my body. But in that moment, and remembering it after, I gave special significance to and placed some potent identificatory charge in the length of my hair.

At the time when I was making these choices, I wasn't able yet to articulate what was happening to me in terms of gender identity. Later, I would encounter this notion of gender identity as something that could vary independently of sexuality, and I remember it was thunderously revelatory at the time; later still I would be close to people who experienced themselves as trans in various ways, and would encounter profound critiques of essentialism in feminist theory and in conversation with these friends and others. As these tools of language become available to me, it is tempting but baffling to try to reframe my androgynous experience in terms of them. The person I was did not have this conceptual language, and I no longer have access to what he did know. There is a narrative available that I grew my hair because on some level I realized that I could get to this place of feeling recognized and at home in my body (feeling recognized being of course a different animal from being recognized in any particular case, unless it's by oneself), even though I had to pass through this other space of gendered misrecognition in order to get there. This narrative offers one resolution to the question of why this path of presentation remained so important to me without my questioning at any point the idea that I was a masculine person, and so I think that I have at least sometimes, without considering it too closely, bought into it. But there are these hints that androgyny itself was more important to me, was more something that I was drawn to, than I have been able to describe, that it wasn't just a coincidence that kender masculinity and kender (or my own cultural) femininity are so little distinguished from one another.

In North America, Chrono Trigger was released for the Super Nintendo in August of 1995; I probably got it for my twelfth birthday. I had to look that up. My memories of experiencing the game are on an entirely different track from my memories of my life at that time, and I would have guessed I had it earlier. Because of the memory of trying on the topknot, I know it had settled into my frame of reference by the time I recognized my own outward androgyny, and I suspect I had played through most of it much earlier (I got distracted and discouraged somewhere in the endgame, and it would be years and another playthrough before I saw any of the endings). Probably by the time I had my last haircut I had already played through the point fairly early on where, storming Magus' castle, we encounter his henchman, Flea, who, after refusing to clarify their gender, delivers the line of dialogue I started this with.

I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever read.

Date: 2013-02-26 05:01 am (UTC)
brainwane: My smiling face, including a small gold bindi (Default)
From: [personal profile] brainwane
Thank you for writing and sharing this.

Date: 2013-02-27 03:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Let it be known that I have read and enjoyed and appreciate the existence of this post.


garran: (Default)
Andy H.

February 2013

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