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Defying the gender binary at age 3, before I understood it.

July 5, 2010

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about how queer I was during my youth, how I had no idea about it, and how I haven’t changed much. It really does fascinate me because I just never had the resources to put my gender expression into context and as a result, for about 10 years, I just decided that I was a weirdo.

From time to time I remember bits from my childhood. I was hilariously queer.

A few weeks ago I told my girl this one story from when I was 3 or 4. We were walking home from Noe Valley and she laughed for at least two blocks without stopping. And truly, I didn’t realize how funny (and telling) it was until she reacted like that.

I had a lot of Play-Doh as a kid. These days I don’t think kids get enough arts and crafts in their lives. My parents were totally opposed to TV and movies, though they bought a computer when I was 5 or 6. I also have an older brother, so a lot of the toys I had were his from a few years prior — lots of Legos, trains, race cars — which I think my parents liked to refer to when they couldn’t figure out why I was not quintessentially feminine during those formative years. Or they could tell early on that I was a big homo but preferred to ignore it. I think I’m guilty of that ignorance, as well.

Anyway, I had some Play-Doh. I can still remember how it smells when you peel off the plastic cap. One can was red and the other was kinda off white, and both were fresh and soft and brand new. So clean, no lint or smaller dried up pieces stuck anywhere. It was a lot like when you open a new jar of peanut butter and can’t bear to watch as you destroy the smooth layer on top. But I went for it anyway. I mixed the two colors together creating a marbley red and white cylinder. Maybe you already know where this is going. Back and forth I went, rolling it between my hands to make it really long and thin, then balling it all back up to start over. Finally I settled on the right width (girth, if you will) and length, and I held it up, marveling at my statue. As I remember it, this phallus was at least the size of my forearm but in reality it was probably no more than like 4 inches. So proud of it, I sauntered down the hall and into the living room where my parents were on the couch watching a nature documentary. I held it exactly where it belonged, centered between my legs, perfectly on display and with both hands wrapped around, and showed my parents. I even pushed my pelvis out in a completely inappropriate and exaggerated stance. It was perfect!

They were so totally not okay with it. The looks on their faces went from confusion to complete disapproval, and I detected it just as fast as their expressions switched. “Inappropriate” is the one word that I remember my mom used when she demanded that I go back to my room and never. do. that. again.

Naturally, I was crushed. I worked so hard to make it my own. It was my penis and what business was it of theirs to tell me not to have it? The logic of a 3 or 4 year-old. I had no idea it was a bad thing. And it wasn’t a bad thing by any means! I was so proud of it, and how could I not be? It was so big!

This is one of very few clear memories I have from that age, so it was certainly a monumental occasion. It likely affected me in more ways than just that immediate moment, but I don’t recall specifically referring to the event later on while deliberating the complexities of my own gender. I do have a lot of other examples of gender defiance as a pre-teen, but during my adolescence I made some really serious efforts to mask those gender “inconsistencies” in hopes that they would stay buried. And I’m so glad it all resurfaced.

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