I have a celebrity wife problem. As in, every time I crush on a male celebrity, I discover his wife is even hotter and more accomplished, and then wind up in this weird feeback loop with my gender presentation and my bizarreo Pride-and-Prejudice-with-different-dresses childhood (p.s. in this Jane Austen scenario, I’m Mary. In case you’ve forgotten, she’s the ugly one whose name you can’t remember).
So I was educated a certain way, to have a certain life — of heteronormativity, of wealth, of female endurance, and of utter accomplishment (although generally of the in-service-to-others-while-standing-in-a-shadow sort. Bonus points for helping to create the shadow).
And to be clear I don’t have and was never ever going to have that life. Like most everyone these days, I totally live paycheck-to-paycheck and not all the Latin classes and ballroom dancing of my childhood is ever going to change that. That doesn’t keep me from missing the fantasy though, from feeling as if I have always been in exile, even if the adult reality of my childhood upbringing would have strangled me dead.
But one thing that always made that exile both less relevant and easier to bear is my queerness, and, often, my masculine of center gender identity. Which seems perhaps a strange thing to say when I’ve been growing my hair out and wearing makeup every day.
Because my whole life, people have asked me if I’m a dude. It actually happens more when my hair is long, when I wear makeup. I don’t know if it’s because my femininity when I’ve got it going on is so performative, or if it’s just my willingness to take up space.
Basically I’m a person who often looks like a dude when she’s trying to look like a chick, and often looks like a chick when she’s trying to look like a dude. Are you confused? Sure. But try being me, at eight years old, when the other parents asked my mother how she got their son into the all-girls school we couldn’t afford. Please note, I’m an only child, assigned female at birth; there was no son.
At any rate. Being able to be both a boy and a girl has been — as an adult — one of the great blessings of my life. It’s an incredible amount of fun being me. And anything I’ve ever wanted in a man or a woman I’ve generally been able to find in myself. This has, in turn, lessened my sense of exile incredibly (if I am not just a girl, I do not just have to wait about to be chosen). It has salved me when I have felt like a failure.
Practically, through the years, what this has looked like to people outside myself is that I go through phases as said in that derogatory sense often leveled at the changeable. But we all go through phases — seriously, go look at what you were wearing in the ’90s; I’ll wait — and we all change a lot during our lives. Some of us more than others. But one luxury I do have now is to embrace it.
So, lately, I’ve been on this very feminine kick. And for that you can blame two things — celebrity wives and writing romance novels. In fact, I exist now in a world where it is often my job to consider and objectify men; hence those crushes and their lovely wives.
Yet the men I write are often less men I desire, and more men I am
In fact, Erin and I have a book coming out in March 2017 and I know my ex is going to see himself in one of the characters and it’s like, dude, no…no… that’s about me. I’m that guy. I’m Callum. Trust me.
So the outcome of writing down the men I am in these books is that I suddenly have all this room to be the women I am, or at least was raised to be. Just without the budget or the assistance or the rewards of even approaching the perfection all women — regardless of resources — are supposed to be striving for.
It’s kind of weird.
It sort of sucks.
And if I think about it too hard I become furious. At the rigged, unwinnable game; at how far women’s equality hasn’t come; at my recent collusion in it. And at the inescapable black hole pull of it all. Do you know I actually got a beauty-related spam the other day about how curly girls like me should straighten and then re-curl their hair so they can look well-maintained and on-point?
Thankfully, I have my limits.
But lately I do wear eye shadow. I have perfume (Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb by day, Tom Ford Black Orchid by night. Not because you care, but because I needed to share the absurdity with you).
And I have realized than I am, actually, strikingly beautiful in all the too much of my face and my sadly-shaped eyes. I am that very creature of pride and endurance, elegance and sorrow, I was raised to be. But I am at least my own. And it brings me a lot of joy.
Except when it doesn’t.
Because unfortunately, this recent experience of being a girl means I have also become terrified of aging, am legitimately losing my mind over a dental appointment I have on Monday, and find myself in the middle of confronting for the first time in decades all the women I will never be.
My eyes may have a natural sadness to their shape, but I also have a natural melancholy to my soul.
Meanwhile, I scroll through my Instagram account, comparing the true but heavily-curated version of my life presented therein with those of all the celebrity wives I follow (and let’s reiterate, I don’t envy them their men, just their support staff, their relation to the world, and all their seeming surety).
I suspect, more often than not, that we cry about the same things. And so, as I keep trying to figure out how to be a girl, I often wonder if any of them have ever been boys — the way I was at 8 and at 28. In that wondering, my exile from the gendered obstacle course of my childhood feels less pronounced.
But of course, that’s the funny thing about exile. The cure and the disease are so often the same.