My sister once told me how when she was pregnant, my mother hoped I would be a boy so that “the other boy would have someone to play with.” It never occurred to her that we might be completely opposite in temperament, that I might not want to play with my older brother. A picture taken when I must have been a toddler shows him pushing me down a slide on our swing set while I screamed and cried for him to stop. They didn’t rescue me, they took a picture to laugh at in later years; laugh at one of the many ways my brother violently forced me into something I was not ready for and didn’t want. Sadly, I was “played with” sexually by both my mother and older brother; which played no small part in the sexism and homophobia that she wielded against me my entire life.
She always just called us “the boys” as if we had no individuality, no separate concerns, needs, feelings, or identities. Often times she would accidentally call us by the wrong name, or combine our names together into one mishmash. I recall overhearing her say “boys are different” as the reason why she didn’t bother to even ask me if I wanted to see my grandmother a last time before she died (while her, my sister and female cousin all were taken to the hospital.) But yes, each boy is different from the next, and it shouldn’t be assumed that we are all the same and/or don’t have emotions. I remember overhearing my father talking to her about their marriage and how they didn’t do things together anymore, to which she responded by laughing at and brushing him off saying, “only women are supposed to care about that!” Then later she would complain to me he didn’t hold her when she cried; as if he was supposed to care about her feelings when she didn’t bother with his.
I remember the boys on the playground would say things to each other like, “I’d never hit a girl,” but they had no problem with hitting me or other scapegoat-boys. What such directives taught to children are blind to is the fact that if adults, if teachers and parents didn’t hit children but respected their rights and feelings instead, then children wouldn’t feel a need to hit each other at all. I recall my sister said to me when I was twenty years old that “violence comes from testosterone.” I wanted to ask her, what about our mother’s rampant violence; when she would slap, beat us with objects, pull our hair? What about, indeed, my sister’s own violence when she hit me or my brother and started so many fist-fights as a teenager, something I never did. But she felt entitled to label a substance in my body violent while painting herself as an innocent and ignoring the realities of both our childhood and the world. My sister was also fond of insulting and deriding any male who she felt spent too much time on his hair or clothes, but tried to say she wasn’t homophobic.
My mother was obsessed with football, she would spend much of the season getting drunk and screaming at the tv screen; moments which I absolutely loathed. But she felt that her children existed to fulfill her own interests, and while my brother played football at school, that wasn’t enough for her. I had played soccer until fourth grade, back when my sister was around to encourage me, pick me up from practice, come to my games. When she was gone, my mother began to pressure, harass me during drunken dinner monologues to try out for the football team. I hated football, and I didn’t want to play any sport where boys would tackle and hurt me, so there was no way. She kept telling me things like “you’re built for it,” which made me sick and encouraged me to hate my body. I have broad shoulders, but that doesn’t mean I was “built” to engage in a lethargic game that damages the brains of it’s players.
When I was twelve years old, I had been given in-school-suspension for some trivial act, which was termed “fix-it,” as if locking children in little cells to stare at a wall really solves problems. My mother went on and on about it during dinner, saying there should be some punishment. When I told her that fix-it was punishment enough, she responded in a perverse tone “Well, you don’t seem fixed to me!” “Fixed” she meant as in like when a dog is spayed or neutered. I stared down at the dinner table hearing this sexually intrusive comment; my mother knew I wasn’t “fixed,” because she had raped me by climbing on top of one of my involuntary erections not long before. I have to wonder if some of the denial she later expressed of my homosexuality was in fact sexual jealousy, if she saw it as my proclaiming that I didn’t want her. But from an early age, my mother would make derisive comments about the gay barbers, shop attendants, or other people we would come across. Her cousin was openly gay and in a long-term relationship, which she had so much respect for that she told us they were simply roommates.
When I was fourteen, I once unknowingly cut my toenails slightly too short, leaving no white tip. My sister saw, and strongly rebuked me, saying that I put myself at risk for an ingrown toenail. When it happened, she came back to say ‘I told you so’ with a malice in her voice, which turned out to be the final word on the matter. Every day at least one of my big toes would leak blood and pus, I had to walk with pain and a partial limp, but no one took me to a doctor. There was always money for my parents to load up on alcohol, marijuana, and cigarettes, but I was left alone with my feet for two years before we saw the podiatrist. When the surgery wasn’t successful on my right toe, it was another year before I was taken back.
The doctor commented, after giving me six injections in my big toe that he had never seen anyone take the needle so well. My mother beamed in response that “my sons are tough!” She was happy that I was inured to pain, so used to “taking it” that I just turned away, dissociated, didn’t move or cry out when I was being hurt. She was proud that I had been so abused that I could ignore my body and it’s natural instincts, separate from my emotions and just let anything happen. I was seventeen years old, and this was one of the ugliest words she could call me. She was sick. The word ‘tough’ to me always seemed to be this deluded facade that males were forced to put on, serving no beneficial purpose to themselves.
My mother tried to force me later that year to become employed as a stock person in the warehouse of a local store that would have involved heavy lifting. When I tried to tell her that I don’t have the strength to do that (and never will), not to mention the unlikelihood of my fitting in among “the guys” as she put it, she responded to me with the ignorant phrase “well, you are a big strong man.” She continued saying this to me until I finally screamed at her to stop. Her denial, her blindness, her unwillingness to accept me and who I am as opposed to whatever flippant gender stereotypes she had in her head simply knew no limits. She consciously decided again and again not to take on any new, specific information about who I am as a person, but continued to rely on these insulting assumptions, even after I told her I’m gay. She saw me as nothing more than an object for her desires, interests, and prejudices.
“You’re supposed to be a man!” my mother screamed at me many times in many different wordings. But I didn’t and could not today care less what “men” are supposed to do or not do, I see that as an artificial construct created by society. I’m just myself, now or when I was sixteen or six years old; I see no need to mark some huge difference, and I don’t care about the old forms. I see that boys grow up being subjected to an epidemic of physical and emotional abuse that causes many of the traits people wrongly presented as ‘natural.’ Often it begins when a newborn boy is taken from his mother and his genitals are mutilated in a painful, traumatic, and pointless cosmetic surgery carried out because the adults feel that his organs are ‘unclean.’ That was not done to me, but I have a lot of compassion for fellow children not accepted for they who are from the very beginning of life.