When junior high came along everything changed. Instead of knowing everyone at school like I had since the third grade, there were new people, new teachers, new students. My two best friends from elementary school moved away that summer and the first month of junior high there was a steep learning curve in humiliation and assimilation. I was laughed at because new and substitute teachers thought I was a boy. If someone wanted to hurt me, humiliate me they knew exactly what to say- my weakness was all too visible. Time to let the hair grow, learn to wear make-up, buy more feminine clothing, get a boyfriend, and learn to be a girl.
I stumbled through middle school trying to learn all the things that came naturally to other girls while still thinking I could be my boy self on the inside. Only a few opportunities were left where it was ok for me to be "more masculine". Shop class was one of them. I had an excellent teacher who didn't really bat an eyelash when I was the only girl in his eighth grade industrial education class. I wanted to learn all the things a father would teach his son and this was the next best thing. I learned about power tools, soldering, how to use a lathe, a router, a planer, a table saw, and how to develop BW film and prints. I learned about craftsmanship and took pride in my work. I think I learned to be a bit of a perfectionist. I wasn't afraid of the power tools and I never had any accidents. The guys in the class never gave me any trouble, never gave me a hard time, never thought there was a reason for me not to be there.
It was hard for me to try to learn to be a creature I never understood. It was as easy as learning to live as a giraffe or a lemur. What the hell did I know about being a girl except everything I was doing wrong? I hated playing sports ever since my breasts filled in. I was (and still am) so self conscious about them. I hated trying buy a bra or go into any room where I had to change with other girls and be reminded of how unhappy I was, how awkward it was to feel like there was a big joke that I had been given this body.
Jr. High was also the time when I got my period. In seventh grade gym class. As if the horrifying things happening to my body weren't bad enough. Now I had to get bloated and crampy and cranky and stick something inside me or bleed into what is basically a tiny diaper for a week every month. And then the migraines started. Everything started to go awry in the seventh grade. Over the course of the next three years I learned to smoke pot, and smoke cigarettes on a regular basis. I learned to cut myself and contemplated suicide. I learned to drink. I spent time getting into trouble, going places and doing things I shouldn't have been. And then it was time for high school and the whole scenario started over again.
My best friends moved away, new students, new teachers only this time there was no question of my gender. The guy friends I made hung out with guys and did guy stuff and dated girls. I didn't really have any friends that I hung out with, went places with did things with because they had moved and so I spent a lot of time alone. I made art, smoked, rode my bike, listened to music. I hated everything.
Now there was never any talk of gays or lesbians and if there was there was certainly nothing positive to be said about them. Transgender wasn't something I knew anything about until my late twenties. School was a place where you needed to fit into a category because without one you were utterly alone. Living a lie for such a long time is a hard habit to break and even though I never really had a boyfriend in all my time in school I spent an awful lot of time wishing that I was one.
Reading this makes me sound like I was a miserable timid kid all through school which was not the case. I have really good memories of school and my friends but I think that it would have been a lot different if I had known that it was ok for me to be gay, to be trans, to explore my own identity. Maybe if I had known about gays and lesbians and trans people I would have had something to call myself even if it didn't quite fit. Maybe it would have been easier to find someone who would be able to mentor me in the ways of men, or gays or butch lesbians. Maybe. But that was a long time ago.