first published Nov 26, 2014
I was born a girl but my parents thought better of it. A boy would be much more useful, so that’s what I became. They dressed me like a boy, called me by a boy ‘s name, and tasked me with boy’s work. I knew I wasn’t a boy but I liked the game. I had so much more freedom than the girls! I could go to school! I could learn to read! I could work and earn money to help my family. I could play with my friends in the streets without adult supervision. I did not have to wear layers of hot clothing in the summer to hide myself.
I was happy and grateful to my parents that they were wise enough to choose this for me when I could not choose for myself.
I was a happy child living an uncomplicated existence.
And then I had my first blood.
My parents seemed to be expecting this but I had no suspicion that big changes were on the horizon for me. They informed me that it was time to give up my boyish ways and take my place in the world as a woman.
We would move to a new part of the city where we were not known, and I would present myself to all I met as a girl.
In a year or two, they would find me a husband. I would spend the rest of my life covered and subservient to men.
I wanted nothing to do with it! I screamed and cried and argued but there was no moving them. They knew things which I was too young to understand.
For many days, I would not eat or leave the house. I was willful, something which was never repressed in me like other girls. I would not obey! It was my life! I could not, would not, live under a veil!
Slowly, however, I began to realize that I could no longer hide my differences. I could not play bare-chested with my friends any longer. The boys voices were growing deeper. They were sprouting hair on their faces. My changes were in the opposite direction. The very quality of my skin betrayed me, even covered as I often was, in dust and mud.
I didn’t know what to do. My parents were of no use. To them, hiding my gender was simply the practical thing to do at one time, and now it was time to put those childish things aside. If they had any idea of my deep emotional turmoil, of my sense of being lost without an identity, of my confusion and pain, they gave no clue. I was becoming an adult and I had to accept my responsibilities along with reality.
But they were still left with a problem that they had not foreseen and which was never going to go away. I might be forced under the veil, but I would never succeed at being subservient.
This was not merely a trait that would lead to an unhappy marriage, but a train which might get me killed. I did not recognize this threat in the beginning. It was not until I watched a young woman, not much older than I was, being stoned to death for an offense which hardly seemed like an offense to me. I would have done the same in her position. And that would have been me on the receiving end of those stones.
I allowed my mother to show me how to be more feminine. She tried to teach me basic womanly chores, but honestly, I had no interest and I wasn’t very good at them.
Clearly, I was going to make a terrible wife. What man would have me?
I was caught between one gender and another, and nothing could save me.
For the first time, I envied all the girls my own age. They knew their place in the world. They had never tasted freedom and so did not miss it. Their world was much smaller than mine. They were, like goats in a pen. They were happy in those confines with all the other goats. I, however, could not stop longing for what lay beyond.
One day, when I had long stopped worrying about being forced to marry (my parents hadn’t spoken of it in a long time and I thought they had given up on the notion, as I had dearly wished), my mother told me they had found me a young man from a good family. They thought he would do fine.
I felt betrayed. Terrified. Angry. How could they force me? I would rather live alone all my life!
Of course, that wasn’t possible. My parents were not rich. When they died, I would have no one to take care of me. I could not earn a living as a woman. I would be alone and destitute, at the mercy of a cruel world.
So, I met him. And his family. With mine, we all sat down to a meal.
The boy was small and sweet and shy like a girl. He moved his hands gracefully when he spoke. He had gone to school, too, and like me, liked to read. (That meant there would be books in the house – a good thing!) . He was not aggressive in any way. He seemed kind. And as confused by his feelings as I was by mine.
I liked him immediately. I recognized in him a kindred spirit — someone who didn’t fit.
Later I told my parents that if I had to marry, then let it be him. He later told me that he’d told his parents the same.
Once again, my parents chose best for me when I could not choose for myself.
We were married and remained so until we were both old. We did not have children, which was satisfactory for both of us. He enjoyed doing much of the womanly work. He cooked better than I did. He had a way of making the house a nice place to live.
Because he was so easy, and because he was soft in his dealings with me, I did not mind doing the things that wives are expected to do. There was no point in rebelling against him. We were both on the same side; in the same boat.
There was not much passion in our marriage, but we had an abundance of tenderness. We had friendship and mutual respect. We understood each other in a ways that others never had.
We put on our proper faces to the world, but at home we could both be ourselves. There, we were equals. The roles the world put upon us had no place there.
For both of us, it was the best marriage we could have ever hoped for. He died first, and I missed him terribly. But, at least he left me with enough money to live comfortably as I grew old.
It’s funny how things work out. For many years, it seemed certain I’d ever wed. But in the end, compared to all the women I knew in my life, I had the happiest marriage.
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