Sunday, July 12, 2009

Gender Memory #1

By K. Switch

If you squint really hard and go back over it, you can sometimes remember the moments when nature became disorder. They don’t tell you those things right away, you know. A lot of people might say you are gendered before you’re even born- adorned in ruffled pink or basic blue the moment that the sonogram lights up.

But other cues come slower. Girls are allotted at least three happy shirtless summers before forced to cover what’s anticipated but not yet there. Boys can cry on Mommy for almost a decade before it makes them sissy. Siblings take baths together, first Halloween costumes need not be “princess” or “superhero,” little Jimmy can ask Mom to paint his toes like her, and she probably will, so long as Dad is expected home late from work.

In my own mind, I sit, toes dangling from a vinyl bathroom counter top, a plastic razor set and a plastic pipe at my side, things I asked Poppy to buy me because I wanted to grow up and be like him. It’s a lazy summer afternoon, the kind where the difference between noon and 4pm is absolutely negligible, unless of course you’re waiting for whoopee pies from the oven, in which case time is of the greatest essence. A day of dancing in the sprinkler, and swinging from the hose tied to the apple tree out back, and climbing the roof.

Poppy calls me “Tiny Tim” because he and I share an inexplicable love for with the Christmas Carol, and he has provided me with all the rites of passage that a grandson should receive. Never mind, that I am a granddaughter. For all his old and bigoted ways, Poppy doesn’t seem to mind my insistence on boyhood. He shows me how to climb trees, how to shoot a rifle into the side of the garage wall, how to wield a hacksaw and hammer nails, how to knot a silk bowtie, and how to shave my face.

I already know how to shave my face because I’ve been admiring the process for years, the way Poppy fills a palm with fluffy Barbasol from a black and green can, and then paints his chin and cheeks. This is when he is most handsome because the moment he covers his jaws you just want to see them again, pronounced and smooth all at once, a real man’s face. He takes a short yellow bic and rakes through the thick shaving cream, careful and determined in each stroke.

“Now, you make sure you never use the yellow razors,” he tells me. “You have to use your own razor. The one I bought you in the toy section, okay?”

I nod and take a puff on my pipe.

Grandpa’s face is almost clean now, with dashes of white still stuck to places the yellow bic refuses to trek. This is the part I don’t like because when he shaves without the Barbasol on his face, you can hear all the scratching sounds of the bic against his rough skin. But it’s over soon enough, and he’s rinses his face with two open palms.

My turn now.

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