Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Story of a Strange Child

by kt R.

"Phil's adopted."

When we were kids, my big sister would make these kinds of statements
at the dinner table, kicking me under the table and grinning. It's
what sisters do. I love her.

"Phil's an alien. He hatched and mom and dad found him."

My mom would say "Yes, the aliens left Phil on our doorstop and we're
so happy they did."

I'd smile smugly and say "Ray was named after a crazy guy, isn't that
right mom?" - and it was true. My parents liked to tell the story of
the man named Raymundo who lived in the VA psychiatric hospital where
they worked during grad school. He called everyone else Ray. "Hi Ray"
he would say to my dad. "Morning, Ray" to my mom. My parents adopted
this affectation at home and called each other Ray. When their first
daughter was born they named her Ray (Rachel). Or so the story goes.
When their second daughter was born they named her Katie. And their
first daughter renamed herm Phil. Yes, I just said herm. This was
actually the pronoun my sister used to use for me! I remember looking
up "hermaphrodite" in the encyclopedia with her. "That's you, Phil!"

I have never really been Katie to my family, except in public. For a
long time I was Tater because it sounds like Katie. Then Layla, and
I'm not sure where Layla came from (possibly the Eric Clapton song).
During the 1994 winter olympics I became Lillehammer. When my sister
was reading Gulliver's Travels I became Lilliput. When she found out
about the Jewish/biblical demon Lilith, that was me. Disney's Beauty
and the Beast came out and we would pretend my sister was Belle and I
was her horse, Phillipe. That was shortened to Phil, or sometimes
combined into Philith. Sometimes Phil Haise, Phil-of-pee, Phee-phee,
Phister, Philly.

"Strange child," you may be thinking. No shit.

I guess I was a tomboy but I didn't really notice much. My mom picked
out clothes for me, they were pretty neutral. I liked riding horses
and being outside and preferred clothing that allowed these
activities. In a restaurant, the waiter said to Ray, "and what will
your little brother be having?" - this happened pretty frequently
actually. It was probably largely due to the fact that I was always
filthy and had short hair and no feminine accessories.

And of course my grandmother outed me when I was 9 or 10. "Did a boy
give you that ring?" she asked. It was an eyeball ring from a toy
gumball machine. "No, a girl. My friend Emma" I said. "Ooooh! We've
got a queer one in the family!" And she happily told my parents and
extended family. I was embarrassed that people were discussing
something about me that I completely didn't understand.

Starting high school was interesting. I had just discovered punk rock
and my hair was extremely short. I cut and bleached it myself (badly).
I joined the gay-straight alliance. "Phil, you ARE the GSA, you're all
the queer rolled into one" my sister teased me. "Are you a gay man
stuck in a lesbian's body? Or a lesbian stuck in a gay man's body?"
she asked. "Alien stuck in a human's body" I countered, laughing.
The GSA became another of my names. She still calls me The GSA.

My parents were very progressive. Many would call them hippies. They
had fought in the Civil Rights movement and against the Vietnam war.
They had been pretty radical. They did things like living in a
macrobiotic coop, and they had lived and worked as migrant farmers
picking strawberries and living in a one-room shack with a potbelly
stove. Recently I asked my mom how she raised my sister and I
differently. My mom has her degree in child psychology so I feel like
she knew what she was doing. "We took a more hands-off approach with
you," she told me, "We wanted you to feel free so we instilled common
sense and let you loose. We didn't really impose any limits so as not
to stifle your creativity. Do you think this was the right approach?"

"Yes," I told her, "I think you and dad did a wonderful job."

I never had one specific coming out moment. I've just lived and
sometimes other people have made pronouncements upon me or assumed
things and that's that. I don't think my parents ever read me as
straight.

I guess some might think I've come out and gone back in and came back
out again, depending on the gender of the person I'm dating, but I
don't feel that way. I have never ever thought of myself as straight,
or called myself straight, and I don't think anybody who has ever
known me has either. I'm a person. Genderqueer and pansexual seem to
explain the situation pretty well, but that's still just on the very
outskirts of what most people understand. "So basically you will bang
anyone" a (cismale) friend of mine said. Big sigh. No.

Using Humor: Sometimes when I say I am "genderqueer pansexual" I also
add "elf" because, you know.. I have always felt like I should have
been born an elf. Plus it sounds good, and my Dragon Age character
really is a genderqueer pansexual elf. Or, when someone looks confused
when I say pansexual, I follow with "that means I am only sexually
attracted to pans, sometimes pots."

Gingerqueer. When I dye my hair red.
Gentlequeer. Shh, it's ok.

1 comment:

  1. This was pure awesomeness. Like a breeze of warm air on a chilly day, you do sound alien. Not from far off planet but from a far off culture where it was not uncommon that parents would anticipate having a queer child long before puberty. A eunuch or fa'afafine. How much do I wish my third gender was as obvious from birth as boy or girl that my parents had given my a proper name and pronouns, that I didn't have to struggle against the walls of my closet without them.

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