I read a great blog this morning from http://mainelybutch.wordpress.com that prompted me to write of my experiences of realizations that came to me at a very young age. I identify as femme, and for all purposes present as femme, but there is a side of me that I seldom have the notion to speak about. Because I have always just considered it natural, and it doesn’t make me any less femme, as any type of femininity would make a butch any less butch, I am part tomboy. In a certain kind of essence, I can identify with that part of myself even now as I claim my own identity as femme. After all, within the butch femme dynamic, there are several degrees of masculinity and femininity.
Growing up happened for me in the north as a young girl, being raised in the country, it never seemed abnormal to me to fish, to build forts, to play in the river, to build dams and swimming holes, to gather rocks and wild things, to learn to shoot a gun and about hunting and gathering. It was a ritual to gather apples, and berries and dandelions, cattails and mushrooms, and to shore up our store for the winter months. My Mother, my Great Grandmother, and my Grandmother all brought things to the table that built a strong foundation for caring for myself and my world.
My Grandmother was an amazing teacher and taught me patience as I struggled with learning basic womanly things, crocheting, crafting, embroidery, and late night talks over games of Canasta, and Yahtzee,etc., and though I fought her every step of the way when she sat me down to teach me, I am thankful and so blessed she had the foresight to see that one day those things would be something I cherished doing with her. I remember the nights we laughed so hard that tears streamed from our eyes. She could always make me smile even on the hardest days. I can’t imagine what life would have been without her love and guidance. She more or less gave me permission to be who I was and to not let outside circumstances change me. Her love for me was unconditional and truly my saving grace.
My Great Grandmother, whose mother was a Choctaw Indian, taught me to identify with my world. She was all about the outdoors and wildlife and birds, and gathering edibles and medicines from the woods. I remember our trips to the wildlife sanctuary where she would point out different plants for eating and for medicinal uses. She would bring me to the water’s edge and show me the tender parts of the cattail and beaver dams and we would watch the deer and the geese and the ducks all going about their daily life. One day as we walked the paths, a quail came stumbling out of the brush, I thought it was hurt. She said no, don’t touch it, it’s protecting its babies by drawing you away from the nest. As we stepped on, it realized there was no harm and no fear to be had, so it took to the air. I was thrilled by it, one of my favorite memories of her and I. I remember she had a huge birdcage that sat by her living room window, it held a tiny toy canary, and when you walked by, it began to sing. I asked her one day why she didn’t have a real bird in such a beautiful cage and she told me wild things should never be made to live in cages and that she had had a canary in it at one time but it had passed, it was a gift…she never forgot how it made her feel and I never forgot the lesson she gave me that day. I remember walking the railroad tracks to town and picking bouquets of flowers to bring to her. She was a lover of art also. Her walls, every inch of them, were covered with paintings and lithographs and drawings, it was like walking into a museum. Her tables and counters and sideboard were covered with knickknacks as far as the eye could see. I poured over all of them, enjoying their beauty. Her house always smelled of lavender, and now when I smell it, it takes me back to those days.
When I was seven, we moved to Virginia. I had a hard time adjusting to my new surroundings. WTF did ya’ll mean, holy crap I couldn’t understand their language, I was doomed, lol!!! We lived in the suburbs and to me it felt like the city compared to the country setting I’d become accustomed to. My mother, by every standard in the book of how to be the perfect wife and mother, drove me insane. She was obsessive with cleanliness, like toothbrush obsessive, ironing underwear and sheets obsessive and as far as we went as children, always hair curled, cute little dresses ( God how I hate A-line dresses and pat n leather shoes) and of course I was always the one to break the rules. I climbed trees, wandered in the woods, played with the hounds in our neighbor’s yard, swinging off of the low dogwood branches in our yard, finding old wood behind the shed and building “things”, mostly just nailing them together, lol. I wore her to a frazzle. She became more and more lenient as the years passed. Me, being the oldest, the most stubborn and headstrong, and at times downright defiant, broke her spirit down in time, but only after I suffered through being spanked, slapped, smacked, and chased down with a metal flyswatter (damn those things leave welts), did she finally get that it didn’t matter what she tried, I was always going to cross the line. She was and is the strongest willed of all the women I’ve had in my life (I now know where I have gotten my tenacity and will). She could pinch pennies until they melted down into gold and though she herself was left to tend to every detail when it came to our home and to us, she did it without fail. I never saw her break even in the worst possible moments any woman would have to go through, she was strong and never let us see her broken, though now I know she was, over and over. She taught me to be upright, to speak my mind, to hold things down and she never once flinched when I took her through my years of drinking and drugs and tears and hurt, she stood by me when most parents would have turned their backs and walked away. She is my rock, and taught me discipline, love and understanding, and though she struggled with my sexuality when I came out in my 30’s, she has never wavered in her support of my choices.
We moved to Massachusetts again when I was 14 and I went back to my old ways of practically living in the woods along the Housatonic river. There were three houses on our dirt road, Jericho Road. One was my grandparents, then friends of my family and their 7 kids and then the last one where my great-aunt and uncle lived with their 6 girls. I mostly stayed to myself though, but there were holidays and birthdays and weddings and funerals, picnics and visits and everyone always gathered at our house. I have a lot of good memories as well as some really heart wrenching ones, but because it was my Grandmother’s, it will always be the place that I grew up in and will always love. It was then that I took to being a tomboy, although I was feminine in a lot of ways, I had an inkling toward a wild side, and that meaning that I loved the wild. I loved the freedom I felt, the stillness, the peace that I could find nowhere else but when I was alone in the woods. I spent hours by the river, watching the sky, listening to the chatter going on in the brush, fishing and writing and laying naked sunbathing on a boulder I called “mine”. I carved my initials in a tree and checked every year to make sure it was still there. I buried my animals beside the water. I took my coon dog for walks on the logging roads on the mountain. I climbed out on thick pine branches that hovered from the cliffs and bent down over the river and hid away from everyone. I was as much a tomboy as a I was a girl. I always had a very deep sentimental side but also a very strong need for the rough and wild. I even lived out there in the woods for a year, building a lean-to and fire pit and bathing in the river’s waters, showering in thunderstorms…it was exciting and beautiful and a part of me that I’ll never forget!
My mother took to saying, you should have been a boy, but in my mind I was always a girl, I just had that side of me that came out as masculine I suppose. I would still wear dresses, but was always being reprimanded about how to sit like a lady, cross your legs, fold your hands, get your elbows off the table, don’t speak unless you’re spoken too, the adults are talking, leave the room. I still wear dresses, mostly to my feet, and you’ll find it tucked between my knees. I paint my nails and keep them long, but it only lasts a day and it starts to chip away. I have hair that lays below my hips, but most of the time it’s up and clipped. I put on a little makeup to enhance, but chances are if it’s on too long, I rub it until it’s ruined and I look like a blue-eyed raccoon. I try to be ladylike and womanly because that is the core of who I am, but there will always be that part of me that says, I’ll be damned. I won’t be put like a peg into a hole, it’s never been how I roll. I like the me I have come into and it doesn’t mean I claim a different gender, it just means there are differences in the whole spectrum of butch and femme.
I tried to live the hetro life, wanted children and to be with who I loved but it surfaced time after time and I finally crossed to the other side of the gender line. Parts of my family claimed they knew just what I wanted but would never do. I finally threw back the covers and decided it was now or never. I took that leap of faith that they wouldn’t abandon me and they never have, this is me…so femme with a tomboy twist…