Given South Asian culture’s preference for sons, I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one who wished I had been born a boy. Wanting to be a boy had nothing to do with trying to please my parents, to try and be the son they never had. No, in fact, I’m quite certain that my parents found my insistence on embracing the masculine lifestyle rather distressing. They’d accepted that I wasn’t a boy, but I didn’t seem to be a girl either; they weren’t quite sure what I was. I was a little confused about that myself.
Sometimes it felt like my parents were trying to revise me to meet society’s definition of what a girl should be. Like in Grade One when my mom decided that putting my thick shoulder-length hair in two huge ponytails — one sticking straight out of each side of my head — was a good look for me. No mistaking me for a boy then. Instead, people accurately identified me as a girl with a highly unattractive hairstyle.
In addition, my parents repeatedly signed me up for classes I had no interest in. For example, when I was seven, I went to our community centre once a week for one painful hour of ballet, tap dancing and baton. Why take only one thing I wasn’t interested in when I could take three? And – male or female — who takes baton anyway? As if I didn’t already have enough trouble fitting in.
I was a girl whose toys included a car collection, GI Joe and a holster with guns. I was not ballet material. They could put me in a tutu, but they couldn’t make me dance.
My sixth birthday was celebrated with a fire engine birthday cake. But by my seventh birthday, my dream to be a firefighter had been overtaken by a new career ambition. I wanted to be a cowboy.
I had gradually acquired the appropriate wardrobe to become one. I had the aforementioned holster — a silver pistol with a plastic ivory handle on each side — a cowboy hat and a pair of cowboy boots. And not just any cowboy boots either — mine were denim blue suede. Just like those cowboys of the Wild West used to wear.
I do have to give my parents credit for going along with my unusual phases. Even though they may not have liked the idea of a fire engine cake or a cowboy ensemble, they did let me have these things. However, one cowboy necessity they didn’t let me have was my own horse. So I had to settle for the occasional guided horseback ride.
My first ride was a memorable one.
Published excerpt from: ” Keeping Our Stories Alive Anthology. Toronto, ON: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives; 2013.
Shortlisted (excerpt): Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives’ Narrative Essay Contest, 2008.