I have wished I were a boy, at various times in my life, secretly, furtively. The thrill I got from watching Orlando, when I was in my early twenties, was visceral. I felt myself transform with her/him. I stared at that new body in delight and fear. I left the cinema feeling different from when I walked in.
But if I were a boy, I don’t know how happy I would have been. Some women go on about the pressures on girls, to fit certain roles, look a particular way, be just sexy enough but not too much. I’ve had those pressures. But I think the pressures on boys are just as bad. Growing up as I did, in a feminist household, I don’t know for sure, but I have a feeling my maleness might have been more problematic than my sometimes tomboy, sometimes uber-feminine, girlhood. I sometimes wonder if, as a boy, I would have been gay.
Is it that I just can’t imagine desiring anyone else other than men? I don’t know. I used to fancy Annie Lennox and Debbie Harry. Or am I romanticising gay men’s rights of passage with all that alienation, self-analysis, Smiths’ Records and suffering? Maybe. Though I had my fare share of all of those myself. William, it was really nothing.
One of the first writers to strike a chord in my adolescent girl’s heart was E.M. Forster.
I know he wrote ostensibly of heterosexual romance and relationships, in the books I loved most such as A Room With A View, A Passage To India and Howard’s End, but the homosexual subtext wasn’t difficult to uncover. I didn’t read his more overtly gay novels such as The Longest Journey and Maurice till later. But I knew what was going on. I identified with those introverted, floppy-haired men, and their solemn friendships. I wanted their story to be my story. And then, when I was 24, it suddenly was.
My floppy-haired blue-eyed boy might have walked straight out of one of those turn of the century tomes. His earnestness, his passionate loyalty to his male friends, their evenings spent in intense conversation about James Baldwin, Mean Streets, William Blake. I was a girl, sat quiet in the corner of the room, suddenly finding I’d made it into the inner sanctum of masculine, ‘homosocial’ life. When I remember my love for him, I recall it as a love for them. A recollection of being one of the boys. Even if they didn’t think of me as such.
It was a double-edged sword of course. On one hand I adored the feeling I got when I was with him, of our differences disappearing, of the fact of our contrasting bodies evaporating, as our minds met and our pints were drunk. I have never felt so close to another human, or as similar.
I even felt some kind of belonging, via the right of passage of buggery. I never spoke to my female friends about it, but I knew they probably didn’t take it up the arse, definitely not with the willingness and awe that I did. As I went down on all fours and felt his cock pounding into me, it was as if I was no longer a woman at all. I didn’t need those parts of my body which had appeared as if from nowhere when I was a teenager. I had my anus and he had his dick and we were joined, welded together. I felt like I was earning my stripes.
On the other hand, I wasn’t a boy at all. And very often I’d be reminded of my exclusion from the group, based solely on the fact of my genetic make-up. It didn’t matter how well I learned my Foucault, how patiently I sat through their lectures on the vital importance of Springsteen’s Nebraska in the contemporary male working class American psyche (even though they were all middle -class nerdy English lads). I was a girl and didn’t quite belong.
I also became more isolated from my own, straight, female friends. They’d ask me how it was going, and I would struggle for the words to describe the situation I was in. My boy got buggered himself you see. And sadly not by me. There was this authoritative figure that lurked in the background of his, his brother and their friends’ lives. An intelligent, inspirational man, who had taught some of them at sixth form. He buggered them all, with, or without their consent. What is consent anyway, when you meet someone in a position of power, when you are only 15? And how could I tell that story when my girlfriends asked innocently about our relationship? In the end they stopped asking.
So I learned that being a boy, surrounded by boys and men, wasn’t always quite so romantic as I had imagined it could be. It didn’t matter how intellectual they all were, how much they loved to smoke and drink, and quote Derrida in loud voices, or watch Hud, for the tenth time. They knew that at the end of the night, one of them was bound to be fucked, for no other reason, than that the man who’d seduced them with all this amazing cerebral stimulation, needed his own stimulants. And knew how to get them.
So when I wasn’t walking hand in hand with my boy, talking about poetry, and wanting him to throw me into the bushes and hold me down. I was wandering round in a deep rage, hating myself for staying in this stupid, fuck-ed up situation, hating him. And most of all hating that bastard buggering bully. And all the while I knew deep down my hatred was a result of this man’s allure. I was as enthralled by him as they were: I just didn’t have to prove it by bending over by their side. I even felt guilty about that. I may even have felt ‘left out’.
I have a lasting memory, of a couple of years after I’d finally walked away, at seven in the morning, (after a night of sobbing and holding onto him, tears streaking down my face) stumbling, blind. It is me, sat on my therapist’s couch. The tears and the sobs heaving through my body again. And I’m saying to her, that if there was a God, as my boy believed with all his heart to be the case, he must be some kind of sick fuck. That brought me so close to someone, who enabled me to learn what it means to love and be loved, and to have my mind expanded and challenged, my brains and my body blown. But who did so on the condition that I lived a secret life, scared and jealous of my boy’s weird connection to a horrible old parasite. That if I was to be buggered, then so was he, until none of us knew if it was what we wanted anymore. That’s quite a clever, nasty joke, if it was God’s joke.
I don’t know how my boy is. I know he is a man now. I know we are still linked somehow, by our inability to be anything other than who we are. I have inherited his way of seeing. And I think he inherited mine.
This is never far from my consciousness. But someone’s words I have been reading, recently, (just a little more intently than other girls might read them), have brought my boy back into sharp focus again. They have found me wishing I was ‘one of the boys’ again, even though I know the trouble that desire can lead to. I suppose my own words show that I am a boy in some ways, and that I probably always was.