When I was a boy….

Cape Girardeau Boys playing army

I’ve been working on my show about T-Gurls, and issues of gender keep rising to the surface of my brain. I wrote this today in my writing workshop.


“You’re dead, you’re dead. You have to stay down.”

I’d been dead forever, I thought. The dry, brown grass was poking me under my T-shirt, last year’s T-shirt that didn’t cover my back or belly any more. My nose itched. I had stayed still while the fight raged above my head, moved further away in the yard, and then over beneath the trees. Their voices had faded. I had thought maybe the game was over. But they had sneaked back.

I dropped back down, scratching the itchy place and worrying about ants. You don’t want to drop dead on an anthill.

This was back when I was a boy, or as good as a boy. Me and my brother and his friends Jay and Ricky played “Hide the Hand Grenade”. It was an old olive drab hand grenade from Randy’s army set, and we’d go to Ricky’s big back yard and we all hid our eyes while the person who was “it” would hide it. Then he’d begin the count-down. You had to creep around like a soldier, with stick rifles and guns, and if you were within 10 feet of the hand grenade when he got to zero, you were dead.

I didn’t mind being dead so much. It saved me from having to make all the gun noises. I think there must be something in boy DNA that makes it easier for them to make gun noises. My gun sounds were always a little weak. I never seemed to put enough energy into it to be a convincing machine gun. But I could throw myself onto the ground just as good as the boys.

I watched the shadows move on the grass, listened to the leaves blowing in the wind. Ricky’s back yard was full of trees, including one that fell over in a big storm. The root ball was nearly 10 feet tall, and the trunk of the fallen tree was a great place to hide behind and kill the enemy- that is, if you could cross the open yard fast enough to get there without being shot. If you got shot, you had to hit the dirt too. Sometimes we’d insist that we were not truly killed, just injured, and you could fight on for a while. But a second hit killed you – that was a rule.

We made rules and lived by them. We were honorable. We’d go exploring in the abandoned house at the end of the block. It had been empty for years, but the people who lived there hadn’t moved out all the stuff. The kitchen still had spices in the cabinets–tins of McCormick ginger, and mace, and allspice. The sun came through the cracked windows in big yellow blocks, and when we opened the ginger can to smell it, little bits of ground ginger would float in the still, yellow air. We’d be Army men in the house, reliving scenes from war movies, scrounging for food, and watching for enemy soldiers as we sneaked up the sagging staircase. “All clear” we’d shout, as we reached the landing, our stick pistols held tense and ready.

If you got shot on the stairs, you had to drop dead there too, and the edge of the tread would dig into your sides. Better to slide on down the stairs and rest at the bottom. But it had to be real. You had to slide down the stairs like a dead man. We’d go home covered in bruises – our war wounds.

I don’t remember when being a girl became important. I didn’t welcome the biological evidence of my girlhood – sore breasts, stains in my panties, cramps. Women’s wounds were internal, hidden from sight. I longed for the yellow and purple bruises from when I was a boy. Those wounds were badges of honor, not shameful secrets. Becoming a man seemed so much more straightforward – you just got bigger and grew a beard. Becoming a woman meant giving up those egalitarian afternoons, when dying with honor was all that was required.


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