I remember the first time I stopped believing in God.
I was thirteen. I was so tired I could not think, but I had an anger welling up inside of me, pushing hard against my skin, forcing my hands into fists that wanted to punch holes in walls on their own with no will from me. I had started my first period. I felt helpless, as if something were being done through me. This something was using me. This was something I hadn't asked for.
I think that might've been the part that made me most angry. While everyone around me seemed still blissfully free, I was confined alone in my house, lying on the couch in a kind of pain I had never experienced. I placed my feet on the arm rest at one end and pushed against it as hard as I could, sending my pelvis shooting up in anguish. I hoped that flexing my muscles as hard as I could would give me some release. I screamed as loud as I could. And I felt strange. I was afraid that I would feel strange for every moment of the rest of my life.
I have never been some moon goddess, dancing around a fire each month and singing praises to my womb. I hate that thing, and I'd just as soon have them take it out of me now, even childless and only 30.
I have spent every moment since trying to expel this demon woman inside of me. At 16 I would sit in the kitchen at Thanksgiving, watching the women prepare the meal while the men sat in the living room watching football. I was a conscientious objector, refusing to participate in my own subjugation. I didn't like football, but I would not cook. Instead, I tried to convince the women around me--my mother, grandmother, aunt--to throw off their chains and go sit down, too. And what I never said--what I never told a single soul--was that my greatest fear was that I'd be just like my mother, sacrificing myself while pandering to male need, being irrationally emotional and not being taken seriously. To this day I am nothing but a horrible mess in the kitchen most of the time, and when I successfully make something I chalk it up to pure luck.
And because a girl sees her mother as the archetypal female and her father as the archetypal male, my greatest fear was that I'd be just like a woman.
I have been feeling a strange sense of shame growing in me over the last month or so. For the longest time I could not pinpoint exactly where it was coming from, but I knew that it was triggered from somewhere inside my relationship. And then the other day, driving around having a conversation in my head with myself about something I cannot even begin to explain, it hit me--I am ashamed that I am a woman. My relationship forces me more and more to bump up against this fact. I have most everyone else fooled. I say something, and someone else exclaims, "God, Nan, you're such a dude!" But here, in this place where this person sees me on so many levels, I am running out of places to hide my woman. All I've ever wanted was to be seen as completely rational, logical, like a man, and the shame grows the more I cannot escape my woman, with all her emotions and insecurities, her desires to be submissive.
And it's not even that she "desires to be submissive." That is how my politics have taught me to talk about her. This feeling does not know the word "submissive", but after years of sticking her in the closet, this is the only word I have for what this is.
I hate her so much that just typing that has made me cry those kind of violent tears that appear almost without clear explanation because they come from some original wound. He's sleeping next to me. I hope he does not wake up. More reason for shame.
For as long as I can remember I've secretly wanted to be a woman. I've wanted to be the muse instead of the writer. To be adored instead of respected. Be loved simply because of my beauty, not because of how accomplished I might be. Part of this shame is that I've never thought I would get to be a woman. I've never thought anybody would love me that much. I've always thought that I'd always have to sing for my supper. Other girls may be able to get away with being cute. I have to do tricks.
This is where all of this gets hazy for me. This is not about logical argument or politics. These are all feelings that came spilling out of me whenever whatever it was finally pierced the dark place in my mind where all these things hide. I certainly would not take back the way that I am. I certainly wouldn't argue that the portrait I've painted of gender identities are universal or encompass the sum total of the way genders are defined, either. What's funny is that the relationship that sent all of these things bubbling to the surface isn't even a picture of oppressive gender roles. That's the thing. He doesn't seem to look down on me for being a woman. I do. And what's bubbling to the surface isn't a string of philosophical thoughts. It's a string of somewhat incoherent feelings.
And I suppose that's exactly what I'm afraid of.