I Identify As a Train Wreck
That Time I Ran Away in my Sister's Dress
Anti-queer folk often rely on the phrase "think of the children!" whenever they try to advocate against the continued existence of people like me—to which, if I'm not to exhausted, I usually reply, "but there are queer children, you know."
These conversations typically occur online; yet I can picture my opponent, shaking their head determinedly. "No," they type, "they're too young to know."
To which I smirk, knowingly, reflecting on my own childhood, and exactly how queer I was for almost as long as I can remember.
Of course, names for such things eluded me. I knew I was DIFFERENT since I was about four. That was all.
I knew I was supposed to like girls. People would occasionally remark that my best friend at the time, Mercy-Anne, and I were "sweethearts" and I sometimes wondered if we were supposed to be, but I didn't like girls. I didn't like boys either, yet, I was four. I liked turning dandelions upside-down and pretending they were fairies. I liked the rhododendron bush in my front yard, and Barbie dolls, and Barney, and princesses and horses and dresses.
I knew I was supposed to be a boy, but people had to explain that role to me by invoking my anatomy. I didn't realize that, according to many people, gender was dependent on something as seemingly little as... well, you know. I didn't mind being a boy, but I didn't quite get why also being a girl couldn't be an option.
I had five brothers and two sisters. Around that time, my oldest brother did not live at home, but the rest of us crowded into a cheap and dilapidated house in Tsawwassen, ruled over by an essentially evil landlord, who I mistook for a handyman. We had unwanted roommates in the form of various insects and rodents, but in my four-year old naiveté, no doubt contributed to by what my Mom christened "the Disney effect," I didn't realize that this was a problem.
My two sisters shared a bedroom in the basement, and whenever my brothers became intolerable, I would retreat there, to that fortress of femmeness.
"You don't need that," my sister Rosie said. I was playing with her eyelash curlers. "Your eyelashes are already long. They're pretty." It was the first memory I have regarding my appearance, and I afterwards, I was always glad that she had thought of me as "pretty."
In the bedroom, there were some old clothes that my sisters had outgrown. I was allowed to wear them at home. My parents dubbed it "dress up," and justified it to their bemused peers by assuring them that I was "just playing," or that it was "just a phase he's going through."
The thing was, I didn't really want it to be a game. I didn't think of it that way. I just liked dresses. I wanted to wear a dress in public and I wanted be a girl, even if it was only for a little while.
So, one day, when I was playing dress up in my sisters' bedroom with my twin brother John (genetically identical but complete opposites), a pair of ridiculous purple shorts on my head in lieu of a wig, I suddenly became swept up by the inexplicable and unshakable impulse to run away from home.
"I'm running away," I told John seriously. "Don't tell Mom and Pop."
"Oh," said John, mirroring my seriousness. He accompanied me out the front door, I passed my favourite rhododendron bush (on hot days I would sit inside it with my upside-down-dandelion-fairies, and pretend it was a ballroom) and made my way downhill and down the street in the direction of the convenience store.
The bell chimed when I walked in, and I must have been an interesting sight. The dress I had stolen (I was thrillingly aware of the fact that it was stolen) was suspiciously frilly — my sister, Chelsea, had worn it for ballet many years ago — and of course, my "wig" was anything but inconspicuous.
And then, obviously, I was an unaccompanied small child, which is never exactly normal.
"Hi," said the lady who worked at the store. I remember very little about what she looked like, but I remember being instantly determined that I was to befriend her. "Are your parents around?"
"No," I shook my head. Then I elaborated, feeling exactly like an adventurer from a film, "I'm a runaway!" I said, breathlessly.
If she showed any sign of surprise, I was to preoccupied with my adventure to notice.
She let me hang out in the store and chatted with me amicably. At one point she had to make a phone call, and it sounded very serious and dull, and I didn't really care about it. Our socialization got to the point were I felt I could involve her in the sordid details of my bid for freedom.
"I'm actually a boy," I told her, lifting up the skirt of my dress to reveal a pair of boy's shorts underneath. She didn't seem as surprised as I expected. I now suspect that it was the "wig" that gave me away.
Unexpectedly, the police arrived, occompanied by Rosie.
"Oh no," I told the clerk, "that's my sister!" I guess I expected a gasp of conspiratorial concern followed by a daring escape through a secret tunnel, but that's not what happened. My sister grabbed me up and took me outside where a cop began taking notes and asking questions with a pad of paper and a pen.
"Is this your sister?" He asked.
I caught my breath in excitement.
"No," my sister let out a deep sigh and looked up as if imploring God himself for patience. "He's my brother."
I felt dashed. My entire adventure had been futile. "No I'm not! I'm your sister!" I protested, loudly.
I was home in a little while. I don't exactly remember the aftermath. I don't remember what my parents said. I only remember John admitting that he told on me. I was quite cross with him about that.
And years later I stare at my phone reading the urgently frantic lamentations of cis/het sensationalists quite literally freaking out if people like me so much as blink in public, loudly importing us to "think of the children!" And honestly, I can't help but giggle.
I do. I was one.