Thursday, February 16, 2006


Two blouses, two pairs of jeans, one border-print skirt, one simple cotton dress. That was the full extent of my wardrobe when I was in Grade nine.

Maybe you recall previous posts I have written about my inordinate connection to clothes. Puzzled by the parallels I made to nice clothes, good times, and bad clothes, bad times. But I discuss it less now. When I did discuss it, I only ended up further pained by unsympathetic comments. Things like: “Do clothes matter so much?” “I never give what I’m wearing a thought.”

Well, I guess the difference is if I had had a wardrobe with 30 items rather than 6, I wouldn’t have given clothes much of a thought either. Thirty items can be scrambled and reassembled in probably more than one hundred different looks. But I didn’t have thirty. I had just what I told you I had. So it follows, that thing that I was most deficient in, is the thing I assigned the greatest importance to. In the same way that someone who is always hungry can only think how great it would be to have food I was preoccupied with how pleasant life would be if I only had more clothes.

And the pain of that deficiency of clothes still haunts me despite the bounty of clothes in my closet. That haunting pain is what inspired an attempt at self-healing by writing a 300-page emotionally-charged manuscript for my book, “It’s So Unfair, I Have Nothing to Wear.” (a manuscript that continues to collect more dust while I yap away here rather than seeking a publisher).

My siblings also had few clothes. My brother had two shirts and two pairs of jeans. But I noticed that despite this his friends never noticed, they never commented, he was never rejected or scoffed at because of it. But then, of course, boys never play the ‘wardrobe games’ that girls play. If you’re a girl you remember them. “Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day so let’s all wear red.” “Let’s all wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.” “Don’t forget tomorrow is dress-up day.” “Let’s all dress like twins tomorrow.” The game went on all year but I could never play and that just led to more painful questions the next day. Friends knowing damn well but still asking, as if to be kind, to pretend they didn’t know, “I thought you were going to wear red today like the rest of us.” (Ouch) And my only recourse was another pretense, “Oh, I forgot.”

But my deficiency of clothes brought other thoughts to my mind that I have never forgotten. I remember weeping at night with the rejection and disappointment and re-routing these thoughts again and again in my mind.

“Oh God, if I had only been a boy, I wouldn’t have this pain. If I were a boy, I would be accepted without question like my brother. There would be no wardrobe games. I could wear anything and just find happy acceptance by all in the playground. I play baseball well enough. I can hit a ball and catch it. I love playing ball. It’s the best game in the world. Why, oh why, was I born a girl in such trying circumstances?”

But out of all this pain, and whether you believe me or not it was ‘pain’, I am so glad gender issues were not front and center during that time. Because Society would have sympathized with me. Stroked my pain, erased my doubt, and I would have immediately had the comfort and solace my whole being so painfully longed for.

Even if my family couldn’t afford it, that would have been a minor obstacle. If the timing had been 20 or 30 years hence, a teacher would have recognized my pain and referred me to a counselor. Naively, I would have eventually admitted to that counselor that all I wanted in the whole wide world was to be a boy. (I know I would have never confessed that we were too dirt-poor for me to have enough clothes). And she would have consulted with the school nurse. And the school nurse would have discussed it with a psychologist. And together they would have formed a unaminous conclusion. Particularly satisfying because it would have been a conclusion, I too, would have strongly supported.

And then, in no time, I’d be on my way to a sex-change clinic and soon after back home again. Happy as a lark with still few clothes, but a mess of non-judgmental friends, and ready to play ball!


This story wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t tell you what really happened, rather than what might have happened, if the situation was now rather than then. About mid-year, the Principal either noticed my pain or my clothes. Either one, or both. He called me into his office and offered me a paying job. For the balance of that school year I worked in his office for two hours Monday and Friday of each week answering phones, filing papers, and assisting school visitors. I worked over noon hour and he gave me permission to skip first period after lunch. The regular secretary took a two-hour break but I never knew if that was her choice or simply a condition that was pressed upon her. And in my heart I knew even back then that I wasn’t hired because I was best for the job. There were many more kids who would have certainly been more adept than I with my fierce shyness.

No, I remained convinced the Principal understood my pain and wanted to help. And so, I was given the job, and with those beautiful wonderful paychecks I bought myself some clothes that made me absolutely love being a GIRL!


Blogger Eleanor said...

Oh, I understand this ever so well. The difference is that my parents could afford to give me a decent wardrobe. However, as the eldest, I always seemed to be forgotten in favour of the younger ones. Not a sob story, just a statement of fact. But that all ended when an aunt and uncle offered me a job at their restaurant in Grade 9. And so my life as a real girl began!

I wonder if the school principle also offered you the job because you were so shy. I had loads of ability, but was slow at coming forward because of shyness. So school staff made a point of approaching me to head up/work on this or that. Which I loved ... once they talked me into it!

2:57 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

eleanor, enjoyed your comment. There seems to be a real scarcity these days -- of comments, that is. They're about as scarce as my wardrobe once was.

I appreciate that you understand. Yea, for those teachers that knew how to intervene to make us more independent. I still am convinced the Principal was more aware of my threadbare repetitive wardrobe than of my shyness. This was the year I moved from a small country school to a very large one and there were far too many kids to notice who was shy and who wasn't. But, you're right, the bonus I never thought of until you mentioned it was that it forced me to speak out despite my shyness.

From one real girl to another. :)

2:57 PM  
Blogger Julie Oakley said...

I understand as well - my wardrobe once consisted of only two dresses, one of which I had made myself in school sewing class. My parents could afford more but my mother was so self absorbed she never noticed. I was at boarding school and I used to pretend to my school friends that I had a huge wardrobe at home and I used to pretend to my friends at home that all my good clothes were at school.
But even though objectively our experiences seem like genuine deprivation, I'm not sure that girls who are quite well provided for don't nevertheless go through exactly the same suffering if their peers have a bit more.
Certainly as the mother of a teenage daughter, there are moments when I know she feels that she is not supplied with enough up-to-minute fashionable clothes.

9:46 AM  

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