I am a man. Now you may think I’m mistaken here, or maybe that this is a trick, being that monthly I bleed, I wear skirts on occasion, or that I’ve in the past had to take EC in order not to become pregnant (cheers to having that option), but I assure you that I am a man– only not for all the same reasons that Ursula K. Le Guin told readers that she is a man.
A few years have gone by since I first read Le Guin’s The Wave in the Mind, and the collection begins with those words, “I am a man.” And I am a writer, like she, and so I am a man, as the archetype “the writer” is always “he.” But I am man even deeper down than this.
Peel back the layers and years and you’ll see I chose to be a man when I was just a little girl, even though they had invented women by this time, and this was because men are valuable. And because, mostly, well, you hear things growing up:
“You throw like a girl.”
“Don’t be a sissy.”
“Only girls cry.”
“Don’t be such a girl about it.”
I didn’t want to be those things! I am valuable! My mother said so. So I am a man. Or for now, a boy. But I will be a man when I grow up! So I pronounced. My mother laughed.
The teachers called on the boys who raised their hands. They praised the boys who called out their answers. Boys are brash creatures. They said it directly. I wanted to be valuable. So I was a boy, and I called out my answers, brash, and they said, “Learn to wait until you’re called upon!”
But the boys got praise. Maybe if I called out the answer louder… maybe if I was quicker… I never thought of stopping. Because I wanted to be valuable. And boys were very valuable. And they called the answers out of turn.
Boys love to rough-house, the grown-ups said while laughing. They laughed a great deal despite their frustration at grass-stained knees, their worry over bumps and bruises and broken bones. And so, because I was a boy, I loved to rough-house too. Climbing trees, rolling down hills, the tackle version of tag– yet, the admonitions were harsher toward me: “Not in a dress! Don’t be such a tomboy! That was terribly unladylike.”
And so too with tools: boys love shop class, but girls don’t. And so with video games: boys love them, benefit from good hand/eye coordination, but girls don’t. And so with comic books: all the boys love them, but girls don’t. And so, and so, and so.
All that girls seemed to be were negations. Girls don’t. Good girls don’t have sex. Good girls don’t break their diets. Good girls don’t slop food on their “little black dresses”– because I disagree with you Ms. Le Guin– I don’t think they’ve really invented women at all. No matter how old they get, they are always girls. Boys at least have the option of growing up, of becoming men.
So I’m all grown up now. And by all reasoning, I should be a man, having liked shop class quite a bit, having rough-housed, having called the answers out of turn, having loved my video games (just dad and me, playing Wolfenstein 3D, hot seat between the levels, “Dad, I want to play the secret level, can I trade you the last one?”– it still warms my heart, father and daughter, shooting Nazis together, and their ugly pixelated dogs, too). I should be a man, except that… well, Le Guin already said it: I don’t have a beard and my sentences are long and looping (and filled with shocking parentheticals!), and I don’t intend to die young. I mean, I could yet. I could give that a really good shot– except my aim is a bit off, not having been to the shooting range since I was twelve and all. Realistically, I think I’d rather not.
So I’m not a man, they tell me. But I’m not a girl, either. At least not a good one. I have sex (I did need that EC, after all). And, really, I’m not that fond of diets, either. And because I tend to slop food everywhere, the “little black dress” uniform doesn’t work very well for me.
After having worked so hard to grow up to be a man, and certainly not being the girl the advertisers envisioned, I don’t know what I am. I thought for a while I was a mouse, a tiny thing, but I was wrong about that too. For all I know, I could be a manticore. I only set off on this endeavor because I wanted to be valuable, but when you’re told since very young that you can’t be valuable even doing valuable things, it leaves you high and dry.
Le Guin, Ursula K. “Introducing Myself.” The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination. Boston: Shambala, 2004. 3-7.
(My apologies for accidentally having omitted the citation when I initially published this post; I had intended for it to be there, and simply rushed through)