My mother named me both man and woman – Ashely Ja’Mel. She used both names interchangeably. Changing her responses to me as my energy flowed between feminine and masculine, never boxing me into one category. I was her daughter and her son. Her daughter was mischievous, shy and always interested in the anatomy of women. Her son was outspoken, confident, madly in love with racing games, fast cars and women. She’d call me Ashely when I cried, abiding by social norms – boys don’t cry. She called me Ashely Ja’Mel when I was in trouble, as she realized, boy or girl, I was a child who often pushed my boundaries. Every other moment of the day she called me Ja’Mel because she knew I was the son the doctors prepared her for. My mother took to her grave the story of my birth and why it was decided to raise me as a girl. But often she told me the story of her pregnancy and showed me the ultrasounds confirming I was male. When I’d asked, “Why did you give me a boys name if I’m a girl?” she’d gently touch my face and say, “One day you will understand. One day the world will not seem so confusing. When that day comes you must stand with your head high and face the pain we are all too familiar with.”
I remember the day my mother bought me my first training bra. I cried. I didn’t understand why breast were growing from my chest. I remember in 5th grade, after a sex education talk, I came home and put paper towel in my shirt. I looked in the mirror and laughed, “that’s silly”, I thought. I opened the bathroom door, checked the hallway, stood silent to listen for anyone coming, gently closed the door back and stuffed the paper towel in my pants. *HUGE SMILE*
When SpongeBob made his first appearance on Nickelodeon in the late 90s I bought my first pair of boxers, “YES!” this feels better, unlike those constricting ‘days of the week’ panties my mother bought me. My mother wasn’t very good at expressing concern gently so when she found the boxers she sternly asked, “Do you want to be a boy?” I hid my face, ran away and cried. I didn’t know how to answer such a trivial question because mostly I felt like a boy. I played with the boys, looked at girls with the boys, envied the boys for their stylish attire. “Do I want to be a boy?” I thought, “Do I? Aren’t I?” My mother followed me to my room and held me. I don’t remember the words she spoke to me but after she let me go I was assured she’d love me no matter whom I identified as.
As an early teen society began to gender me more and more. I just wanted to fit in. I tried to be girlier. I stopped wearing t-shirts and wore tight fitting outfits with heels and a purse. I just looked like an awkward gump. I became sexually promiscuous, trying to figure out my sexuality. “Am I a lesbian?” but I never liked that word because I couldn’t find my identity as a woman. “But you do love women” I’d reassure myself. Since I could remember women have always been apart of my infatuation – The Olson Twins, Raven Simone, and looking around my room as a preteen my wall was PLASTERED with Christina Milian. There is NO doubt in my mind women are my thing! At night I’d sneak downstairs to the kitchen and steal cucumbers. I’d lay in bed with them in my pants daydreaming about penetrating my celebrity crushes.
I was fucking confused!
My mother saw the trouble in my actions and in my eyes. She’d always sit me down to tell me “You are to be whomever you are comfortable being, NOT what anyone tells you to be.” In her dying days she became very concerned about who would care for me. She’d warn me to stay away from certain family members. At the time I didn’t understand why my mother was so adamant about this. As an adult I think I understand her concern. My mother knew I had a hard journey ahead of me. She wanted me to be happy and free to grow into whomever I choose to be. She knew my family much better than I did. She knew those most capable of raising me in her death would also be the ones who’d try to crush my spirit, convert me, the ones who wouldn’t let me grow into the man I was meant to be. “All boys grow differently”, she said in her medicated state one day. Those words have lingered in my mind, throughout my body, finally resonating in my soul on my 24th birthday. All. Boys. Grow. Differently. I am a man. Socialized to be a woman. Reborn from the struggle to find myself. All boys grow differently!