That Butch

Boys have masculinity thrust upon them.  They learn it from the fathers who teach them how to shoot a gun; they learn it from the magazines crumpled underneath their beds; they learn it from Boy Scout badges and football games and punches in the locker room.

As a girl, I had to stumble into my own masculinity.

I found it at the age of nine; I found it in the small space between a boy’s right hook and the woodchips on the playground; I found it in the sharp breath I took before his fist knocked me to the ground.  I wasn’t looking for masculinity that day.  Oh no, I was content, if not comfortable, to put on femininity every morning like a pair of lace stockings.  But then his fist cracked my jaw, I saw stars, and the other third graders began to shriek—

“Greg killed Nancy, Greg killed Nancy!”

and suddenly I was leaping to my feet and clobbering Greg into a bloody pulp.  I threw him down and one two three tried to split his skull in two, intended to knock all of his teeth out with one blow.  When the teacher finally arrived, she had to peel me off of him like a Band-Aid.  Greg’s lip was so swollen he couldn’t speak, and for the rest of the school year he ducked his head whenever he saw me.  Seven years later, I shaved my head.