I am a size 40DD. I wear v-neck tops that display generous cleavage. I have hips that would make a breeder envious. Even so, there are people who still can’t tell if I am a boy or a girl.
Children ask outright while adults just stare at me in the ladies room or fumble to find the correct pronoun. Perfect example: Ponderosa. 1999. Standing on opposite sides of a buffet an older gentleman and I reached for the roasted chicken at the exact same moment, accidentally bumping hands.
"Oh, ah, excuse me sir, ah, ma'am, ah, sir…”
Never correcting him, I walked back to my table, leaving him paralyzed and confused, wondering if the roasted chicken really is roasted chicken, “duck, chicken, duck…sir ma’am sir, begawk, quack…” (insert head explosion)
Even before I was born, my gender was a subject of speculation. Sometimes I think it began as a battle of wills between Mother Nature and my mother. I have never been able to decide who is stronger. You see, at some point after my sister turned 2, my mother decided that her first born daughter needed to have another little girl to play with. So, rather than organize a play date or call a babysitter my mother, in her own mad scientist way, declared, “I’ll make one!”
From early on in the pregnancy, however, her obstetrician was quite certain that she would be having a little boy.
"OH, no, no, no," my mother insisted, rubbing her hands together schemingly. "I’m having a GIRL baby."
Regardless of her doctor’s certainty, her commitment to “making” a girl held steady until the actual delivery. As the doctor removed me from the tiny laboratory (also known as my mother’s womb), he triumphantly declared, "Say hello to your little football p... PRINCESS?!" And that is how my life began.
“Football Princess” seemed a fitting moniker, except for the lace dresses which I literally tore off my body. Who was I kidding? I didn’t want to be a princess. I wanted to be a mechanic.
At 3 years old, I show up at our house one afternoon with a very heavy Craftsman toolbox made of steel. Something a mechanic might own.
"Julie,” mom asks pointedly, “where did you get the toolbox?"
I say nothing.
"Julie. What… WHOSE HOUSE did you get the toolbox from?"
I stare at my mother in silence, but what I am thinking is, "Shouldn't I have always had this toolbox with me? Isn't it really, in fact, mine? Aren't these MY wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers? Aren't I really the TRUE Craftsman here?"
Surely this is what was going through my mind as I wandered into Mr. Stevenson's garage and first laid eyes on that priceless treasure. "Forget about GI Joe. Now THIS is my speed. It's time to put away childish things." It seemed like the logical next step in my career. After all, I already hosted my own home improvement show in my bedroom late nights after everyone had already gone to sleep. To a captive audience of two Teddy Bears and a Stretch Armstrong, I professed in my best infomercial voice:
“This is honestly the best product that you can find today to completely transform the look of your home while protecting it from the harsh New England winter." I approach my dresser with a Tub of Cool Whip. "You don’t want to skimp, though. A nice coat and you want to make sure you wipe it on evenly. Then just sit back and let it set.”
The show was a rousing success. By the following morning, the Cool Whip had formed a thick shellac over the front of the dresser where it remained, mostly intact, years later -- to the family, it was a reminder of my foolishness. To me, it is was foreshadowing of my brilliance.
At six, I was across the street with my brother hanging out at Steven Odin’s house. The three of us were going head to head, racing Matchbox cars down the driveway at top speed. I imagined myself as AJ Foyt, the real driver of the remote control car I got that Christmas. Doing my best Howard Cosell impersonation, I call out the play by play.
"Foyt comes around the turn, he passes Unser, he passes Petty…that's it! He wins the Indy 500 again for the second year in a row!!"
My two best friends Cristin Deitz and Alicia Breit rode by on their bikes. They circle the block a couple times, but, to my surprise, they never stop to get in on the action.
About an hour or so later I am proudly walking back across the street when they ambush me.
Cristin leads the charge. "Umm.. We need to talk to you." They sat me down at the picnic table. The two of them on one side, me on the other. Shit. This isn't going to be good.
“What were you doing over there? Playing with toy cars?” Cristin asked, a tone of outrage peppering her words. “That's not what girls do. If you wanna hang out with us, you have to stop acting like a boy."
Interesting, Alicia didn't seem to mind me acting like a boy when we were making out at the last sleepover. But still, the risk of getting made fun on, of being cast out, is too great. I leave the meeting in quiet agreement, making a critical note to self: Put “Playing with Hot wheels” on the List of Stealth Activities.
From that moment on I began to quietly insert my boy into more socially acceptable activities like Halloween-- one year as a S.W.A.T. Team member, and in 5th grade as a hobo with a fabulous 5 o’clock shadow.
I developed a rich fantasy life in which all of my sister's friends had crushes on me and I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror developing this “Hollywood Hunk” persona I created. From behind the locked door of the bathroom, I dutifully channel the charm and swagger of John Stamos. Head slightly cocked, right eyebrow raised, I mouth to myself, for hours on end, “Hey. How’s it going? Hey, uh, how's it going?” While other girls longed to fill their training bras, I waited patiently wait for my mustache to come in.
I turned 14 years old in 1988. It was a year of many significant cultural milestones in American history: Milli Vanilli released their first album; Ronald Reagan endorsed George H.W. Bush for president of the United States; Prozac was introduced as an antidepressant; yours truly got her first job working at McDonalds.
Yes, working at McDonald's was seriously cool for a teenager growing up in Stow, Ohio. This was long before Supersize Me. Nobody knew how hamburger was made or cared about the amount of calories in a large Coke. This was an age of prosperity: I got to make money, hang out with my friends and get first dibs on items like the Southwestern McBreakfast Burrito. Most importantly, I got to work the drive thru. This is where I began my lifelong love affair with the microphone. Guns ‘n’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” was a big hit that summer, and I wasted no time incorporating the song into my salutation to dozens of customers/unwitting audience members.
Welcome to McDonald’s. Can I take your order please? Would you like to hear about our special--a double quarter pounder with cheese?”
“No, I’d like 2 Happy Meals with--”
We’ve got apple pies and fries. Buns with sesame seeds. You can eat anything you want, how ‘bout a McDLT?...
“Uh. No thanks. I just want two Happy---
“At McDonald’s, welcome to McDonald’s, Jannanananananan…”
“Nevermind... I'll just go to Burger King.”
Everywhere I turn, the rewards were abounding and I realized it was totally worth spending all those hours learning the ins and outs of how to package fries correctly and how to combine the exact ratio of sanitizer to water in a mop bucket. It is after that long orientation that I was awarded my uniform.
Ahh… that uniform.
A pair of milk-chocolate colored slacks and a short sleeve white blouse with green pinstripes, the collar of which is fastened by a green bowtie ala Colonel Sanders, topped off by a matching hunter green visor. Certainly something that I would never be caught dead wearing. But, “Oh my God,” I realize, “I look fucking great.”
I immediately begin to flirt with my reflection in the mirror.
“Hey. YOU deserve a break today... Can I take your order? Can I take your order? Would you like fries with that shake, shake...shake it don’t break it took your mama 9 months to make it. Say what?”
This is the first time in my life I ever noticed my body and I am very impressed with what I see. The uniform is tailored to fit, and it happens to fit me perfectly. I notice how slender my legs are, the just right size of my breasts, my fit and trim torso and broad shoulders.
“Damn,” I say to myself. “I look good. I have a hot GIRL body.”
This comes as a total shock to me because I spend all my free time daydreaming about being a muscular blond-haired doctor that I see on General Hospital. I’m the man who saves the day. I’m the man all the ladies get sick over. Who knew that under all this man was all this woman!
I fall asleep in the uniform that night with a smile on my face, grateful for the body God gave me. It is something my mother taught me early on -- be thankful for a strong and healthy body -- be thankful you have ten fingers and toes and can run and laugh and play. And I am grateful.
Though there have been some times along the way when I thought “Maybe it would’ve just been easier to have been born a boy," I realize that there are so many benefits of being exactly who I am: It's OK for me to be sensitive and express my feelings openly without being called a fag; I don't have to worry about male pattern baldness or how big my vagina is.
My boy has finally met my girl, and they love each other. I've stopped seeing myself as one or the other. I'm just "Julie," and bah-duh-dah-duh-dahh, I'm lovin' it.