My childhood was destroyed and turned into something that damaged me by a patriarchal societal upbringing that intersected with transphobic views that smothered my reality and my possibility to find myself in a haze of physical, psychological and emotional abuse from parents and others. I never had a childhood for these reasons, much less a girlhood, but I’m relearning that it’s not too late to reconfigure and claim my own girlhood and define my childhood on my own terms.
My own sense of self had been muted for so long that my only outlet for expressing how I felt was through the vicarious nature of art, and specifically television, movies and music. Little tremors of power coursed through me in the images of Sailor Scouts because they stood up for themselves, which wasn’t something I had the voice or know how to do against a father who routinely made sure I evaded all things feminine or face his wrath in the form of a beating. My father thought he was beating femininity out of me and masculinity into me, but what he was doing was completely eliminating my sense of self and setting me up for later bouts of depression, submissiveness and PTSD.
I recently viewed childhood favourite Labyrinth in a cinema, and while I was always struck by how much I saw myself in the lead character Sarah one scene had slipped out of my mind, but came flooding back in torrents during this viewing. I was already crying a good deal throughout, because fellow gender weirdo David Bowie had passed away recently (he’d mean something to me much later in life), but one line of dialogue made a memory come back to me that I had forgotten. The memory was that of a young version of myself re-enacting Labyrinth in my backyard saying “You have no power over me” over and over again. Those words are a deliberate statement of reclamation. I wish I had the strength to say those words to my father when I was that young, but I never began to put those words into sentences until almost twenty years later. “You have no power over me”.
Fast-forward about ten years from that childhood memory and I’m listening to Bikini Kill, and finding a saviour in the words of Kathleen Hanna. I’m scribbling the words “Feels Blind” in bathroom stalls in the high-school I dreaded going to every day and on my bedroom wall as a kind of motto of my own sense of self. The bridge of the song features Kathleen singing her fucking lungs out, screaming the words “Women are well acquainted with thirst, How does it feel? It feels blind”. The muted nature of my life in my teenage years was an endpoint that I thought at the time would end in suicide, but getting into Bikini Kill was like a curtain being pulled down, and I finally had a voice of my own to speak and scream that I wasn’t satisfied. Kathleen’s voice was like a flurry, a kick, a shot of confidence. Bikini Kill pulled me down a rabbit-hole that got me into feminism and queercore bands like Team Dresch along with other all girl rock bands like Sleater-Kinney.. The all-girl part was really important to me, because I didn’t need a masculine voice to comfort me.. I needed reconciliation and support in knowing that I wouldn’t be alone in feeling the way I did from another woman, and Kathleen was that person for the longest time. Today, I have “Feels Blind” tattooed on my wrist, because I wouldn’t be alive without Bikini Kill.
When I finally moved away from my parents in the Summer of 2014 I told them I was going to Philadelphia to make movies. They knew I had contacts in Philadelphia who were making films of their own so I told them a lie to free myself. I went to Target after a 14 hour drive up the country (soundtracked by various Riot Grrrl acts) and bought some tops and jeans I could be comfortable in. I shed the oversized, masculine clothing on my body, and stepped into my own skin for the first time in my life. That was truly the first step in redefining my own girlhood, but I still lacked the language or the know how to get by on my own as a woman. I wasn’t socialized to know these things. I was an on-looker with all my best girlfriends while growing up, but now it was my time to learn what I wanted to, and what kind of person I would be. I’d be carving out my own journey and figuring out my own sense of self.
I’ve been struggling for a very long time trying to reconcile why my childhood turned out the way that it did, but the short answer to the question is that it’s the default considering how violent our society is towards transgender people. Today, I’m making a statement to free myself again from the burden of a broken childhood and the absence of my own girlhood while growing up. I am a girl, and I’m finding things out about myself every day. I’m turning into myself. I had a neglected girlhood, but I know it was present, because I could feel it, and I had a reckoning when I lived vicariously through other girls I looked up to in art. That my own girlhood was attempted to be stamped out by my own father’s ideas of patriarchal upbringing doesn’t matter anymore. I’m going to take the moments I can remember and cherish them, even if they were just in movies, and I’m going to hold onto them. They were the moments that eventually sculpted me into the woman I am today. My girlhood was observation. Looking into a window of a house I always wanted to enter. I’m finally here, and everything I ever wanted is now in practice. Everything I do makes me the woman that I am. That is my girlhood. That is my truth.