When I was younger, I pretended to be a girl sometimes. I would play, have those kinds of imaginary adventures that children who love fantasy and sci-fi have. Giant robots, lightsabers, magical girls, big castles full of pining princesses praying for their prince to rescue them—depending on the day, I could be either one. I could be a robot that wasn’t a boy or a girl, and really took advantage of that design quirk. Clothing could range from big suits of powered armor to an incredibly revealing schoolgirl outfit—not in reality, of course. I could at least get away with playing if people were watching, but clothes? Nope.
And I’d never play in the company of others who I thought would judge me—which, in the mid to late 90’s, meant everyone, even my closest friends and trusted loved ones—this would be a completely solo venture. But in that world, that tiny world that existed in my own head, I could literally be anything, and I never really had a preference beyond overpowered and the center of attention in that particular, fan-fiction-y kind of way.
I was a new Sailor Scout—Saturn! (This was way before I knew there were more, cut me some slack—but looking back, “apocalyptically powerful, emotionally distant, and the wielder of a cool spear” was, um, actually a pretty good guess!)
Or maybe I was a super spy, comfortable in either a tux or a slinky black dress, able to use my wiles on anyone, as good with seduction as I was with a gun or any one of the dozens of gadgets I had on my person. I could move easily between one or the other—whatever was needed to get the job done.
How about an android, without any actual outward gender characteristics? Just a cool robot doing cool robot things.
I could be the pilot of a mech suit or some other powerful transforming machine, hidden in my cockpit, unseen and silent.
A prince or a princess, wishing to be saved or doing the saving.
A powerful wizard; a monster; an ancient heroine; a dimension-hopping, gender-flipping agent sent on a special mission through the multiverse. There was only me, and I could be anyone I desired in this little corner of my imagination.
There wasn’t boy or girl here. There was only Jeff, and Jeff could be whatever he, she, or they wanted. Why did I have to choose anyways?
But all of that had to end sometime.
Puberty set in, and the restrictions of masculinity began to assert themselves, reconstructing my body in a way that removed that ambiguity of childhood. Now I was seen as a boy, with everything that entailed. There was no way I could convince anyone—even myself, by that point—that I was anything but Boy.
So that part of my imagination was closed off, boarded up, cemented shut, and concrete poured over it to build out new parts of identity. Those parts of me were so hidden, it sometimes felt like they never existed in the first place, and I just forgot about it.
Except for those time when I’d see someone, almost always a woman. For a split second, I’d feel a deep, painful, longing. A desire that went beyond being with, a desire to occupy that space in a way that wasn’t lust. A yearning, a wish to exist as feminine.
I’d push it down and go on pretending.