Leaving normal: Adventures in gender
Text JF. Pierets Photo Courtesy of Rea Theodore
I am, I am, I am superman
And I know what’s happening.
I am, I am, I am superman
And I can do anything.
— R.E.M., Superman
The boy glows as if he has swallowed a jar of lightning bugs or a fistful of sparklers.
At first, I think it’s the light bouncing off the stainless steel counters of the ice cream parlor.
Upon closer inspection, I see it’s him.
He looks to be about 8 or 9, stocky like a short stack of 2x2 Lego bricks, with freshly scrubbed pink cheeks and white-blonde hair.
The word “ethereal” gets stuck in my head, and I can almost feel it melt on my tongue slow and sweet like strands of strawberry cotton candy.
The boy is with an old woman, who I assume is his grandmother. There appears to be an invisible string linking them together that rests slack at most times but tightens when she asks him what flavor of ice cream he wants or taps him on the shoulder when it’s time to go.
After I purchase a half gallon of cherry vanilla, I follow them out of the store and wait as they make their way through the front doors.
She looks over her shoulder and sees she’s holding me up.
“Sorry,” she says.
“Not a problem,” I say.
“I didn’t see him,” she says to the boy.
“Her,” he corrects.
He’s like a mini superhero with the ability to see things as they are.
“Oh, whatever,” she says. She doesn’t give me a second glance.
Whatever, I repeat in my head.
Out in the parking lot, her gray hair sparkles in the sunlight like slivers of tinsel.
I think she’s a superhero, too.
Extract from Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender by Rae Theodore.
Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender is creative nonfiction that takes an unflinching but humorous look at living as a butch woman in a pink/blue, boy-girl, M/F world. A perfect read for anyone who has ever felt different, especially those who have found themselves living in the gender margins without a rule book.
This is your first book. Why did you start writing?
I’m the caretaker at home and I had to do something for myself. Something that had nothing to do with my wife, my three teenage kids and the cats. So I started to write stories, just one at the time but before I knew it turned into a book. I found out I like telling stories about my childhood.
It’s all autobiographical?
At first I labeled it creative non-fiction, but they are true stories with some artistic liberties taken here and there. For some reason I’m drawn to memoir. It resonates with me. It’s almost like a puzzle and I think of it as a little time capsule or a little time machine. You try to put yourself back there whether it was a year ago or twenty years ago and remember what it was like and what you felt, what you saw. That appeals to me very much, trying to recreate those moments.
It’s a very personal genre.
It is. And lot of these things I never told anyone about because I found them very shameful or painful. Having an opportunity to write them down and having people read them and validate the experiences really helped me. Even if people may not have gone through the same type of thing, everybody has felt different at times or felt shame. In the book I learned to accept myself. This is whom I am and I’m not going to change.
The book has been out for a month now. How are the reviews?
So far the reviews have been very good. There are not a lot of books out there about butch women. You don’t see them in mainstream literature, you don’t even see them in the LGBT literature that much. I heard from readers who have gone through similar things. They say it’s very powerful and affirming to see themselves in the book. For example; just going to the bathroom can be a challenge for butch women.
Is it a book for gay people?
Not necessarily. Even if you are not gay you can read this book and probably feel similar feelings. Everybody dealt with confusion at one point in their lives. People often see more similarities than differences and that can be something that unites.
What’s the main message you like to get out there?
The story references to superheroes in some small way, so I like that message of being your own superhero. Live your life however you see fit and whatever your definition of normal is. For me that’s the big message. Be yourself. And I found that most people don’t care. They don’t care if you are gay or butch or whatever. As long as you treat people with respect and kindness. I live in a very small and conservative town and people are very welcoming. I’m aware that other people can have different experiences but just be who you are and people will accept you for that.
‘When you’re in your 20’s your whole world is about whether people like you or not but a good thing about getting older is that you care less about that.’
Did it change you personally, writing this book?
Writing the book has given me a little more confidence but you have to keep in mind that I’m in my late ‘40’s so a lot of the things in the book happened 30-some years ago. I’ve gone through a lot of growth since then and I don’t care so much what people think. When you’re in your 20’s your whole world is about whether people like you or not but a good thing about getting older is that you care less about that.
So no insecurities anymore?
I still have them, to a degree. For me, getting dressed up is wearing a pair of men’s trousers, a button down shirt and a bow- or a necktie. Sometimes and in some situations I still can’t help but wonder if that’s ok. I’m a woman who wears men’s clothing and once in a while I still have to remind myself that it’s ok.
I look at this book as a stepping-stone to the next one. I have some sequel chapters that I’ve written out and are floating in my head somewhere but I’m going to do some public speaking as well. I’m going into the local highschool to talk to the gay-straight alliance there and I also got the opportunity to go into a local company and do a presentation for their gay and lesbian organization. I never did anything like that but I’m trying to keep myself open to all the possibilities and opportunities. Find out what resonates with me. Maybe I’m good at it and I will be able to spread my message a little further, who knows.
You’re speaking at a high school. Do you think it’s important to talk to kids?
Definitely. We didn’t have that kind of exposure when I was a teenager. I grew up in a town where people weren’t Out. I didn’t know any gay people, I didn’t have family members who were gay and there weren’t gays and lesbians on television. My life may have turned out differently if I had been around gay people. If the possibility existed. So it might be a powerful thing to go and speak at schools and meet young people.
What would you say to a 16 year old butch girl who reads this article?
I would say be true to yourself. Don’t change for somebody else and keep the swagger! That’s the best part of being butch. The swagger.
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