October 23, 2007
By Liz Henry
Age 10 at the time
Almost every day in 4th grade my best friend Laurie Arminia and I would run outside to play under the geodesic dome monkeybars at recess. We'd comb through the sand with our fingers and explain to each other where everything was in our space city, and where the farms were, and the roads. I'd look up to see Laurie lost in thought with sand in her hands, her thick black hair flying around like a Shetland pony's mane. The grey steel monkeybar dome overhead saved our space colony people from the poison atmosphere of Planet Zyax, which we had named after a book called "The Humans of Zyax II". Other people ran around whacking tether balls or playing four-square. Laurie and I were little kids. No one paid any attention to us. We'd climb to the top of the dome and survey our planet like twin gods. Twice a week, instead of going to recess, she and I would stay inside being "library aides", shelving books and helping kindergarteners learn to read. Doesn't it sound like a fairy tale? Too good to be true!
The next year everything changed horribly. My family moved to Houston, Texas, which I had pictured as a sepia-toned dusty Western movie. Perhaps I'd ride my horse to school, tying it up to the hitching post!
That really was too good to be true. Texas was a brutal suburban landscape of malls and golf courses. The 5th grade girls wore 3-inch heels. I was as short as most kindergarteners, still wearing Garanimals, midget-sized Wranglers, and (horrors, for piano recitals) dresses with smocking across the chest. Middle class 5th grade Texas girls in 1980 wore Jordache jeans and couple-skated with boys at the roller rink. I
was in deep trouble.
Luckily, before school started, I met Jennifer, who lived around the block. Though Jennifer was a year younger than me, she became my friend. I'd dial her phone number over and over; I can still hear the song of it in the beeps, 444-6784, 444-6784; a busy signal. Jennifer had a makeup mirror that flipped over and lit up to show what you looked like in night and day lighting, far away or magnified. She had enormous makeup kits. I'd lie on her waterbed (?!) to watch her smear on base, foundation, powder, eyeliner, lip liner, lip stick, mascara, and 5 kinds of eyeshadow while we listened to Prince albums as loud as possible and Jennifer insulted me in ways I didn't understand. "Quit watching me with your beady little roach eyes!" or "I think you're a Mexican, you have squinty eyes like a Mexican." It was as unlike Laurie Arminia as you could get. Jennifer was completely alien. I learned all the words to the Prince songs. Jennifer was like Prince, and David Bowie, with their makeup and thick eyeliner, screaming and posing, dancing on the rim of the bed, all the gleaming album covers and posters and magazines.
One day at recess a horrible girl followed me outside from the "cafetorium". She had been making fun of how I ate my sandwich while reading a book. Cheryl wore suede ankle boots. Her mom's boyfriend took them on ski vacations. Cheryl said that reading was gay, and that I should be named Liz the Lez. To escape her, I went out into the blazing sun of the sidewalk and the heat-shimmered parking lot. Other kids followed us out, hooting. I saw Jennifer's face laughing at me in the crowd. She was chanting with them, "Liz the Lez, Liz the Lez." Someone pointed out that I was about to cry. People were crowding around me, too close, like stampeding animals. I felt sweaty and scared and a little dizzy. Sounds all started to blend together, babbling nonsense sounds, waves or wind or a waterfall over rocks.
Cheryl — with her blond, feathered hair and her disco metallic shirt — came right up into my face really close and went, "Is it true? I heard it was. I heard you used to be a boy, and you got a sex change. That's why you're so flat. You don't wear a bra. And you're like a boy and like boy things. Cause you're really a boy. LEZZIE." I realized then that "Lez" meant lesbian. All the advice my mom and dad had ever given to me, like Just walk away and Just ignore it, flew out of my head. I felt like my body disappeared, and I was like a cloud of light and air. And I said this... in a voice that could rule the world... I'm not making it up:
"That's the dumbest thing I've EVERY HEARD IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. How could I have a sex change when I'm only in 5th grade. I'm not even hitting puberty yet. And even if I had a sex change, SO WHAT IF I DID. And if I was a boy, I wouldn't be a lesbian, don't you know anything? And we're little kids, you dumbass, we don't have sex anyway, which is what it means, it's about who you have sex with, I have read about it, and people have the right to do whatever they want because it's a free country, and I believe in free love and I have constitutional rights, and I'm not a lesbian I'm BISEXUAL."
Then my body came back into sweaty existence, and my head came back down onto my body, and I ran into the school and hid in the bathroom and cried so hard that snot ran down the back of my throat and I sort of choked and threw up. I went to the nurse and my mom came to get me. They asked me what happened, so I just said that I threw up after lunch. I spent the rest of the day in bed with an ice-cold towel on my head,
sipping ginger ale, reading science fiction, and feeling very confused.
I was still friends with Jennifer until 9th grade. My mom said that Jennifer was a bad person to be friends with. She wasn't nice. My mom was right, but there was something my mom didn't get. I needed to understand what was the deal with Jennifer.
My life has been something of a variation on that theme ever since.