Coming of Age: The Gender Kaleidoscope – Part I

In a multi-part series, Olivia breaks down how key life moments and questioning her gender helped her to come of age.

When I was 7 years old, maybe 8 years old, I watched "The Princess Knight, a 1960's Japanese anime that would be aired on Mexican television on a regional channel. Watching anime at such a young age was eye opening. The colors were used differently. The art was crisp compared to the cartoonish aspect of American animation. The themes were a bit more mature. Its not hard to miss that He-Man fights Skeletor over and over and over again. The turtles have to deal with the foot and its leader Shredder all the time. Superman always fends off Luthor, and it seems the good guys never get rid of the bad guys for good. Nor do the bad guys truly get close to eliminating the good guys (except one time I remember Michaelangelo almost got his head "acified" off). In anime, the bad guys were out to "kill" the good guys. It was always clear what their intentions were. And lo and behold, characters actually bled in anime. The first time I saw an episode of Saint Seiya (I was a bit older, 13), it left me speechless at how amazing and bloody these "cartoons" were. But I digress.

"The Princess Knight" deals with a young teenage princess who was born into a royal couple needing a male heir for the kingdom before the evil duke tries to take the throne. So, they raised the princess as a boy, telling everyone that she was a boy. She believed it herself that she was a boy, until an angel came to her at age 16 to help and protect her, and revealed that she must remain as a boy to help her parents. She obliges, but there were so many moments during the anime when living with this gender duality takes its toll on her. Now if you think about it, this is a cartoon from the 1960's and I was viewing this at age 7 at around the end of the 1980's! Talk about a show way ahead of its time.

> "I HAD RECURRING DAYDREAM FANTASIES THAT SOMEHOW IN MY LIFE IT COULD PLAY OUT LIKE IN THE ANIME: THAT I WAS BORN AS A GIRL BUT I HAD TO PRETEND TO BE A BOY."

I identified with the Princess Knight so much. It was my favorite character to "act out" when I would play with my friends. At that time nobody truly questioned why I wanted to be the Princess Knight. Maybe because in those times as children we didn't question gender too much, and if we did, it wasn't as big of a deal until it was made a big deal by adults and such. It was thrilling to feel that I was her, or him, however you would want to see it. It made me feel comfortable because I could feel my femininity inside but my masculinity on the outside much like her. The Princess Knight had big beautiful eyes, and that's what I felt like when I played. The Princess Knight wore white leggings, and I would wear sweat pants when I played as her, and I always chose this particular pair that was very soft. The material made me feel more authentic, more complete as a Princess Knight. They made me feel comfortable to be alive. The Princess Knight had short black hair, and I would look at my hair in the mirror and love that I had a very similar black hairstyle, and that it helped even more in pretending to be my heroine. I had recurring daydream fantasies that somehow in my life it could play out like in the anime: that I was born as a girl but I had to pretend to be a boy. That my grandmother and my father knew about it but loved me for being truly being a girl instead of a boy.

A couple of times my dad saw me watching this show, but he never questioned me watching it. The questioning came when he heard me playing outside. He calls me over to him in a stern voice and stares at me in that way macho dads stare, judging with intense eyes. My dad looks particularly intimidating, being six feet tall, athletically built, and sporting a big Mexican mustache. I approach him shyly.

Why are you saying youre that cartoon character?

I look at him with no answer, and with fear. He keeps staring me down. He makes me feel so naked with that judging look, with those mad bushy eyebrows angled in anger. My body feels weak, and I fear he will hit me.

I asked you a question. Youre a boy. Youre not supposed to be pretending to be a girl.

My father has gotten to the very bottom of my soul. It feels like he has seen me, the most intimate part of me. In that moment, it feels that he knows all my secrets; He knows everything about me. And hes ashamed of me.

I dont ever want to hear you playing that do you understand?

I nod still looking at his eyes. Hes not yelling. He doesnt need to. That look is worth years of scolding. In ten to fifteen seconds hes made me feel so small, insecure, and embarrassed. He doesnt know it, but hes just seen part of who I truly am and he has dismissed me as a fake. As something wrong.

I go back to my friends and they dont say anything. Its almost as if they are partially feeling what I was feeling. Nothing is mentioned, we are just quiet. One of them mentions we should play something else, and we do. My father finishes his cigarette, and goes inside the house. In a couple of minutes, he comes out again, gets in his car and leaves. He would normally say good bye to me, give me a kiss, but not this time. It was his way of letting me know he was leaving and he was leaving feeling upset with me.

After that day, I never again played Princess Knight.

To be continued...

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