by: Johnathan Fields
I was the little boy America is supposedly becoming more comfortable talking about. I was the little boy who, on his sixth birthday, asked for the Aladdin and Jasmine Barbie dolls only to cut off all of Jasmine’s hair. I was the boy who would “cry too much,” and would eventually learn not to because “boys don’t cry.” I was the boy who played with all the girls on the playground, the boy who preferred to play house and dress-up instead of video games and race cars. I still remember the confused stares I received from numerous people.
I was six years old, and I was a sissy.
Throughout most of my adolescence, I learned to start the process of suppressing my inner sissy. It could have been my family’s rigid expectations of traditional, patriarchal gender roles. Or perhaps it was the moment in sixth grade when I began my education at a new school, an education filled with hide-and-seek.
I had been fairly popular in elementary school, but this was a new territory. On the bus, I encountered what I thought would be my first new friends and had apparently gotten a little too excited for them. I say “apparently” because by the same time next week they had stopped talking to me. A few days later, I had been called into the Vice Principal’s office; someone had written “John Fields is a faggot” on the boy’s bathroom wall. Who else would have known who I was? I had been at the school for four days. The popularity I gained in middle school was a new kind, a shameful one.
After that incident, I spent all of sixth grade being tormented in the hallways, eating lunch by myself, and excelling in all of my homework because it was the only escape I had. On the rare occasion I engaged in a brief verbal encounter with another boy, the moment I started to get “too comfortable,” he made sure to put me in my place. Back off, faggot. I can still remember most of their names.
We can’t even begin to talk about the shame I felt every time I was forced to undress in the boy’s locker room for gym: the whispering, the stares, the making sure my eyes didn’t wander off that tiny circle on the ground I was piercingly focused on. Some people wonder how you get a C- in Physical Education. Try being a sissy in a room full of testosterone.
The prison built around that part of my identity during such a formative period became so unbearable that I decided to stop riding the bus and walked two miles each way to and from school every day. I began to participate in upholding the very beliefs that caused me to stifle parts of myself that felt natural, clinging to uninformed ideas of what it meant to be a “real” man.
I was twelve years old, and I was a sissy.
It was the year I attempted suicide. But I was lucky. Lucky because I was unsuccessful and lucky because I only attempted it once.
I spent the next ten years or so engaging in behaviors that I can now shake my head and laugh at but are far from funny. They lack humor because they further show how I had been suppressing that inner sissy.
All of these experiences taught me that there is a relationship between sissy and faggot. While I still don’t have the vocabulary to articulate what it is exactly, faggot is much more complex than a derogatory word aimed at homosexual men. It encompasses how one is perceived with regards to gender; heterosexual men that don’t fit some masculine standard are also targeted by the word faggot. Homophobia and misogyny reach far above and beyond gay men.
Even after I learned what homosexuality was, came out of my closets, and started to understand what those people had meant when they called me a faggot, I did what I watch a lot of gay men do. I ran from the feminine.
I didn’t want to be called “girl.” Not because it didn’t reflect my gender expression, as various parts of my identity carried feminine attributes — but because I didn’t want to be perceived as weak. Whenever I entered a space I was not sure I was safe in, my voice would deepen and my friends would mock me. I walked on eggshells to make sure I was not acting too sissy-like to avoid ever being called a faggot again.
Eventually, I would be fortunate enough to have a friend who helped carry me out of the patriarchal cage that made me fear femininity, a friend who would lead me further into a feminist identity.
Years later, after finding myself recovering from some of the patriarchal addictions that caused me to suppress pieces of myself for so long, I realize my recovery is not over.
I had begun the process of becoming more comfortable in my gender. My hair became longer and started to flip. Purses and rain boots started coming out. I started looking for accessories throughout stores instead of just the men’s section. Then, one day, I thought I was ready.
There we were: three sissies in the fitting room of Akira Chicago trying on dresses, wigs and heels for a friend’s birthday party. Drag was something I had never done before and something my former self probably could have never imagined doing. You know we practiced those walks. Living rooms and hallways became catwalks. Surprisingly, I had never felt more “masculine” than when I put on those six-inch stilettos.
I never went public with that drag. The night we made our big group debut, my friends did it up while I walked a few blocks in those heels. I observed as people made comments to us, mainly directed at my friends. But I will never forget what a young man said to me as he looked on at my Tina Turner-esque friend. He grabbed my arm and told me, “I better not ever catch you dressed like that.” In that moment, I wished I would have had the courage to queen out in my little black dress and Charlie’s Angels brunette wig.
Then, a man I was briefly seeing decided to end things the moment I wore my skinny jeans. Apparently, they were too feminine for him. The mask of masculinity came crashing into my world all over. But, this time I had a shield to protect my sissy from having to burrow deep inside my soul. I knew I was finally strong enough to begin protecting my inner sissy. The keyword is: begin.
Last week, I walked up and down the aisles of Nordstrom Rack with a gorgeous man. I watched him put on a pair of glittered sequin five-inch heels and stomp down those aisles like it was his block. Judy and Diana would have been proud. While I wanted to look him directly in his eyes and say, “Baby, you look beautiful,” I got lost in my own thoughts, thoughts of how long I had suppressed my inner sissy, how I was finally ready to release it.
My relationship to gender might be complex but it is my own. So, if you ever catch a six foot three being sashaying down the aisles of Nordstrom Rack in six-inch heels, check for me.
Years ago, I was a sissy. But today, I am a sissy.