My femininity journey is that of a typical ugly duckling. Let’s just say,I was not….and then suddenly, I was. My confusion began at an early age. Adult men and women alike shamed me for displaying feminine characteristics. As African American girls growing up in the 90’s, we were called “grown” or “fast” as pejoratives for displaying our desires for anything opposite of a tomboyish personality. Being a tomboy was socially rewarded. It taught me to prefer masculinity in my character over femininity. I was a naturally curvy little girl, even from the tender age of 5 years old. Young boys and adult men alike, be they strangers, family, or friends of the family, made slapping, groping, grabbing, and commenting on my large round buttocks a daily humiliation ritual. One I scarcely escaped from. My little child’s waist was tiny, making my round behind and big legs all the more obvious. As much as I liked dresses and dreamed of being a ballerina, I learned to sag my pants and hate dresses, feigning a desire to be a tomboy until it became a reality. My girlish compassion, sensitivity, and love for beauty (I grew up in a hair salon) was something I could never hide. I learned to tinge my eruptions of femininity with masculine finishes. In middle school for example, were I to wear eyeliner and mascara, they were accompanied by sagging jeans purchased from the men’s side of a department store along with visible boxers. I took my masculinity further still and would say chivalrous things like ” I don’t hit girls.” I would instead get into physical fights with only bullies and boys. I was eventually expelled from middle school. My female teachers duly feared the combination of my size and dysfunction. As a rather large child. I won every fight (besides one outside of school) and became the protector of my shorter freely feminine friends. If I could not protect my own feminine softness, I would protect that of others.
My petite girlfriends wished they looked like me. Any time my body was visible at some place or other (i.e. a slumber party) they wish that puberty had accosted them the way it had done me. I felt like a sideshow freak. Grown men began approaching me when I was only ten years old. I internalized their lust as guilt. Most adult men seemed genuinely fooled by the combination of my physique and height. I would always be upfront about my age straight away.
“Hi, what’s your name?”
(Car drives off)
To adjust for this daily occurrence, I learned to wear the clothes of my older male cousins while putting my hair in two Snoop Doggy Dogg looking pigtails. My clothes and coats were so big and baggy, I fooled some girls into thinking I was a guy. Had being transgender been a thing in the 90’s I would surely have claimed such a status. I suppose subconsciously I learned to give in to being “big and boyish” in response to severe child molestation and targeting. As the songstress Aaliyah began to feminize her look, I followed suit. The sagging pants at my new high school now made me look more like some weirdo gothic skater boy than a gangster to be feared. The times were changing. My body was too.
By the time I entered high school in 1999 I had utterly internalized being big and ugly. I hated compliments. I was so gripped by body dysmorphic disorder, I honestly thought people would tell me I was pretty because they felt sorry for how ugly I was. I taught my friends never to give me compliments unless they were regarding talent or intellect. Positive feedback regarding my looks sent me into tailspins of anger and resentment. Being hyper sexualized as a child while simultaneously being nicknamed things like “Chewbacca, Hairy and the Hendersons, Predator, Sasquatch, Cousin-it,” and other popular culture figures from the 90s, sent me a terribly deprecating message. The endearing love I have for those nicknames now, is only matched by the hatred I had for them as a child. You see, my actual name is Choclt’ Angel (i.e. chocolate). Every time I entered a new grade level I was humiliated for months by staff, faculty, and students for having the name Chocolate. The combination of these things led me to suicidal ideation. Coping with pain by slitting my wrists with razors to relieve the emotional agony. I was also referred to as retarded or “slow” due to looking so mature, yet acting my actual age. For most of my life my inner world was a horrid place to live. One I could not escape. I was with me wherever I went.
Experiments as a freshman in high school with feminine clothing sent me running back and forth between hiding myself in masculine clothes and revealing myself in feminine clothing. I unwittingly made myself the envy of several very popular senior girls, commanding so much attention that my name rang through a number of other public high schools after my first day in high school. All of a sudden I was this beautiful amazon looking spectacle reflected in music videos (which further lowered my self-esteem, I longed to be seen as pretty or beautiful, but sexy and similar base sexual feedback as if I was some kind of a nonhuman is all I garnered then). Strangers would rap a song by the rapper Juvenile “Back that ass up” to me as I passed by thinking I would be flattered, I was not. I was annoyed and offended. I had been called strippers and whores before I could accurately define the terms. I was sent home from school for wearing what my peers wore because I did not look like my peers when I wore them. Being mistaken for a teacher or parental chaperone on field trips became so common it became a running joke among my friends and I. Why did they think I was an adult wearing a backpack?
As for a significant turning point, I was bullied by a cheerleader I looked up to. I wish I had understood her own inner turmoil as a biracial child, I would not have taken her insults and rumors so personally had I been able to have compassion for that as a struggle. I was called “pretty for a dark skinned girl” so many times in my life that I could only see her skin as a privilege. I had been in a couple of drill teams with her. Her mother was the lunch lady at my elementary school, a big cuddly loving white woman with “An African American heart”. To her I was just a little kid, a good girl. I was safe and loved when I was with her. This drew me all the more to her daughter who hated me about as much as her mother loved me. She was a pretty girl, but an obese one. I, in contrast, was built like a comic book superhero ( I was nicknamed “Ronnie” from a movie by Ice Cube called, “The Player’s Club” by boys at school). I was the object of lust for every popular boy in the school and in the neighborhood. Including those who didn’t think much of my face at all ” She ugly, but I’d fuck, she got body.” I was so self absorbed in my own woe I bumped my head for a decade on the jealousy of other girls. My self esteem was so dangerously low I could not understand for the life of me why anyone would be jealous of me. I internalized being victimized by any gender as my fault for being intrinsically unworthy.
This was a common theme in my life. I had a nonsexual relationship with a basketball player who oscillated between myself and the head cheerleader a year or so after my biracial bully graduated. I was a junior in high school. She would eventually marry him a decade and a half or so later. The future HBCU graduate made sure I did not make the squad. The other cheerleaders leaked as much. I crumbled and cried. Her taunts of “That’s why you didn’t make the squad” for me was translated as failed femininity. A terribly rhythmless girl without form or wherewithal made the squad but she was pretty, petite and fair skinned, my total opposite. Who was I kidding? I weighed more than the linebackers! I could still throw a teenaged boy if I needed to and proved as much in a game of capture the flag my senior year. It was an odd thing between the cheer captain and I. She seemed to like me, a lot. She would mock me and I’d toss her around a little. She was a tiny “high-yellow” thing. Cute to boot. My first frenemy, or so I thought. My first frenemy was actually my very best friend, the biracial first cousin of my bully. I loved her unconditionally while she had a blend of admiration and jealousy that made her smolder with obsession with me. I took her constant companionship for friendship. It was not. She soothed herself by learning my secrets and verbally lynching me by them. When I finally made the cheer squad she revealed herself more and more, I let her go. She was a tomboy who stood guard at the gate of me being too “girly”. Once I made the squad my repressed femininity spilled out like water at shattered levy. To the point of being a caricature of stereotypical femininity; pink, dresses, heels, hair, makeup, speech patterns… I couldn’t help myself. The spirit of Marilyn Monroe had possessed me or so it appeared. I earned the jealousy and disdain of several peers and adults. Even my own coach. However, the joy I felt at self actualizing for the first time in my life must have come across as annoyingly impenetrable.
I earned a scholarship for setting the tone or atmosphere at my high school. All of this because I was happy and finally free of that suffocating tomboyish facade. My self actualization benefited 1600 students, every last one of them. Years after I graduated from high school, people I could scarcely identify would approach me and say, “Hey! You were that cheerleader! I went to Franklin! Or something to the effect of “Hey, is your name Choclit’? You went to Franklin, right?” Back in high school I ended fights by physically jumping into them restraining students until help came, speaking to them with a maternal love (I was nicknamed grandma by a beautiful gay male peer who I protected from straight boys) and sat with students of all backgrounds and social standing. Race, religion, sexuality, disabilities, these weren’t barriers for me. Only a person’s kindness mattered. I learned to avoid the arrogant varsity boys at my own high school for the affection and admiration of the humble quarterback at our rival school who became both a Dallas Cowboy and a Seahawk later on in life. We attended the same college, no longer arch rivals but as one. Again, I became the object of envy and rancor. I was not sure how to work myself out of the fray of gossip and insults. I could not. My only asset was that I was such a practicing Christian at the time that I had not been sexually active at any point during college. Why was that anyone’s business? It was not, but rumors of my “purity” and chronic single hood seemed to excuse me of the consequences of being such an overtly feminine heartthrob. No one had a chance but Jesus himself it seemed. I went as far as kissing and cuddling the sweet quarterback but he was not about to take from me what he admired most about me. Chastity. I had stolen the heart of the most masculine guy on campus, by being effortlessly the most feminine. As the most popular and poised girl in both schools I became a symbol of confidence and compassion. Embracing femininity was the key to my own self actualization.