Call Me A Boy, Part 2: Fuck my blossoming womanhood
By FARIS SAAD.
Puberty crept up on me and fucked up my life. Slowly, painfully, my body began to change, adding on to it layers of femininity. It became my prison. I would check out my budding bosom in the mirror and slowly press my hands down on my achy developing boobs, wishing I could make them disappear.
One day after school, my teacher pulled me aside and said it was time I wore a bra. She was pleasant about it, but that was when it really hit me that I couldn’t stop this horrible hormonal beast from taking over my body and transforming me into something I never wanted to be. I wanted to change into something else, anything else. More than anything I wanted to change into a boy and confirm that everyone had made a mistake by calling me a girl. I would wake up one morning, come down to breakfast, and surprise everyone; I would suddenly be a boy and everyone would be happy and we would eat.
WELCOME TO PARADISE
My mother came home from work one day and took me aside (talking about bodies always involves pulling the kid to one side and speaking in hushed tones) and handed me a Metrojaya plastic bag. I was excited because I was getting something my brother wasn’t. But my heart sank when I saw the plain white BeeDees training bras, their little peaks confirming the start of my journey into womanhood and the loss of everything I wanted to be true about me.
“Mahal ni. Bra memang mahal pun. Haaa… tak lama lagi kena pakai modess* bila dah period. Cantik baju dalam ni, lembut. Kecik je ribbon!” she said. [Trans: This is expensive. Bras are expensive, anyway. Soon you’ll have to use a sanitary pad when you get your period. This undergarment is pretty, soft. The ribbon is so tiny!]
She tapped my nose when she said modess. MO-DESS. Like it was a holiday to look forward to. My boobs hurt, I was being bullied at school, and I was on the express bus to period-land. I had nothing to look forward to. (*Sanitary pads are known by the brand name Modess by many of the older generation, perhaps due to the popularity of the brand and the reluctance of women to use the term ‘sanitary pad’. Interestingly, even today, some shops pack sanitary pads in black plastic bags so customers aren’t seen in public with them, but we all know that black plastic bags means either pads or porno.)
Later that week my brother brought home a cassette copy of Green Day’s Dookie album and played it on our boombox. I loved the cover because there were little monkeys and little poops on it. I loved the music because it was catchy, and Billie Joe didn’t care about rhyming or proper enunciation. I forgot about my training bra under my t-shirt for a while and for the first time in my life I really paid attention to the lyrics and really listened to the songs. For the first time in my life as well, I cried in the shower. “Welcome to Paradise” was playing.
Can you hear me whining?
It’s been three whole weeks
Since I left your home
This sudden fear has left me trembling
‘Cause now it seems that I
Am out there on my own
And I’m feeling so alone
CHURALIYA DEKO ABTO
When I was twelve, my mother’s colleague, Abang Bob (always Abang and never Uncle) gave me a copy of his band’s album. His band was The Pilgrims, and the album was Da Capo. It came with a sticker, which was the coolest thing ever. I listened to the cassette over and over.
I’d never met anyone who was in a band, but here he was, in my mother’s office, sorting files with the makcik-makcik! People in bands were real people so that meant I could be in one too. Fuck my blossoming womanhood. I substituted my longing to be a boy with plotting to start a band. I soothed my dysphoria with music. I was consumed with my mission for years.
My brother and I used to pretend we were in a band when we were little. We’d line up my mother’s Tupperware for drums, and I’d use a tennis racket as a guitar. It was mostly us yelling, but to us it was music.
For years I begged my parents to get me guitar lessons. There was no YouTube back then, and guitars were expensive. The world was still years away from the flood of cheap Chinese-made guitars.
When I was 16 my dad came home with a bright green acoustic guitar. No one knew how to tune it, so for a while I tried to figure out songs on a weird open tuning, until my friend (and future bandmate) Diyz, showed me how to tune it. Her brother studied classical guitar, so she knew a thing or two. She also had a great ear and could tell immediately if the chord I was playing was right or not. We bonded over our love for football and music.
HEAD OVER FEET
I’d developed into an overweight teenager, which didn’t help reduce my boobs and curves at all. It also didn’t help with my self-esteem because adults were always giving me kind advice on losing weight and preparing myself for the husband-search. According to them, if I wasn’t slim, no man would like me and I’d have trouble getting a husband in the future. I was already lazy with housework (which my brother never had to do), never woke up early on a weekend like a good anak dara, and I was overweight — so how would I ever please a man?
“Kalau kurus sikit, dah ok tu.” [If you lost a little bit of weight, it would be better]
“Kena belajar masak nasi, kalau tak nak bagi laki makan apa? Takkan nak bagi makan spaghetti je?” [You have to learn to cook rice, otherwise what are you going to feed your husband? He’s not going to eat spaghetti every day is he?]
If I was a man, I’d cook spaghetti every damn day and no one would care.
I cared for little else, except for music and football. I couldn’t have been an interesting person to talk to, because I only ever wanted to talk about those two things. I wasn’t boy-crazy like my peers. I wasn’t girl-crazy either. I wasn’t attracted to anyone. School gossip was of little interest to me. I was also ugly so who would want to date me? I might as well focus on my goal of starting a band, fuck everything else. Looking back, I’m glad I was a loser in school because it gave me a single-track mind.
I’d hang out with Diyz almost every day after school. She introduced me to bands like NOFX, Sublime, and 311. We loved the Red Hot Chili Peppers. She also liked boybands and we’d sometimes practice harmonies. We’d use the PC at her house (she had internet access!) and try to follow tabs. With another friend, Mille, we’d play songs and record them on my stereo. Somewhere out there is our cover of Alanis Morissette’s “Head Over Feet”, recorded on a re-used cassette (by sticking foil into the holes on the bottom). I’m sure it’s horrible but we were so proud of it. The three of us would also shoplift cassettes and CDs from the local music shop, because we had no money and it was fun. Cargo pants were all the rage, and they were very convenient for this purpose.
I told Diyz we would be in a band together one day, and we would make that dream come true, years later…
To be continued…
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Faris Saad is a business journalist and member of queer band Shh…Diam! He is in his early 30s and is still not a rich rock star.
Animated gif by Shika.