Warning, this is another Transgender-related blog. It also covers ground I've covered before, in a much earlier blog.
My brother was recently in town for our Grandfather's funeral, and he showed me photo of me as a kid, holding a couple of Barbies. I don't know the context of the photo. I know I'm at my grandparents' house, but I don't know the occasion. I don't think I ever actually owned any Barbie dolls, so I would imagine that my cousins must have been there as well. So it was probably Christmas Eve or something.
But the picture still made me think about my childhood, and how I would play. Well, it was already on my mind, ever since KJ's Transgender-related blog on 1/11, which I countered in my own blog on 1/13. But, the discovery of the picture gave me something tangible to wrap my brain around. Of course, the picture proves nothing. I don't know the context, and even if I did, it's one isolated incident. Heck, it's probably posed: "Here, Matt, hold these and smile, it'll make a funny picture". But the expression on my face (as opposed to the "Ew, Barbie!" face some boys would have shown), somehow validates some of my feelings. At least it does to me.
Thinking back, I showed plenty of signs that I wasn't destined to be masculine. But without hearing my thought processes at the time, these signs were dismissed as things that all boys do. Do I think I was the only little boy to pick up a Princess Leia figure? Of course not. But when a lot of boys play, the action figures themselves are just instruments to shoot at each other. My play was more like that of an actor, and I was always looking at my character's motivation. I usually picked female figures because I identified with them. My play style was sometimes similar to the way girls play with Barbie dolls. Sometimes the characters wouldn't even get around to fighting, because what I did was more like a soap opera.
Overall, though, it depended on who I was playing with. Some specific memories:
CB:I can't remember exactly when this happened, probably around the third grade. My next-door neighbor ("CB") and I were about to play Voltron. I was the one who had suggested Voltron. And the truth was, I didn't care about Voltron itself, I just wanted to play as Princess Allura. There were a lot of times when I was more interested in "being" a character than in playing itself. Usually I didn't think about the fact that these characters were usually female. But sometimes I would avoid using female characters around certain friends, because I knew they'd make fun of me. CB was a couple of years younger than me, but I was still afraid of how he would react to my playing Allura.
So, I made it look like I was having difficulty deciding which of the five characters I wanted to pick. I had him run through the cast list, while I gave fake reasons that I didn't want to be that character.
CB: "Keith?" Me: "No, he's a jerk."
CB: "Lance?" Me: "No, he's boring."
CB: "Hunk?" Me: "No, he's fat."
CB: "Pidge?" Me: "No, he's a dork."
CB: "Allura?" Me: "No, she's a girl."
I'm probably not remembering all my answers correctly, but it really doesn't matter. All the reasons were lies; I wanted it to look like none of the characters were appealing to me, so I could work my way into picking Allura without it seeming like I specifically wanted to pick her. Next, I pretended to play "Eenie-meenie-miny-moe" to pick my character, faking the outcome so I could be Allura. I was still embarrassed to play her that day, though. I didn't speak much, and we just got in our imaginary lion-bots and blasted aliens. CB even made a comment about how quiet I was. The truth was, I was afraid that he had figured out that I had wanted to play Allura. Suddenly I wasn't sure if I should speak in a female voice. Not that my voice was terribly masculine at the time, but I did try to sound more girly if I was playing a girl.
JS was my best friend for many years. Around the third grade or so, sometime after "Return of the Jedi" anyway, we started playing "Bounty Hunters". The Bounty Hunters were Boba Fett, Boushh (the figure was Princess Leia in Boushh disguise, but we considered Boushh to be a character of her own), Snake-Eyes (from GI Joe), and Lamprey (also from GI Joe - a generic Hydrofoil pilot; he only got picked because one of us thought he had a neat costume).
I would play Boushh, and JS would be Boba Fett. When we played, our plots were a lot closer to "Moonlighting" than "Star Wars". And here's the thing, even though Boba Fett was my favorite Star Wars character, I was the one who insisted that JS play him. Because I didn't actually want to be Boba Fett, so much as I wanted to date him.
We played the same plots over and over, with different twists. We'd play Boba and Boushh meeting each other. Boba wouldn't realize at first that Boushh was a female. Boushh would hide that fact because she didn't think a female bounty hunter would get as much respect. At some point in the game, Boba would find out her secret. We loved playing out that part for some reason. How would he find out this week? Would they fall in love this time? These are some of my fondest childhood memories, and I don't say that lightly. When adulthood overwhelms me, and I fantasize about being a kid again (as everyone does sometime or another), "Bounty Hunters" is one of my safe places.
Another friend, probably around fourth grade. "SO" was smart and creative, but he didn't have much respect for girls. When I brought out a female GI Joe figure to play with, he questioned why I wasted money on her, and he wondered why they even made female figures. I remember when we were playing Bounty Hunters, we took some cardboard and made a headquarters for our action figures. It had a command room, a garage, and even living quarters. I went into a lot of detail, including making beds, putting pictures on the walls, etc. SO kept questioning why I was wasting valuable time on those details. After all, "it's not a dollhouse, it's a base! We're not going to play them sleeping!"
But of course, SO had a more aggressive play style than JS. JS and I had all sorts of uses for beds, bathrooms, and anything else that would make the base more realistic. And that's probably why, overall, I ended up being better friends with JS than SO. With JS, I could be myself, in a way that just didn't work with any of my other friends.