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VIEWPOINTS The Seasoned Life
by Jano
2018-03-14

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You might find this hard to believe, but it's true.

Before I came to earth I had already picked out my parents and siblings and waited for the correct body for myself. I waited until I grew impatient and finally requested, "Next available, please." The third day of August, I was born a 6 lb 5 oz baby girl.

For many years I thought that my little girl's life was like most little girls. I played drums with pencils on the top of the grits box. I woke up looking forward to playing baseball with my plastic ball and bat. On Friday nights, I went to sleep listening to the boxing match on the radio as my bedtime story and dreamed of playing for the Chicago Cubs when I grew up.

One day, a backyard friend told me that if I could kiss my own elbow, I could change into a boy. He had witnessed my frustrations, as adults on the street on the other side of our fence had commented on my baseball enthusiasm. They often made my friends, who were boys, feel bad for being out hustled by a girl. I didn't want them to feel bad or for me—to continue to feel that I couldn't be the winner in our games, because I was a girl. So I spent a whole 6-year-old summer day trying to turn myself into a boy.

I kept trying to kiss my own elbow. My sister Tam, who was two years older, monitored my progress and encouraged me to twist that elbow a little more. I even made up a song expressing my efforts, "Boy, girl, boy oy oy oy." But by evening, we were both tired and resigned to the fact that I would never be able to kiss my own elbow, which meant, I would have to remain a girl for the rest of my life.

I went on playdates with my best friend from school, to cook with her Easy Bake Oven and play hours of boring games like hopscotch and rock teacher. When I became old enough to understand where babies came from, which to me was the main thing that made girls different from boys, I figured one day, I too would have a child. In my naiveté I imagined I could have enough children to form a basketball team.

The day before I was to enter eighth grade my life changed forever; I came on my period. Although my mother had been very instructive about menstrual cycles and what it meant, the thing I remember her saying sadly and almost apologetically was, "You can no longer play with the boys like you have been. You have to be more careful now." She even admitted that she had prayed that I did not start menstruating until I turned 17.

For the next 40 years, life was dictated by my menstrual cycle. In the beginning, the joy and wild abandon I had in playing an impromptu game of slow-pitch softball became an excuse or feigned disinterest for not joining in. The flame of my natural desire to climb a tree or scale a fence was dampened by the red and white between my legs. At any moment, I could go from laughing with the boys to being pulled aside and whispered to, about the untimely red stains on the back of my clothes.

Moving from my teens to adulthood did not make these monthly visits any easier. The boy that lived inside of me had learned how to impersonate a girl so well. However, when it came to that monthly cycle, I harbored confusion, depression and shame. I often felt bullied as well as betrayed by life. It was oppressive and kept me tethered to a spirit of caution so deep that I often rearranged my plans with friends ( which made me seem fickle ) because of its untimely arrival and my inability to understand or manage it. I recall watching the women's track and field event at the 1988 Summer Olympics on television, wondering what their secrets were for running in those outfits seemingly unconcerned of whether they would come on their period before the finish line.

Then one day, my menstrual cycle stopped; which turned into a year of not showing up. Which turned into a different season of this female body—menopause.

The end of one chapter and the beginning of another.

I graciously accepted it.

Jano is a writer with an insatiable curiosity who has also written for the Chicago Defender, Chicago Sun-Times, Out Magazine, Fisk University Almanac of Popular Culture and more. She wrote a column for Nightlines, a sister publication to Outlines ( now Windy City Times ) in the 1990s.


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