23 Dec 2010
My daughter Alice was not always called Alice. Until the age of fifteen, she was mostly Jory. On paper, she was Jordan. Often and alternately, she was called He or Him, both Son and Brother. On the hospital nursery wristband, tucked away now in the drawer of treasures beside my bed, she was likewise mislabeled.
Alice spent the first fifteen years of her life hidden away inside a Boy Suit, not unlike an inescapable pair of footie pajamas, which seem perfectly fine and comfortable at first, but grows less so over time. At the age of ten, a single toe poked through. By eleven, the armpits had gotten too tight. When she was twelve the broken zipper’s twisted teeth scraped her here and there, a constant rash of irritations. At thirteen it had grown so uncomfortable and restrictive that Alice secretly set out to shred the whole damn thing.
By age fourteen she was well on her way to that destruction, slashing away at her Boy Suit with a hundred little razor cuts, waging war on it from the inside with pills and pints and powders, anything she could get her sticky-fingered hands on. She ravaged it and raged inside of there, lashing out at everything and everyone within reach.
Then came the long line of doctors and therapists, psychiatrists and specialists, each one armed with a new set of methodologies and medications, more pills to pop on top of the ones she was already popping, more mind-numbing, probing questions about her family, her school, her past and bad behavior. Nothing seemed to help. Nothing made her feel better, behave better or stop the intentional self-destructing. “I’m not like other people” she’d say, but pressed for further explanation, she couldn’t or wouldn’t say more.
Alice didn’t tell anyone about the Boy Suit until she was fifteen. Maybe it took that long to find the right moment or the right words, which were honestly, beautifully simple. “I am always angry because I am always sad. And I am always sad because I am a girl.” She didn’t say “a girl in a Boy Suit”, nor did I think of it that way back then, because of course, the Boy Suit was all I’d ever known.
Later that same night, she told me her name.
There was no time and no way anyway to prepare for the fragile female who peered out at me with all anxiousness and expectation. Everything about her was askew, strangely unfamiliar and downright delicate. What did I know of daughters? How to love one, how to raise one, most of all, how to help this unexpected one of mine flourish and bloom?
My daughter Alice spent the first fifteen years of her life hidden away inside a Boy Suit and together, we spent every day of her sixteenth year trying to dismantle it. Naming the thing didn’t magically melt it away. Adorning it with a patchwork of glittery girlie whatnots was occasionally, momentarily satisfying. But the painstaking work of deconstructing the suit, stitch by stitch, was agonizingly slow.
There were others along the way, who with the worst case of good intentions, would try to mend the seams or force the zipper up past stubbornly twisted teeth. So many days we had to start the disassembling all over again. Those days wore on Alice and I’d find her, all too often, back to slashing and raging, waging war from the inside. Old habits die hard and the stubborn suit of gender, even harder. In the end, three months shy of her seventeenth birthday, my beautifully blooming daughter freed herself the only way she knew how, leaving a grieving mother and an empty Boy Suit behind.
There are so many ways to tell Alice’s story.
This is but one of them.
[an excerpt from The Complicated Geography of Alice]