Faced with the need to do a field study for his doctoral thesis, Gerald decides to infiltrate the world of females for intimate observation.
She Like Me
By Angela Rasch
Black Like Me is a truly wonderful book that was published in the early 1960s. In the late 1950s, an activist Caucasian author chemically made a temporary change to his skin color to experience the Deep South as a “Negro.” His book condemned and exposed the pervasiveness of racism in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi and frankly, the rest of the United States.
The very nature of the book explained the times. It was commonly accepted that the only way racism could be accurately chronicled was for a white man to life as a Negro and tell the world of his experience. The word of a black man would not suffice.
The story (and many of the words used in it, such as Negro) reflects the time and the essence of Black Like Me. Several passages are paraphrased quotes from feminists of the time, or taken from the pages of Black Like Me.
At the start of the story the protagonist mirrors the average person of her time . . . and isn’t very likable by today’s standards. By the standards of her time she, unfortunately, has average compassion.
Chapter One – All I've Got To Do
“Tell me again, Gerald, why shouldn’t I put the kibosh on this idea of yours.” My doctoral advisor’s face had long since passed through a tinge of red on the way to a purplish crimson that reminded me of the fall leaves on a large sugar maple in my family’s Minnesota backyard. The diversity of brilliant dark-red, orange, and finally golden-yellow on that one tree from my youth seemed to mock my rigid, conforming nature of my unnatural upbringing.
I felt a wrenching ache in my heart. My family had all recently passed. One of my personal heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot dead in Memphis the previous week, resulting in riots! President Johnson had just announced he would not run for re-election. We had entered a world of unreserved change.
Eager for Professor Ward’s approval, I started from the beginning. “I believe that was the first time I’d heard females talking to each other when they thought no male could hear. It was shocking how easily they spoke of things I expected no lady would ever discuss. I was tucked into the corner of a booth in the Student Union, deep into Continuities in Cultural Evolution by Margaret Mead.”
“That’s a masterful tome. Her over four hundred pages were intended to help others learn about themselves and work toward a more humanitarian and socially accountable culture,” Professor Ward allowed. “However, reading her dissertation hardly provides license for you to invade my office spouting tripe. Especially if you’re on a mission to suggest I sanction perverted behavior in the guise of a field study.” He glared at me over his glasses, as if he were an exorcist staring into the face of Lucifer.
“Perverted”? Why must he drag everything through sexual innuendo?
I wonder if he understood Mead’s message? She called for exactly the kind of study I’m suggesting.
If it’s his primary goal to make me feel horribly uncomfortable, he’s succeeded. My self-doubt could easily overwhelm me, and he’s being less than helpful.
For a chrome dome, he’s a handsome man. With his cheesy mustache and unkempt hair he looks like a tall, balding Sonny Bono, that hippie singer who just came out with a couple of songs with his wife, Cher. Professor Ward could use a shower, using lots of shampoo on what’s left of his hair. The three courses I’ve taken from him consisted of rambling lectures with almost no student interaction and featured a lack of scholarly focus.
“Professor . . . in all due respect, it’s 1968, not the Dark Ages. What I’m proposing is a scientific experiment. There’s nothing ‘perverse’ about my intent.” I’d given my concept three day’s worth of pondering before broaching it to him. In my mind, what I proposed was horribly brave and possibly more enlightening than anything ever done in our field.
The assassination of King had prompted me to do something meaningful and important with my life. If my mother and sister were still alive, they would be suffering through a world that treats them as second-class citizens. Women need men to advance the feminist cause for them.
Professor Ward stared at the ceiling, which he tended to do whenever someone questioned his world-view.
I studied the open transom above his office door. Could someone in the hall be listening to our private conversation? What I’m proposing could be extremely damaging, if the wrong person heard it. I’d ask him to close the transom, but his office is already stuffy and needs the airflow it offers. The exterior windows had long ago been rendered non-functional by an overzealous painter.
It still seemed odd speaking to him outside of the classroom setting. It hadn’t been in my nature to be a kiss-up, so I hadn’t spent a great deal of time talking with my professors, until such meetings became a mandatory part of my grad student regimen.
His eyes engaged mine. “There are states not more than five hundred miles from where we stand where you would be dishonorable discharged from a teaching position for doing what you’ve asked me to authorize.” He pointed to the wall map hanging behind him, in the general direction of Alabama.
I took it as a good omen that the state of Alabama was colored pink on that map. “Homosexuality!” I exclaimed. “People down south are losing their jobs for being flaming homos and pushing their foul ideas on unsuspecting students.” I don’t know any homosexuals, and I’m almost certain there aren’t any on our campus, because they wouldn’t be tolerated. “The homosexuals in the movies are always maladjusted, violent, and insane. The only homosexual I’ve ever seen in real life, and that was on television, is Liberace . . . and maybe that Truman Capote. He’s the guy who wrote In Cold Blood.”
“I’m not so sure that depraved fool wrote that book,” he scoffed. “An associate of mine in New York told me that he heard that Harper Lee wrote it and didn’t want it published under her name.” He shook his head and sneered that malicious way he often did when he’d taught me something completely new. “Do you realize what might happen to you if a group of young men discovers your deception? Men can be Neanderthals when provoked. And, most people would think you deserved it, if they gave you a thrashing.”
I nodded. I’d heard stories that certain boys at the University of Minnesota thought it was fair sport to “roll queers” in the Loring Park area of Minneapolis, stealing their pocket change and folding money. Those same students were perfect gentlemen in all other matters. They obviously deemed homosexuals to be less than human. “I don’t intend to take any chances.”
“I simply can’t allow it,” he ruled. “You’d be taking a terrible risk that could severely tarnish my reputation . . . and that of this department and the University. Homosexuals have no place in our society. One of the only things I dislike about being a bachelor is that people make jokes about me not liking women. I love women. It’s homosexuals I don’t like.”
He’s right, of course. “I’m not talking about homosexuality,” I argued while feeling that queasiness males get when talking with other males about that particularly embarrassing subject. I shuddered. “There’s a good reason every state in the union has anti-sodomy laws. What I’m suggesting is that I conduct clandestine observation in the name of research regarding the female quandary.”
“It can’t be done. The Dean would have my head. There’s no precedent,” he said firmly.
I can’t take “no” for an answer. This study is what I need to fill an unexplainable void in my life. “But, a study is vital. I’m telling you, if you had heard those girls talking the way I heard them, you’d be as eager as I am.”
He sucked on his unlit pipe. He’d long ago given up smoking, because he couldn’t stand the stale smell of the residue. “You say females were talking openly about abortions and menstrual cycles?”
I nodded. “They discussed those delicate subjects as if they were selecting paint colors for their kitchen.”
“Were the girls you overheard college students? Or, were they some flakes who were busing dishes?” He was referring to lower class employees of the University of Minnesota. They were locals who used their position as hired-help to meet unsuspecting college men. They would try to get themselves into a family way, and then secure an improvement in their social status through a shotgun wedding. They called it a “Dinkytown upgrade.”
“They were college students.” One of my books slid off the top of the pile I’d made next to my chair. I always carry three to five books. If only I had some kind of large bag for them. There are just too many I need for my studies to fit in my leather briefcase.
“Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” He was clearly as surprised as I had been that females would talk so openly.
“It’s a good thing that An American Tragedy is required reading for every freshman,” I expressed. The Theodore Dreiser classic provided a stern warning about how your life could be ruined by one bad decision. In that book a young man had committed to love, and then made a mistake followed by more errors in judgment that led to his undoing. “Those girls who work in the cafeteria are trouble waiting to happen.”
He stood, and then paced. “We both could be destroyed if I allowed you to pretend to be a homosexual.” His eyes looked away from me to some distant spot on the far wall.
I closed my eyes and tried once more to connect with him. “I’m not at all interested in studying neurosis. Homosexuality is best left to those versed in mental disorders. I want to live with females . . . as one of them . . . in order to observe their behavior, without the outside influence of a male.”
His stare found me and pinned me to my chair. “Have you read Jane Goodall’s paper ‘Behaviour of the Free-Ranging Chimpanzee’?”
He’s starting to get it. “Yes, prior to her living amidst the primates, no one believed that animals were capable of having personalities. I’m sure if I’m successful in my study I’ll have similar astounding findings about females.”
He turned his back to me before speaking. Even so, he had to clear his throat several times . . . probably because of the discomfort he felt in speaking of such things. “A man who dons women’s garments does so for only one reason, to attract another man for homosexual sex.”
“In most cases I suppose that’s true, but what about Christine Jorgenson?” I asked. “I saw her on television; and had I not known her to be a man, I never would have thought anything was amiss. There’s something unfathomable about her.”
“Hardly!” He cleared his throat, again. “George . . . his name is George Jorgenson. He’s a prime example of the futility of homosexuality trying to legitimize itself through outlandish behavior. That man allowed himself to be castrated in order to make himself more attractive for sexual perversion. Absurd!”
For a brief second, I found myself wondering how homosexual sex even worked. They lack the proper plumbing between them to. . .. I thought. I shuddered again. “My purpose is that of unfettered observation of females. I want to record their thoughts in their. . .ahhh. . .native environment, so to speak.”
He sat, and then commenced tenting his hands, while tapping his fingertips together. “I need to form a proper mental image. How do you intend to carry out this ruse? What sort of costume will you wear?”
“I don’t intend to wear a ‘costume.’ My intent is to look and act like the average nineteen to twenty-year-old female.” The less I say about the details, the better.
“There’s just no precedent,” he said again. “I can’t do it. I can’t take the risk. I slid by the whole McCarthy inquisition without any scars on my record. I don’t want to be a pioneer targeted by a right-wing politician for condoning something like this.”
I knew I was fighting an uphill battle. Anthony Perkin’s onscreen insanity in Psycho had convinced a terrified nation of the neurosis of men who wear women’s clothing. Professor Ward has the right to be cautious. I’d read about how some colleges had mounted cameras in bathrooms to catch homosexuals having sex, so they could refer the men involved to psychiatric treatment. Our psychology professor told us of a program ran by the Masters and Johnson Institute in St. Louis to convert and revert homosexuals. Supposedly their success rate was predicted at over seventy percent.
“I’m a conservative myself. I don’t mean to make it sound like McCarthy’s activities were a Republican thing. After all, Robert Kennedy was pulling the strings in the background. Nonetheless, college professors find comfort avoiding the strange and new,” Professor Ward said.
I’ve read newspaper accounts of those few professors who have openly opposed the Southeast Asia War and suffered the consequences.
I had failed my draft physical after my deferment ran out. The army doctor said I was 4-F because I had a heart murmur, but I was pretty sure it was because I was too small. Much to my chagrin I’d stopped growing my first year in high school and still stood only 5’ 2” in my stocking feet. I’d never been able to develop much muscle mass despite completing the Joe Welder Home Bodybuilding Course I’d ordered from an advertisement in a Marvel comic book. I lacked the prominent Adam’s apple many men sport. But I’m not a candyass; at least I don’t think so.
“There is a precedent.” My voice broke. I’d never experienced that change from soprano to bass that all my classmates had in high school. At twenty-three, despite having completed my Master’s degree, I still had to disguise my voice to keep from sounding reedy. I had been told that a high-pitched voice doesn’t inspire confidence. “Black Like Me,” I stated flatly, throwing my trump card on the table.
He stared at me. His face had suddenly become quite serious. That familiar slight twitch in his right eyebrow had kicked in. “I see.”
I waited for him to digest my argument. My proposed experiment would follow the groundbreaking work done by the journalist John Howard Griffin. To gather material for his bestseller Black Like Me, he had disguised himself as a colored. He lived amongst them passing himself off as Negroid.
He could have been lynched! I would be taking almost as big a risk.
Griffin had been blinded by a concussion during WWII and didn’t regain his sight until the late 1950s. It seemed to me that for someone who had already tempted fate he’d taken an awfully big chance in the racially torn South.
I wanted to tell my professor that I had some relevant experience, but didn’t dare. My older sister had often dressed me in her cast off clothing when I had been in grade school. The two of us had been left alone during the day when our mother was off doing her charity work, with her sewing circle. “Dress-up” was our favorite game. All traces of that Gerald Harzog I had been were wiped from existence, when I became her “sister.”
She told me once that I had gotten quite good at “being a girl” which made me feel proud because it was one of the few times she praised me. Twice as rewards for my “sisterly demeanor” she’d dressed me in her old party dresses, put a bow in my longish hair, and then walked me the six blocks to the malt shop. Mother didn’t believe in desserts so a chocolate sundae was an amazing treat.
I had been terrified at first, but quickly found myself skipping along the sidewalk and giggling at my sister’s jokes. She calmed my fears enough for a game of hopscotch on the sidewalk in front of our house. If our neighbors noticed me playing in a dress, they hid their displeasure.
My sister was my best friend. When I was in high school, she helped me keep my face free from zits by convincing me to take her birth control pills. Many of my classmates had horrible acne scars, so I readily agreed. It didn’t seem much of a risk for a male to take birth control pills because I wasn’t capable of becoming pregnant in the first place. The Pill had just come on the market and mother thought it was just good sense for my sister to take it. My sister disagreed, but didn’t want to offend our mother. Instead of throwing her drugs away, she gave them to me.
My sister was killed in an auto accident during her third year at college. Other than having developed the “grace” she demanded of me when we played our game, I’d been an utter disappointment to her. Her death left me no chance for redemption with her. My mother grieved her death, in such despair that she paid meager attention to me.
I kept taking the Pill in my sister’s honor, having found a dermatologist who agreed with her theories who prescribed them for me. They actually worked. My face was unblemished, but also seemed much younger than my real age of twenty-four. It was her unconditional love that kept me from self-loathing over the fact that I didn’t despise my time in dresses.
Because of my overgrown Beatle’s haircut, which I’d sported since 1964, I had often been mistaken for a female by clerks and waitresses. My plan included having my hair cut into a pixie and peroxided so that I would be a bleached-blonde.
I didn’t disclose my plans or mention my “qualifications” as a convincing female to the professor. I feared he would determine me to have a severe mental illness and consequently seek to have me sent away for treatment.
Professor Ward broke into my musing. “Are you aware that after his story came out Griffin received threats and open hostility in his hometown of Mansfield, Texas?”
I nodded. He had to move his family to Mexico.
“He was burned in effigy, right there in Mansfield.” He shook his head. “You know, Griffin wasn’t the first person to pull that stunt. There was a newspaperman who roamed the South disguised as a Negro in the late 1940s.”
“I wasn’t aware of that,” I confessed.
“Sure, sure,” he said, clearly pleased to be in the role of educator. “He uncovered evidence that Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. As a Senator, Black had filibustered an anti-lynching bill, but as a Justice he’d generally voted more sympathetic to Civil Rights.” He pulled a book from his shelf. The title was In the Land of Jim Crow. “If you’re serious about doing what you’ve proposed, read this.”
I took the book. “Thank you. I’ll read it this afternoon.” I opened it and found a personal note from the author to Professor Ward, thanking him for arranging a speaking engagement at our campus.
“Some people will hate you for what you’re trying to do. Seventy percent of those who read that book thought the author was a race-traitor.” He frowned deeply. “You need to be certain you understand the risk. You could get pounded.”
It’s possible. “Why?”
“For the same reason some people avoid looking in mirrors.” He finally spoke to me as an equal. “You perceive what you want to do as science. Other people will view it as meddling.”
“ ‘Meddling’? Aren’t equal rights for all . . . Negroes and women . . . a given?”
“Uhmmm.” He resumed his position as teacher. “Most people would like things to be left well enough alone. Women’s liberationist will scorn you, accusing you of making fun of them, if you’re found out. Those who want to discredit the feminist movement will use you as fuel for their bigotry, if they see through your ruse. Bible fundamentalists don’t want the scripturally required subservient role of women to be openly questioned. Aren’t you concerned about a backlash against your family?”
I shook my head slowly. “My parents both died three years ago when our house had a gas explosion. I have nothing left in the way of a family.”
“I’m sorry; I didn’t know.”
He actually looked human for a moment. “That’s okay. I’m okay with being the Lone Ranger. They left me a large amount of money, which isn’t adequate compensation for not having their companionship, but it does give me options while I try to figure out life.”
My loneliness has become chronic. My two best friends in high school were both girls who since married. There’s no real place for me in their lives. If someone were to open up to me, they’d find a friend for life.
His office embraced the silence. Outside a group of boys tossed around a Wham-O Frisbee disc. Their cheers and taunts echoed off the bricks and ivy. I imagined a group of co-eds standing off to the side admiring the boys and strangely yearned to join the girls, a familiar impulse.
“Sexism,” Professor Ward murmured derisively. “What you need to discuss openly is the erroneous concept of ‘sexism.’ Men are expected to be stoic while women are thought to be emotional. Men should also be decisive and direct. Women have the corner on being nurturing and affectionate. Men are strong, brave and athletic, while women are forgiving. That’s the way things are . . . and should be. There is a natural order that must exist.”
I’m not sure I can agree, but I also don’t want to engage in an unnecessary argument. I nodded. “I’m hoping to find the same human capacity for love amidst all the turmoil women seem to be going through.”
Too much time elapsed while I waited for his next assertion.
“I do have a family connection at a girl’s prep school in Maine,” he said quietly. He eyed me closely. “You don’t want to look like some trollop out of an Andy Warhol movie. I suspect that with work on your appearance, you could take on the role of an everyday nineteen-year-old girl.” He laughed. “You’ll have to do something about lowering your I.Q.”
I chuckled with him.
My heart beat so rapidly I was afraid I would faint. It’s happening. It’s what I want, but I’m deeply worried about being beaten, or even killed. For years, the idea of experimenting life as a girl has haunted my dreams. The other day when I listened to those girls in the Student Union the urge returned more insistently than ever. If I became a girl what adjustments will I have to make? What will it be like to actually be treated like a female; gender being something over which one has no control?
“And, my aunt is quite liberated and might be just the one to work with you on your disguise,” he continued. “I sometimes think she’s going to start wearing pants and chop off her hair. Ever since she read that insufferable book The Feminine Mystique she’s displayed peculiar notions. She’s a regular women’s libber.” He nodded his head slowly. “Let me pop a letter in the mail to my aunt. She’s a fierce correspondent, so I’ll have an answer within ten days. I’ll write in longhand. It wouldn’t do to have my secretary type such a letter, now would it? Let’s keep those who know what you’re doing to a small circle. Black Like Me will provide the safe haven I need, if the Dean ever asks.”
“Thank you,” I gushed, suppressing my terror at the possible prospect of him agreeing to my study. What if I do go crazy and start craving sex with men. No one’s ever done this before. I might cross over into taboo territory.
He frowned. “If I thought for one second I was facilitating something unseemly, I wouldn’t become involved. This study must be kept at a scientific level at all times! If we can try to use a rocket ship to put a man on the moon, we can finally crack the secrets of the female world. I want a final outline of your objectives on my desk tomorrow.” He stopped and fixed me in his gaze. “You must maintain high standards of research.”
“I agree.” I’ll use the two months left in this term preparing for my field study, and then spend a few weeks perfecting my disguise.
We shook hands. His grip easily wrapped itself around my hand, leaving me feeling crushed and rather un-masculine.
That night I sat in the tiny room I rented that was located four blocks off campus. Bathed in blue light coming off the black and white screen, I stared at the grainy picture on my seventeen-inch, portable, Motorola TV. The British singer, Petula Clarke, had just touched Harry Belafonte on the arm. Their contact looked innocent enough, but I was sure there would be a ruckus over it.
She couldn’t have been more innocent. Will I do something just as chaste that explodes in my face? I could barely focus on the anti-war duet they sang. In truth, I had become paralyzed by fear, wishing that Professor Ward had turned me down.
Chapter Two – Till There Was You
“No!” She cried. “No, no, no. . .no.” She was the first female headmistress of The Bennington School for Women, a two-year course that flowed into several four-year Ivy League schools. Despite her immense abilities the task at hand was trying both of our limits. “Haven’t I taught you anything? That shade of white would be totally inappropriate for a formal tea! You’re simply going to have to try much harder, young lady.”
I stood before her with my head down and my hands clasped in front of me looking and feeling totally contrite.
“You can be as sophisticated as one of our most attentive graduates, and then the very next minute you’re a cotton-headed ninny,” Doctor North said softly. “Go to your room and practice your handwriting. I want daffodils and lilies flowing from your pen. Don’t let me see those horrid scratches you’re prone to scribble.”
I curtsied as gracefully as I could muster, and then backed out of the room before pivoting on the balls of my feet to glide down the hall and up the curved stairway to my second-story retreat.
There are times she makes me feel like I’m a child.
She insisted that I address her as Doctor North and that we both keep our relationship “formal.” Her doctorate was in psychology, and she had briefly taught at a private college before becoming the chief administrator for Bennington. Her house provided mute testimony to her sophistication, from the baby grand in the sitting room to the immaculate dollies that served as coasters for her ornate table lamps. She bridged the gap between Victorian elegance and furniture that matched her pencil skirts. The antique maple, writing desk in her alcove was dominated by her ultra-modern, baby-blue, Underwood typewriter.
Tears came to my eyes as I allowed myself to reflect upon the unfairness of the pace at which Doctor North expected me to absorb things. At times, I feel like Eliza Doolittle, with Doctor North as my Henry Higgins. However, if I make a mistake and people find out that I’m not what I appear to be, she will be in a LOT of trouble. I’m fine with the disciplinary measures she takes to drive home the lessons I need to learn.
She had given me a list that morning of “Primary Rules”.
1.) Simple Is Better
2.) Play Up Your Eyes and Adjust Your Other Make-up to Match
3.) If You’re Going to Wear White, Make Sure It Is Blindingly White
4.) A Sleeveless Button-Down Is a Tasteful Alternative to a Tank Top
5.) A Simple Shift Dress Can Take You Anywhere
6.) Pink Can Be even More Powerful than Bright Red
7.) A Teased Bouffant Is a Great Accessory
8.) If You Must Wear Pants, Make Sure They’re Long and Tapered
9.) Black and White Can Go Anywhere
10.) If You Want to Look Dressy, Wear Diamonds
11.) Fabulous Shades Are a Must
She had allowed me fifteen minutes to memorize what she called the “Jackie” list, and I had failed her. When Doctor North questioned me, I just couldn’t come up with number three, the rule about “blindingly white”.
Yesterday, I had been given a printed debate titled Carnaby, or Chanel and had to make a choice. My goal had been to state definitively which fashion would be better for my body type.
Most girls wanted to have a straight up and down figure, very small hips, buttocks, and breasts, which made things easier for me. Since Doctor North had been starving me on a Metrecal diet of 900 calories a day, for two months, I had decided I was becoming a Twiggy look-a-like despite my obvious curves. I opted for Carnaby, which sent my mentor into a rage.
At times, I found our discussions to be a gas, but she could also be such a drag. I’d always been interested in fashion. My sister and I had spent long hours playing with Betsy McCall paper dolls. I was proud of my fashion sense and defended my wardrobe choices with passion. Even after my sister left this world I had followed trends with interest. Pierre Mondrian’s rectangles, Mary Quant’s swinging sixties mini-look, Yves St. Laurent’s minimalism, and Rudy Gernreich’s vinyl dresses had all left me breathless and a bit jealous.
Doctor North’s the perfect surrogate mother for me, just a little too young to actually be my mother. She’s in her mid-thirties and stunning in her Anne Bancroft-like, simplistic beauty. She’s so elegant. It’s a tragedy that she’s a widow. Her husband died in a stock car race. But, I’m lucky that she’s on her own, because no man would have agreed to be an accomplice to what I’m doing. I’m working my “tush” off trying to come up to her standards of femininity. I just can’t seem to please her enough.
“Ohhhhh, it seems like I can’t do anything right,” I whined to myself. I picked up a ballpoint pen and started to write in a spiral notebook. The letter of the day was “s.” To me it looked like a serpent with the bottom loop falling way below the line. After a few minutes of repetitive writing, it looked and felt less like a snake and had become extremely feminine.
After working for five more minutes, trying to write with a distinctive flourish, I stopped and mentally reviewed the basics. Relax! Don’t grip the pen or press the paper so hard. Always have a soft backing under the paper. Write from the wrist instead of the fingers. Don’t use a fine point. Use a medium ballpoint or fountain pen. Consistency of size and shape is key. Write slower and a little larger. Think “Smooooth”. Don’t lift the pen off the page for any letter other than “t” or “x”. Dots for “i”s and “j”s should be little circles. Avoid capitals.
The realization that the sparkly rings on my fingers made my hands appear ultra-feminine made me smile. My lengthy, painted fingernails helped remind me to emphasize who I am through my handwriting.
I’m Shirley. I’ve been Shirley all my life. Up until two months ago I had been confused and a bit of a Tomboy, but I’m all girl now.
I had gone to Maine the week after spring term ended. “My” plan had been that I would briefly meet with Doctor North, and then spend the summer traveling, before going through two weeks of girl training. “Our” plan quickly became to spend the entire summer getting ready to start school in the fall as a nineteen-year-old girl from Illinois. The cover story we developed had me entering Bryn Mawr College in two years.
I had taken over the housekeeping and had dinner ready on the table at 7:00 each evening, which was fifteen minutes after Doctor North would walk in the door from a twelve-hour day’s work. Since the school-provided house abutted the campus, she came home for lunch and during her afternoon break to help with my changeover.
Things taste and smell the same now that I’m a girl, but life is so different. I want my project to work, but that seems secondary now to enjoying life as I’ve come to realize I was meant to be. However, I can remember how my mother struggled with her inability to find satisfaction as a homemaker. She often spoke of the limited opportunities available to her. I also recall my sister’s abusive high school sweetheart, who constantly berated her for being a “bitch” when she tried to assert her rights as a human being. He tried to hide his lack of ambition by . . ..
“Did I tell you how sweet you look today?”
I jumped, squeaked, and then placed my hand protectively across my breasts. Doctor North startled me purposefully two or three times a day to make sure my immediate reactions were feminine.
“Very good,” she assessed.
I wanted to grin, because her compliments had been rare, but instead smiled demurely. Two days ago I had worked through an intellectual discussion of “the Pill” and had been quite clever in my defense of the undeniable right of women to have control over our reproductive organs. I had celebrated my cleverness with a wide smile and suffered chastisement in the form of a damning lecture.
She continued. “I think you’re ready to venture out a little further into the world.”
I had been taking long walks in the park and sat on a bench not far from campus reading romance novels, with the breeze blowing my dress around my legs. The books were generally very chaste, with minimal physical intimacy. The heroines remained pure, so I readily identified with them without self-reproach.
I knew that after I got back to her white colonial house, Doctor North would quiz me on the contents of the novel, so I had to concentrate when I read. That simple diversion allowed me to relax quickly in my new circumstances. It was apparent that no one thought anything peculiar about a young girl reading in the park.
I’d been to dozens of stores with Doctor North. She would create ways that made me interact with clerks. There hadn’t been any anything close to a problem. Everyone seemingly accepted me to be what I appeared. Thanks to the advanced degree I’d earned from Doctor North in Avon, Max Factor, and Helena Rubenstein, I felt extremely confident. Knowing that my plucked eyebrows were a strong signal of femininity, Doctor North had vigilantly used a tweezer to sculpt them into narrow arched lines.
I enjoyed those moments when I was treated with the social deference that females are naturally given. But . . . it had been terrifying. The stakes were exceptionally high. If I get caught, I probably will be sent to an insane asylum where I’d be subjected to aversion treatments to “shock the gay away.”
Doctor North would have a tough time avoiding a huge scandal, if the parents of her students discovered a masquerading boy amongst her all female student body. The Maine mill town that provided a home to Bennington could be unforgiving of those who didn’t conform to its standards. Hippies and peaceniks, with their two-fingered “peace” salutes, had established communes throughout New England, but Bennington had successfully resisted their laid back influences. The locals were mostly blue-collar workers who would do unthinkable things to a man in a dress.
I’m still lonely, but eager to do something important and convinced I’m on the right course. First I’ll write my doctoral thesis, and then I’ll scratch my personal itch.
“Are the two of us going to a restaurant?” I asked timidly, dreading the escalation of the level of risk we were assuming.
She laughed. “Of course not. What nineteen-year-old girl wants to go to dinner with a middle-aged woman? I’ve been talking to the wife of one of my board members about my ‘niece’ and she suggested that we pair you with her son.”
I gasped. “Professor Ward would have a conniption fit.”
“That fussbudget has a homosexual phobia,” Doctor North stated. “Methinks the Professor ‘doth proteth too much’.”
I stared at the floor, not daring to think of Professor Ward as being mentally ill.
“He’s my nephew, but he’s ten years older than me,” she explained quietly. “He landed in Normandy and has suppressed rage. He suffers from flashbacks. You may have noticed his nervous twitch. Part of his disorder is a certain detachment, or estrangement from others. He has bouts of irritability and outbursts of anger. They call it ‘combat fatigue.’ I barely knew him before he went to war, but I’m told he was a kind and loving person, poor fellow. His diagnosis is melancholy, but someday they’ll have a better term for it.”
He’s like the guy who lived four doors away from us when I was a child. I shouldn’t judge him so harshly.
“I’m in charge, right?” She asked, appearing eager to change the topic.
I nodded without taking my eyes off the floor. Doctor North had taken on the project of teaching me how to act like a girl, but only on the condition that I agreed to do “everything” she demanded. I had balked at taking horse urine pills, but she said she had read that Christine Jorgenson swore by them. According to Doctor North, they would help me relax my male upbringing.
I took two pills with three full glasses of water every four hours. That was much more than the recommended dosage, but I could not spare the recommended time and we decided to accelerate the treatments. The water was meant to protect my kidneys.
She also made me join Phi Pi Epsilon and travel to Hose and Heels club meetings where I met Virginia Prince. Miss Prince graciously helped me with kind advice. Her guidance helped me work through the intense shame I initially felt when I realized how much better I felt as a person as a female.
“You haven’t worn anything but dresses and skirts since you parked your car in my garage this spring, have you?”
I had long since grown used to her “Pahked the cah.” I nodded again. She had taken all the male clothing I had brought along with me and ceremoniously burned them that first afternoon.
“You’re completely comfortable in what you’re wearing, aren’t you?”
I giggled a bit, nervously. “Yes ma’am.” From the moment she had decked me out in silk and lace, I loved every minute of it. At first I had been sexually confused and almost permanently aroused, but that faded and had been replaced by an overall feeling of calmness I’d never experienced as a male. I was wearing a darling, daisy-yellow, shirtdress with a deep, rounded collar that screamed of ladylike femininity. Its white polka dots danced amongst un-pressed pleats. I found it on a rack for $9.97, which Doctor North said was a good buy. The matching bow pumps with two-inch heels had cost $6.97. Everything is getting more expensive. Last night I filled my car’s tank, and it had cost .34 a gallon!
I have to admit to a sense of panic the very first time I looked in the mirror as a chick. I had seen a thin, blonde girl . . . a fox who demanded to look pretty and desirable. She had glared at me out of that glass. She in no way resembled me. The transformation had been total and shocking. I had expected to see myself disguised, but what I saw was something else. I was imprisoned in the flesh of an utter stranger, an unsympathetic one with whom I had no kinship.
A date! My sister and I had gone on dozens of pretend dates, where she was my handsome swain. She gave me my first kiss as Prince Charming while I wore her Cinderella dress. I can wear my cotton, black and white, plaid shift with a white leather belt and a Kitty Foyle bow at the neckline. I love its long arms that end with white cuffs. It has the shortest hemline Doctor North will allow me to wear.
“But I have no interest in dating a boy,” I weakly protested. My voice had weeks ago slide quickly into a soft lilt, which I realized was more of a normal range for me than the way I had spoken before coming to Maine.
“Of course! Her son is twenty-two and a perfect age for you. You’ve got to remember that things aren’t the same for a girl as they are for a boy. You don’t have the option of asking out a boy you like, and you can’t pass up opportunities.”
I closed my eyes. She does love to tease me. “I realized you had to tell your board, as you landlords, about me living with you, and that has inadvertently lead to this date. Does your board know . . . and does the son know . . . about me?”
She smiled. “They both know that you’re from away.” Her “from away” meant someone who wasn’t from Maine. “They don’t mine as long as you like steamers and chowder.”
I laughed lightly at her joking. I’d grown to love clams and chowder.
“You and I know that you once were less feminine than you are today, and that secret is ours.” She raised three fingers in a scout’s oath.
“My purpose is to find out what females think through observation,” I reminded her.
“I think you and my nephew are both idiots,” she brayed. “Females aren’t another species. But, I’m not a sociology scientist like you. I’m a simple administrator who would never stand in the way of academic advancement.” Her professional courtesy reeked of insincerity.
Fear grabbed me. “Dating a boy. . .er. . .a man isn’t part of my research.”
“Look, Shirley. . ..” She patted the bed next to her and invited me to sit, which I did even though sitting on a bed during the day was against the rules. “If you want to get the most out of your research you need to get your mind straight. Tell me, what did you really think of the book Black Like Me?”
I didn’t have to think. “His work was courageous, but I was disappointed.”
“Really? That’s interesting, because that’s exactly what I thought. Can you tell me more?”
“Uh huh. Mr. Griffin was putting himself in mortal danger the entire time, but it only lasted a few weeks. I questioned whether his knowing that he could quit being black at anytime allowed him to really experience their suffering.”
“I couldn’t agree more. Your research should benefit from what you think of his work.”
I thought for a moment. “If I form the mental mindset that I have always been a girl and will always be a girl, I will do a much better job.”
Her smile signaled her complete agreement. “I think so too. Let’s go back to the basics. You want me to train you so you can travel in feminine circles without being detected, right?”
Her face tells me I have no choice. I nodded slightly and caught a whiff of my perfume. Cool! The simple pleasure I took from my feminine scent often tipped the scale on an otherwise rough day. I usually wore Rive Gauche by Yves St. Laurent. Whenever I wanted to feel especially girly, I wore Arpege by Lanvin for its romantic floral scent.
“I think it is imperative that you experience dating.”
“Please, Doctor North. I’m going to acquiesce to whatever you suggest, like I have all along, but why do I need to date a man?”
“Because women dating women is frowned upon in Maine!” She roared. “Seriously, when school starts, and you interact with my young lady students you’ll find that a large share of their conversation will involve who is dating whom.” She smiled at me. “You’re quite beautiful.”
I ducked my head. So many compliments today.
“You’re even prettier when you blush like that.”
I looked away, feeling foolish in finding so much happiness in her praise.
“It would be very odd for a young lady your age not to have a boyfriend, especially a charming young lady like you.”
“Couldn’t I just tell them we just broke up, and I’m between boyfriends?” I asked.
“These girls can smell a boyfriend scam a mile away. We don’t want to give anyone a reason to think there’s something odd about you. No . . . it’s better if you go out on a few real dates. We’ll take some pictures that you can show the girls. If you don’t like him, you can break up and tell the other young ladies you’re off boys for a while to get over it. Your discussions with them will be much more valid.”
“Oh, I guess I can see what you mean.”
She hugged me. “The experience will add to the depth of your paper. Besides, it’s not good for a young girl like you to do nothing but work, work, work. You need to get out and enjoy the company of someone your age.”
“But, a boy?”
“They don’t have cooties,” she laughed. “You need to have a boy spoil you a bit. You need someone to bring you candy and flowers and tell you how wonderful you are.”
That sounds nice . . . strange, but nice. I nodded, not totally convinced. “What if he finds out?”
“In my opinion, short of him actually seeing something he shouldn’t, you have nothing to worry about. Are you planning on having sex with him?” She teased. “You’re on the Pill, but I’m still not sure I approve.”
I had continued taking the Pill for my skin condition, in addition to the Premarin. At first the two had produced lassitude, and I constantly felt on the verge of nausea. Next, I developed some freckles, and my hair became thicker. My chest had become much more tender. Doctor North said my overall demeanor had improved, which I’d interpreted to mean that I was expressing myself more femininely.
Since Griffin had taken drugs to color his skin, I saw no ethical problems in what I was doing. Whereas Griffin had only spent a few weeks in disguise, I intended to spend several months, so I felt my masquerade had to be perfect. Griffin became friendly with a number of Negro people during his deception. What real difference does it make if I become friends with a boy or girl?
“Shouldn’t have the boy called me and asked if I had plans?”
“Heavens no!” she said in horror. “A young man with a proper upbringing would never embarrass a girl with such a question. He would know to say, ‘Shirley, would you like to go to a movie with me on Friday night.’ You, of course, would answer without hesitation, ‘I’d love to go with you.’ Later you would figure out if you had anything to wear . . . or if you really wanted to go with him.”
“Doctor North, I have absolutely no sexual interest in any man, or boy. For goodness sakes.” I’d never really been too attracted to girls, and my horrendous fear of becoming a homosexual prevented me for considering anything in that other direction. I’d resigned myself to a life of academic solitude.
She studied me. “Have you ever heard the term ‘uptight’?”
I shook my head and bit my lip. “Wait . . . you mean like the Stevie Wonder song? Sure everyone’s heard of ‘uptight’.”
“It started with the beatniks and has become more popular the past few years. That’s what you are, Shirley. You’re all ‘uptight.’ It’s preventing you from living your life the way you should.”
“I don’t know much about sex,” I admitted, “but I do know I don’t want to be a homosexual. I’m not going to join that club.”
She shook her head sadly. “We need to talk much, much more, but for today our primary task is to get you ready for your date tonight.”
“Tonight!” I yelped.
“Tonight . . . I didn’t want you stewing about things, so I agreed that he should pick you up a 7:00 for dinner. He’s taking you to the White Barn Inn. He’s seen pictures of you, and based on what he saw he picked the best restaurant within fifty miles. You’d better look your best.”
My stomach flipped. “Ohhhhhhhh.”
She stuck a finger to my lips. “You’re ready for this.”
Maybe I am. The idea of having a friend sounds exciting.
Chapter Three – This Boy
“A curfew?” I rebelled.
“Of course,” Doctor North said with a parental smile. “You’re a nineteen-year-old girl, and a midnight curfew is very reasonable. Most college women’s dorms have a 10:00 curfew on weekdays and a 1:00 AM curfew on Friday and Saturday. Is there some reason you want to be out with Steve after midnight?”
“Steve is your date’s name. His family is quite wealthy and a pillar of the community. If he’s anything like his mother, you’re in for a very nice time.”
Thank goodness I washed my hair this morning. I had set it in curlers to create a bouffant. “I’m not sure how to act,” I admitted.
“I thought your first reaction would be that you don’t have anything to wear.” She grinned.
“No,” I said quietly. “I’ll wear my black shift and pearls, with moderate heels.”
She nodded. “Excellent choices.”
“I love my heels. At first they were uncomfortable, but now I simply love how they make me walk and look.”
“Yes, Doctor North. Did you know men wore heels long before women? They wore them on their boots to keep their feet in the stirrups”
“My dear, I think you’re trying to change the topic. What do you mean you ‘don’t you know how to act on a date’? How many dates have you been on?”
I looked out the window at the red-tailed hawk that often perched on our backyard fence. “Three,” I admitted in a whisper. “Back in high school, I took a classmate to a movie when we were sophomores. The movie was Pillow Talk, with that manly Rock Hudson. It was a group date, and we met at the theater. My second date was with a girl I took to senior prom. Our friends pushed us together when they found out a week before the dance that neither of us was going. The third date was during rush week in college. I was toying with the idea of pledging a fraternity and needed a date for an all-Greek dance. All three dates were total disasters.”
“Disasters?” Her face registered surprise. “You’re such a sweetheart, I can’t imagine you not being a great date.”
“Dates and me don’t mix. The two times I had to meet with the girl’s parents I felt like I was going through an inquisition. I get too nervous and blurt out stupid things.” My face felt hot, and my stomach flipped in memory of what had been three of the worst nights of my life.
“This will be different,” she said, while taking my hand in hers. “As a girl you have a much more passive role. You’re going out tonight with an older man.”
He’s twenty-two which is two years younger than my biological age, but three years older than my assumed identity.
“He’ll take the lead. All you have to do is smile. Smile all the time. If you step on a piece of glass, you still need to smile. It’s your duty.”
I shrugged. Probably the hardest part of my transformation had been learning to smile all the time. I naturally frown. “I’m not sure. . ..”
“Let’s go through what’s going to happen.”
“Yes, let’s,” I agreed. “First, wouldn’t it be more appropriate for us to go to a movie?”
She nodded. “Normally a movie would be a standard first date, but we live in a small town with only two theaters. We get movies months after they come out, so our choices are Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Graduate.”
“I’ve seen both of them.”
“No.” She shook a finger at me. “You haven’t seen either of them. I told Steve that they’re both inappropriate for a young lady when he told me the options.”
“I suppose you’d want me to go to The Jungle Book?” I giggled at the thought of Mowgli and Baloo.
“Don’t be flippant. A movie about a sexually immoral young man who comes of age by carrying on an affair with a much older woman is simply wrong for you. And, you don’t need to think about such things as interracial marriage.”
“I can’t believe you’re saying that.” She’s so liberal. I would think she would love both movies, especially since she looks like Mrs. Robinson. I restrained another giggle.
“Young lady,” she said sternly, “you’re living in my house and must abide by my rules. I think it is in your best interest for your research to allow your mind to accept a very passive female role.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “On my date, am I allowed to express opinions on anything?”
She patted my hand. “Certainly, but you must never let him to think you’re smarter than him. If you show him up, he’ll never ask you out again.”
I let out a sigh of relief. “That’s okay. We’ll get some pictures tonight, and he’ll have served his purpose.”
“Absolutely not. No . . . for you to get the full benefit of this experience you need to think and act exactly like a nineteen-year-old girl.”
“I agree,” I said hesitantly.
“Well, then. Your primary motivation tonight will be to get Steve to like you enough to ask you out on a second date.”
Yeccchh! “Are you suggesting I need to kiss him?”
“Never. Girls who have had proper upbringing don’t kiss on the first date. If you were going to a movie with him, you would owe him the right to put his arm around you, because he paid for the ticket.”
I shook my head in revulsion. “Do you think he’ll try to hold my hand?”
“He might. During dinner, he may slide his chair around to sit closer to you. If that happens, he will probably want to hold your hand and look into your eyes. You will have to use your discretion as to how long that moment lasts.”
“But . . . you’re so liberated. I want to be like you. Shouldn’t we go Dutch treat, so that I can demand that he treat me like an equal?”
She grinned ruefully. “You’re too much like me already. We’re both much too forlorn. Please remember, however, women earn about fifty-eight percent of what men do for the same jobs. In about fifteen years, we will be earning equal pay. When that occurs men can quit paying for meals,” she harrumphed. “If they want their good old boy clubs, they need to pay for something!”
She’s right! “What will Steve and I talk about?”
She frowned. “Don’t mention the war. Steve’s father pulled some strings to extend his deferment so he can complete med school, but they’ll draft him for sure, after he graduates.”
“I’ll let Steve decide the conversation’s direction.”
“Good. He will want to believe that you’ve been saving yourself for him, so don’t mention any of your past boyfriends.”
I nodded dutifully. “It’ll be easy to avoid talking about my old boyfriends.”
She pushed an errant hair behind my ear. “You should try a little Adorn to hold those fly-away hairs. One more thing, when do you predict your project will end?”
“As you know, I’ve set a three-month limit after I start school this fall. I haven’t changed my mind. I would end my study right after Thanksgiving.”
“I think you should allow me to decide when your research will be over. That way you will live each day to the fullest because it could be weeks or months before your research is over – or, it could be hours or minutes.”
“So, what are you going to say if Steve asks about your past boyfriends?”
I took a moment. “How about this, ‘Steve, why should we waste our time together talking about a few silly high school dates, when you’re so much more interesting?’ ”
She touched my cheek with her hand. “You’re truly beautiful . . . and, your answer was perfect. Remember . . . Steve is thinking progressive linear. He’s looking for someone to marry. Every step he’s taking is a move toward the altar and a life together.”
“Really?” I fingered my shoulder-length hair. In the end, I couldn’t stand the thought of cutting it to a pixie, but at Doctor North’s insistence I did get it bleached. I also learned how to put my hair up every evening and sleep on curlers the size of Coca-Cola cans. When I look in the mirror, I see Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker. I’m going to get a beret to wear to classes this fall.
“You’re nineteen. The average girl your age will marry within the next year and a half. He’s also at the prime age for marriage. His acts of chivalry are meant to impress you that he would be a great life-long partner. When he opens the door for you, it’s his way of saying, ‘Marry me and your life will be easier.’ ”
Marry me? I shuddered. “And . . . you want me to make sure there’s a second date?”
“Absolutely. It’s the natural thing for you to do. Steve’s supposedly handsome. He’s becoming a doctor. He hasn’t been all that interested in girls because he’s been a serious student. You need to think of him as a definite ‘catch’.”
A “catch”? I suppose so. If he’s a catch what am I to him? “Will he expect me to smoke marijuana with him? I’ve heard that boys force girls to smoke marijuana so that they lose their inhibitions, and then those drugged girls demand that their boyfriends make love to them.”
She laughed. “I was told you don’t do drugs. Did my nephew lead me astray?”
“No. I don’t even smoke cigarettes. But, the times are changing. Have you been reading the magazine stories about what’s happening in California? Some are saying this is the Summer of Love.”
“That’s in California, which is about as far from Maine as you can get and still be in the United States.”
“You’re forgetting Alaska and Hawaii.” I giggled. Giggling comes natural now. Once I tried it, I loved it.
“You need to get those ‘smarty-pants’ remarks out of your system before tonight. If you make Steve feel inferior to you, he won’t be back.”
Chapter Four – Tell Me Why
“The Bennington School for Women is not a finishing school,” Deborah said, her voice a very accurate mimicry of a haughty Doctor North. “The Bennington School for Women is not a charm school, although we expect our young ladies to radiate charisma. The Bennington School for Women prepares young ladies for college and for the positions they well eventually assume in the business world and society.”
We all giggled in admiration of Deborah’s impersonation.
“It’s been a long day,” I sighed. I arrived on campus at 8:30 and immediately had been thrust into an intense orientation. Twelve hours later I was lounging with the four girls who would have been my suitemates, had I not been staying off-campus with Doctor North. “I should tell you that Doctor North is my aunt.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Deborah said.
“Don’t be,” I said. “You’ve got real talent. You’re as good as Rich Little. I only agreed to stay with my aunt if she would never ask me about any of my classmates. I’ll never tell her a thing.”
The meeting was a school activity. We were supposed to spend four hours getting to know each other. The small room we used was located just off the larger student lounge. Other dorm residents were scattered throughout the building having similar meetings.
Pamela had plugged in her portable, stereo, Hi-Fi, record player and was working her way through a stack of 45s. We’d just listened to Judy in Disguise, which caused me a little angst wondering if it might cause the others to connect the dots. After that song was over, and Bobby Goldsboro started singing Honey, I relaxed.
The area contained couches and chairs with spindly legs. My mother called this kind of chair design “trailer house furniture” because it’s inexpensive and looks and feels like it. It felt feminine compared to the sturdy, overbuilt desks we’d sat in all day.
We’d tried to break the ice by discussing the presidential candidates, but everyone had pretty much lost interest in politics after the riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago. Two of the girls seemingly didn’t even know the names of the vice-presidential candidates, the forgettable Agnew and Muskie.
“Three out of every five young ladies who come to Bennington fail to complete our two-year course.” Deborah once again nailed Doctor North’s accent and had quoted her accurately.
I laughed loudly to assure her that she hadn’t offended.
Deborah was wearing Heaven Sent perfume, which seemed to fit her. I had almost bought a bottle, but it wasn’t provocative enough for me. My perfume is perfect for me.
“Oh poo!” Bernadette said with a grin. “Who cares if I graduate from college? I’m looking for Mr. Right. My mother sold me on coming here by promising it would lead to the blessed sacrament of matrimony.”
“Me too,” Pamela said. “Mother said the odds of getting married go down every day after a girl has her nineteenth birthday.” She was eating a Moon Pie and drinking RC Diet Rite. She had opened her bottle with a really groovy church key painted a Peter Max psychedelic design.
Pamela needs to lose some weight. She should try the sleeping diet. I’ve read that Elvis uses it. He takes some pills and sleeps for days. She’ll never get the man she wants looking like she does. I could stand to lose a little weight around my knees. Doctor North said that certain girls have a tendency to form a cuff of fat around their ankles. Maybe my knee fat is hereditary.
The average woman weighs about one hundred and forty pounds. In ten years, given all the terrific diets and healthy food like they serve at McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken, the average woman will probably weigh a svelte one hundred and twenty pounds. Their waists will be perfect.
“Marriage?” Carol challenged Bernadette. “Who’s in such a rush to get married? Why would anyone do that when we’re living in the age of free love? Once you’re married and having babies your life is over.”
Carol is the best looking of all of us, but she seems a little skanky. I wish I had the nerve to wear those gigantic fake eyelashes and white eyeshadow. She looks and sounds like that woman in the Noxema shaving cream commercials who says, “Take it off. Take it all off.” Steve would love it if I looked like her, complete with white go-go boots. Her eyes are made up like a Revlon ad. Translucent Brow Lightener, Liquid Liner, and Powdered eyeshadow.
Her silk shift with its brilliant paisley print and billowing sleeves contrasted with the polyester and rayon shirtdresses the other four of us were wearing.
“That’s a groovy dress, Carol,” I said. I’m going to talk Doctor North into taking me to Boston this weekend to update my wardrobe. Now that I’ve seen what the other girls are wearing, I don’t want Steve to think that I’m out of it.
“I got it in New York,” she said. “My cousin and I went to the Broadway play, 'Hair'.”
“What’s that about?” Bernadette asked.
“The Age of Aquarius,” Carol explained. “ ‘When the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars. Then peace will guide the planets’ . . . and absolutely no one will ever get married.”
“You don’t mean that,” Pamela stated with undisguised skepticism. “Just the thought of marriage and babies makes me go all gooey inside. I can’t even imagine a life without a husband.”
“I’ve got to wiz,” Deborah announced.
“I’ll join you,” Pamela said.
I almost got up. All day I’ve had more problems with completely forgetting that I’m not really a girl. Several times I got caught up in conversations and almost went into a women’s restroom. I promised Doctor North I’d only use the ladies’ room if it wasn’t occupied. She’d told me about a little used restroom next to the chapel on the fourth floor of Old Main. There were times during the day that I prayed for a place to piss.
Pamela’s record player serenaded us with Herb Alpert’s This Guy’s in Love With You.
Steve! Steve’s in love with me.
“Groovy,” Carol cooed. “Just give me someone who looks like Charlton Heston, who knows where to touch me and. . ..” She faked a swoon.
She’s right! Last night Steve and I made out. It was our one-month anniversary of our first date and we took a blanket down to the beach, had a fire, and created a little heat of our own. Steve gave me a heart-shaped locket with his picture in it.
Steve had been hesitant to touch me on our first three dates, which had been okay by me. However, following Doctor North’s instructions to the letter I had spent hours between our dates thinking about how “wonderful” it would be if he kissed me. I had long conversations with Doctor North, during which I spoke glowingly about Steve. It wasn’t long before I had totally, mentally placed myself in the role of a love-struck teenager.
More surprising was that incredible moment during our first kiss when I found myself actually falling for him. He’s the answer to all my needs. Although we didn’t do anything but kiss and some incidental touching through my sweater and bra, several times I came very close to having a nightdream-like sexual explosion.
I was conflicted, knowing that the fact that I love him defines me as mentally unstable. I feel confident that once my research is completed, and I no longer am taking the horse pills, my mind will again become healthy. For the moment, I’m more than content to ride the wave of romance and enjoy every minute of my exploration of feminine life. Maybe it’s love and maybe I’m just tired of being alone. Either way he’s fun and exciting.
“Marriage might be just the ticket for the rest of you, but give me some S-E-X!” Carol said with a satanic smile after everyone was back from the restroom. “Good golly Miss Molly, I’d sure love to ball!”
Bernadette seemed bewildered.
“I’m saving myself for my husband,” Pamela said.
All of us except Carol nodded . . . including me.
My attitudes have changed since I started my research. Intellectually . . . I’ve read the Kinsey report on female sexuality. I know that 62% of American women acknowledged masturbating, 50% had sex before marriage, and 26% of them admitted relations with other men than their husbands. But, I still have a Walt Disney inspired image of love and marriage.
“I can dig it. I want to be frivolous and childlike my entire life. My goal is to be fluffy and female,” I said. “If that means denying myself sex until I’m married, I’ll do it.”
“ ‘Fluffy and female.’ That’s bitchin’. I can get into that. But I don’t want to dry up and blow away, especially when I know the guy I’m going to marry is out there someplace have a high old time sexing it up,” Carol said defiantly. “Could I bum a smoke?” She asked of me.
Everybody but Carol had a lit cigarette in her hand. We smoked to control our appetites.
One of the many rules of etiquette I’ve learned is that a proper lady never holds a lit cigarette unless she is sitting. I’ve also come to realize that I’ve smoked for years in a very feminine way by holding the cigarette between my first and second finger and close to the bottom. A man is more likely to use his thumb and one or two fingers to hold his cigarette.
I slid her my pack of Virginia Slims. “They’re new . . . for women.” As Gerald I’d smoked Marlboros.
She lit up hesitantly, and then took a deep drag. “Not bad.” She smiled at me. “My mother got me a subscription to Cosmopolitan; and we’ve had several talks about whether or not I should go on the Pill.”
“The Pill?” Bernadette shrieked. “Don’t do that. One day in religion class Sister Monica showed us pictures of women who took the Pill. They were all fat!”
“Don’t freak out. As many women lose weight on the Pill as gain,” Carol said. “You need to hang loose. Do you think Gloria Steinem looks fat?”
“I wouldn’t have any idea,” Bernadette said. “Lay it on me. Who’s Gloria Steinem? Does she go to Bennington? Is she that colored girl who’s in our class? What’s she doing here? She’ll never get into a decent college.”
Everyone apparently decided to ignore her remark about the first Negro to attend Bennington. I certainly don’t know what to think about that and I suppose the others are just as perplexed.
“I want to show you something.” Carol reached into a big box she had brought to our meeting.
“Are we having fun yet?” Pamela asked no one in particular.
Carol pulled out a scrapbook in which she had pasted magazine clippings. One of them was Gloria Steinem’s article about how she was treated when she was a Playboy bunny. The article had a picture of her in her bunny outfit, which was like a swimsuit with a fluffy tail. “There, she’s definitely on the Pill and she’s not fat.”
“But, she’s gonna get the cancer,” Bernadette said. “Sister Monica said a lot of women on the Pill have caught the cancer . . . down there.”
Carol laughed. She was drinking a Pepsi-Cola straight from the bottle. She had spiked it with salted peanuts. “What did the boys in your class say after your favorite nun went around the bend and fed you that crock? She’s full of it.”
“Don’t say that. You need to back off,” Bernadette hissed and crossed herself. “Sister Monica is a saint. She would never, ever lie and break the eighth commandment. Not even if she was persecuted for her faith. And . . . the boys were in their own religion class. Girls studied our faith in one religion class, boys in another, of course.”
“Get a grip. You don’t have to get all hacked off. Did Sister Monica tell you that women who use the Pill become infertile?” Carol asked innocently.
Carol dropped gently to the floor, and then arranged her skirt modestly around her legs. Then she could no longer hold a straight face and snorted. “Exactamundo! That’s hilarious. Say ‘Bernadette’ did you ever wear patent leather shoes to high school.”
Bernadette blushed beet red. “Never! The boys would have looked at the reflection of my panties.”
Carol laughed mercilessly.
I vowed silently to be best friends with Carol for the rest of my life.
Carol grinned. “Bernadette, I was watching the boobtube the other night and Monday Night at the Movies was on.”
“I love watching movies on TV,” Bernadette enthused.
“You’d would have loved this movie,” Carol said. “It was all about the Catholic church. It was called ‘The Cardinal’.”
“I wasn’t allowed to see that when it came out,” Bernadette confessed. “The Legion of Decency gave it a bad rating.”
“Was it given a ‘C’ for condemned?” Carol asked.
“No . . . to get a ‘C’ the movie has to be dreadfully sinful,” Bernadette said. “They don’t call it the Legion of Decency anymore. They changed the name.”
“Really?” Carol asked dismissively. “I’ve seen a lot of movies that were rated ‘C’ by the Legion of Decency.”
“You haven’t!” Bernadette gasped.
“I most certainly have,” Carol said. “I saw ‘Psycho’, ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’, ‘From Russia with Love’, ‘Spartacus’, ‘Some Like It Hot’, and ‘Miracle on 34th Street’.”
“Now you’re just being mean,” Bernadette said. “I’ve seen ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ and it couldn’t have been given a ‘C’. It’s a sin to see a ‘C’ movie, you know.”
“Then you better go to confession, because it was rated ‘C’ for its sympathetic and ultimately positive depiction of a divorced mother.”
“You must be wrong,” Bernadette cried. “Maureen O’Hara wouldn’t have appeared in a ‘C’ movie.”
“It was a ‘C’ and she did,” Carol said with great apparent satisfaction. “Our local theater ran a lot of old movies and the newspaper always published the rating. Anytime there was a ‘C’ rated movie running at the theater, I didn’t miss it. And, sometimes I was severely disappointed by how sappy they were. Anyway, this movie called ‘The Cardinal’ had a handsome priest in it who became a cardinal.”
“A lot of priest are handsome,” Bernadette said.
“A lot of priest like little girls,” Carol said quietly.
“Of course they do,” Bernadette said. “They love everyone.”
Carol rose from the floor. “In this movie the Cardinal’s little sister has a complication in her pregnancy. The Cardinal has to tell his sister that she has to die in childbirth rather than have an abortion to save her life.”
“That’s right,” Bernadette said. “There’s no occasion when an abortion is right.”
“I’m swearing off Catholic boys,” Carol announced.
Pamela, Deborah, and I laughed.
“What do you really think about abortion, Bernadette?” Carol asked.
“I don’t have to think. If I want to know if something is right or wrong, I just ask my parish priest,” Bernadette answered.
“What if he’s not a good man?” Carol asked. “He could be a bad man and tell you something is okay when it’s not.”
“That’s crazy. All priest are good men. They have to be good, or the Church won’t allow them to be priests.” Bernadette crossed herself.
It was obvious that Bernadette was getting stressed, so we all remained quiet for a while to lower the temperature in the room.
“I loved Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man,” I offered. “That scene where John Wayne first sees her. She’s herding sheep and it was love at first sight.” I knew there was something special happening between us when I first met Steve.
“Mary Kate Danaher is one of my favorite movie characters,” Carol stated. “I loved the hell and fire in her.”
“At last,” Bernadette said, “something we can agree upon.”
The room fell silent again.
“Have you thought about getting your ears pierced?” Deborah asked me.
I could feel a blush starting.
“I’m never going to get my ears pierced,” Bernadette said, thankfully taking the spotlight off my earlobe. “My body is God’s temple. I can’t even imagine dating a boy with a tattoo.”
“A boy having tattoo wouldn’t bother me,” Carol said, “as long as it’s small and not normally visible. I’ve seen a lot of hippies with pierced ears. The hippies have been influenced by all their trips to India to see Ravi Shankar.”
“I could pierce your ears for you,” Deborah offered. “During high school we did each others’ ears at slumber parties.”
“I’ll think about it.” I’d rather have a doctor do it.
“I’m thinking about running for student government,” Carol said. “We need to change the dress code so we can wear dropped earrings and jeans.”
Bernadette gasped. “To school? I could never wear jeans to school. It would be so trashy not to wear at least a skirt and stockings.”
“Don’t you wear pantyhose?” Pamela asked Bernadette.
“I don’t wear mini-skirts,” Bernadette answered. “If my hem doesn’t touch the floor when I kneel for prayers, I know my skirt’s too short. Since I don’t wear skirts that are too short, I prefer stockings.”
“I love my bell-bottoms!” Carol shook her head. “The clock’s ticking on Puritan standards.”
“I want to hang onto my femininity,” Bernadette asserted. “The next thing you know some people will want to wear tie-dyed blouses to school.”
“Nothing wrong with tie-dyed, but that’s nothing important. What is important is that ‘some people’ understand that America depends heavily on women’s passive dependence, their ‘femininity’,” Carol stated. “Femininity, if you want to call it that, makes American women a target, and a victim of the sexual sell.”
“What choice do we have?” Deborah asked hopefully.
“We have plenty of choices,” Carol said. “The Pill changed everything.”
“No, it didn’t. Some things don’t ever, ever change. Pope Paul VI condemned birth control, and he’s infallible,” Bernadette pouted. “Men are supposed to run things and be the head of the family. If that weren’t the case, a lot more woman would get a college diploma. I’m here to prepare for my M.R.S.” She giggled.
“The Pill isn’t all bad. Something has to stop our population growth. There are nearly two hundred million people living in the United States. It’s full.” Carol shook her head. “The day will soon come when more women than men achieve a college degree,” she predicted pompously.
We all laughed, including Carol.
Chapter Five - Things We Said Today
“Seriously,” Carol said, “your Sister Monica has toys in her habit.”
“You!” Bernadette wailed. “You bet your sweet bippy I know what’s wrong with you. I read it in a book . . . in the stacks . . . at the public library. You’ve got. . ..” She stopped and looked around with obvious uncertainty, and then lowered her voice. “You’ve got penis envy. You’re crazy and think a career will make your life better, when what you really need is a husband, a home, and a family.”
She might be right about our basic needs. I’m a lot happier since I found Steve.
Carol flipped her the bird. “Up yours. Here’s a tip Bernadette. Boys think that girls who wear stockings are easy.”
Already having crushed her target, Carol continued. “Little girls like you look at a college degree as something to fall back on in case their big marriage plans don’t materialize.”
“You’re a Communist!” Bernadette stuck out her chin. “I know about unscrupulous people like you. You’re delighted about the Pill because it allows you to have sexual relationships with multiple partners without being labeled as a wh. . ., as a fast woman. With the Pill you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant and you don’t have the social stigma that. . .that. . .that you so richly deserve.”
“Catholic girls! There was a beaten path in my hometown between St. Anthony’s High School and the Home for Knocked-Up Mothers.” Carol moved to stand an inch away from Bernadette, her eyes flashing. “I’m just as much of a virgin as you. But when I get my chance, you better believe I’m going to take it.”
Carol is more aggressive than I’ve ever been, even before I started taking Premarin. I like Carol, but I don’t want to be like her in that way.
“You’d better watch out,” Deborah cautioned Carol. “My sister went to college two years ago. She liked to tease men by dressing provocatively. One day one of her professors invited her to his apartment to talk about a paper she had written. And. . ..” She choked.
Bernadette looked puzzled. “Did he give her paper an ‘F’?”
Carol laughed derisively. “I’ll bet he was one of those groovy guys. He gave her his best.”
“Uh huh,” Deborah added quietly. “She screamed and fought, but in the end it didn’t matter. My sister knew that no one would believe her. Even if they did, most would blame her for leading him on, so she dropped out of college, moved home, and then married the first boy who would have her. She was lucky she wasn’t preggers from the prof.”
“Ohhhhh. . ..” Bernadette moaned.
“Fuck,” Carol said, expelling the word from her as if she were coughing up mucus. “No one knows how many women are raped, because the laws are made by men – and other men enforce them. Fuck!”
Bernadette covered her ears with her hands.
Carol took a long look at the girl who didn’t want to hear her. “Bernadette, they should make a law that requires every backseat in every American car to have a map with the route to Canada marked with a red crayon. That way, after people like you get pregnant, you’ll all know the way to go to get an abortion.”
Bernadette had turned ashen and appeared ready to pass out.
Sitting this close to Carol, I can smell sandalwood on her clothing. I wonder if she burns incense to cover up the odor from smoking marijuana?
“You talk about penis envy,” Carol said. “Why wouldn’t I wish I had been born a boy? I love sports, and we didn’t have competitive teams for girls at our high school.”
“That’s more propaganda,” Bernadette bristled. “Women don’t need to play sports. Psychiatrists have proven that normal women renounce all aspirations outside the home to meet their feminine need for dependence.”
“It’s hard to tell some psychiatrists from their patients,” Carol stated.
“I don’t know,” Deborah injected. “I’m not sure if a woman can pursue a career and still be a fulfilled wife, or a successful mother.”
“Why not?” Carol demanded to know, to which no one had an answer. “I’m getting tired of a world where the man of the house makes all the decisions, even if he’s a dimwit.”
Pamela spoke softly. “You guys! Things are getting hairy. Maybe we should just play charades or have a séance. Getting to know each other doesn’t have to be a hassle. Let’s just rap. Everyone count to ten.” She looked each of us in the eye, and then changed the subject. “Say, did everyone see the Life magazine I brought down from my room? They have pictures of the one hundred women protesters at the Miss America pageant last April. They shouldn’t mess with the pageant.”
“Do they show them burning their bras?” Bernadette asked. A tear had escaped from her eye, which she quickly brushed away.
Maybe we’re picking on her too much. She’s sweet.
“That’s a myth,” Deborah countered. “They only had demonstrator signs about banning the bra.”
Deborah’s voice is much more masculine than mine. It’s funny to think about how much I once worried about getting caught. If the five of us were in a police line-up, and people were asked to pick out the boy, they would pick at least two of these girls before me. I want to be the last one they’d pick.
It’s been weeks since I’ve decided that this research has allowed me to know myself and realize who I really am. I don’t want to go back to who I was! I need to talk to Doctor North, but she’s too involved. If I’m honest with a psychiatrist they’ll lock me up. There’s really no one.
“I like my bra,” Carol said. “When you have curves like mine a bra isn’t a fashion statement as much as a much-needed buttress. How do people expect us to attract the right man, if we don’t strive to be beautiful?”
“Right on,” Pamela agreed. “Bras are neato. But you know, guys can be such retards when it comes to sluts. It’s the pits keeping your virginity, when pigs get all the dates. Boys are always on the make.”
We all nodded.
My journal entries tonight will be extensive. I wish I could take notes about our conversation while it occurs.
“Wow, I don’t get it,” I quibbled. “Feminist want to be so liberated, but they wear mini-skirts and see-through blouses, and demanding freedom from bras seems to make them sex symbols.”
“Only men can make a woman a sex symbol,” Carol argued. “That bums me out.”
“Feminist are lesbians,” Bernadette whispered, seemingly uncertain if she wanted more arguing.
“You don’t know jack. Did Sister Monica tell you feminists are lesbians?” Carol asked.
“She would never use a word like ‘lesbian’!” Bernadette hissed.
“The natives of la-la-land probably don’t know about lesbians. Don’t have a cow, Bernadette,” Carol laughed. “You and I are from two different worlds. When you hear the William Tell Overture, you think of the Lone Ranger. I think of eight girls standing in a line, three facing forward, five facing the other way. Titty-rump. Titty-rump. Titty, rump, rump, rump.”
I laughed. Probably more than I should have. Carol is a blast.
Deborah wiped a tear from her eye, once she stopped laughing. “I had an English teacher in high school who is the only agnostic I know. She would quote Shakespeare. ‘Every fool in error can find a passage of scripture to back him up.’ ”
“That’s not fair,” Bernadette whined.
“Can we just change the topic?” Pamela asked. “Everyone should cool it and try extra hard not to be a spaz.”
“No biggie,” Carol sighed. She peered at Pamela through her granny glasses.
“I’m going to be the first person in my family to go to college,” Pamela said. “Even so, when I left for school yesterday my mom’s last words were to tell me that I needed to have my babies while I was young. She said that babies born to mothers over thirty sometimes aren’t right.”
“Mom’s a nurse,” Deborah said, “so she must have gone to college, but she never talks about it. Dad started as a teller in the bank right out of high school. He’s a loan officer now. Does anyone know if there’s a kitchen in this dorm. I’m sure going to miss baking, if there isn’t.”
“Maybe Doctor North will let me invite you over to our house,” I offered. “Doctor North has been teaching me how to bake lasagna.”
“My dad said boys should only go to college if they want to be a lawyer, a doctor, or a priest,” Bernadette said. “Otherwise a boy is better off being an apprentice. He also said it didn’t pay for girls to go to college, because they wouldn’t get paid much for working anyway.”
“The world is changing,” Carol said.
“How do you mean?” Deborah asked. She had brought down a hotplate from her dorm room and just finished making some Jiffypop.
I flinched with her when she slit the aluminum “balloon” and her hand was hit by steam. That scalding seemed to be the price we had to pay in modern society for the improved method of making popcorn.
“Do you think the boys in high school were smarter than you?” Carol asked of no one in particular.
“Not hardly,” Pamela smirked. “Some were. Some weren’t. But on average I think most of the boys I knew were centered on sex, sports, and their cars. The priority of their primary fixations varied, but that was about all they could talk about.”
We all nodded.
“I’m not even sure what the most popular sport is,” Carol stated, admitting she didn’t know everything.
“It’s baseball,” Bernadette said. “Baseball is twice as popular as football. That will always be. I’m a huge fan of Notre Dame football, but men live and die by their local baseball team.”
I’m conflicted. Deep down I feel I should defend my birth gender, but as a girl I feel superior to most of the boys in my high school when it comes to critical thinking. I like the way girls think.
“We live in an economy based on rewarding scarce resources,” Carol stated, seemingly moving toward a point.
“What do you mean?” Bernadette asked.
Carol smiled. “That gold chain you’re wearing is very pretty.”
“Thank you,” Bernadette replied. “My parents gave it to me for graduation.”
“It looks expensive,” I said.
“I’m not sure how much it cost,” Bernadette allowed. “Daddy bought it in Boston and told me to be very careful with it.”
Bernadette’s eyelashes are to die for. I should use a bit more mascara to compensate for mine being so thin. I’m glad I don’t have as many freckles as she does. A few freckles are cute, like Doris Day. I wonder why Doris Day and Rock Hudson aren’t married. She’s been married three times and he was married once.
“The gold in that chain is a scarce commodity,” Carol explained. “That’s why it’s so expensive. The more limited the supply of a commodity and the more people want it, the higher the cost.”
“I get it,” Bernadette said. “But what does that have to do with how smart boys are?”
Carol held up a finger while she marshaled her thoughts. “Smart people are a commodity. The business world is willing to pay smart people more money than people who aren’t as smart.”
“That makes sense,” I said. I’d taken basic economics in college, so Carol’s explanation of supply and demand seemed elementary to me.
“It follows,” Carol continued, “that the smarter you are, the more money you will be paid as a salary. That’s why when we get to college we’re going to want to get good grades.”
“Uh huh,” Pamela agreed. “My mom told me that my G.P.A. is important.”
“The thing is,” Carol said, “the system is rigged. Women are just as smart as men, but are paid a lot less than men for doing the same jobs.” She threw up her hands as punctuation.
“That’s because the man needs to take care of his family,” Bernadette explained.
“Arghhhh,” Carol said. “That’s paternalistic mumbo-jumbo, but what else could I expect from a minnow-muncher? You Catholics think the Pope is the bees-knees.”
“He is!” Bernadette said. Her face had turned beet red from anger, or maybe it indicated her shame at being Carol’s target.
“If I follow your thinking to its logical conclusion,” Carol said quietly, “the primary reason I should get married is to find a bread-winner.”
“Isn’t that what we all want?” Deborah asked. “I wouldn’t toss a rich husband out of bed for eating crackers.”
“Sure,” Pamela agreed, “any man I’ll marry will be rich, handsome, and kind.”
“ ‘Kind’,” Carol asked. “Why ‘kind’?”
“Can you all keep a secret?” Pamela asked in a hushed tone.
Pamela went on speaking slowly. “My sister’s husband isn’t very nice to her.”
“That’s terrible,” Carol growled.
“That’s married life,” Pamela corrected her. “He is kind of a dip-stick, but they’ve got a nice pad. My mother says that women should expect a little abuse from their husband. It goes with the territory.”
“That’s why they invented pancake make-up,” Deborah added. “My aunt had three ribs broken by my uncle. When she went to the emergency room, everyone treated her like she’d done something wrong. The doctor just assumed she deserved it.”
“My father would never break my mother’s ribs,” Bernadette said. “Catholic women are given the respect that Catholic men feel for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Daddy would slap Mommy, if she does something wrong, but he’d never break her ribs, I’m sure of that.”
Bernadette’s not stupid, but she voluntarily ejects twenty-five points of I.Q. to embrace her faith.
Carol’s face twisted in disgust. “If my husband ever hits me, I’ll get a baseball bat and wait behind the door for him to walk in. If he hits one of my kids, I’ll castrate him. Some day we women will all be treated like IBM punch cards. No one will fold, spindle, or mutilate us.”
We all laughed, except Bernadette. Our class cards that day had been IBM punch cards that we had to turn in to record our schedules. Every instructor had dutifully told us, “Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate these cards, or the computer will not read them properly.”
“Have you ever really listened to the words to this song?” I asked. Pamela was playing “Run for Your Life” by the Beatle’s. “Pam . . . start it over, please. Listen to what John really says.”
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or I won't know where I am.
You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end ah little girl.
Well I know that I'm a wicked guy
And I was born with a jealous mind
And I can't spend my whole life
Trying just to make you toe the line
You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end ah little girl.
Let this be a sermon
I mean everything I've said
Baby, I'm determined
And I'd rather see you dead.
You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end ah little girl.”
We all sat in silence while digesting the creepy song.
“I’d hit him with a bat,” Carol judged.
“You’d hit John Lennon? You’re mean,” Bernadette said to Carol. “You aren’t going to be very popular here acting like you do, and saying nasty things to people.”
“In junior high I wanted desperately to be popular,” Carol admitted. “In high school popularity just came to me without much effort. I dated the cutest guys and was queen of everything. And then . . . I realized none of that was making me all that happy.”
“Really?” Deborah asked. “I would have given anything to be homecoming queen. I wasn’t even in the court.”
“I don’t know what will make me happy, but I’ve got hope it’s just around the corner. Some day,” Carol prophesized, “more women will be getting degrees than men. Men will continue to worry more about sex, sports, and cars than anything else. Women will rise up and take over as the CEOs of major corporations. The average woman of today is married by the time she’s nineteen. In the future they will wait until their late twenties to get married and will have their first child in their thirties.”
The room went silent as we all mulled over Carol’s prediction. Then one by one we all started to laugh as we realized she had been pulling our legs, again.
“What does everyone want to be in ten years?” Pamela asked after we had all giggled as much as we needed.
“Married with four kids,” Bernadette said without any thought.
“Far out! I want to be married with two kids and a Labrador,” Pamela added. “I hate not being able to have a pet in our dorm room.”
“Married with three ankle biters and a big angora cat,” Deborah said. “And, I’d like to have a husband who rides a motorcycle so I could sit behind him. Motorcycles look like so much fun.”
“I drove one once, in our driveway. They are fun. I want to be married to a husband who knows how to make groovy love to me,” Carol said with a grin.
They all turned toward me.
“Married to Steve,” I said truthfully, feeling fully female to the depths of my entrails.
“Steve?” They asked simultaneously.
“We’ve been going steady and. . .we got pinned last night!” I showed them the Greek Alpha Tau Omega letters on a chain around my neck.
“You’ve been lavaliered,” Carol squealed. “Bitchin’. That’s the signed contract for all the sex he wants. Please tell us all. You’ve been holding out.”
I dug in my lavender, vinyl wallet-clutch that matched my heels. It was stuffed with snapshots of Steve and me.
“He’s a hunk,” Pamela judged, and the others immediately agreed. “Outta sight.”
I briefly considered telling them about my first hickey, which had cleared up three days before orientation, but I wasn’t sure if nice girls get hickeys. I wanted my new friends to think of me as “proper”.
I hadn’t counted on Steve falling for me. Having a boyfriend hadn’t been part of my plans, but it happened so naturally I couldn’t do a thing about it. Love has changed everything.
The rest of the evening went by, with each of them stating their envy of me at least a dozen times. The others produced pictures of past and present beaus, but none were as handsome or successful as Steve.
Steve makes me feel like “daffodils and lilies.” I love the status he’s giving me with these girls. Having a boyfriend is like finally being old enough to drive, only ten times more significant.
I left at 9:50, ten minutes before the time when they would lock the outer doors of the dorm. Curfew was 10:00 on weekdays and 1:00 on weekends. As part of my agreement with Doctor North, I would observe the same curfew hours at her house. She wasn’t particular about when I had to crash, allowing me to stay up all night if I wanted, but I had to be in her home.
Carol suggested I drop a dime in the pay telephone in the hall. She thought I should ask Doctor North if I could stay the night in the dorm. I declined knowing that taking such a foolish risk would be imprudent.
At the end of the night I realized no one had really discussed her career goals, or even a potential college major.
The next day Bernadette dropped out of Bennington. Pamela speculated that she had joined a convent, while Carol seemed sure Bernadette had missed a period. Bernadette’s boyfriend was a fireman with a nice smile, who hopefully would only slap her when she made a mistake.
Chapter Six - Love Me Do
Steve had come home for the weekend from college and had taken me to see Bullitt starring Steve McQueen. I could have fallen for McQueen with his dreamy, squinty, light-blue eyes, but he wasn’t anything compared to my Steve. I liked McQueen better in The San Pebbles than in Bullitt, but maybe that was because Doctor North said I looked a little like Candace Bergen. My hair was starting to be as thick as hers.
Doctor North had relented on her choices in movies, so I was free to see anything I wanted. I hadn’t been too eager to go to Bullitt because it was cops and robbers nonsense with an idiotic car chase, but Steve thought it was wonderful when they “burned rubber.” He said one of the cars had “four on the floor” which baffled me.
He had picked me up in his parent’s Rambler. Steve normally drove his candy-apple red, custom ’56 Chevy. His mother drove a Lincoln and his father had a Cadillac. My yellow VW Bug was back in Minnesota because Bennington didn’t allow its students to have cars on campus. The Rambler was mainly used by Steve’s family to drive to the ocean for crabbing. It had lay down seats that converted the car into a bed-on-wheels. After the flick he drove us to a Lover’s Lane to watch the submarine races; and then we proceeded to fog the windows.
“Oh, Pumpkin,” he wailed. “I’m begging you.”
My tightly cinched girdle served as a last line of defense. Thank god someone created lycra. My other corset is made of whalebone and something that resembles tarpaulin. Steve makes me realize that I’m one hundred percent woman. He’s not the kind of guy who I would have ever wanted as a friend when I was pretending to be a male, but he’s perfect . . . now that I’m not pretending anymore.
He could lose those ridiculous mutton chop sideburns; and I’m not wild about the paisley shirts he thinks are so “groovy.” I love his wooly eyebrows, and that cleft chin makes me quiver. Carol calls it a chin butt. I’ll never tell Steve, but his chin looks exactly like Bridget Bardot’s, only masculine.
“You’ve got to help me with my blue balls,” he moaned.
I’ve never heard of “blue balls” but I’m pretty sure a lady would never discuss them around a man. Tomorrow I’m going to see if there are any medical books in the school library, so I can look up “blue balls” and see what he means. If I can’t find an answer there, I’ll ask Carol.
He’s wearing a bit too much Hai Karate cologne.
He stuck his tongue halfway down my throat and nearly choked me.
Tongue and Hai Karate are similar. A little is nice, but too much will gag you.
He’s not the greatest kisser, but other than showing up ten to fifteen minutes late for all our dates he’s almost perfect.
After he finally pulled back, he grinned. “Maybe we should just get engaged and married and start popping out babies.”
“Oh,” I squealed. “Do you mean it? Marriage?”
“Hold on. I didn’t say the magic words, Lamb Chop. And I wasn’t down on one knee, so it doesn’t count.” He laughed and then reverted to form. “Maybe you could ‘do me’ by hand?”
“That is so gross.” I blushed. “Steve, please don’t talk about such things.”
“Doll Face, it’s a foregone conclusion that you and I are going to have a three-bedroom rambler with a color TV and an automatic dishwasher. We might even get one of those Radaranges.”
“Do you mean it? My goodness, a Radarange costs $495.”
He chuckled. “Two tonsillectomies ought to cover that. If a man can’t get his woman a Radarange, he’s not much in my book.”
“Can we have lots of shag carpeting, perky wallpaper in every room, and nice, tiny, snug rooms so the house is very compartmentalized?”
“You’re so good to me.” I snuggled him.
“Geez!” He complained. “First you show up in a granny dress, and then you do the mother-of-all-teases on me. I’m serious, Munchkin. If I don’t get some serious love-action I’m going to burst. I’ve got a gigantic wood duck. What’s your bag, man?”
I really don’t mind the cutesy nicknames he has for me. In fact, some of them make me feel all “melty” inside. What’s starting to bug me is that he invariably calls me “Shirley” unless he’s begging me to have sex with him. “It’s a maxi dress.” Carol tried to tell me about doing something to his thing with my mouth. I’m going to have to ask her again, because I could barely make myself pay attention to her. It sounded so gross.
“Steve, listening to you talk about your classes has me wondering whether I should be a doctor.”
He sneered. “Honey Bunch, you’re a stone fox. There are three girls in my class at med school; and they’d all make a fright train take a dirt road. Ugly. Uglier. Ugliest.”
I punched his arm. “They’re probably very smart and nice.”
“Uh huh. They’ve all got great personalities and can dance good. The perfect dates. . .for Ray Charles.”
“I mean it,” I said petulantly. “I could study hard and become a doctor.”
“You won’t have time, Toots. With four kids and a big house, your days will be full.”
I pouted, hoping I looked cute. “But, I could be good at medicine and be a real service to my community.”
“Angel, you could start being of service tonight. Make me feel good, Nurse Cutie.”
He’s relentless, the scamp. “I was a straight “A” student in high school.” . . .and in college.
He laughed. “Everyone gets an “A” in Home Ec. How smart do you have to be to sew a dress? What else did you take? Typing? Shorthand? French? To become a doctor you need to take hard courses.”
He grabbed my hand and stuck it on his . . . thing.
I tried to jerk my hand away, but he easily overpowered me and forced me to keep it there. I had no choice but to rub it lightly, causing him to moan. He does love me! He’s big and hard, but I haven’t felt this defiled since being “pantsed” after PE class in high school.
I finally wrenched my hand away. “Darn you, you know I’m not that kind of girl! You should tell your trousers it’s not polite to point.”
“What kind of girl are you? What did you think it meant when we got pinned? You have to uphold your end of the bargain. I’ve never had a girlfriend who wouldn’t at least give me a handjob.”
He’s never told me about his other girlfriends. I wonder if they’re prettier than me? Did they really do sexy things for him? Is that my job as his girlfriend? I really need to have a serious conversation with Carol. I love Steve and want to make him happy. “Oh, Steve, don’t you want the mother of your children to be someone you can respect?”
“Baby, I’ll respect you in the . . .. Oh geez, look at the time. I’ve got fifteen minutes to get you to your door, or your aunt is going to cut off my balls.
Chapter Seven - If I Fell
“I think I need to see a physician,” I moaned to Doctor North. I had gotten a hall pass to drop by her office during my afternoon study hall. After two months, the newness of being a girl had worn off. I’m simply enjoying being who I am, but my breasts are sore.
“Are you ill?” She asked solicitously.
“I just need to get it together. Carol’s mother went in last week for a mammogram.”
“My heavens, that’s radical. Did her mother or a sister have cancer?”
“I’m not sure. Carol said they were looking for calcification.”
“I’ll have to teach you how to self-exam.”
“Really?” Even though Doctor North is my best friend, the idea of her teaching me to check my breasts for lumps was mortifying.
“Sure. Breast exams are part of what it is to be a woman. Is everything okay with Carol’s mother?”
I raised a hand to assure her. “Don’t worry. She’s fine. But it got me thinking. My breasts have been sore for over three months. I could have cancer. There’s no cure. You get cancer, and then you die.”
“Or, you could be feeling the natural pain involved in growing your breasts. You’ve gone from zero to “B” in a very short amount of time.
I blushed. I’m not stacked, but Steve doesn’t think I’m a skag, either. My friends tell me I’m pretty, but I’m not sure I’m pretty enough for Steve. “My mother was a very shapely woman. Maybe there’s something to what we studied in biology about parents passing on certain body traits.” I laughed. “If I ever quit taking all the pills, everything will reverse, like it did for Griffin. He changed back to having white skin. But I’m serious, I wouldn’t want Steve to catch some horrible disease from me.”
She clicked her tongue, signaling her disapproval. “You tell Steve to keep his hands to himself, and there won’t be anything to worry about.”
I looked at the floor. I’d been following Carol’s advice for the last three weeks. Steve isn’t going to get blue balls on my watch. At first it had seemed weird, but almost immediately I was getting as much pleasure out of “blowing him” as he was having me lick and suck him. Carol had been right. She said it was the one time she felt totally in control and the dominant person in her relationships.
“How serious is it getting between you and Steve?” Doctor North asked.
“We’re tight.” I smiled. “Last Sunday we drove around town looking at homes and talking about what kind of house we wanted . . . and how many kids.”
“Do you think that’s wise?”
“I’ve met his parents and they seem to like me. His dad calls me ‘Precious’.”
“Of course they like you.”
“Steve tells me I’m smarter than most girls, even though I make an effort to dumb down my remarks, like you told me to do. I’m not a ditz, and I think he really respects me. On the other hand, since you and I decided I should go all out and be a fab girl, most clerks and other males treat me like a complete air-head.” I fingered the chain around my neck that announced to the world that Steve and I were one step away from engagement. “Do you think I got pinned too soon?”
She shook her head slowly, as if to scold me. “You do understand that Steve and you can’t get married?”
“Oh, I suppose,” I allowed, “but you said I should make Steve want to date me. And, now Steve wants to do more than that.”
“Shirley!!! Sit down.” She pointed to a wooden chair in the corner of the living room. She had made me sit there when I’d first moved in with her, if I did something wrong. “You have no idea what it would mean to be a wife.”
“I do too,” I said with indignity. “I’ve been talking to my friends. The rules seem fairly straightforward. Always have dinner ready. Prepare yourself with as much care as you prepared the dinner. Make the children be good, to please the man of the house. Minimize all noise so that he can relax after a hard day. Be happy to see him and let him know that you’re happy. Listen intently to everything he has to say.”
She looked stricken. “Where did you get such a list?”
I smiled broadly. “The girls said they got it from their home economics textbooks in high school.”
“Do any of your friends question its validity?” She frowned.
“I don’t know why they would. I can’t wait to take on the challenge of remaining elegant while maintaining a house and taking care of my children. I want to be the ideal housewife.”
I imagined myself floating to the front door of a beautiful home after I’d heard his Buick pull into our driveway. I would time our twin’s naps so that Steve and I could have precious minutes to ourselves. I would take his briefcase and lead him to the den where I would bring him a martini, his paper, pipe, and slippers. My dress would be gorgeous, and my lips painted in his favorite color -- bright, bright red. Our house would be filled with the aroma of my perfume mixed with baked apple pie and roast beef. I would wait patiently to hear about his day.
Doctor North broke into my daydream. “Really . . . I thought you wanted to complete your doctorate and teach sociology at the college level?” She looked perplexed.
I laughed. “Why would I give up the perfect life I could have being Steve’s wife? Do you know that Steve has never had even a speeding ticket?”
“That’s largely because his dad owns the mill and the local officers look the other way. Have you considered having a career AND being a homemaker.”
I shook my head. “Steve would never allow that.”
Doctor North walked to a bookshelf and took down a worn copy of The Feminine Mystique. She opened it to a dog-eared page, and then read. “Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to become themselves? Who knows what woman’s intelligence will contribute when it can be nourished without denying love? Who knows the possibilities of love when men and women share not only the fulfillment of their biological roles, but the responsibilities and passions of the work that creates the human future and the full human knowledge of who they are?”
She paused. “Why would Steve want to chain you to an oven?”
“He’s not like that,” I wailed. “Oh, Doctor North, Steve is so wonderful. He’s going into politics. Last year, before the assassination, he worked on Robert Kennedy’s campaign. Eventually, he wants to run for state office. Not many doctors care enough about people to do that. And I want to be right at his side, supporting him.”
“Why wouldn’t you run? You’re smarter than most people I know. You have charisma.”
“Not like Steve.” I giggled, thinking about how much I cared for him. “Besides, women don’t do that.”
She snorted. “You light up a room when you walk into it. Steve is handsome, but compared to you he’s dull as a post.”
I bristled. “Don’t say that. He’s brilliant and funny and. . ..” Tears had started to flow due to the unfairness of it all.
“Does he know you can’t have his children?” She asked in a whisper.
“I. . .. When the time comes we can adopt.”
“Men like Steve worry about keeping their bloodline intact.”
“We’ll adopt a boy who can carry on his family name.”
Doctor North bit her lip and moved to me. Before she spoke again, she pulled me from the chair, and then took me into her arms. “Shirley. . ..” She whispered. “People are baby crazy. Most people are having three or four kids before they’re thirty.”
“We can adopt.” I repeated in a terse whisper.
“The world isn’t like Father Knows Best or Leave It to Beaver,” Doctor North said, while rubbing my back.
I’m surprised she’s seen those television shows. She loves to quote Newton Minow. However, I get her point. Even with the sexual revolution due to the Pill, television still clung to showing bedrooms with single beds and actors with one foot firmly on the floor at all times.
Ohhh, she’s right. Television is stopping me from facing up to my problems.
She continued hugging and talking in soothing tones. “You don’t want to add to the catastrophe that is occurring. Over eighty percent of white unwed mothers in the United States are acting as nothing more than breeders for white, adoptive parents.”
“Steve and I will have to adopt.” I insisted.
“They’re making those poor girls feel like they’re unfit to be mothers,” she continued. “In most cases, what is called ‘social work’ is nothing but presenting giving-up-their-child-for-adoption as the only option.”
“But. . ..”
“If you could have a baby, would you ever give it up for adoption?”
I imagined a baby boy with Steve’s eyes and curly hair. “Never.”
“What if you were pregnant and Steve refused to marry you.”
Why is she being so mean? “That’s nonsense. Steve wants babies as much as I do.”
“Med school is tough enough without a wife and kids.”
I laid my head on her shoulder and started to cry. “But . . . I want to be a woman. I want to marry Steve and have a home and babies.”
“Motherhood is the real liberation,” she allowed. “The Pill has changed that. The choice to have a child makes the whole experience of motherhood different, and the choice to be generative in other ways can, at last, be made, and is being made by many women now, without guilt.”
“I’m sure I want to be a mother. I have no doubts.”
We finally broke our embrace. Her eyes surveyed me from toe to nose. “It’s been quite a while since this quit being a simple field test, am I right?”
I nodded. “I’ve found myself. This is my life now.”
“I thought so.” Her face clouded. “It’s possible all the pills you’re taking are causing neurosis.”
“I’m not at all anxious,” I smiled. “I’m sure the pills have an impact, but if they’re the reason I’m so completely happy, hurrah for pharmaceuticals!”
She hugged me, again. “It’s obvious you are a woman. I’ve assume as much, and have consulted with some colleagues. There are things being done overseas that are amazing. John Hopkins is experimenting, but even when I talked to John Money at Hopkins, he suggested Europe.”
I sniffed. “Someday soon doctors in the United States will understand people like me.”
“Maybe . . . but you need to be realistic about your future.”
“If you two try to get married, you could possibly ruin Steve’s medical career before it starts. You would definitely limit his political chances. Marriage between two people of the same gender is unlawful, and that isn’t going to change.”
“That’s so wrong and. . ..” My tears were pouring down my cheeks.
“People who adopt are often subjected to psychological screening. You would never pass those tests.”
“I’m not crazy.” I’m not. I’m not crazy.
“I know, but psychologists are seemingly nearly unanimous in agreement that people like you are disturbed.”
My head slid into my hands. Doctor North supported at least half of my weight when my knees gave out.
“Are you sure you want to be a woman?” She asked. “My salary is half of what Bennington paid the man who preceded me. I have been declined for a credit card, by several banks, simply because I’m a woman. In many states, I can’t serve on a jury. If I had wanted to go to Princeton, Harvard, or Yale, I couldn’t have gotten in because of my gender, even though I’m better qualified than half the men they accept. I’ll never have a chance at the job I would really love, because women aren’t hired to be an astronaut.”
“I don’t want to blast off to the moon. I want to marry Steve,” I wailed. I’d imagined my wedding down to the smallest detail. We will have a cake that is taller than me. My gown will be traditional with mod influences.
“Marriage isn’t always wonderful. Have you thought about domestic violence?” She asked.
I shook my head. Not Steve. Not unless I do something horrible. He’s nice to his mother.
“Women are being beaten in huge numbers by husbands and lovers. The system is set up so that if you report it, they take the male’s side. They will openly tell you that you caused the problem by something you did, or didn’t, do.”
“Steve would never. . ..”
“He’s a male. Have you told my nephew?”
“I’ve decided not to communicate with Professor Ward until I finish the first full draft of my thesis paper, other than to assure him that I’m still working on it.”
“That’s probably best. I’m not sure he can handle the news and doesn’t need to know everything. You know, between his birdwatching and stamp collecting we wouldn’t want him to become too excited.” She took me in her arms. “Shirley, you asked me to tell you when your research was completed. It’s done. You’ve learned most of the lessons and from here on in it’s just ‘open the box and follow the instructions.’ ”
“I suppose you’re right. You only have to experience bigotry once to know what it is. It only takes a moment to know if you’re interested sexually in another person.” Done? My research might be done, but. . .. “I knew this day would come. Can I have forty-eight more hours?”
She nodded. “I don’t envy you for what you’re going to have to decide over the next few days. And then you’ll have to present your findings to my dear nephew.”
Professor Ward is the least of my worries.
“He’s a sexist pig,” she said vehemently. “He’s a nice enough person, but he’s just blocked on that subject. He doesn’t believe women should seek advanced degrees. He thinks every degree bestowed on a woman is a waste of university resources.”
“He’s so wrong.”
“In almost every professional field, in business and in the arts and sciences, women are still treated as second-class citizens. It would be a great service to tell girls who plan to work in society to expect this subtle, uncomfortable discrimination – tell them not to be quiet, and hope it will go away, but fight it. It’s us against them. We can only counter by being warm and kind to each other. Yet, a girl should not expect special privileges because of her sex, but neither should she ‘adjust’ to prejudice and discrimination.”
“I know. It embarrasses me to think about how I used to feel about women and homosexuals. I wasn’t all that much different than Professor Ward.”
“But you changed, Sweetie.” She hugged me tightly. “The key to the trap is, of course, education. The feminine mystique has made higher education for women seem suspect, unnecessary, and even dangerous. But I think that education, and only education has saved, and can continue to save, American women from the dangers of the feminine mystique.”
“But things are changing.”
She smiled, and then repeated the quote from her book. “Who knows what women can be when they are finally free to become themselves? Who knows what women’s intelligence will contribute when it can be nourished without denying love?”
Chapter Eight – Do You Want To Know A Secret
Shortly after he arrived, Steve surprised me by sitting down at the piano and playing a masterful rendition of Fur Elise.
“Why don’t you play more often?” I asked. He’s so modest.
“My dad hates it if I play at all. Mom made me take lessons until Dad put his foot down when I was fourteen. My dad never attended any of my recitals. He believed a little music goes a long way. It’s his theory that if a guy gets too good at music they probably will turn queer. Besides, medicine is where the big money is.”
Since it was Saturday, Steve was home from school. We sat on the overstuffed couch in Doctor North’s living room. She was weaving cloth on a loom in an upstairs bedroom, far enough away to give us privacy.
Steve had insisted that we watch The Jackie Gleason Show, because he liked Ralph Kramden and the June Taylor Dancers. I would have preferred we watched The Newlywed Game, but Steve said it was a waste of time. It bothered me when Ralph shook his fist under his wife’s nose and told her he was going to hit her so hard she’d go “To the moon, Alice, to the moon!”
Steve had his arm around me, which felt nice, but his fingers were drumming on my right breast in a way that made me feel like an object.
I pulled away.
“Is something wrong?” He asked.
While I built up my nerve, I allowed him to watch his show. Now’s the time. I’ve taken pains to always be a good date. I never insisted on having my own way, and certainly never threw a fit if I didn’t get my way like I’d seen some of the other girls do. I was never critical of other people. I didn’t find fault with the arrangements Steve made and never criticized him when things went wrong. Never, ever did I say, ‘I told you so.’ I was meticulous about my appearance, but never applied make-up or fussed with my hair in public. I always wore a dress when we went out, but wasn’t too dressy.
“We need to talk about something,” I said.
“Can it wait until my show’s over? Why don’t you go out to the kitchen and get me another bottle of soda.”
He never gets things for himself, and definitely not for me. “This is important.”
He looked at me, tearing his eyes away from the television. For a moment his gaze swung back, and I thought I’d lost him to Ralph and his buddy “Norton”.
The guy who plays “Norton” is really good, but he’ll never be able to play any other role.
“You’re crying,” he said with surprise. “Tell Stevie-Weavie what your little problem is so I can fix it.”
I’ve never talked baby talk and never will. And, I’ve definitely never called him “Stevie-Weavie”. “I’ve got something to tell you that’s going to take some understanding.” Doctor North is wrong. She’s convinced Steve will walk away from me when I tell him I can’t bear his children. She’s never experienced true love, so she can’t understand how Steve and I feel about each other.
“I’m willing to help you understand anything,” he offered. “It’s a man’s duty to help his woman.” He smiled.
“The thing is. . ..” Oh . . . this is so hard. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to tell him the full truth. I hope I never have to do that. Once we’re engaged I’ll go to Europe and when I come back I’ll be ready for him.
“Go ahead, Shirley. Spill the beans.”
I had settled on my silk, A-line dress with full peasant sleeves. It definitely wasn’t a granny dress, with a hem that stopped way above my knees. The v-neck was cut low to emphasize my assets. It was by far the most feminine garment in my entire wardrobe. Of course, I was also wearing Arpege by Lanvin, so I smelled like a flower garden in heat. I swear that if he’s the man I think he is, the man I love, I’ll be on my knees in front of him doing to his thing that thing Carol taught me about. He will deserve it. Of course, I’d never do that in Doctor North’s house. We’ll have to go for a drive. “Steve, do you love me?”
“You know I do. More than anything.”
“Well . . . you know how I said I had to have a physical last week.”
I hadn’t said anything to him about a doctor’s appointment, but I was counting on him pretending like he had heard me say that. A lot of times when I talked he seemed to be off in his thoughts. “Well, the results came back. I didn’t believe them at first, so I had them run the test again.”
“Are you okay? You’re not ill, are you?”
He really is concerned about me! “No . . .. I mean, yes, I have a physical problem. The doctors say I’ll never be able to conceive.”
“Conceive of what? If there’s something in your life that you don’t understand, I’ll do my best to help you, but some things are beyond a woman’s mental capacity and are best left to men.”
Ohhhh. He never attacks me personally, but he doesn’t flinch at all when he demeans my gender. “Steve, I understand my situation entirely. I’m trying to tell you that I can’t bear children.”
“Don’t worry, Shirley,” he said with a chuckle. “My mother said she had the same problem. She couldn’t stand the smell of children, but she says when they’re your own that makes all the difference in the world. You’ll see. When you wake up in the hospital bed after you’ve given birth, and the stork has brought us a beautiful baby, you’re going to love him . . . or her, if the stork makes a mistake. We’ll just keep on running that play until we score a touchdown and have a Stevie-Weavie, Junior.”
A tear rolled down my cheek. “Please try to understand. We’ll have to adopt.”
“Adopt,” he cried. “No one in my family has ever adopted. Are you insane? Adoption is what men do, if they get their pecker shot off in the war.”
“Steve!” He’s never used language like that in front of me, before.
“Oh. I’m sorry, Shirley, but you scared me with talk about adoption. Are you afraid of childbirth. Are you scared because you’re so teeny? Gosh, we’ll have baby-sized babies, don’t you think? Mother says she always had the doctor give her a little something. She doesn’t talk much about it, but I think it’s like laughing gas you get from the dentist.”
I bit my lip and wished I could get through the next five minutes, without having to actually experience it. “No, dear. I’m not afraid. The doctors say I have a condition that will prevent me from ever giving birth to a child.”
His eyes grew wide. “Are you sterile?”
He stood and began to pace. “This won’t do. This just won’t do. My dad is set on me carrying on the family name.”
“We can,” I pleaded. “I checked with an adoption agency this afternoon and told them about us. They said we could adopt a little boy.” That is, if I can somehow pass their psychological tests.
He shook his head violently. “I’d be disowned. The family name is passed through the blood. No adoption. Adoptions are out. I thought you were perfect. You’re not as stupid as most woman.”
He does that a lot. He demeans me in a way that destroys my personal value. He judges me by no other quality than my gender.
My eyes saw him for the first time. I could hear Doctor North’s loom clicking while she created fabric. I reached with both hands behind my head and unclasped my chain.
“I think you’d better take this back.” You skuzz!
“Maybe we do need to think things over,” he agreed too quickly, eagerly reaching for his chain, which had only seconds before meant so much to me.
Now it feels like garbage in my hand, and I’m relieved he’s taking it.
He turned and walked out.
I sank to a sitting position on the couch and stared ahead at the television, not really seeing anything.
Doctor North came in with two glasses of sherry.
I took one, and then offered a toast. “Doctor North, here’s to the future. I’m over the past. Can you believe I actually fell for that guy?”
“It happens. Girls fall for the wrong guy all the time. Oh Honey, would you please call me Aunt June. I love you so much and want so very, very much to be your family.”
“Aunt June,” I said. “I want very much to talk to Carol, but know there’s too much risk. It could ruin your life, if anyone ever found out about me.”
“That’s your decision. I could deal with it.”
“I’ll leave tonight. I bought a ticket for the midnight train to Minneapolis, in case things didn’t go well with Steve. I packed a bag already. I guess I knew him better than I thought. Can you ship my things to Minnesota?”
I’ll cry tomorrow.
And, I did.
Chapter Nine – I Should Have Known Better
It took Professor Ward much too long to recognize me. I had dressed conservatively, so much so that I could have easily fit in at a bridge club. Most of my work had been done in a room at the Hennepin County Library where I had ready access to statistics. He seemed highly supportive of the ground I was traveling, in the written comments I’d received from him before my field study commenced.
This was our first communication since I’d gone to Maine. Even though it had been eighteen months since we’d last met, I thought he should have known me the moment I walked in his door. I was completely comfortable since everyone in my new life accepted me. When he finally realized who I was, his face registered pure contempt . . . and anger.
I was shocked.
At first I thought I’d smudged my eyeliner or smeared my lipstick. I pulled a compact from my purse, something I rarely did in public, and then checked my face. My face . . . not the face I’d been wrongly living in for years.
“You . . . you like this girl stuff too much,” he said, talking as if his words were choking him. “Why are you still dressed that way?”
“Why wouldn’t I dress like this?” I asked. I found what I knew to be the most feminine part of my being and hunkered down.
He fixed me in a glare I had come to recognize as the “superiority stare.” Every time something I did or said was interpreted as a challenge to a male’s ego, he gave me that look that screamed, “Little girl, who the hell do you think you are?” I hadn’t met a male since the start of my transition to my current life, who didn’t love to put me down.
First they would establish superiority and then they would suggest that unless I was lusting after them I was a lesbian. Their paternalism downgraded my dignity.
“I knew it before you started,” he said with obvious venom. “The minute you waltzed into my office all innocent like, and then started talking about dressing in women’s clothing I knew you were a fag. Now you’ve confirmed it. You’ve placed my career -- and my aunt’s -- in jeopardy. All I can do now is damage control. Look at you!”
Since the meeting was so important, I had chosen a special outfit. My simple A-line, mustard colored dress stopped two inches above my knees. I’d set it off with a Pierre Cardin pink, black, and white patterned silk scarf that draped to my waist. My three-inch heels showed off my silk stockings.
He’s acting upset, but I can feel his eyes devouring my legs.
“You would have zero probability of passing your orals running around with fake breasts and padded hips.”
I quit wearing any padding months ago, but that’s none of his business.
“I don’t understand,” I explained. “You accepted my thesis statement.”
“I would just as soon you would simply leave quietly and never darken my door again. But since I have my aunt’s interest to protect I’ll tell you where the bear shit in the woods. Your thesis statement was flawed. You stated you were studying the plight of women in the United States. Women don’t have a ‘plight.’ In fact, they’re revered.”
I thought of all the little girls in the world and wept silently for the fate in store for them . . . unless the world changed. “You have no idea. Since I’ve accepted who I am, I’ve been the target of sexist pigs, like you.”
He smirked. “I’m not a sexist, just a realist.”
“Do you deny that you can’t stand the idea of women being equal to you?”
He thought for a moment and then came clean. “We are going to do our damnedest to drive every one of you out of academia. Pretty soon we’ll have it so the only jobs you can get here are the jobs no man would have. Nothing against you personally, but all this noise about equality is why we don’t want you around.”
“That is patently unfair.” Don’t whine. He’ll love it if you grovel. “The only way for a woman, as for a man, to find herself, to know herself as a person, is by creative work of her own.”
He threw up his hands. “First of all, you’re NOT a woman. My god . . . how deluded are you? Second . . . that’s just the way it is. You and I can’t change the way the world works. You certainly can’t when you’re stupid enough to voluntarily take a reduction in social status. You’re a fool to downgrade your position, and then complain about it.”
I shut my eyes and shook my head. “Even knowing how I’ll be treated, I can’t deny who I am.”
“Everyone can see who you are,” he bellowed. “You’re crazy.” He stopped, and his face contorted while he formed his next sentence. “Are you going to have it cut off?”
I’ve already made an appointment. “That’s none of your business. Let’s get down to what’s important. Are you going to recognize the thousands of hours I’ve put into my paper?” Since my field observation I’d spent months in the library gathering, compiling, and analyzing a large amount of social data. I’d pushed my typist relentlessly, going through dozens of revisions. My conclusions were a condemnation of our society. In comparison to the two or three-dozen dissertations I’d read in order to understand the process, mine was near the top in significance.
“Not a chance,” he said flatly. “And, if you try to become a grad student at any other university, they’ll check with me first before admitting you. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you and your paper are finished, as of today.”
My chest tightened. “You can’t do that!”
“You don’t have a future in academia.” He plopped down in his chair.
We sat in terrible silence for several minutes.
I don’t have any cards to play. He can reject my paper without recourse. There is no court of appeals.
“I’ll tell you what I will do,” he said. “If you promise to leave my office quietly, I’ll allow you to seek admittance into another university. You can use my name as a reference. I’ll tell them that we had a personality clash, but you have to start over. You’ll have to forget about this thesis and start a new study, something my aunt isn’t dragged into.”
His face told me that was the best offer he was going to make. “Of course, you’ll have to act like the man you are!”
It’s not right. It’s just not right.
Chapter Ten – She's A Woman
Without an academic route available, the publishing of my book had become even more important.
“Publishing has just gone through the same corporate consolidation as other businesses.” Mr. Walter Block peered at me across his large mahogany desk. Although I was wearing a grey Chanel suit, he treated me as if I was an unruly teenager.
I had selected Houghton-Mifflin in Boston because they had published Black Like Me.
He stood, and then walked around his desk to get a closer look at me. “Sure you’re a boy! Now I’ve seen it all. People come in here with the wackiest ideas. Everyone wants to be an author, but you take the cake. Imagine a doll like you claiming she’s really a boy!”
I shook my head in wonder at his audacity. I had sent them my manuscript, She Like Me. After waiting nearly four months with no word, I had called and been told it was sitting in what they called a “slush pile.” After another two months, I got a rejection letter, and then decided to stop in and talk to the man who had rejected my book.
“I just can’t bring myself to believe your lame premise.” He sneered. His teeth shot off in random directions making me wonder how he could properly chew his food. “Tell you what I’ll do, sweetie. You rewrite your story, using real names and locations that I can verify, and then I’ll print a small initial run.”
“I . . . I can’t. It would ruin the school headmistresses’ career.” I swung my head from side to side.
He laughed cruelly. “You can’t tell names and locations because it’s all a pack of lies.”
“Ohhh! It’s true, every word of it,” I insisted.
His face broke into an evil grin. “Okay. There’s another way. Show me your schwanz, and then I’ll believe you.”
“What?!” He’s such a pig.
“Schwanz. Your dick. Show me your dick and I’ll give your book a chance.”
“That’s not possible,” I said through clenched teeth.
“I knew it,” he continued, with a vicious snort. “It doesn’t matter if you’re lying or not. There is no mainstream market for your book. If there’s a market at all it might be in the erotica genre.”
“Erotica?” I asked.
“There are people who will have a prurient interest in your story?”
My mouth dropped open. “Are you suggesting my story is . . . pornography?”
He grinned, obviously happy to have hit a bull’s-eye with his spiteful statement. “I’m not willing to make that judgment. Legally the definition is hard to pinpoint.”
“I know,” I said, wishing he would quit being so damned superior. “In 1964 the supreme court narrowed the definition of pornography. Prior to that the court had held that pornography was material that had a dominant theme that taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest with no redeeming social importance.
“Why . . . you talk intelligently.”
His remark couldn’t have been more condescending; yet I refused to rise to his bait.
I continued. “Judge Potter Stewart said of their new standard that all speech is protected except for hardcore pornography. He went on to say that he wouldn’t attempt to define hardcore pornography other than to state “I know it when I see it.”
“You do know a little about the law,” he allowed, damning me with faint praise.
“Uh huh. Four years ago the court again modified the definition. Obscenity was defined as anything patently offensive, appealing to prurient interest, and of no redeeming social value. Still, however, this left the ultimate decision of what constituted obscenity up to the whimsy of the courts. This did not provide an easily applied standard.”
“Look, little Miss Smarty-pants. You walked in here without an appointment and charmed your way passed my secretary. I agreed to talk to you only because you’re a looker, but I know a lot more about publishing than you do, and your so-called book wouldn’t sell.”
“Back Like Me sold over a million copies.”
He laughed rudely. “Black Like Me sold because John Griffin went on the air with Mike Wallace and convinced everyone he had something to say about the coloreds.”
“So get me on with Mike Wallace.”
He snorted. “Mike Wallace doesn’t interview women, unless you’re Jackie O.”
“My book is an important discussion of a very unhealthy condition for women.”
“You sound like my third wife.”
“You’ve been married three times?”
“Five times . . . and I’m currently going through another divorce as we speak. Just look at you women. You live such simple lives. If you wanted to do better, you could, but you don’t.”
“Women lead the lives that are forced on them by men like you.” I crossed my arms.
“That isn’t even close to the truth. Women are brought into the world just like men. If they didn’t spend so much time worrying about what hat to buy and what color to paint their nails, they’d have time for a career.”
“Absolutely, and you need to know that. I read every word of your manuscript, and when I was done all I could say was, ‘So what?’ ”
“ ‘So what’? How can you say that with all the changes going on.”
“All those changes are in your head. The reality is that things are like they’ve been since the days of the pyramids. Men are leaders and women are nurturers. I say again, if women didn’t waste a third of their day on beauty treatments and such they would be as successful as men.”
“Really. I suppose you succeed because you work harder than the average woman.”
I pointed to outside his door at his secretary. “How many hours did she work yesterday?
“She works the normal 9:00 to 5:00. Of course, I expect her to get here thirty minutes early to get my coffee brewing, and yesterday she had to work an hour late because we needed to get a galley proof from the printer. And, she’s trying to learn the business so every night she takes a few manuscripts home from the slush pile to give them a first run through.”
I nodded. “Let me guess. You actually rolled in yesterday at about 9:30, just like you did today when I was waiting in the outer office. At 11:45 you left the office to meet a business associate for lunch. Over a hot beef sandwich, you each drank three martinis. When you got back to the office, you tried to work, but used that couch against the wall for an hour nap. At 4:15 you rushed out of here to catch the train. On your way home you stopped by a local watering hole, and by the time you got home you were too tired to do anything but eat a cold dinner and hit the hay.”
His face verified my accusation. “To coin a phrase, ‘So what?’ ” He smirked.
“So your secretary worked a nine and a half hour day at the office and then spent three more hours last night working off the clock. You managed to work about four hours and part of that time you were snockered.”
“You damn women love to stick together.” He went to his door and shut it. “My secretary read your manuscript and loved it. Too bad the only way you’ll get it published is to screw my eyes out.”
I didn’t dare close my eyes, because the tears would pour out, so I had to stare at him. “No,” I whispered.
“There’s the door,” he said, opening it with a sweep of his arm. “Use it.”
I went from Boston on to the United Kingdom for sex reassignment surgery at Charing Cross Hospital Gender Identity Clinic. That next summer I danced in a leather mini-skirt at a Who concert . . . an emancipated woman.
Over the years, I watched as the role of women in society evolved. The Pill changed sexual attitudes, which opened a brand new world in the relationships between men and women. Domestic violence became a topic of open discussion and although it persisted it was largely condemned. Woman grew in numbers at colleges, and became by far the majority of those who receive a degree. Wages never did reach parity, but women became the heads of major corporations. They were soon protected against sexual harassment in the workplace.
We were women who had been raised in one era, and then came of age in another. My case involved a slightly more abrupt change than others.
My book about living as a female student was never published, but several others I wrote became bestsellers. One was an in-depth study of Tenzin Gyatso, in which I stated that if the 14th Dalai Lama decided to reincarnate it could be as a woman. I wrote, “Despite the complex historical, religious, and political factors surrounding the selection of incarnate masters in the exiled Tibetan tradition, the Dalai Lama is open to change. Why not? What's the big deal?"
I wrote that book while living with Aunt June. I never did tell my friends from Bennington about my past and remained close to Carol who dropped out of Bennington shortly after I did, went into modeling, and then changed her name to Lindsay. She had told me that during high school she had a huge crush on Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders. Lindsay later became better known as TVs “the Bionic Woman.”
I never forgot the lessons I learned. Ten years later I finally did marry, in a private ceremony, and then waited several decades before our government recognized our marriage.
My true love was not Steve, nor anyone like him.
Thank you to Rasufelle and Kristine Roland for their friendship and support.
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