As a result of the many sexual harassment and discrimination scandals, the Fems swept the elections. In no time, they kept their campaign promise and passed the famous Pants Suit Act, more formally the GEA – the Gender Equality Act. With it, gender prejudice became, if not a thing of the past, at least illegal. For example, no one could ask your gender on a legal form or treat you differently based on gender. Mom, who voted Fem, said that was a good thing, so I thought so too.
As far as education was concerned, curricula had to be based on personal potential and disposition, not gender. I started high school just as the act went into effect, and so experienced its full “benefit.” One Monday morning at the end of Summer, my friend Judy and I walked to Katherine Hepburn High to take a battery of tests to determine our “personal potential and disposition.” As we came in, a student took each of our pictures and printed out a card for us. Then we followed signs to the auditorium.
At 9:00, Ms. Davies, the guidance counselor, introduced herself and said a bit about the GEA. Then she told us, “You have each been given a card with your picture and a number on it. To avoid gender bias, you will identify your test papers with the number you’ve been given instead of your names. The first test is a personality assessment. There are no right or wrong answers, so just answer each question honestly. Begin now!”
The test asked a bunch of strange questions: about our tastes, about giving or following orders, and many that I had no idea what they were about. When we finished, we had a break, then took the kinds of tests I was used to – you know – math, science and things like that. At the end, we were given the rest of the week off, except for the guidance appointment printed on the back of our number cards. Mine was Tuesday at 1:00 PM.
I knocked at Ms. Davies’ door, heard a muffled, “Come in!” and entered.
She didn’t look up. “Take a seat, dear.” She sat between two piles of folders, reading one that I presumed was mine. “Please give me a minute, while I finish reviewing your results, Brenda.”
“Brenda?” I thought to myself. “I’m Brendan Hathaway, Ms. Davies.”
She looked up, her face registering surprise. “Of course you are, dear – it just goes to show that we mustn’t have gender expectations – right?”
“I suppose not, Ms. Davies.”
“Good! I’m so glad you don’t.” She continued turning pages in my folder, occasionally uttering “hmmm” or “surprising,” as she worked on her computer. Finally, she started the printer and looked up at me. “You are very lucky, my dear. Last year, I would have assigned you a completely different curriculum – one based on being male rather than your potential and disposition. This year, the law requires that we assign you the curriculum laid out here,” she said, taking my schedule from the printer and handing it to me.
Schedule #139 – Brendan Hathaway
1 Math 1H – Domestic Budgeting
2 English 1R – Romance Novels as Literature
3 History 1F – Women in History
4 Physical Education 1D – Introduction to Ballet
6 Home Economics 1 – Styles and Sewing
7 Health 1F – Hygiene and Intimacy
8 Study Hall
“There must be some mistake, these are girls’ courses.”
“Nonsense, dear. We don’t have boys’ courses and girls’ courses any more. Some of your courses were “historically” girls’ classes, but the GEA requires that we offer them to boys like you.”
“Boys like me? I am not gay!”
“That’s not for me to say. I can only say that you tested as a beta with a nurturing disposition and a low potential for college. The guidelines require that we educate such students for homemaking and child rearing. That is a good thing, dear – it will spare you the humiliation of competing with alphas. It has nothing to do with your attraction to boys.
“Now I have to see the next student. Good luck, Brenda, er… Brendan. Come see me any time once classes are started.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I left. Judy was waiting for me. She was bubbling with enthusiasm as we headed home. “I’m an alpha with technical aptitude and a high potential for college. So I’m in college prep with an emphasis on science and math.” She showed me her schedule. It had advanced math, two science courses, and lots of other heavy-duty stuff. Clearly, we’d have no classes together.
“What’s your schedule?”
“I’m a beta with a nurturing disposition, so I got ‘historically’ girls’ courses. Ms. Davies even called me ‘Brenda’ before she saw that I’m a boy.” I showed Judy my schedule.
“Please, don’t tease me, Judy. It’s bad enough that I’m taking sissy courses.”
“I am not teasing you! Remember when we were in fourth grade and I decided we’d get married when we grew up?”
“Well, I still want to, but I wasn’t sure how it’d work. I mean, you work hard for your grades, but I get much better ones without even trying.”
“I know,” I said glumly.
“Well, after Mr. Saunders told me how I tested, I started worrying. I mean I’ll probably make a lot of money and you’d feel bad that you don’t earn as much. Now, with the Pants Suit Act, it’ll be OK for you to stay home and take care of the house and kids. That’s wonderful!”
“You mean you still want to marry me?”
“Of course, I do!” she said, kissing me on the lips.
I felt much better.
“Now promise me you’ll do your best in your courses, Brenda.”
“Brenda!?” I looked at her.
She was smiling.
“I promise, Judd.”
When I got home mom asked to see my schedule. I was embarrassed to show it to her. After reading it, she sat thinking for a while.
“Did the counselor say anything about your schedule?”
I told her what Ms. Davies said – that I was “a beta with a nurturing disposition and a low potential for college,” and would be educated for homemaking and child rearing.
“I suppose you are, dear. You’re not very assertive and you do enjoy babysitting for the Johnsons – don’t you? Also, you’ve never had high grades, even though I know you work hard. I’m kind of pleased that you’ll be following in my footsteps.”
I was relieved she wasn’t disappointed. “Yes, but I don’t want to take girls’ courses.”
“Well, it doesn’t sound like you have a choice. Besides, from what you said, these aren’t girls’ courses anymore. It’s a new world, dear, and the differences between boys’ and girls’ careers is disappearing. You need to accept the changes.”
“Good! I need to overcome my old fashion thinking as well, so you aren’t the only one who needs to change.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, when I was growing up, parents raised boys one way and girls another. I’ve done that with you – raising you like boys were in the day. That was wrong, and very hard on you, I suspect. From now on I’ll raise you as a beta – teach you how to attract a successful alpha and take care of his, or her, home and kids.”
“But, I’m happy with how you’ve been raising me – and I don’t want to attract a boy – alpha or not.”
“That’s very sweet of you – but it’s not facing the future. Your sloppy clothes and hair will turn any alpha off. Your new class mates will be much more concerned with clothes and appearance than the boys you’ve been hanging with. You’ll need to be more like them if you want to compete.”
“I don’t! … You think so?”
“I do dear. You need to look pretty … er, handsome every day. … I’ll tell you what – there’s no time like the present. I’ll take you shopping so you fit in better with the girls in your class.”
“I don’t want to wear girl’s clothes!”
“Nobody said anything about girls’ clothes – I’m just talking about smoothing some of your rough edges.”
“Oh.” As long as I didn’t wind up in a skirt, I wouldn’t complain.
One way mom saved money was by getting me as few hair cuts as possible. That meant none in late Spring or Summer, and a buzz cut just before school started. So, my hair was pretty long as we entered the salon for my annual school shearing. Betty, who always does our hair, greeted us. I was expecting my usual buzz cut, but mom said, “Bren will be taking home-making courses, so we want to be able to style his hair. Could you shape his hair and show him a few ways to style it?”
I wondered who this “we” was. I sure didn’t want to “style” my hair.
Betty cut hardly any off, but showed me four ways to style my hair. Two required hair pins and one needed a scrunchie. The most masculine style was parting it down the middle without combing my new bangs forward. When I finally got out of the chair, she handed me a floral print bag that looked like a girls’ clutch. In it were a hair brush, colored scrunchies and 200 assorted hair pins.
I wanted out, but instead of leaving, mom took me to the manicure station. I was afraid I’d wind up with red or pink nails, so I was relieved when the operator only trimmed, filed and rounded them. She finished by applying a coat of clear hardener. I was secretly pleased by how neat and shiny my nails looked. Manicure tools and a bottle of hardener were added to my bag.
Finally, at the register, mom bought some expensive shampoo and conditioner for me, which Betty put in a pink shopping bag. I felt like a sissy as we left – holding my clutch in my right hand, and a pink shopping bag in my left.
Discount clothing stores were next. Mom said we needed to replace the worn sneakers, graphic tees and beat-up jeans I’d worn to middle school. She said white, unisex athletic shoes would help me fit in. I wound up with a close-out pair from the women’s department. They could be boys’ shoes, but I knew they weren’t. Next came two pair of slacks that “will keep a crease,” and Oxford shirts in white, pale blue, lavender, raspberry and pink. (Mom said yellow wasn’t my color.)
That night, mom had me brush my hair 100 times before bed and told me keep my nails manicured. Also I was to shampoo, condition, and blow dry my hair every other day. I was unhappy with the hair futzing and brushing. Still, brushing was very relaxing and made my hair like the models’ you see on TV – it had a beautiful shine and flowed like water when I swung my head. I felt very girlish, but spent a long time touching it and looking at it in the mirror. Mom smiled as she walked by.
When I finished, mom called me into the kitchen and gave me hot cocoa. As I sipped it, she said, “Your hair looks lovely!”
I was happy with the compliment, but too embarrassed to admit it, so I just sipped more cocoa.
“I want you to try each of the dos Betty showed you. So, next time you shampoo, try another style. That way you can see which you like best.”
Of course, I already knew – the most masculine one. Still, I did what mom said – I always do.
By the end of the week, my nails were chipped. Saturday morning I was playing Gears of War 4 when mom came in and told me it was time for me to “do” my nails.
“Can I do them latter? I’m in the middle of this.”
“No, you can’t. First, chipped polish is unsightly. Second, putting things off is a bad habit, and, finally, I think ‘this’ is way too violent. I don’t want you playing it again.”
There were so many things I wanted to say I couldn’t pick one. Finally, I said, “I don’t wear nail polish!”
“Of course you do. You’ve worn clear polish all week. Now it’s time your manicure your nails and reapply your polish. From now on a manicure will be part of your Saturday morning routine.”
I was dumb-founded that I’d been wearing nail polish – not even knowing enough to hide it.
Mom showed me how to remove my polish, work on my cuticles and nails, and then apply two coats of clear polish. I was very embarrassed, but when I was done, my hands looked great again.
Sunday morning, my Gears of War 4 game was gone – replaced by Sims 3.
After Sunday lunch, mom said, “It’s time to decide on a hair style for school. All of the styles look so cute, I bet it’s hard to decide! Which do you think is prettiest?”
I did not lie to mom, so I said, “The style with my hair pulled back on one side looks great, but I don’t want my hair like that ’cuz using hair pins makes me feel girly.”
“Maybe it’s not a girlish feeling, but a beta feeling?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. I’ll think about it. … Still, I want to look like a boy – you know by parting my hair down the middle.”
“OK, dear. Still, I think you’d look much prettier with your hair pulled back on the side. Maybe you could wear it like that later.”
The closer the start of classes got, the more I’d worried about being the only boy in the sissy track. By Monday morning, I didn’t want to leave the house. Mom would have none of it, and drove me to school. None of the boys going in were dressed as prissy as me.
Still, I worried too much. Two other boys had tested as betas with a nurturing dispositions – Carl Mendez and Michael Larue. That wasn’t many, but at least I wasn’t alone. There was also an alpha with a nurturing disposition, John Jayne. He was in college prep, but took home ec with us.
Carl made no attempt to fit in. He dressed as scruffy as I had in middle school and had a buzz cut. Still, he had a small, pretty face with cute button nose. Michael wore slacks without a fly and a starched white shirt buttoned to the neck. His face was more boyish than Carl’s, but his long, wavy hair was held back with hair pins, revealing small pearl studs piercing his ears. John dressed almost like me, but he always wore white Oxfords and leather loafers. He had lush lashes and thin eyebrows.
The girls in our classes called us “pant-sies” after the Pants Suit Act. It didn’t take long for most of the other kids to call us “pansies.” We did our best to ignore them. Fortunately, the girls in our track were more amused than mean. Still, they insisted on giving us girls’ names – Carla, Michelle, Jane and Brenda – so we fit in better, they said. We had no choice but to accept our new names.
This was the first time most of our teachers had boys in class, and the material they’d developed was hardly co-ed. Even our budgeting course was full of examples geared to girls. For example, one homework exercise required us to visit at least four stores to price out an ensemble of three skirts, three tops and two pairs of heels in our sizes. We were to take pictures of our selections and turn them in with our budget data. The girl (or boy) with the best bargain would get extra credit.
Carla refused to do it as assigned, finding prices on the internet instead. Michelle asked me to go shopping with him to do our assignment. I didn’t mind that he wanted to go to six stores, instead of four. The embarrassing part was that he insisted on trying on his selections while I took pictures with his phone. This drew strange looks from the sales people, but it would have been illegal to discriminate against him because he was a boy. He ignored the looks and was having a great time modeling and posing for pictures.
He suggested I try on my selections, but I was too shy. I was getting the same kind of looks as Michelle, but without having any fun. So, after three stores, I started trying on the skirts and tops I selected while Michelle took pictures with my phone – pretending he was a fashion photographer and I was his model. I got a huge adrenaline rush as I struck various poses.
When we got home we printed out our pictures and put them in our reports. Mrs. Roberts was so impressed that she gave both of us an A and extra credit, even though Joan Mondale found the best bargains. Carla got a D.
That weekend, I was complaining to Judy about taking girls’ courses, using our math assignment as an example. She wasn’t very sympathetic, but took my phone from me to see the pictures me modeling outfits. “Brenda, you look darling in your outfits! Will you model them for me?”
I blushed like a beet. “I didn’t buy them. I was trying them on for homework, not to buy them.”
“But, you picked them out right?”
“Well, you have a real sense of style. I wouldn’t mind if you dressed like that all the time.”
“I’d get beaten to a pulp.”
“I don’t think so. No one’s beat on any of you pansies so far. The kids just accept that you’re different.”
She continued looking at the pictures. “Not only do you look adorable, but you look very happy. … I especially like you in this floral top, white miniskirt, and wedge sandals – though you’d look better with shaved legs.”
“Judy! Please don’t tease.”
“I’m not teasing, Brenda. I’m saying you have good taste and I’d like to see you in a skirt.”
I got a tingly feeling in my groin, but didn’t answer.
Our other classes were equally geared to girls. Most of the kids in our class had never read a book, so our “Romances as Literature” course was designed to interest us in reading. We read three Harlequin romances the first semester. I was put off at first, but they had steamy scenes that soon piqued my interest. One day as I was reading silently in class, I found myself identifying with the heroine: imaging myself in the arms of a hunky guy. Shocked, I stopped and shook the feeling off. Looking around I saw the whole class looking dreamy eyed as they read. Michelle was completely absorbed, flicking his hair back in a feminine manner from time to time. Even Carla had was touching his cheek and sighing. I decided not to fight it, and soon imagined myself being kissed by the open-shirted cavalier on the cover.
Our history class had been carefully crafted by Ms. Clarbeau to instill self-esteem and confidence in the girls who took it. In me, it instilled awe and admiration. I no longer saw men as the lynch pins of history, but as the instruments, and even the playthings, of clever and courageous women.
The school supplied our togs for Mr. Reynard’s ballet lessons. So Carla, Michelle and I dressed the same as the girls – not in tutus, but in black leotards, white tights and pink slippers. Again, Michelle was pleased, I went along with it, and Carla was put off. Still, as time went on, we all came to like ballet.
At first my long hair kept getting in my eyes, but when I saw how the girls put their hair in ponytails, I put my hair in a low ponytail. Mr. Reynard was watching us do our movements, then clapped his hands for us to stop. He told me wearing my hair differently was a bid for special attention and detracted from the aesthetic unity of the corps de ballet. I needed to wear my ponytail high, like “the other girls.” That was OK during class, but I’d sometimes forget to take my hair down. Then, I’d go through the rest of the day with a high ponytail, only to have mom compliment me when I got home.
The thing was, no one picked on me for wearing my hair like a girl. I know part of it was because there were severe penalties for bullying – but that didn’t stop gentle teasing like calling us “pansies.” Of course, Judy wanted to see me in a skirt, so I think she liked seeing me with girl’s hair. Still, it was like everyone thought it was normal for me to wear my hair like “the other girls.”
It should be no surprise that Ms. Sangrelli had never had boys in her Styles and Sewing course before. Our first project was an apron.
“I apologize to our pant-sies that your aprons have ruffles, but learning to sew ruffles is a state-mandated course objective. Surely you boys didn’t want to learn to do them by making yourselves ruffled blouses or skirts.”
Michelle leaned over and whispered “I would. How about you?”
I didn’t answer, but it was hard to get the idea of a ruffled blouse out of my head.
When I complained to mom, she said a ruffled apron was no big deal. She’d love to have one I’d made for her. That made me feel better. She asked me to take pics of the fabrics so she could choose one she liked. The next day I handed her my phone to look at the fabrics. The next thing I knew, she said, “You look so happy in a skirt! – and cute too!”
At first I had no idea what she was talking about, then I remembered the pics Michelle took when we were playing dress up for our budgeting homework. “Wait mom, that’s not …,” I was going to say “me,” “… er what it looks like.”
“What it looks like is you having a lot fun pretending to be a girl. … Now don’t tell me you weren’t having fun.”
“I was, but … it was for just class,” I said weakly.
“So Mrs. Roberts assignment was to wear skirts, tops and heels?”
“No, I didn’t mean that. It was just that Michelle was having so much fun modeling his outfits – I felt I was missing out.”
“OK, I understand.”
I wasn’t sure she did, but I was glad to let it drop. “So, what fabric do you like best?”
“I think you should choose, because you need an apron anyway.”
The last class I had to endure was Hygiene and Intimacy with nurse Brown. I learned way more than I ever wanted to know about periods, and the girls learned things about wet dreams and emissions that made them look funny at the three of us. The things we were asked to talk about were too embarrassing to write here – so I won’t.
The only good thing was that no one wanted to talk about that stuff outside of class, except Joan Mondale, who was miffed that Michelle and I got extra credit in math even though she found the best bargains. She asked us if we preferred tampons or pads.
All this was the first week. So, I was very glad when Friday afternoon came. I was relaxing in my room, playing Sims, when mom came home.
“Good evening, dear.” She said as she walked into my room carrying a bag from T. J. Maxx.
“Hi, mom. Been shopping?”
“Yes, dear. I know how shy you are, but watching you this week … I see that you’re really getting with the program. I’m proud of how nice you’ve kept your hair and nails – you look so darling in your ponytail when you let me see it. Then … seeing you modeling those clothes … Well, I just had to show you how supportive I am. These are for you.”
She opened the bag and showed me the floral top and white miniskirt Judy thought I looked cute in. She even bought the wedge sandals. Next came a three pack of cotton panties and a small bra.
“Now, don’t say anything. I know this is very embarrassing for you. … but if you could try these on, I’ll know I got the right sizes. Then – when you are ready – I’d love to see how you look in them.”
“Oh, God, how did this happen?” I thought. Mom must think I’m a complete sissy.
Meanwhile, she walked out and closed the door behind her.
I sat looking at the clothes on my bed. Mom would be heartbroken if I rejected her misguided kindness. At least I could try them on for size. I never had to wear them again. Slowly, I got undressed. I tried the panties first. They were so soft! The only problem was that putting them on made me hard. I laid down and took care of that.
When I was soft, I decided I’d look better if I tucked myself out of the way. I looked in the mirror. I looked very like Karen Kowalski, who had not blossomed yet, and so had a chest as flat as mine. I decided to see what I’d look like in a bra. It was the devil to fasten, but I finally got all the hooks in the eyes behind my back. The bra was padded, so, with my hair and nails, I looked like a complete girl.
It did not take long to put my top, skirt and sandals on. When I finished I got the same rush I had in the store. My padded bra made my top fit the way it was designed to. I did a twirl. My skirt flared out, then came to rest, tickling my legs. Oh God, I loved how I looked and felt.
I sat on my bed, my heart pounding. I wanted to see how I’d look with my hair pinned back on one side. … Perfect! An image flashed through my mind – It’d be even more prefect if I had pierced ears with little pearl studs.
I knew mom wanted to see how I looked, but I was frozen in fear for the longest time. Finally, I opened the door and walked into the living room where mom was sipping wine.
“Brenda!” she said, hugging me.
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