Saturday, May 20, 2006

About a boy, or boys

The Man who Wasn’t

The man who wasn’t said he was,
but he wasn’t.
said he was a smoker,
but he wasn’t,
said he was a drinker,
but he wasn’t,
said he was five foot ten,
but he wasn’t,
said he was a looker,
but he wasn’t,
said he was a lover,
but he wasn’t.
But what he was?
He didn’t say.

I woke up this morning wondering what it meant to be a tomboy or ‘garçon manqué’ as they call it here. I’m not sure if I like the term garçon manqué – missed being a boy by a penis and a beard, surely it’s got to be something more than that, or maybe I’m being too literal. Tomboy originally meant a boy who was rude or especially boisterous and now means a girl who behaves in a boyish manner. So why do I think of myself as a tomboy? I suppose as a kid I was a bit rough and tumble, but I was surrounded by boys; what else was I to do but fight? But if I think back to my favourite 70’s outfits: one was this cute summer dress (which I ripped from one end to the other when the spike of the fence got caught under it as I was leaping over it) and the other was this very hippy chic skirt. I hated buttons – but that could be a whole different post- wearing t-shirts all the time did that make me a tomboy? My knees were always covered in scabs; did that make me a tomboy? As a teenager I ached to be a boy. I longed for the freedom my older brother had; did that make me a tomboy? On the occasions when my mother got fed up with my hair she would chop it all off and people would comment on her cute son, but on the whole I’ve pretty much always had long hair. Does that make me a girl?

I go back to the phrase garçon manqué because I was often told as a child that if I had been born a boy I would have been called Marc. I wondered what Marc would be like if everything had been the same, but I was Marc instead of me. What would it be like if I had to shave everyday instead of every week – or month depending on the time of year and dating status? What would it be like to inhabit a man’s skin? I never question whether to write from a male or female perspective, I just do what is right for the story, but what is it like? What makes Marc tick? I’m trying to rebuild thirty plus years of Marc’s experiences and I haven’t got very far. If Marc and I aren’t too different then I reckon he would have a beard, there’s no way I would bother with that shaving business day in day out. We would probably have the same musical tastes and dress fairly similar, but would we? Is it right to start from today and work backwards. No, but if I start from the beginning then I think that perhaps Marc would be a little fucked up and that worries me a little. You see I realised that as girl my parents had only one expectation of me: get married. I’m perhaps a little slow at realising this, but that’s one of the conclusions of this exercise. Despite the fact that I had goals of my own and achieved them, they still wanted me to get married. If I had been Marc I think they would have expected more. They would have expected better ‘A’ level grades and more ambition in his work. Marc may have received more guidance or gentle pushes in certain directions, instead of trying to be groomed in pink. And instead of rebelling over being a girl, would Marc have rebelled against his parents ambitions for him? I bloody well hope so. Would Marc have been a writer? Oh, I dearly hope so. Maybe he wouldn’t have begun writing a steady tribute to Beatrix Potter, but I’m sure he would have written something. Motorbikes, Marc would have written about motorbikes. Would Marc like Batman? Mmm, if he did it would have to be for completely different reasons to me. Let’s face it; my relationship with Batman is really an unrequited love affair which I say is to do with his psychology. Marc would respect Batman’s psychology - the thin line separating good and evil - and the artwork. Marc would love the artwork. And what sort of person would Marc love? Yep and that’s where tomboy or not, I get stuck. I had a fleeting thought that perhaps Marc would be gay, but I realised that was cheating, that’s where I am failing to inhabit a man’s skin.

I tried to have a conversation with a friend as if I was a man and then I realised that as she had just split up with someone that it was probably not the best time to conduct this experiment. Would a man have thought that? But in the few moments that I tried it I was as insensitive as possible. I think I need to do this more often because I really don’t think that being a man equals to crassness and a drop in intelligence levels. Mmm and after several hours on this train of thought all I’ve managed to conclude is that I am a woman, I think like I woman, probably am a bit of a tomboy in some vague sense of the word and I need more practice being a man.


Unknown said...

Great post V.
I worried for a long time about writing 'male'. It bugged me, when I looked back over my writing, that all my central, story-motivating characters were female. When I looked deeper I found that my supporting (male) cast were in fact quite rounded! I've since stopped worrying, I write where I'm comfortable and it didn't do Catherine Cookson any harm - not that I write like CC! My women are far more 'tomboyish' than hers!!

Unknown said...

Are you recommending Catherine Cookson then? I think I've only read one of her books a million years ago when I had glandular fever. All I remember is a scene where the main female character who was in her forties slept with this twenty year old who had fancied her since he was a boy. It's been a bit of a fantasy ever since, along with firemen! Is that too much information?

Unknown said...

I read my mum's CC's before I got under the bedclothes with Edmund Cooper, Robert Heinlein etc.
CC wrote to the same formula - poor girl makes good/fortune then loses it all and gets it back on the last page!!
And no, I don't write or read CC but I may do if someone asked me nicely and were paying loads of dosh!!
Funnily enough the subject of weird fantasies came up last night at the Murder party.Everyone went a bit quiet when I said that I liked the idea of being tied up by Professor Snape. Don't know what's wrong with them!!

Unknown said...

I think I'd go for Lucius Malfoy myself, although that is only since I've seen him sans wig and cape in the West Wing, before that I liked Oliver Wood.
Oh but a friend told me that if I was a guy I would be a sleezy dude with long hair and a beard, checking women out from behind my newspaper! I'd like to think that Marc would check women out from behind a newspaper, but less of the sleezy.

Unknown said...

And oh how I wish I spell checked before I posted these comments!


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