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I saw a child playing under a bridge one time with his father, shouting up into the granite of the ceiling and tensing excitedly as he heard his echo. As I watched for a minute, I realized the child was starting to figure something out and each time he shouted, he looked around for where the noise was coming from. There was a moment of recognition, of logic being created and laws being explained inside that little brain and he discovered that the echo was coming from him.
Logic and rules are funny. Logic makes sense of things and rules make order of things and both can be challenged but rarely broken. We love using this as “laws of nature,” what we can’t change or grow out of, chemicals in our brains, instincts, triggers and receptors that are innate in us and can’t be fought.
I was an experiment, I was a life that existed because of curiosity. The head scientist explained it as he accompanied me on my first trip outside of the laboratory. He had dressed me the way women dressed though I had no concept of it and told me to observe how people act.
“The women especially,” he said as we walked through the streets of the city. “You’ve never been exposed to women.”
“Those are women?” I asked, pointing at a group standing outside of a school. They looked more like me than like him and I was a woman.
“Those are girls. You’re a little older than them. Girls become women. Boys become men. Like the scientists.”
“Am I having trouble? Are you concerned that I won’t be able to fit in?”
“We’re just concerned that you’re spending too much time around men. You need to be exposed to everything.”
He would bring me into groups and introduce me, pushing me toward the women. Most of them knew where I came from and were
congenial and enthusiastic about showing me the ways of their gender. They were like clusters of mystics, they had all kinds of rules and
rituals. They presented me with their pleasantries and I engaged in them politely but I hated it all. Mainly, I was bored and confused.
“Do you have any interest in dating?” one of the women asked me. She had mentioned a cousin of hers to me the day before and I hadn’t known why.
“I don’t think I’d know what to do.”
“You don’t have to do much of anything. Men do most of it. Dating is pretty easy to figure out. You just have to let them approach you.”
Her suggestions sounded so odd to me. Being approached seemed menacing, an action that should have my back arched and all the fur
along my spine standing on edge. She continued to explain herself when she saw I wasn’t taken with the idea but none of it sounded
appealing. There were too many rules I had to follow, such a defined role one had to play to make everyone else at ease.
More of the women talked to me about my new found femininity. I’m assuming it’s a different experience to grow with norms rather than
how I came into them. Both women and men were unquestioning of what I saw as rigid and illogical practices. Some of the women were
genuinely trying to help in the way they thought best. A few of them told the head scientist that I was hopeless. I just couldn’t seem to grasp
“They think you’ve spent too much time around men,” the head scientist said. “They say your mind functions too much like one of us.”
“How could my mind function any other way than it supposed to? If I’m a woman then my mind functions as a woman’s does.”
“Society isn’t so cut and dry. You don’t understand the standards that are followed and you seem to be having trouble figuring them out.”
“I don’t fit in with them, do I? With women I mean. I’m never going to. I’m going to have to be in the company of men forever, aren’t I?”
“Don’t feel too bad. You don’t fit in that well with men either.”
Logical minds can’t understand how hurtful straight logic can be. He hadn’t said it to be cruel. He said it to assure me that one day I could be
as normal as any female, that my problems weren’t specifically with gender. I didn’t fit in with any group. The women thought I was a man
and the men didn’t fully accept me. They kept waiting for the appearance of what they thought was female behavior. They told me women
were ruled by emotion, women cried and experienced everything more intensely.
There had never been any intention among them to make a woman or a man. The goal was to make a life form. They had set out to create a
being from pieces of other ones, whatever disposed of genetic material they could find. All the doctor Frankensteins pieced me together, fed
me the chemicals, watched the construction. I was not conceived, I was crafted. I was sewn together. My mind was the only thing I would
develop without their manipulation.
Left to my own devices, I focused on building muscles and generating strength out of weakness. I began to feel intense competitive urges. I
had a drive to hunt and chase, to stalk animals through woods like an aborigine or pull men to the ground and have my way with them. The
introduction of a sex drive was unnerving. It exploded with anger and violence in me and I wanted to satisfy it in the same manner. The
women told me I had too much testosterone. They all had healthy, appropriate sex drives and they weren’t vicious. Fierce and forceful
erotic thoughts were from men. Not even all men, only the sick ones.
“Even among men, these kinds of thoughts are not expressed frequently,” the head scientist explained after I had a session with the women.
“I’m glad you’re so open with them but these are not really fantasies you should be sharing.”
“I wasn’t sharing them. I was asking who else has them. I think they all have them but they’re afraid to say it.”
“Most men don’t even have them.”
“You said they’re not expressed. You never said they didn’t exist.”
I was right, I saw it in his face. I wondered if he himself had thoughts like mine, if he had imagined any of the women he knew being
compromised by him, if he had ever imagined himself as being powerful and violent. My suspicions were that the women did too and they
hated that I brought it up. They hated that I was ruining the secrets our kind had spent generations hiding like the vile carnal designs their
minds fashioned that they repressed and tucked away. We all had the same chemicals. My flesh and bones were no different than theirs.
How different could my mind be?
“There’s always going to be the nature versus nurture argument,” one of the women told me. “Some people think we’re born as blank slates
and get molded. Others think we’re born complete and react to things through that perspective.”
“What do you think about me? Am I the way I am because of being isolated from my gender for so long?”
“I don’t think that’s it,” she told me calmly. “I think the experiment was flawed and the result is off from their predictions. That’s all.”
I was the experiment. I was flawed. Being the result of something didn’t bother me; from my understanding, all humans came as a result of
something trivial. At least I was the result of progress and curiosity. Still, I had not been a success. Not completely.
The funniest part of it for me was how alone I felt when I was with other people, more so than I ever did in the laboratory. The laboratory
shut me off from everything, kept me behind glass. I should have felt as isolated as I did when I was out among them but in there I was the
closest they were going to come to a woman and I knew that. Images they had of their wives and sisters, friends, neighbors, women they had
met only once or would see in passing around their old homes would become fragmented as they were remembered. I would be seen every
day. I could start to convince them that I was what a woman was, I was a girl, the archetype and epitome. Nothing ever stuck though.
I was uncomfortable in my skin. I spent all of the time I was alone staring down at a body that refused to comply with me and continued to
look and move and exist as a girl. That’s what I wanted to be though. I was a female, I wanted to be but my actions were viewed as boyish, my
reasoning and thought process deemed masculine. From where I stood, these were the thoughts and actions of a woman because that’s what
I was so what else could they be from? I had all the parts, all the pieces that defined one biologically. I never wanted to be a man. There was
no nagging voice telling me my true self wanted facial hair and erections. I was the right gender, I was in the right body. It wasn’t me who
was unsure, it was everyone else.
In public, I realized how poorly I fit in, how much of a novelty I was to the people who met me. They looked at me the way an adult looks at a
toddler repeating curse words, as if I was blissfully unaware of the things I was saying, the thoughts in my head. I tried so desperately to be
one of them, the complicated, the elusive, the ones that knew how to be coy and sensitive towards people. I wanted to desire as a normal
female did, I wanted to like what a normal female liked but I didn’t really. I just wanted to be accepted as the weird creature I was by one of
the sides. What I was after was not to be the definition we already knew of feminine. I wanted the definition to be me. I wanted feminine to
mean being the strongest and the toughest.
Surrounding the lab was nothing but woods. I was allowed to run all I wanted. They encouraged it actually though some of them commented
that my habitual exercise was neurotic. There was some lengthy explanation of disorders and control issues, concerns for my mental state
and how I viewed myself. I never told them why I ran so much. They never gave me a chance to and I had no desire to breach the topic. I
wanted to keep it to myself. I didn’t want any of them to know how complete I became, alone in the woods. There was no male or female,
there were no definitions. It was all instinctual. It was all behavior I knew and understood innately. My body had a drive to run. It satisfied
some primal response, some stone age residue of fighting and surviving. I wanted to tear through the rotted lumber and undergrowth with
prey in my teeth, with blood in my mouth. When I was finished, I would return to a world of comfort and safety but briefly I wanted to know
what I could do if I had to, what was ingrained in me and how deep it went.
I understood my body more when I ran. Not my specific body, not breasts and a uterus, not my exact fingerprints and DNA but the
mechanics of a body. I began to focus on breathing when I ran, following the path of the oxygen from the inhale until as long as I could
picture it. I began to complete circuits, the oxygen moving into the blood, that blood moving into the heart, the heart pumping everything to
the muscles. The muscles became an obsession. I could feel them engorge and swell then tighten and release, pressing odd shapes against
the skin from the inside of me. They would exist without my intervention but I controlled them, made them larger, more obvious. I wanted
to be bigger than every man I knew. I wanted all the scientists to be intimidated by my size and sprinting through the forest in blinding rain
or snow made it seem possible. Once I was done, I was back to reality where I was seen as smaller and still somewhat fragile.
I once ran so hard I urinated on myself the moment I stopped moving. Even in the short time I had been animated, I knew having no control
over simple bodily functions is something to be concerned about. Or at the very least, ashamed of. Still, there were too many vibrant
substances in my brain and bloodstream for me to notice. A boundless, intuitive warmth was flooding through me although in retrospect,
some of that might have been the urine. Of course, I told the head scientist for no other reason than to make sure there was nothing
“You can trick your brain into releasing certain things,” he explained as I showered, bidding a fond farewell to the various salts I smelled
and tasted on me. “Your body was working so hard, your brain thought it was being chased and turned on the fight or flight mechanism.
Urine production stops completely. So does digestion. Then when you’re out of danger, the mechanism turns off and all production starts
up again but faster. Have you ever heard of someone being so scared they peed their pants?”
“Oh yes, once or twice.”
“It’s a little bit of a misnomer. You don’t urinate on yourself when you’re being frightened, you do it once you’re safe. Like a sigh of relief.”
“I feel like my brain in smarter than I am.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. That makes no sense.”
“It is. My brain does all these things without ever being instructed or taught. I can’t even figure out which sex I am.”
He didn’t respond to me. He usually didn’t when I brought that up. I wasn’t allowed to use to the term “sex” when talking about my
difficulty. My problem was gender. Sex was an organ, sex was far more basic. Socially I didn’t fit in but I couldn’t be sure I would have
instinctually either. If humans were a primitive race that had to hunt or gather and the roles we fulfilled were decided on a more animal
level of bearing children and bringing home food, I think my problem would be the same. I wanted strength more than anything. I wanted to
be the alpha male, the one that no one could beat. There was no way to quiet the thought that I had the wrong compounds in my system but
I seemed right. To me at least.
My understanding of the differences between the sexes was that biologically we existed for separate reasons. I was told that it came down to
chemicals, hormones, inherent traits we didn’t regulate. I asked for more chemicals. Mine weren’t working. I was unable to relate to other
women and I was unmistakably marked. The gaping synapses in my brain needed more than what they were receiving, more of what made
things so clear to everyone else. The scientists told me my levels were fine and that my confusion came from misunderstanding the social
side of things.
“I’m sure at some point you might feel more comfortable when your body grows into itself,” another woman told me. “My daughter was the
same way. It’s very common. It just usually happens much earlier, around puberty or adolescence.”
“So I am normal,” I repeated more to myself than her.
“No one’s normal. That’s impossible. Your body will find normality.”
When my body started function more routinely, I began menstruating. The women I had met told me it was horrible but a mixed blessing of
being part of that sex. I loved it though. It validated me. Women menstruate, they bleed. It was something that couldn’t be stopped or
controlled and it was happening to me. The first time, I woke up on white clinic sheets stained red and purple. My thighs were streaked, my
clothing was soaked, I was ecstatic. There was no fear or concern. I had been told about it, I was waiting. Menstruation meant that at least
biologically I was female. Society and all that be damned, I had felt the lining building in me, I felt it being discarded. I felt the visceral pains
of muscles cramping between my hips, an area I couldn’t access.
This was biology, pure and simple. No amount of observing or acting brought around the shedding tissue, no attempt to be one of them
made me bleed like that. Every month, I waited excitedly tensing, realizing it was me that was doing this. The women who identified as such
hated this process. They rolled their eyes and complained. Menstruating made them weak and drained. They said they couldn’t do activities
because of it, of the pain they were in. Most people acted this way and told me when I felt cramping, I should take care of myself, take it
easy. Rest. I told them I ran. In fact, I ran better when I was menstruating. I had more energy and running with pain made me stronger,
made the pain have less power. They were quick to treat their biological problems delicately while I knew our problems responded to force.
These problems were only ourselves after all.
The men in the lab applauded my reaction to pain, sex, and weakness. They told me that women allowed themselves to be seen as fragile too
often and that acting the way I did made me more like one of them. The idea that I was seen as a man by the group despite my physical
appearance was apparently the highest praise they could give. A man’s brain in a woman’s body. Best of both worlds. As if not only did my
brain not work as a woman’s but that I shouldn’t desire it to. As if what men lusted for deep in their lingering primordial ooze was better and
not exactly the same as what women did. As if I was the only one who wanted to satisfy the side of us that was violent, competitive, and
The world has to put things into order. Systems need to be established, patterns to be followed. An anomaly here or there was to be
expected but regarded as such; one lone little oversight. I knew it bothered the scientists that they had created me just a touch incorrectly,
that I had come to life and understood my conception but didn’t understand how to act like it. I had done the hard part. Or rather, they had.
They had animated dead tissue, taught it complicated coordination and detailed language. All I had to do was look at what they presented
me and repeat that I comprehended what I saw. No one actually understood it, they just followed it. The people who told me not to fight my
disposition knew nothing about true instincts or the devices we had in us to survive. Their norms were shaped by a world so far removed
from the natural order that they used clothing as a marking of male and female. Animalistic labels were defined using human judgments.
We were male or female because of superficial actions that the masses decided on. I was lost to instinct, I was madly in love with pulsing,
willing impulses. Nothing could truly validate me. Validation belongs to the masses.
© 2012 Veronica Dolginko
Vanessa is broadcast journalist living in San Francisco who recently got back into creative writing. She once ran an online literary magazine with a friend from college and had a novel published in 2011. She currently hosts a Best of the Bay award-winning radio show out of the Mission District, Cannabis Cuts: The Next Generation.