I've always felt like I didn't make a very good female.
I didn't feel like a boy. Maybe boy-ISH. Or alien-ish. Or just wrong and uncomfortable.
This isn't where I announce my sexual reassignment surgery.
I got great boobs early (and often) and always liked dresses. It isn't like that.
When I did (and do) "feel like a girl" it was akin to "throwing like a girl" or "running like a girl" or everything else universally recognized as infinitely inferior to how the males - of any species- do it.
Mainly, I wasn't (and am not) very feminine. Nothing delicate or graceful or shiny. Certainly not my goddamn fucking son-of-a-bitch toilet mouth. Or my rotten, rotten brain.
All of this made me reflect recently on the three main women who influenced my childhood and whole life, really. The Big Mamas, all of whom were much more successful at being female than I, but each came with her own laundry list.
My paternal grandmother is as good a place to start as any.
Quite the matriarch. Four alcoholic sons, and a doting, saintly hen-pecked care-taker of a husband. Eternal petite, blue-eyed cheerleader.
She started life the only daughter of a Dutch farming couple in Indiana and spent her childhood days locked in the closet by her brother while her parents worked in the field.
The original doll-popping housewife. Hypochondriac, anorexic, tanorexic, vain. Funny and charming as the day is long. In Alaska. When they have nothing but daytime.
Will always love you more if you lose 10 pounds. Won't let you forget this.
Will tell you all night about the pot brownies she accidentally ate at a wild party hosted by her beloved 'Talian/Jewish friends in Connecticut. In her 50's. And how her mother taught her tolerance by dancing with the town gay every week at a local social.
Claimed Chasing Amy was her favorite movie for several years.
Prone to fainting couch over-drama. And fads. Like, at age 80 she decided she was allergic to wheat gluten. And may or may not currently be addicted to pain medication. But definitely wants you to think so.
MOTHER OF A ROCK STAR, with the vanity plates to prove it.
The "Second Mother" AKA Aunt Penny
Penny could have been Marilyn Monroe herself to me (or at least an even poorer man's Debbie Harry).
After a glamorous young life singing with a band that played the hotel circuit and cocktailing at a Playboy Club, Penny returned to her hometown, our hometown, and became fast friends, best friends, with my mother. They worked together at a disco attached to a restaurant. Penny was the boss.
She could out-drug, out-drink and outwit anyone lucky enough to get pulled into her sphere. Other people's husbands and boyfriends fell over themselves to get anything they could.
Beautiful with huge tits and a gorgeous smile. Worldly, intelligent, someone who knew how use all of her femaleness while going toe-to-toe with the Big Boys.
Penny lived and died in a tiny trailer that in my mind was nothing less than the finest dressing room of a Hollywood starlet. She would lounge in a silk kimono and apply her make-up, ready to step out onto the set of her next blockbuster.
But Penny turned 30.
She experienced and ultimately ended an unplanned pregnancy. The father undoubtedly had previous commitments. Penny slipped into a depression that she never escaped. She was convinced that was her last chance to be a mother and wondered what she was doing all these years.
She checked herself out of Chez AirStream the manly way, but with a chic silver small caliber pistol. One tiny piece of lead in her pretty little temple, barely a trickle of blood. And a spectacular corpse.
There was even a miniature conspiracy theory surrounding her death involving "knowing too much" about one of the major players in town. It added to her glamour girl legend, but even I knew better. And I was 8 years old. Penny was tired and Penny was sad and Penny wasn't who she wanted to be anymore.
I remember seeing an old photo from her touring days in her early 20's. She was sitting on a rock in some sparkling body of water, soaking wet in a bikini bottom and simple hippie-ish cotton tunic. Her hair was blown into her face and shorter than I had ever seen it. Eyes closed, face pointed toward the sun. Everything all white and gold. She looked like the most amazing creature on Earth. And if you told me it was the happiest day of her life, I would believe you.
Penny bought me records and talked to me like I was the smartest and most clever girl she'd ever met. Gave me my first copy of The Little Prince and explained what it meant to her. She hugged me, she loved me and she left.
The REAL Mutha
My mother is nothing if not a survivor.
She's joked for years that the opening line of her autobiography will read, "I was born a poor white child in East St. Louis.." And she was.
The youngest of 8 children in a SUPER poor, violent, alcoholic Catholic family, she suffered the most unspeakable of horrors at the hands of her brothers. And their friends. As a 5 year old.
Her mother refused to acknowledge this, help or protect her. It's the cliche of the time: if you don't talk about it, it doesn't exist.
Her parents eventually divorced and my mother was kicked out of the house while still in high school. Her mother was done raising children.
She had a 23 year old boyfriend when she was 15.
Drove cross-country for a pre- Roe V. Wade abortion.
Pretty sure she met my father when they both walked straight out of Billy Jack's Freedom School. Crushingly adorable hippies, these two.
She got knocked up, they got married. Miscarriage. I was born 2 years later when my mother was still only 21.
She, as they say, did "the best she could." Which meant working hard, ignoring problems at home, enabling, playing a victim, putting a child in the position of parent or friend, not being encouraging or affectionate.
The men in her life were always her priority. As a bartender, she was surrounded by her favorite kind.
She is on her third epically drunk husband. Bless her heart.
She's also struggling with her identity and legacy in the face of a terminal illness.
She's a brilliant artist and legitimate "idea person."
In my peri-puberty nightmare days, I couldn't understand how I came out of this tall, thin-legged, narrow-shouldered Annie Hall wannabe with perfect skin and small perky tits that still look amazing today (and I've looked).
She did the best she could. She still does. Someday, I will reconcile that as being enough.