The most horrifying part of riding the Greyhound bus alone is the anticipation of who will be sitting next to you for six hours. So I was relieved when a dude around my age filled the empty seat next to me. And I should emphasize “dude”: cap, hoodie and jersey, ALL of the same sports team, with a bro-stache that curled just right when he ended every sentence with “man”. Or brah. Or dude.
We made small talk as the bus got rolling and joked about the dread of Alvin and the Chipmunks potentially being our in-flight movie. Then a bunch of Cobra Commandos appeared on the small television, causing both “Dude” and I to roll our eyes and simultaneously mutter, “Oh, perfect!”
It was kind of a magical moment in my mind, the bridging of two worlds through the hatred of inhumane cinema, until I realized that our inflections were completely different. Mine was a sarcastic “I was wondering when God would punish me for forgetting Nana’s birthday” eye roll, while Dude’s was a genuine “the bliss I feel is so unparalleled that I might be experiencing a seizure” eye roll. We looked at one another, feeling the abyss that had suddenly opened up between us, and did not speak again for the remaining six hours. Or rather, three G.I. JOE screenings.
Even when I can manage conversation with a Dude, a Broski, a Broseph Stalen, there is always a point when it becomes obvious that we did not play in the same sandbox growing up. He had Hulk Hogan action figures, I had my Sailor Moon figurines. His toys bashed skulls in, mine dealt with complicated romantic triangles in which no one could come out the winner.
I wouldn’t say I was some sissy Nancy-boy pansy, but I would politely state that I was a very emotional child. I was always more interested in what my toys were feeling rather than what they were doing and that led to my inclination towards girls’ entertainment. Let’s put it this way: while other boys were getting in trouble for lighting firecrackers in the house, I was getting in trouble for watching Ally McBeal in middle school. And when that all becomes evident in the company of a Dude, when a buried yet raw feeling of shame STILL takes over.
For some reason, I always grew up with a deep-set internalized shame for enjoying these things – my deep dark secret the kids at school couldn’t find out about. But why? This shame was so innate, one wonders where it came from in the first place and what validity it holds. After all, shouldn’t I be glad for the things that helped mold my young self into the terribly awesome person I am today? The problem is that breaking out of your gender role isn’t “cool” if you wanna be a Dude.
My love of My Little Ponies and Rainbow Bright as a kid wouldn’t have exactly been a popularity catalyst. When Dawson’s Creek ended, I had no one to tell how excited I was that Joey chose Pacey over Dawson. Seriously, MUCH better choice, Holmes. When I was forced to watch G.I. JOE as a kid, I didn’t dare admit that I was only interested in when team leader Duke was finally going to address the sexual tension building between him and Scarlette. (There was totally something going on there, right?) Society puts that there: this dividing line of what a boy should like and what a girl should like. If a girl crosses over, she’s well rounded. Vice versa and “something just ain’t right with the poor boy”.
I know young girls feel it, too. Only their pressure is to go above and beyond their girly expectations, to be “one of the guys”, as if that were some prized status. If a girl likes G.I. Joe, she’s suddenly a cool chick for enjoying blood, explosions and commando squads that for some reason have a ninja on the team. And who doesn’t want to be a cool chick?
Not to say that there’s anything wrong with liking the rough and tumble side of things. Those kids grow up win Super Bowls or work on Transformers 2. My point is to say that society tends to ignore the benefits of the soft and lacey. I personally think my love of “girly” things growing up helped me develop my skills as a writer AND as an all-around swell guy. Romance stories are supposed to be for the ladies, but they taught me how to write conflict and character development. Buffy’s loves and friendships showed me how to care for people, taught me about loyalty and personal sacrifice and how easy it is to make a wooden stake from a chair leg. ANY ’80s movie starring Wynona Rider makes for great rainy day catharsis on how hard being a teenager can be. Heck, playing with My Little Ponies taught me the importance of brushing my hair so it doesn’t get tangled and also how stupid heart tattoos on one’s thigh look. All these “girly” things I loved growing up could be a direct cite for why I make a great friend and even better boyfriend (so great. Kinda needy, but totally great).
That’s because nothing in life is without emotion and for whatever reason, that’s what girls are supposed to be into: feelings. So I say, great! I bettered myself by liking girly things, shouldn’t I be proud? Shouldn’t we all be proud, girly girls and emotional boys everywhere? If little league and race cars teach kids to be wee little titans, tea parties and dress-up teach them to be eloquent and artistic. It’s part of the great yin-yang of life, outside of gender, and one should never be treated as superior to the other. We should all feel free to learn from both sides of the spectrum, devoid of shame or glorification.
So, girl or boy, don’t ever think you need to lie about waking up at 6:30am every Saturday to watch Rainbow Bright, because it’s no better or worse than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and neither were as good as Animaniacs, anyway. And next time I’m sitting in silence with a Dude and G.I. JOE: The Movie, I’ll quit clamming up to tell him why he needs to watch Factory Girl if he wants to see Sienna Miller at her best.