When I was very little, my grandmother used to tell us stories. Stories she made up all by herself. They were good stories, filled with mischief and adventure. She also used to read us stories from the Bible. I think my favourites were the stories of David defeating Goliath, and Samson destroying the temple of the Philistine god Dagon.
So it came as no surprise that I became an avid reader once I learned how to read. As a beginning reader I read those gender-neutral books about dwarfs, gnomes and talking animals, and books about little boys getting themselves into trouble buying biscuits for their mother.
Then, as I grew older, there were the Enid Blyton books. Unlike my sisters, I wasn’t really interested in the “Mallory Towers” and “St Clare’s” series. Sure, I read them all. I mean, they were books. Books! I even read the backs of cereal boxes. No kidding.
I had a hunger for words so enormous, I’d read anything. But the books I really enjoyed were the “Five Find-Outers”, the “Adventure Series” and the “Famous Five”. I even wrote my own “Five Find-Outers” stories in exercise books, not in the least bothered by derogatory terms such as fan-fiction, which simply didn’t exist back then.
Thinking back on the time I spent with my fictitious friends, I clearly recall with which of them I identified most. It was never one of the girls. I never thought about this much, but my older sister, who also read these books, always identified with one of the girls. Usually the most girly of them all. I never thought much about that either, but looking back I think it might have been significant that I always identified with one of the boys.
Oh, there was one exception, and if you’re familiar with the “Famous Five” series, I’m sure you can guess why. I very much identified with Georgina, the girl who felt she was a boy and insisted on being called George. No, George was never my role-model, but when reading those books, I was George. Not only was George funny and quirky, but even more importantly, George was just like me. This was how I felt – and how I wished I could do the things George got to do!
No matter how much I asked and pleaded, I was not allowed to have my hair cut short. I hated my long hair. It was heavy, and the sheer weight of it gave me headaches. And as if that wasn’t bad enough in itself, my hair always got tangled and having my grandmother comb the tangles out of my waist-long hair was torture.
I never got to wear boys’ clothes – although I was allowed to wear trousers and my granddad would call me by a boy’s name whenever I wore those, which was most of the time. And even though I knew he really meant to shame me, I always grew with pride when he called me a boy.
One should think I’d have realised by then that I was different from other girls, but I didn’t. Or maybe I did, but even then already felt the need to hide from the truth. After all, I was very aware that “trying to be a boy when you were born a girl” was very inappropriate behaviour.
“The woman shall not wear that which pertains unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are an abomination unto the LORD your God.”
As we reached puberty, my older sister and I grew ever further apart. She bought those horrible romance novels. Those things that make you want to puke because of their sugary sweetness. Harlequin, Mills & Boon. Honestly, why would anyone want to read that?
I wanted adventure. I wanted action.
So I bought westerns. And I bought detective novels. War novels. By then, I was very aware that my choice of books was different from what most girls my age would read. I knew those were your typical teenage boys’ books, but I didn’t care. I just couldn’t bring myself to read those disgusting books all those girly girls read. Not my cup of tea, thank you very much.
Still later on, I discovered fantasy, which is still my favourite genre. I don’t only read it; I write it too.
Oh, and I did finally get my short haircut at age 16. My mum said it looked nice on me, but I still think she was not pleased. Not really, but what could she do? It wasn’t magically going to grow long again overnight, was it?