I don’t remember the exact moment I started hating myself: that was something built over time from puberty onwards, however I do remember the exact moment I realised I was not “the norm”.
I was at nursery, around 4 years old.
After a very brief, traumatic experience at a public nursery close to where I lived (and it was SO BAD I still have vivid nightmares about it!), my parents decided to put me in a private, catholic nursery run by nuns. Oh, those were the days! The environment was so much quieter and nicer, the nuns were strict but kind, the food was great… what’s not to like?
One afternoon, I was in the nursery garden enjoying some nice sunny weather. I was eating bread with a dark chocolate bar inside (yes, no kidding, that was nursery afternoon snack!) and I remember looking around, David Attenborough style, at the “wild” life around me. All these boys being so…. Boys. So cool. Playing all the shit I liked best. And all the little girls being so… girly. Ewwww. They all looked like mini princesses, with their beautiful long hair, their pretty dresses with those super fluffy skirts, their princess-y behaviour, playing with their equally-pretty dolls. There was one girl, in particular, that impressed me the most. She was called Nausicaa: long, blonde hair, incredibly blue eyes, blue lovely dress, she was a total living doll. The one destined to be the Holy Mary in every nativity play. To this day, I have never seen a kid as beautiful as her.
And then there was me, the scruffy one wearing shorts and t-shirts, probably covered in mud for running around, with my messy hair in a messy pony-tail, horrified by all these weird species of little people so similar to me in body features, and yet so different…
Like, worlds apart different. Like… I was an alien that just dropped out of a planet on the opposite side of the universe kind of different.
I was sitting there, hoping the boys would invite me to play football (AH! Not a chance, boys don’t play with girls), gazing at the girls and trying to interact – somehow – with them. Rather than be alone in a corner, I decided to move towards the group of girls nearby who looked like they were organising some games to play. They were sitting in circle and one of them was up, pointing her little finger and deciding who was playing which character: “you are the mummy queen”, “you are the magic fairy godmother”, “you are the princess”, “you are another fairy”, “you are….” And so on.
Once she finished, I asked “and what can I be?”
“oh… well, you can be the prince!”
“the prince? But I’m a girl!”
And there, the little girl said the sentence that changed my life forever, for good or worse: “no, tu sei un maschiaccio, non puoi fare la principessa!” (no, you are a tomboy, you can’t be a princess!).
WTF is a tomboy????? How dare you? WTF are you talking about bitch? I’m going to slap the shit out of you so hard that the only thing you’ll mother will find when she comes to pick you up will be a handful of glitters.
Up till then, being an only child, living in my own little fantasy world, I thought I was “the average”. Actually, no, I just didn’t think anything about it at all. My world was anything and everything that lived in my mind. I was the master of my own reality and I couldn’t contemplate that a (very) different situation existed outside the comforting walls of my house. You could say that my parents should have warned me; yes, maybe, but… why? I was just not girly, hardly the crime of the century!
I can’t say I ever felt that I had the mind of a boy in a body of a girl. I still don’t. I have never been insecure about who I was / am: I was a girl. I liked boys. The end. I never liked girls and I still don’t to this day. I was “normal” on paper. My brain was just not feminine. It still isn’t. It didn’t feel weird, or bad, or something I should have kept hidden and be ashamed of. I didn’t know any different anyway. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters to compare myself to, and the only relatives I had of similar age where on an island (Sardinia) in the middle of the frigging Mediterranean sea, I saw them once a year during summertime and that was it. We didn’t have social media in the 80s, we didn’t even have the internet (!!!), you barely had the chance to use the landline to ring your friends to ask them if they had permission to go out and play. Or, you wrote letters, who unlike nowadays it took AGES to get to the recipient (if they ever reached it anyway), and by the time you got your answer back you forgot what the heck did you ask in the first place!
In my blissful solitude filled with games and imaginary friends, all was cool. There was just me, and me was just fine.
That day though, life slapped me hard on my face and suddenly I realised I was not “normal” anymore. I shockingly discovered that, apparently, I was the exception, not the rule.
No matter how much I tried to fight it, I had to face the brutal truth: I was (wait for it – hyperventilating moment)
D I F F E R E N T.
Not just “she is blonde, I’m brunette” different.
Not just “I’m tall, she is short” different.
Not even “my family poor and yours is rich” different.
I was different on a deeper, intimate level, at the very core – something that, like an unfair life sentence delivered by a gavel-tapping judge, I had to quickly learn to put up with it and embrace it or succumb to its pressure.
And so it began my life in the-real-world.