Before puberty hit me hard like a brick thrown at my face, when someone tried to make me feel like a freak of nature I simply shrugged my shoulders thinking “whatever – who cares, you boring prick!”.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that being different and quirky didn’t have an impact on me;
it did, and still does to this day. However, being an only child taught me how to be perfectly fine alone: boredom was something unknown to me, I never felt the need of having someone to play with, therefore being rejected and isolated has never been a massive issue. It was just an ordinary day in my life. Of course, I liked having friends and being with other people, but it wasn’t something I necessarily missed when I didn’t have it. Later in life, being an outcast became a badge to wear with the upmost pride, but I’ll discuss about this in depth on another post.
The problem was that, even though I was kind of ok with the whole me-being-weird thing, my parents had to endure the pain of dealing with an environment which was pretty clear on the fact that I was not acceptable as I was. Since they weren’t forcing me to behave as society expected me to behave (aka: as a girl), and they were not remotely bothered to make me change, they were considered bad parents who got it wrong somehow along the way.
Hey, we are talking about Italy in the 80s: not exactly the land of the free. Ok, it wasn’t hell on Earth for sure, such as Iraq under Saddam Hussain, but with the Church having a massive influence on people and dictating what was ok and not ok, Italy wasn’t amongst the most progressive and liberal countries either. Italians’ mentality was quite conservative, especially in towns and villages.
Hand on heart, I couldn’t have wished for better parents (ok maybe wealthier – but I am digressing here). They fiercely encouraged me to be what it felt right to be, rather than what was expected; they have been on my side through thick and thin without questioning whether “it was appropriate for a girl” to say / behave / act like I was. Most importantly, they have never been ashamed of having this non-ordinary child.
In their eyes, I was their precious, much longed-for daughter, arrived after 7 years of trying, with all the heartbreak that a situation like this brings. My mum told me she saw every gynaecologist she could, tried every diet, exercise, ritual, you name it, she even when to see one of those “healers” who claim they can fix you with the power of magic (no joking, she was THAT desperate) because she was convinced she had some curse casted on her. When I finally made it into this big world of ours, alive and in my parents’ arms, in their eyes I was nothing short of a miracle. I think I could have been a three-headed grizzly bear that it wouldn’t have made any remote difference.
As said, I grew up in Italy in the 80s, and unfortunately, the rest of society was not as open minded as my parents, and society liked to point out to them what a weirdo I was. People constantly questioned my sanity, my sexuality, my clothes, my toys, my hair, their parenting skills, everything! Whether we were walking in the streets, queueing at the supermarkets (yes, sometimes Italians queue too), shopping for clothes or simply at the park having fun, more often than not someone had to pass their judgement about me.
Unlike today, where people are losing their minds about “the gender issue”, making everything neutral and gender-less, back in my day (gosh I sound like a dinosaur!) you had boys’ things or girls’ things. End of.
“Normal” girls had dolls, Barbie dolls, toy versions of household items so that they could play at being little housewives and so on. Everything in their world, from their bedrooms to their toys was pink, full of glitters and sparkling. They watched Disney movies and dreamed to be Disney princesses waiting to be saved by Prince Charming.
I, on the other hand, had a vast collection of Formula 1 cars and well, cars in general, teddy bears, Lego blocks and WWE wrestlers action figures. My bedroom’s walls were plastered with AC Milan footballers and Ferrari’s cars. I dreamt of joining the A-Team and be best friend with Mr T / B.A. Baracus; I longed to marry Tom Selleck / Magnum P.I. and go and live happily ever after with his Ferrari in the Hawaii; I wanted to buy KITT from David Hasselhoff / Michael Knight; jet on wild adventures with the guys from Riptide (can you tell that Italian TV in the 80s was SO Americanised?!!); I would have rather chopped my hand than touch a doll. Or a skirt. Or anything pink. Or feminine. EWWWWWW!
If now it is considered outrageous, retrograde, and unacceptable to have “blue-for-boys / pink-for-girls” things, when I was a kid this was the absolute norm and you didn’t have a choice on the matter. I know, by today’s standards, that little me holding my mum’s hand whilst I point at the creepiest, ugliest, weirdest creature in the toy shop (in the boy’s aisle, of course) was nothing special, but back then? Trust me, you had to have a mum like mine to survive the looks, the nasty side comments, the (unsolicited) pity, the disgust that people threw at us, at me, the weirdo tomboy destined to be a crazy lesbian mad cat lady (like if there is anything wrong with being lesbian, or crazy, or a cat lady, or these things combined).
My mum. Well, she is one hell of a woman. She is not someone who can keep her mouth shut and just take it. She is feisty as hell and has an extremely short fuse; if you make her angry, you won’t forget it. If you say or do something stupid, she will embarrass you by yelling everything she can possibly yell at you: put it this way, no one should dare to be at the receiving end of her anger. When I think of it right now, I’m seriously impressed of how my mum managed not to end up in jail.
To give you an idea of what I am talking about, here is a little story for you.
One day my mum and I were in a little, family-run stationery shop. I was a 5 years old little girl. The trendiest thing to have at that point in time, bless us silly kids of the magnificent 80s, were tiny little soap bubbles bottles charms that you’d wear in a cord necklace and then brag about what amazing tiny soap bubbles you could make. It was a very cheap thing, and my mum decided to buy me one. So, in we were at the shop, and I was so excited I could barely breathe. We weren’t rich (we made it to the end of the month somehow), so buying a toy was a real treat. The shop attendant, a man in his 50s, asked me to pick a colour. I was too shy, too overwhelmed, too OMGMYMUMISREALLYBUINGMETHISSHIT! that what came out of my mouth ended up being a bold and loud “GREEN!”.
The shop assistant looked at me like I just cursed in the middle of a church.
“Sorry, what did you say?”
“GREEN! (are you deaf ffs???)”
“…green… are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure! Green is my favourite colour!”
“But…. are you really, really sure?”
Behind my back, my mum was reaching boiling point. In my 5 or so years old mind, she is just fed up of being in that shop. In reality, she was quickly calculating how many years of jail she would have gotten if she choked the guy on the spot. She was hating that nonsense.
After some more “are you sure – yes, I am”, the shop assistant said the thing that finally triggered my mum’s fury:
“But green is not a colour for girls!!!! And you are a girl! Look at AAAALL these pink ones! Wouldn’t you prefer one of these?”
Like the thunder that you hear rumbling in the distance before it explodes with a bang worth of 10 nuclear bombs, I could hear my mum’s going from 0 to “volcano eruption”. She slammed her hands on the table. Time suddenly stopped there and then.
She then started barking like a total mad dog.
“NO, SHE DOESN’T WANT IT PINK O-K? SHE DOESN’T LIKE ANY FUCKING SHADE OF PINK, OK? SHE TOLD YOU GREEN TWENTY TIMES NOW. IF YOU HAVE HEARING PROBLEMS GO AND GET CHECKED! SHE SAID GREEN OK? HOW HARD CAN IT BE? IS THERE A LAW AGAINST GIRLS WHO LIKES PINK? ARE YOU DUMB OR JUST ANNOYING US FOR FUN?
CAN – WE – HAVE – THAT SHIT.
AND NOT JUST ANY KIND OF FUCKING GREEN! IT MUST BE BLOODY EMERALD GREEN. AND QUICK”.
The shop assistant went white as a ghost – he was so not expecting it. He probably though my mum was about to yell at me something like “for eff sake Silvia cut the crap you are not a boy get this pink-y shit and let’s go”.
He tried a timid “…but…” but my mum was now on full hysteria mode and she was not having it anymore “BUT WHAT? BUT WHAT?”. She grabbed my hand so hard I thought she was going to break all my bones (but I didn’t dare to make any sound or to look in pain) “CAN WE HAVE THAT FUCKING THING IN GREEN RIGHT NOW OR DO WE HAVE TO BUY IT IN THE SHOP NEXT DOOR, UH?”. The guy quickly gave me the green little bottle, my mum paid, she stormed out of the shop and that was the last time we ever shopped there. I was petrified. I was so embarrassed. I spent my youth avoiding walking in front of that shop in case the guy saw me and told me like “no wonder why you are so weird, with a mum like that what can you expect?”
Back at home, I stared at my object of great desire, this tiny little bottle in my tiny little hand. It was so cute, but it also reminded me of my utterly pissed off mum. I never worn it. I preferred to let my mum believe I didn’t want to lose it rather than admitting I was hiding it in my drawer because it was a constant reminder of what happened: me being not average girl who loves pink resulted in her having to lash out at the shop assistant to defend me.