SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2014       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Chelsea Johnson

Boy Shorts

I’m 10 years old and the fourth grade. It is 110 degrees in Phoenix, Arizona. I am one of the three girls on the after school football team at Village Meadows Elementary and I am so excited to get dressed for school. I am ready to put on my favorite Fila basketball shorts-or so my mom called them my boy shorts. From the other room I hear my mom “Chelsea you are not wearing those boy shorts yet again, you need to pick out something else”. To me these shorts were amazing! I loved how loose they felt and soft and swooshy style of them. But that is how I felt about most boy clothes. Only thing is I am not a boy. I am a girl whose parents and grandparents wanted to see wearing pretty, bright colors and my hair up in braids or pony tails. “Your aunt and grandma just spent so much money taking you shopping for school clothes and you pick the same boy clothes every time. Don’t forget Chelsea after school today you are going to the salon to get your hair permed, so you won’t be able to wear that Phoenix Suns hat anymore.”

Summer time in Phoenix is brutal, 110 degree weather at least, hardly any days without clouds and even fewer without rain. Outside was where I wanted to be always. Most of my days were spent with my best friends Bobby and Richard. All three of us were inseparable, we did everything together. The three of us would pretend we were rollerbladers from a current movie that was on the Disney channel. Late at night we would either be at the baseball field playing with the local kids in the neighborhood or playing ditch em’, hide and seek on two blocks that surrounded my house always kept us out late. If we couldn’t be outside for some reason we could be found in my bedroom, which was painted baby blue for the Tar Heels college basketball team, playing video games and snacking on junk food.

This was about the time I found out I was different than what my family expected of me and from most girls at my school. “I don’t understand why you want to wear the same red shorts that make you look like a boy when all your friends are wearing cute bright colored girl clothes.”  My gender may be female however I felt more comfortable in boyish clothing. It was hard trying to convince my family that this is what I wanted to wear, that boyish clothing made the days easier for me. “Having you as my daughter has always been a dream of mine. Watching you, my only daughter, grow up has been a blessing. I always wanted a little girl, in fact I had your name picked out way before I even found out I was pregnant with you. I didn’t even ask the doctor what I was having because I knew you were the daughter I was dreaming of.  I thought of all the cute and adorable clothes I would put you in and the way I would do your hair-until I realized what I wanted was not going to be so easy with you.” It was even harder to explain that being in girl clothes made me feel stuck or suffocated even if I was ruining my mother’s dream of being the little girl she always wanted. “You’re a girl Chelsea. The red shorts you always want to wear are boy clothes and I do not approve of you wearing that all the time.”

Shopping was always fun for me but I was always nervous when I asked to get jeans in the boy section, just praying my grandma would say yes. My family would ask me questions about why I didn’t like what they had picked out and I hated to hurt their feelings. So I usually went along with whatever they wanted just so I didn’t hurt them. “I don’t understand why you get these clothes you never wear, you are only wasting their money!” Only it hurt me, and made me feel crappy and self-conscious about myself. How could my family ever understand that, when they were not the ones going through it? When I wore girl’s clothing I felt stiff and uncomfortable. I felt as if I was always worried that I looked bad in what I had on.

This sartorial battle between my mother and me was constant for many years. I continued to feel self-conscious, stiff and ridiculously uncomfortable in the girl’s clothes I was forced to wear for so long, up until prom my senior year when I was forced to wear a dress or not have my prom paid for. While at times I won, especially as I got closer to 18, my family still had a huge impact on what I wore more so because my aunt and grandma were the ones buying my clothes. Eventually my mother gave up trying to control what I wore and she would back me up against the rest of my family when they would say things about how I dressed or expressed myself. “Leave her alone about what she wears, what she dresses like has nothing to do with the person she is”. Having my mom to back me up finally helped out a lot, I finally felt free to be who I was and express myself the way I saw comfortably.

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