On my male girlhood—and why deep in my heart, despite being male, I will always be a girls’ girl
There was a quote that came across my feed recently that moved me greatly, and quite surprisingly, too. On a bench in Manhattan’s Central Park, a memorial plaque from a woman named Janice to her “lifelong best friend” Judy is seen with the brief inscription: “We were girls together.”
for the girlies: throwback to finding the we were girls together bench and crying pic.twitter.com/Htu5qdcUhA
— steve buscemi's twin (@seaglummm) July 3, 2023
The quote, a derivative from a line in Toni Morrison’s 1973 novel Sula, may be brief, but it packs a strong emotional punch. It brings about a nostalgia for girlhood, a carefree time when women were free to be naïve and to just enjoy life without knowing of the ugly realities of a patriarchal society. And more so, it succinctly points out just how communal the female childhood experience is. To have a girlhood is to be in a sisterhood.
Strangely enough, I felt the tears welling in my eyes. Although I am a cis male, it struck me that so many of my happy childhood memories were shaped by the many girls I befriended and closely grew up with. And it made me wistful for a much simpler time, for back when I could just run around the playground with my girls and laugh as loud as we wanted to.
Weeks later, I watched Barbie in the cinema. And while most girls excitedly identified themselves with Barbie (and rightfully so), and every boy stood in solidarity with Ken, I realized I didn’t identify with either of them.
Because I was an Alan.
Alan always stood by the Barbies, despite supposedly being Ken’s best friend. Clock his appearance in the Dance the Night number—while the other Kens dressed uniformly in white and gold jumpsuits, Alan stood out in a distinct outfit, giddily dancing along to the Barbies’ choreography. Alan never fit in with the Kens, who wouldn’t pay him any attention by virtue of him being just a little bit different. However, because of these differences, the Barbies embraced him as one of their own.
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I look back on my childhood and see how so much of it was shaped by not being able to fit in with the boys but being welcomed into the fold by the girls. I realize now in retrospect that I’ve had my own girlhood.
Me at five years old, about to enter girlhood
As far as I can remember, I’ve always gravitated toward female friendships. In the grade school playground, while the boys would savagely pummel each other while recreating the best fights from WWE, I was with the girls recreating photo shoots from America’s Next Top Model. I was always the only male classmate allowed to join all-girl sleepovers, where we would talk all night and watch all the High School Musical movies back to back.
Once during a school-wide camping trip, my teacher caught me sneaking in the girls’ cabin so I could spend time with my best friends. She prepared to launch into her sermon about propriety and decency until she realized which boy she was speaking to. “Oh, it’s just Jeremiah,” she said. “Carry on.”
With my childhood best friends, circa 2000
As a child, I was always criticized for being too malambot, too soft and (god forbid) feminine. I sucked at sports and would anxiously flail around the court whenever I had to play basketball with the boys during PE. Growing up in a strict Christian school, my teachers expressed their concern for my tendency to sing Disney princess songs in class—during parent-teacher conferences, they would tell my parents they didn’t want me growing up “in the wrong direction.”
Without a single masculine bone in my body, I always felt that I was lacking. I never really fit in with the boys, and they never really wanted to play with me, either. But my girl classmates were my saving grace—they always made me feel welcome in the playground, whether it was to play bahay-bahayan (playhouse) or to leap as high as we could during a spirited game of Chinese garter. Without question, they made me feel like I belonged.
With my high school best friends, circa 2011
Girlhood was soft. As we grew older and graduated into high school, I saw how in touch my girls were with their emotions, whether it was passionately debating who was the cutest Jonas brother or talking about our dreams to move to New York after college and live in an expansive loft, like Rachel and Kurt did in Glee. The boys in my class seemed brutish and unwilling to discuss their feelings—in contrast, my girls and I would tear up while reading about Edward and Bella’s love story in Twilight.
Girlhood was communal. At prom, I remember my best friend pulling me inside the girls’ bathroom, where I saw my classmate sobbing. Hours ago, she went to a hairdresser who didn’t get her updo hairstyle peg and messed it up and everything was ruined. Together with the other girls in class and a few hairpins, we zhuzhed up her hair and attempted to make it work. She had a great night; we all did.
Finally, girlhood was tribal—to a fault, even. There was an unspoken contract of blind loyalty between every friendship, and fights erupted at the tiniest slight. If I don’t like this girl, then you shouldn’t like her either. Why did I see you having lunch with her at the canteen? We hated the people our besties hated, even if they didn’t really do anything to us.
Still, girlhood was accepting, ultimately. Years later in college, when I came out as gay to my high school best friend, she hugged me and said matter-of-factly: “I know.” Several more years later, when I excitedly told her over FaceTime I was going to write for a fashion publication—a dream I’ve had since high school—she started tearing up. “It was just like yesterday that you’d draw gowns and dresses in your notebooks during class,” she reminisced. I started welling up, too.
With my best girlies, present-day
As a cis male, I know there are certain aspects of girlhood I will never be able to relate to. While preparing to commute home from school, my girls would wear hoodies over their uniforms in an effort to avoid the leers and jeers from pervy men on the streets. During the summer months, we knew to walk really briskly in front of the village basketball court to avoid any unwanted attention from the players.
I see that so much of who I am today is thanks to the female friendships I had growing up, and to my very unique girlhood experience. Now in my late 20s, I catch myself laughing at the juiciest gossip at wine night with my girls or dancing with complete abandon at a rave. In the next 20 years, I will look back fondly on these memories of a younger me, and think to myself: “We were girls together.”
Care to share any fond memories from your girlhood? Share them in the comments!
Words Jer Capacillo
Art Macky Arquilla