birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Boys and Girls

I grew up the daughter of a college football coach, and I did not want to be a girl in that world.

Being a girl was embarrassing.

I developed early, which was even more mortifying.

So I hid.

From fourth grade to sixth grade, you would not have known I was a girl most of the time.

I hid it pretty well in other words, and I wouldn't have been caught dead in a dress.

Once I dressed in a K-State football uniform at age eleven during a Wildcat supper at our house, and I came out to greet my father's players like any other self-respecting boy.

They slapped me on the back of my shoulder pads, and we all laughed.

My brother later ratted me out, and I could hear the shock in their voices - 'that's a girl? that was your sister?'

I'm sure he did it because he was so much shorter but only a year younger and I could beat him up.

We lived in football dorms and sometimes while looking for a new house in a new town, the girlfriends of football players would ask me to go tell their boyfriends to come downstairs. I always did as they asked and went up to the boys' rooms to deliver the message - I was glad they thought I was a boy.

It annoyed my mother - you're not a boy, missy!

But I hated being a girl. I wasn't a cheerleader and I certainly didn't aspire to be a coach's wife.

The only girls worth anything were girls who were a mix of real and literary girls like Jo March, Francie Nolan, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Anne of Green Gables, Caddie Woodlawn, Scout Finch, Clara Barton, Katie John...I could stomach being a girl if I could be like those girls.

In my first novel, OFFSIDES, my autobiographical character wanted to be a third thing that wasn't a boy or a girl. It was way before being trans was ever discussed. I didn't know what asexual was either, and I'd never heard of being gay until I had read about it about in a YA novel that one of my aunts tore to shreds when I sent it to my cousin.

The only time I ever heard anything about being gay was when my grandmother said that her sister, Bernadette, (when her time came) wanted her body to go to a funeral home run by the "he-she's" who knew how to do a funeral the right way over in Atchison, Kansas.

I had never heard of "he-she's," and I didn't understand why Bernadette thought they were gifted at doing funerals.

Anyway, I grew up Catholic and you were what you were and make no mistake about it.

As a young kid, I didn't think about being a girl or a boy. I didn't care.

But when people tried to insist I was a girl and to "act" like a girl, I cared a lot.

Then, as I grew older, I found girls who understood me, and I honestly think if I'd stayed in Pittsburgh where I played field hockey and basketball, and where I went to a girls school, I would have probably started dating women. I just liked them better than boys - especially idiotic Pittsburgh boys.

But I moved South to Tennessee where there was a rigid code of Catholic men and women.

And then I began dating boys and that was that.

Once in England as an exchange student, I fell for a girl, but it was a crush, and nothing came of it except a dance that I've never forgotten. We're still friends to this day, but I think about her and write about her in fiction and what might have been but never was.

I do remember when I came back from England, I knew everything there was to know about life at age twenty-two. After all, I had been abroad and had seen the world. And I also knew my roommate in the States was gay. She hadn't admitted it to herself yet, but I knew, so in all my obnoxious wisdom, I told her to get on with it and fall in love and take a chance a with a girl.

She was furious and we had a huge fight, and I later apologized.

I was all-knowing and all-dumb-ass.

A few years later she did come out and is very happy with her partner all these years later. We are still friends to this day, but I apologize nearly every time I see her, every few years, for being such an idiot back when we were kids.

We even laugh about it now, but I still feel ashamed and wish I'd kept my mouth shut.

It was none of my business.



If I hadn't married a man like my husband, who became my best friend, I might have married a woman, because I just could never stand "bros" as my daughters call them.

When I had kids I made sure they dressed in all colors and played with all toys. I never got them gender-assigned toys.

I just wanted them to be kids.

It wasn't until I read Paul Monette and Rita Mae Brown that I began to understand what being gay meant. My uncle committed suicide at twenty-two, and I'm pretty sure it was because he was gay. It was the one thing our family would never have tolerated.

I think about him everyday too.

Does it matter to me if I am male or female?

Sometimes I wish I could just dress like a man.

I am always surprised at my body, which I expect to look more boyish but doesn't.

Maybe I'm still looking for that third thing to be.


Finding My Team