Not so long after the tragic and early death of my brother
I really knew boys better than girls, except for school. The boys went to Cubs where they did dramatic stuff like tracking in the woods, cooking over camp fires and, most exciting of all, used penknives. I couldn’t wait.
The first blow was that I couldn’t be a cub. Missing the vital Y chromosome, I was excluded from the Masonic life of woggles, dib-dib-dib, and bob-a-jobbing. I howled with rage. I wanted to be a boy.
Eventually, I was offered Brownies. When we arrived that first evening, Brown Owl was busy with all the dun-coloured little girls. Tawny Owl explained that, if everything went well, then I could make my Brownie Promise and have my own shapeless little brown sack to wear, complete with beret. Effort and application would lead to badges, she beamed. Yes, but what about the weaponry? I wondered. When would I be able to have a penknife? Her smile slipped slightly sideways as she steered me towards the group of little girls. My mother shot out of the door as fast as possible. She’d see me afterwards. Glancing over her shoulder, she gave me a hard stare and a reminder to behave myself.
Instead of setting off for the woods, we went into a big hall. Not on the plan. Which Six would I like to sit with? The Elves, The Pixies? Ok, no knives at the moment but a bit of magick. Oh, yesss. I could do that.
I sat cross-legged on the floor waiting for the incantations to start. Nothing doing. We did some dancing, hopping around on one foot and holding hands. This was getting tedious. There were some badges to award. Handicrafts involving sewing and knitting, demonstrating you could stand on one leg or skip, service requiring you to serve tea and cakes. Boy, was I getting pissed off by now.
Next up was a senior Brownie making the passage to Guides. We all sat in a circle around the Toadstool as this poor galumphing child was hauled over the plaster toadstool by a huffing and puffing Brown Owl and Tawny Owl. The members of the troop all sang, except me.
To be fair, I had no idea what was going on.
To be honest, I didn’t much care, either.
The child next to me asked why I wasn’t singing. I could have said it was because I didn’t know the words. Too easy. I said that I wasn’t singing because it was silly. No, it’s not hissed the knowledgeable one. I turned my complete disdain on her and announced loudly that the whole darned thing was silly.
The next thing I was skimming along the floor with my toes barely touching the floorboards. Was this the promised magick? Nope. Just me being hauled out of the hall at top speed by Tawny Owl. The full anger that can only be generated by a menopausal woman dressed up in a paramilitary uniform came blasting my way. When she paused for breath, I yelled back. Not only was it silly, but I was there under false pretences. There was none of the promised knife wielding and I wanted nothing to do with the stupid, stupid Pixies and Elves. My torrent of rage was brought to a halt by a stinging across the legs. She’d slapped me. Grabbing me by my upper arms, she pushed me down to sit on the steps. Sit there till your mother comes back.
By the time she returned, my fury had slipped away leaving tears and a large red weal on my legs. “Not the right time ..”, “ Perhaps when she’s older …”. Fragments of rejection.
We walked home in silence, my mother rigid with humiliation. She explained to my father that I wouldn’t be going back. She turned to me and asked what I had to say for myself. Hugging the dog, I explained that none of this would have happened if I could only be a boy.
He picked up his cap and a bucket. “Coming to feed the chickens, lovely?”