Sunday, April 15, 2007

Nappy Headed...and the Gender Crisis

I have a Fotki Photo Album and believe it or not, there's a whole nother world of naturals in that community that rarely mix with the world of bloggers. I enjoy checking in on my fotki friends and we leave comments in each other's albums just like the blogger family.

One Fotki friend in particular, TrifleMC posted a question that I saw, but didn't recognize as a deliberate question to who ever wanted to respond. I decided with all this "Nappy Headed" talk going on, I'd respond to him via my blog.

His photo post is in reference to his birthmark being something that drew negative attention to him in his youth because of ridicule by those who found him to look "different". His post and question is Here.

The question he asked was...

So tell me...What is yours from birth, only cherished now?

Here's my response:

Well, I guess it is my hair, mostly for starters. My mom didn't take care of my hair when I was a child. I was the last (baby girl) and I guess she just ran out of steam or was so depressed from having the four of us (two boys and two girls) within a 4 1/2 yrs time span. She just let go of her responsibilities and was a bit overwhelmed, IMO. I have pics where all you see is the cute little "nappy headed" boy with a big ole' smile all the time. It was me, not a boy. An older white gentleman walked up to me when we were heading into the grocery store and said to my mom, "You have the cutest little boy!" I said, at a tender age of 4 or 5, "I'm not a little boy, I'm a girl!!!!" I never forgot that. I didn't take notice that I could be perceived as a different gender until someone made me aware of it.

Now don't get me wrong, who at a young age in the mid 70's would really look forward to sitting in a hot kitchen for a couple of hours, stove burning, hair sizzling over the open fire and an occasional "Psttt!! You burned me!!" before getting popped on the shoulder and scolded with "Be still" or "You moved!"? It's enough to make a young black girl do some self loathing.

There's no mistaking, I didn't have the most manageable hair. But, it seems to me that after I had this uninvited gender crisis, I was on a mission to never be called out of my gender. I was a girl! I knew what boys looked like and what made boys boys and I knew I was a girl. I demanded to get my ears pierced and I wanted big loopy earrings, like to ladies with the big afros on Soul Train wore when they did the Soul Train Line. So mom numbed my ears with some wooden cloths pins and some ice cubes and in went the sewing needle burned at the end. It was pain I was willing to endure. I picked my own matching wooden stubs off the broom for my "temporary" ear rings. Looking back on it, boy was my Mom country. But it was all worth it, so I thought. I wanted to never be confused with a smelly little boy.

My saving grace was I was a "girly" girl. I loved the colors pink and purple, Tuesday Taylor Barbie dolls and doing "girl" stuff. So then I decided that I'd endure the pain of getting burnt on the ear or sitting for a few hours in the hot kitchen hearing my own hair sizzling on the stove top that it was like my secured rights of passage to remain a girl! I then demanding to get my hair pressed, curled, corn-rolled (although it wasn't long enough for cornrolls), twigged (it was long enough for that). I remember harassing my Mom aggressively right before we took school pictures (see slideshow). That was really important to me. By the time I was nine I'd entered the world of the Jheri Curl.

Now the pain went from a sizzling hot comb to a cool bizarre smelling cream that now sizzled my scalp and yes, still my ears! "When will the pain end?" I thought. Let's not talk about the "drip drip" stay so soft spray and plastic bag and all that that went with having a processed curl. It's funny because looking back, the goal at hand was to have my hair grow. And with a curl, it did, which took some of the pressure off.

But it still didn't keep Whitman Mayo, AKA Grady (see slideshow) from calling me a boy while he gave a fundraiser speech for Sickle Cell Anemia Association in town in 1981. I was invited to the dinner and was representing the YWCA youth group. He was giving the speech and was making a point about children. I must have been the only child there, and he kept saying "Hey boy! I'm talking to you!" I knew he was talking to me. The lady I was with along with everyone else knew he was talking to me. I tried to ignore him cause I kept telling myself I wasn't no boy! Finally someone closer to him said, "That's not a little boy, sir. That's a little girl." He apologized on the mic and was deeply embarrassed. Afterwards, he made sure he called me up to apologize. That's why there's a picture (see slideshow). You could see the hurt in his eyes, even in the picture. He kept saying he'd give me whatever I wanted and how he just didn't know. He kept saying how sorry he was. I guess by that time, I was already used to it. So, I brushed it off, and climbed on his knee and took a picture with him. Years had gone by but I never forgot. About the time of me getting my Sisterlocks, I thought I'd catch up with him, and send him a picture of us back then, and a current picture of me, but it was too late. He'd already passed away in 2001.

So, without going into an extensive "my hair story", with getting Sisterlocks almost 3 1/2 years ago, I'm learning to cherish the nappy natural hair God gave me. It's been a journey of almost 30+ years of trying to get free. I'm a lot better off than where I started. I just wish the consciousness and opportunity to proudly wear our hair in it's natural state was universally accepted years ago. And we now know there's still this stigma about having "Nappy Headed" hair.


Goodnapps said...

Ahhh yes. I can definitely relate to this post. Sometimes I still get a lil teary eyed when I think back on my journey as a permie.

Creyole said...

What a fantastic life story, I'm brought to tears! The childhood pics are beautiful, you and Jen both still look like yourselves and the whole family resembles each other. Wow!

More, childhood stories pleeeease!

Maryee said...

Thanks T! I need to find the other pics I was planning on adding to the collage. Check back.


Thanks! Sometimes it's a bit painful recounting some of the "mess" from the past. As I am led, I'll add more stories. They are quite therapeutic. :-)

Bless you both, sistahs!

Sis. RJQueen10 said...

Ms. Maryee,

You are not only healing yourself, your are helping me through my trama! Thanks for sharing such an intimate side of yourself. This was a most excellent post!

Sis. RJQueen10

sunsail said...

Blessings, my dear. I read throught the blog-vine that you're going through some stuff right now. You're in my prayers.

funmi said...

What a wonderful memoire. Very emotional. Thanks for sharing it.

Maryee said...

Sis RJQueen10,

You are welcome. I never wrote about all that stuff, so it's very therapeutic to get it out there and then reflect. I think most of us were traumatized in some way or another whether in our youth or as adults as far as our hair is concerned.


Thanks for the prayers, Sis! Can't wait to formally meet ya soon! :-)


You are quite welcome. I may post more of my memoir on my writing blog. It needs major updating.



Shaun aka TRIFLEmc said...

I'm so mad i took this long to find this beautiful story. I will def. be putting up more intimate questions in the near future.

Maryee said...


You're a travelin' man! I understand. Thanks so much for droppin' by, me hermano.

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