So I know a lot of my friends wouldn’t believe me if I told them, but I was totally the coolest person back in school. I was friends with everyone, and everyone wanted to be friends with me. Sometimes people knew my name before I knew theirs. I think I even remember breaking a couple girls’ hearts.

But it all ended in 7th grade. In 7th grade something weird happened. It wasn’t anything particularly isolated; there was a wide-sweeping change in how we organized ourselves and related to each other. I think it was puberty. But the bottom line? Well…I was placed at the bottom of the line. I was no longer cool. And particularly among men, I became a target.

As I’m sure my parents can attest, I was a very energetic little kid. In terms of gender performance, I was just like I am now – a healthy mix of femme, mostly andro, and the occasional spout of earnest butch – except that when I was little I acted as if I was constantly wired on caffeine. This meant, I think, that when I was femme, I was really femme. I would roar around with my trucks just as much as I would dance little pirouettes in the hallway. I was so energetic that everywhere I went it felt like a production. Maybe that’s why, in elementary and middle school, I was so popular. A big part of my self was bouncing around and having fun; I was a fun magnet. Lots of little kids are.

So you’re probably wondering why this loser is talking about how he (used to be) cool in elementary and middle school (and you’re also thinking: no wonder he’s not cool anymore). Well, it’s because of this age thing, I think. I wasn’t cool anymore because my way of behaving as a male – at our around the time when everyone else my age hit puberty and began reorganizing according to gendered expectations of sexuality and resulting behavior – no longer became acceptable. What was interesting was that, even despite my gender variance as a kid, I had a ton of male friends growing up. At puberty, however, a gender mechanism initiated; “appropriate men” actually had to reject the company of gender variant boys. So, at or around 7th grade, no longer was I (in the confident, gender-variant way I behaved) an appropriate kind of boy for another boy to be friends with. In the company of women, I don’t think the rules were necessarily the same; there were complications when it came to romantic interest that set up a standard of rules and regulations for how to interact, but most of the time that wasn’t as big of an issue.

I’ve been reading some stuff lately by Nancy Lesko, and she’s really awakened me to issues of age when thinking about the construction of identity in adolescence. She advocates for a reorganization of primary and secondary education (and, I’d argue, child-rearing) that transforms the child-parent/child-teacher relationship into more of a mutual educational relationship as opposed to this slave-master relationship whereby information and rules about behavior are funneled one-way into the child. I really don’t think, in most schools, there’s enough done to encourage harmless, deviant behaviors from the norm. Shouldn’t that be encouraged? I guess it’s easier said than done. But I do think it would neutralize some of crazy moments of behavior shifting and make middle school a tiny bit less horrifying.

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