To my current knowledge, I was the only girl to graduate from St Joseph’s Collegiate Institute. Granted, no one knew that at the time, so the statement is just a little bit of a stretch. My friend Dan claims there was another, in a later class, but I’m OK just having been the first. You might think, given my earlier complaints of being uncomfortably shoved into all male environments, that my attendance was a forced issue. It wasn’t; I wanted to go there for years and was overjoyed to be admitted.
I’ve related often enough that as a child I was a social introvert. No, not someone socially introverted, but an introvert who was social. I know, I know, that sounds totally contradictory, but let me explain. I was an introvert by nature, but learned young that I would be left alone more by attempting to be social when given an opportunity that wasn’t too overwhelming. Left to my own devices, however, I would have sat in that cage all day and read. I found it particularly amusing last year when I caught an episode of ‘The Simpson’s’ where Bart does pretty much the same thing, sans reading of course. I guess I’m in bad company, but nevertheless. Anyway, I had a strong focus on academic achievement as well, as I had discovered that good grades also meant being left alone. St Joe’s really seemed to be my ticket to keep that going.
I was both relieved and nervous about attending an all-boy’s school. I had already had my big personal revelation in front of the mirror, but was doing a dynamite job of actively repressing it. I knew for certain I didn’t like all male environments from my experience at sleep away camp and any Boy Scout trip my dad didn’t come along on. The lads were a bit more on the rough side than I cared for, and I had not yet developed the defense mechanism to give it back. This was supposed to be a more refined set of blokes; so I was led to believe. On the plus side, I would be shielded from the sexual politics I had no clue how to navigate. In grammar school I just nursed the same ‘from a distance’ crush for years, which was fine for our age group, but I was reasonably certain that I would be expected to pick up my game. Talking to girls was no problem. It was pursuing them that left me frustrated and confused.
To my dismay, I learned that the image in my head, much resembling Glee’s own Warblers, was totally, totally wrong. I knew snappy blazers and posh surroundings were a big forget it, but I was stuck wearing a tie everyday. With no care what I ever looked like male, I wore the same black one all four years, along with the soup stain sustained in the early part of my freshman year. It was split pea, and that’s one of the one’s you actually have to wash to get out. In addition, there was the ubiquitous bully, one guaranteed at every bus stop, who wanted to fight me for no reason I could gather. I refused every time, so he finally punched me in the chest one day and knocked my wind out. When that didn’t do it, he finally gave up or I had discovered I could easily walk the 2.5 miles home. I can’t remember which. I also found that locker room shenanigans were standardized throughout the country and this was no different. I pulled my usual schtick of wearing shorts under my pants and avoided the showers at all cost. You could not have paid me enough to wear a jock strap. Ew!
On the super bright side, I found a relatively large community of boys who were probably sent there for their own protection. This was brilliant and we glommed on together quickly. I brought to the table an appreciable level of quirkiness as well as size and strength well above that of the average geek. I loved my geek friends because they didn’t ask too many questions, most of them didn’t have girlfriends, and we could all relate to being otherized. I helped found and lead the Wargames club in spite of my absolute loathing for Dungeons’ and Dragons. We discovered as a bonus that without girls around to try to impress, the rougher jock crowd could not be bothered labeling us and did not feel obligated to make big shows of force. In any case, we had a deterrent in my friend Paul who using a nonsensically effective formula could break into any locker and demonstrated whenever displeased.
All things considered, it was a true sanctuary, protecting me from much of what made me uncomfortable about my surroundings and myself. Without girls around for me to focus on with a weird mixture of interest and envy, I was able to focus on my game and graduate as what I thought was a man, dammit. My 25 year reunion is in 2015. Should be interesting…