Anything worth doing turned out to be a girl thing

From David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day:

None of the therapy students were girls. They were all boys like me who kept movie star scrapbooks and made their own curtains. “You don’t want to be doing that,” the men in our families would say. “That’s a girl thing.” Baking scones and cupcakes for the school janitors, watching Guiding Light with our mothers, collecting rose petals for use in a fragrant potpourri: anything worth doing turned out to be a girl thing. In order to enjoy ourselves, we learned to be duplicitous. Our stacks of Cosmopolitan were topped with an unread issue of Boy’s Life or Sports Illustrated, and our decoupage projects were concealed beneath the sporting equipment we never asked for but always received. When asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, we hid the truth and listed who we wanted to sleep with when we grew up. “A policeman or a fireman or one of those guys who works with high-tension wires.” Symptoms were feigned, and our mothers wrote notes excusing our absences on the day of the intramural softball tournament. Brian had a stomach virus or Ted suffered from that twenty-four-hour bug that seemed to be going around.

“One of these days I’m going to have to hang a sign on that door,” Agent Samson used to say. She was probably thinking along the lines of SPEECH THERAPY LAB, though a more appropriate marker would have read FUTURE HOMOSEXUALS OF AMERICA. We knocked ourselves out trying to fit in but were ultimately betrayed by our tongues. [pp 9-10]


  1. leni says

    I credit David Sedaris with helping me understand how much better it can be to hear an author rather than read them. Still one of my favorite books, but now I read it in his voice, not mine, and I feel forever grateful for that.

    I also heard him on NPR doing translations for French people after the Charlie Hebo incident, so apparently he does talk pretty some day 🙂

  2. says

    @leni: I totally agree. I listened to the audiobook version, read by the author himself, while on vacation two weeks ago. Hearing it in his own voice (especially this bit about speech therapy) adds so much.

  3. Sam N says

    I completely read that passage with David Sedaris voice in my head, too. I love that it’s so distinct, and yet reliable, in how he pauses and emphasizes, making it possible to learn. And knowing how to read it makes it even more wonderful!

  4. busterggi says

    ” our decoupage projects were concealed beneath the sporting equipment”

    I just don’t see David Sedaris wearing something with a plunging neckline.

    Or am I just confused again?

  5. AMM says

    Of course, a boy who likes “girl things” need not be gay.

    He could be transgender.

    Or maybe he just likes some things that society, in its infinite foolishness, has designated as “girl things.”

  6. otrame says

    As a girl (and never for a moment doubting that) who liked playing football and what these days we would call Role Playing Games that we made up as we went along, I was considered unusual, but not actually an abomination. As person beginning to think of herself as elderly, I can remember when activities were very heavily assigned to gender and god help anyone, especially males, who tried to fight it. Tomboys were a little weird but cute and they would grow out of it. There was no equivalent designation for boys who liked doing “girl things”, except, of course, faggot. Poor guys.

    As bad as things are, they are so much better now. I long for the day when there are no girl things or boy things, just things that some people like doing and others do not.

  7. says

    I was thinking about that (again!) earlier today…on the bus climbing the hill, always a good place to let the mind wander. Oh I remember what set it off – a woman had gotten on who was wearing a gorgeous long yellow summer dress – just simple, but so pretty…I was thinking about how much I liked it, and liked it on her (beautiful dark skin that set it off) but don’t like wearing dresses myself…so was led into thinking about not liking “feminine” things but then again not particularly liking “masculine” ones either and being just kind of between the two…and then about how I could do that but it’s not as easy going the other way because the more toward the female end the more “weak” and thus disgraceful. It’s all so sad.

  8. says

    As I get older, I find myself doing more and more “girl things” that I never would have considered when I was younger. I’m comfortable identifying as cis-male, and always have been, but I also enjoy “conventionally female” activities now, too. For example, I learned to knit, and I enjoy it a lot, and I’m not afraid to relax with a cup of coffee and some knitting down at the local coffee shop. Fortunately for society, there is never a dearth of snickering teenagers who will look at me, and thereby police the important gender rules that keep our society from completely fraying apart and leading us towards total collapse, cats & dogs living together, etc.

    There are definite advantages to growing older.

    The interesting thing is that so many of these things were once “traditionally male”. Knitting was done by men before automation. Pink was the color of little boys, signifying health and vitality. Clerking (now called “secretarial work”) was the province of men, and a highly respected career. Even today, some things that we consider “male” are not at all so, elsewhere. People still largely assume that doctors and pilots are going to be men, but in other countries it’s the opposite. Russia, for example, has many more women MD’s, iirc.

    The only thing that stays the same, across all these cultural gender perception-switches, is that the “girl things” are considered to be lesser. Doctors are respected in the west, but not so much, in Russia. Clerks were respected when they were all men, but secretaries are now mostly on the bottom of the totem pole.

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