Silver toenails: episode 1.

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I waited to start this blog for a long time. I’ve been lurking on homeschool survivor blogs for years, wanting to say something, but just staying silent because I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t have enough distance from it, I guess. I also didn’t want to sound angry or upset, because no one wants to read angry people online. It’s like being stuck in a goat pen.

But then this morning I woke up – after a very stressful, real-feeling dream about our old house church – and the entire world was filled with sunlight. The house church is not here any more. There’s just love and light and sparkly silver toenails on the bathmat, and I’m hundreds of miles away. So I’m happy today and I think God has been very good to me. And I think there’s no reason I can’t actually start a blog now.

Side note about sparkly silver toenails! I painted them in April for the first time ever. And I liked them so much I just keep re-painting them silver. I’m a big gray and silver person to begin with. Gold and brown always feel weird to me, for some reason.

silvertoes

So, I started thinking about how all the weirdness began, and I guess it was in 1998, when we moved from South Carolina to Michigan. I was nine years old, going on ten, and I think of this as the last semi-normal year.

We moved from Greenville, South Carolina to Lake Orion, Michigan in June. We packed up our whole life in a moving van: Dad, Mom, me, L, M and baby N. (That’s not anyone’s real initials, in case you’re wondering.) We would be living about an hour from Grandma and Grandpa X, Mom’s parents, so that would be nice. The purpose of the move was so Dad could get his seminary degree at a Baptist seminary I’ll call Mordor. Once he had the degree, he could become a pastor and we would all be pastor’s kids. In the meantime, we would go to Lothlorien Baptist Church (again, not the real name), which was exciting because it had a gymnasium.

Before we moved, Mom and Dad had lots of conversations in the bathroom with the door shut. They said “What will we do about church?” and “But what will we do when She gets to be youth group age?” I knew She was me. Whenever those two had conversations in the bathroom, She was always me. I tried to figure out what they were talking about but I gave up after a while.

I was very excited to move. Our church in Greenville, SC was (not really) called Minas Morgul Baptist – it is close to Bag End University – and all the ladies wore hats during the service. The sermons were very long and it was hard not to fall asleep. Mom kept getting in trouble at this church because she did not want to put her babies in the nursery. She also did not wear a hat, which meant she was not allowed to sing in the choir. I wanted to wear a hat because all my little friends did, but Mom said we didn’t do things just because other people did them.

(However, our family homeschooled, like almost everyone else at Minas Morgul Baptist. The children who went to Bag End Academy were not as holy as the homeschoolers. They were holier than public school kids, who we weren’t allowed to talk to at all, but they certainly were not as holy as we were.)

One thing I did not like about Minas Morgul was the fact that no one wore normal clothes there. There was a rule against sleeveless clothing. If ladies came to anything on church property, they had to wear either a long skirt, or else culottes, which are like long, baggy split skirts. Many of the ladies dressed this way all the time and it was easy to pick them out of a crowd.

I wore pants and knee-length shorts outside of church, I didn’t care for dresses, and I really really could not stand culottes. I wished I were a boy. In the winter, Minas Morgul had Awana game time outside in the cold, and instead of pants I had to wear floppy culottes with tights underneath. I didn’t understand why, if other people’s opinion was so unimportant, I couldn’t just wear ordinary clothes and be warm, but Mom wouldn’t explain.

As time went on, Mom became more strict about when we could and could not wear pants – some of the church people wore dresses all the time, and if we met them in the grocery store while we were wearing pants, Mom would be embarrassed. I was getting fed up with this and I looked forward to moving. I hoped that the new church would be full of normal people in normal clothes who would influence us to be normal.

Unfortunately, we met the Orcs at a Lothlorien Baptist picnic almost as soon as we arrived in Michigan. Mrs. Orc was clearly in charge in their family. She had red hair and owl glasses and a high laugh like a horse, and she and her girls always wore long, loose jumpers that came down to their feet. Katherine and Elizabeth Orc were like her, but smaller, and Ben Orc was very small and obnoxious like a chihuahua. Mr. Orc was missing a finger from a fireworks accident and that is all I remember about him. This family was the most conservative family at Lothlorien and they immediately love-bombed us and started pressuring us to be their Best Friends Ever. I don’t think they had a lot of other friends. Mrs. Orc called my mom a lot that summer.

I think we went to Lothlorien Baptist Church for about a year. I was a happy little kid with big glasses and I started making some friends. I went to Sunday school and Awana with them. (I still couldn’t wear pants to Awana game time like the other girls did, though.) I had a teeny tiny crush on the pastor’s son, who was about my age and had peachy cheeks and big black eyes. I wanted to kiss his peachy cheeks and was just horrified at myself.

I turned 10, my golden birthday, on September 10. I got the big American Girl horse, and I had a rodeo-themed party with some girls from my Lothlorien Sunday school class, including Katherine and Elizabeth Orc. I wanted to wear overall shorts to the party, but Mom told me I had to wear a jean jumper. That was too bad, but it was still a wonderful party.

One Saturday in the fall Mom went to the Secretary of State to get her new Michigan driver’s license. She wore fitted green slacks and had her hair pulled back in a ponytail and as she went out the door, I thought she looked so cute and cool. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.

We went to a “harvest party” at Lothlorien on Halloween and I was a sunflower, L was a carrot and M was a grape. We had never gotten to go to a harvest party before. I even had green stirrup pants on because that was part of my costume – I thought it was pretty amazing to wear pants to church. I thought “Maybe we will really be a normal modern family now!”

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no more boy shorts and big white Keds.

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Pearl’s story on Homeschoolers Anonymous  really resonated with me, and I know I’m not alone. I’m sure lots of you have had the same experience I had: after years of getting told that the “girly” outfits you wanted to wear were “immodest,” “revealing,” and “inappropriate”, you just gave up and went butch, with lots of baggy boy shorts and shapeless sweatsuits. (Which is fine if that’s what you’re into – but I know that look wasn’t me.) Wireless cloth bras, hand-me-down underwear and a ban on perfume, makeup and hair products probably played a part in your systematic de-feminization. Eventually – if your experience was like mine – you became so disconnected from your body that you hardly felt like a person anymore, let alone a girl.

It took some cataclysmic life events – a failed courtship, starting a business, moving out of my parents’ house and eventually out of state, and meeting a supportive partner – to give me some distance and perspective on my homeschool years. Along the way, by trial and error, I’ve slowly been figuring out how to become a girl again. At 26, I finally feel more at home in my skin. Here are some of the things that helped me – maybe they’ll help somebody else, too.

Read drag websites. I’m not even kidding. They’re full of helpful information on how to walk, talk, dress and act in order to “pass” as a female. Granted, some of it’s a little over the top – skip their make-up tips, for instance. But I remember how astonished I was when I discovered that somebody had actually written reams of detailed instructions for presenting as a lady. It felt like Christmas.

Reclaim the skirt. It took me the longest time to figure out that dresses are not a badge of shame! Big jean jumpers and long khaki skirts are not the only option. Skirts are supposed to make you feel pretty and sexy, and if they’re not doing that, then they’re not doing their job. Swishy maxi dresses, cute cocktail dresses and tailored pencil skirts are incredibly fun to wear. So are heels. They are designed to make your legs longer and that’s a GOOD thing!

Have some little signature “girly” thing that you do or wear all the time. Or more than one! For me, it was getting my ears pierced and always wearing earrings. Having a little pair of sparkly studs in your ears all the time really does make you feel more feminine. I gradually added in other things and now I always have on earrings, toenail polish, a silver ankle bracelet and a little bit of perfume. It makes me feel pretty.

Practice showing a different bit of skin at a time. I remember the first time I tried to walk outside my apartment in shorts and a tank top, “cold turkey.” Bad idea – I felt completely naked. After a while, I figured out that I could ease into it if I only uncovered one area at a time. If I had on shorts, I wore a big, loose t-shirt. I paired tank tops with long cargo shorts or capris. Eventually, I just got used to having various parts of me out in the sunshine and I didn’t mind anymore. (Shocker – nobody ogled me and drooled with lust, either.)

Go and get an actual bra fitting at Victoria’s Secret. And then get some lovely lingerie that fits. I am ashamed to say that I could not actually make myself do this until I was 25 years old. They’re totally nice. All you do is lift your arms, and they run a tape around your bust and tell you what size you are, and then give you some sample bras to go try on in the fitting room. It’s not embarrassing at all… nothing like bra shopping for “appropriate” underwear with your mother. (P.S.: You may be surprised by your bra size! For years and years, I assumed I was an A or a B cup, and figured bras were supposed to squash me in and feel uncomfortable. Guess what? I’m a D.)

Have bottles of nice stuff in your shower, and use them. I wish someone had told me that I needed to put SHAMPOO and CONDITIONER in my hair, and use SHOWER GEL and BODY BUTTER on the rest of me. (When I was a kid, we used this weird organic shampoo/soap called “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap” where every square inch of the label was covered with manic stream-of-consciousness meanderings in TINY print. It was an entertaining reading experience but as far as soap went, it wasn’t awesome.) The Warm Vanilla Sugar stuff from Bath and Body Works is awesome, though. So is the Moonlight Path (lavender) and the Japanese Cherry Blossom.

Drink wine in the bathtub and listen to jazz. It completely makes you feel like a movie star.

Dance all by yourself. Put on your favorite music and move with it. Learn to feel the evil jungle beat that kills all the plants. Feel how your body is all connected together, how it’s a physical, material being, how it moves through space, how it responds so beautifully to touch and sound. You are designed to be a beautiful, corporeal being, not a disconnected intelligence trapped in a useless body.

That’s really the most important thing: You are beautiful. You just need to know it, and feel it, and own it. 🙂

About Me

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Hi, I’m Kay Fabe. (Not really, but I figure that makes a good Internet handle.) I’m an ex-homeschooled, ex-house-churched,  ex-culotte-wearing, ex-courtshipping ex-weirdo, saved by grace. I’m figuring out how to be a pretty lady now, and it’s fun.