Effemiphobia: A Fear of Femininity and Weakness

My sister and I (mostly her) have discovered something. Our life is a lot like the TV show Supernatural, if you take away the supernatural elements, and genderflip everyone. Crazy, abusive parent? Check. Older sibling scapegoat who has to be the parent? Check. Younger, golden child sibling who has to be protected? Friggin’ check. Effemiphobia? You bet! Now, I’m not a big fan of the show, so a lot of this is what my sister tells me, but I’ve seen it in the episodes I have watched.

For as long as I can remember, my brain has been split into two parts. I was in middle school when I finally named them after my two male OCs (original characters) who they seemed to represent. There was the quiet, cold-tempered, intelligent chessmaster who despised all weakness (the cynic), and the kind, gentle peacemaker who just wanted everyone to be happy (the sensitive). My two personalities, as I described them. I knew I didn’t have multiple personalities, of course, but that was the best way to explain it. When I was experiencing negative emotion like anger, sadness, hurt, fear, whatever, I tried to emulate the first. Shut down my true feelings, raise an eyebrow and make a snarky remark. When the emotion was positive, I was the second, laughing at myself, making jokes at my own expense, slipping on ice and taking a bow. But sometimes, I fell through the cracks. I’d cry. I’d fly off in a rage. I’d scream when I saw a spider. And the cynic side tried to tear me apart, angrily telling me how stupid and weak I was, while the sensitive side cowered before that rage.

Depressed people have described feeling like they have two voices in their head. One, always berating them for the stupid things they’ve done, and the other, constantly apologizing for living and wondering what they could do to make things better. This was me in a nutshell, for most of my life.

The problem: why were they both male, in my mind?

In the past, I’ve described myself as a tomboy. But maybe that’s not altogether accurate. I’m not really the sporty type. I hate almost any sport that involves a ball, as a matter of fact. No, what I am is terrified of femininity. The trap of masculinity, as I’ve called it in the past.

So, yes, I’m a girl. Yes, I’m friggin’ effemiphobic. Dean Winchester’s line, “No chick flick moments,” might as well be my motto.

It’s a hard concept to explain. Effemiphobia is the word commonly used across the Internet (especially Tumblr), though it’s mainly used to describe men, especially gay men. It’s got nothing to do with misogyny. I don’t hate women. I am one. I don’t even hate femininity—forgive my language, but I’m fucking terrified of it. It’s a message I inhaled from my first teacher, Hollywood. Feminine women need a hero to rescue them, while they stand around looking terrified. Masculine women (and guys) are the ones who save the day, and kick the bad guy’s ass. Maybe it was also because I idolized my dad and action heroes, but the only feminine role models I really had were either damsels in distress or my mother and sister (who were both their own brands of crazy). Masculinity, to me, was sane. My dad was masculine. He was sane. He was smart. He was rational. My dad could fix things. My mom and sister knew how to mess them up, and let their feelings get in the way.

And the more masculine I acted, the more my dad acknowledged me. The more he wanted to spend time with me. The more I wanted to be his son, not his daughter. Anything was better than being my mother’s young lady. Because my batshit crazy mother wanted me to wear dresses all the time. She wanted me to be the proper young lady. Her golden child. Her perfect little girl. I rebelled. My sister is far more feminine than I’ll ever be, and that was not the way it started.

I have guilty pleasures in anything remotely romantic or soft. I love fluffy animals. I’m decent at amateur romance scenes. I love analyzing every romantic moment of my favorite movies. Heck, I love a good chick flick, and I’ll occasionally pick up chick lit. Sometimes, I just want to eat a salad and listen to music that’s described as girly.

But all that sucks. Know why? Every time I engage in one of these activities, I hate myself for it. I don’t want to be the romantic. I don’t want to cry when I see a mouse get killed. I want to consume the entire double bacon cheeseburger, and I’d drown it with beer if I drank. I watch horror movies, I read and write the most horrific, gruesome things I can devise. I can burp on queue. I bombard myself with action movies. Because they’re safe. They’re not weak. They’re not feminine. They make me strong.

I have a different perspective than any guy who’s effemiphobic, obviously. I can’t escape femininity completely. I can deny all the aspects of it I want to, but in the end, I’m still a girl, physically and mentally. I’m still attracted to men. I still want them to notice me. To find me attractive. But I’ve been told I’m beautiful more times than I can count. I’ve been told I’m awesome, smart, funny, cute, whatever. I’ve been told I’m soft, and I can’t stand to even think about that. The highest compliment I’ve ever received was being told by a guy that I was more of a man than he was. Because that made me strong. That meant I could protect myself, that I didn’t need anyone else to protect me. I need that assurance as surely as I need to breathe. I need to be strong. I need everyone to see that I’m strong.

But I’m still a girl. I wear flattering clothes and jewelry and makeup and fix my hair. I own a lot of shoes. I like to cook, and I love to dance. But I haven’t worn pink in years. Lace is disgusting.

It’s like constantly being at war with yourself. Wanting so badly to just be a guy, but at the same time, realizing how much that would suck. Wanting to enlist, but knowing you can’t get in because of depression. And even if I could make it in, I’d wash out during basic training due to depression. I know that. And I hate myself for it.

But, oh well. Life goes on. First step to fixing the problem is admitting that there is one, and I’ve come a long way toward fixing it already these past few years, even without having a word for it. I’m pretty happy being the way I am, honestly. Effemiphobia doesn’t control me. . . most of the time. And when it does, I just need to blow metaphorical raspberries at it, because I’m awesome. Right? Of course right!

Thank you for tuning in to the Rantings, Ramblings, Ravings and Musings of Mac. You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

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EHS and Lockdown: The Summers of Hell

My mother has always had a thing with trying to separate my sister and I from our friends, all the while assuring us how much more intelligent we are. We weren’t allowed to play with the most popular (aka, richest) girls on the street, after one of them was mean to me one time too often. As a result, all the other girls had to make a choice: and it was made to exclude the crybaby. And, by extension, her longsuffering older sister. Lucky for all of them, though, as the cooler sister she had the brains and guts to sneak out. The crybaby never did. Two awesomes for the price of one, right?

As a kid, I wasn’t used to having many friends, let’s just say. All the girls my age that I knew well enough (a grand total of three) never wanted to be around me. The older girls just took pity on me. Sure, I’m grateful for that pity, but sincerity was always preferable.

I was ten years old when I became friends with one girl I could trust—my best friend to this day. Together, My sister, our friend, and me were an inseparable team. Except how my sister would go to this friend’s house without telling my mom. Or stay out too late with this friend.

This was where the trouble in our newest paradise really started. Mom started being quick to condemn this friend as a greedy little brat, and paint me and my sister as two angels Too Good For This Sinful Earth. Since the greedy little brat was having such a bad influence on her two angels, Mom started forbidding us to see her, except at church activities. That didn’t last too long, though, as I recall.

But, when we started going to school, it got worse. See, my aunt, uncle and cousin had moved into the neighborhood. This aunt is my mother’s sister, who’s a Type A personality you do not want to mess with. You get on her bad side, she is terrifying. Oh, and around her, my mother goes completely (and very unnaturally) passive.

Well, my aunt supposedly overheard our best friend calling my cousin fat. And the crap hit the fan.

Now, first of all, let me point something out. My best friend is pretty overweight. And a nice person by nature. Her saying such a thing about my totally awesome cousin, whom she always liked, is totally implausible. But our protestations amounted to nothing. Even as the excitement of going to school for the first time loomed, my mother was chewing out my best friend and her father. There was a very tense scene in my best friend’s front yard where the three of us had emotional breakdowns while Mom argued with my friend’s dad, about why we were never allowed to see this friend again. But our pleas fell on the deaf ears of a crazy woman. And my sister was sent to school with my cousin, in a different city.

So, the only time they got to see each other, really (since during that time we were forbidden from going over to our friend’s house), was when we had church activities. And when our friend got a license, she would drive us to and from those activities. And she would take long detours so we could just hang out for a few minutes. That certainly didn’t help matters.

But school was an instant love for me. I was practically a straight-A student throughout middle school. I loved learning new things—like about paragraphs and cells.

With my aunt living so close, though, she decided the golden trio (me, my sister and her daughter) needed to work harder, because there was no way our parents could pay for our college. So, the solution was to graduate with our Associate’s Degrees. How were we to do that? Electronic High School during the summer, of course! My sister and my cousin, both being actually in high school, were immediately signed up, of course. Me, I was offered the opportunity.

Now, I could tell that my aunt thought this was a great idea, when she brought it to my attention. But I had my misgivings. I was just out of seventh grade, which I’d only had one semester of. I’d taken in a lot of new information. I couldn’t handle what was in ninth grade classes when I couldn’t even fathom what eighth grade would hold! So, walking on eggshells, I told her very carefully and submissively that I didn’t think it was right for me, and I’d really rather not.

The next day, she returned, literally cornering me and yelling about how I had to do it because I was smart enough, don’t lie to myself. And my dad wasn’t going to pay for college. And I was getting enrolled whether I liked it or not.

It seems so minor. But that day was the day I climbed my favorite apple tree, sitting high in the branches where nobody could see me, and started dragging a sharp piece of apple wood across my skin.

So, much of the summer consisted of going to a computer lab at the local university extension and getting on computers with my sister and cousin. I tried. I really did. I submitted a few assignments for the Earth Systems class. As in, the first two. But when it got to abiotic and biotic factors of the environment, I was completely lost. Besides, next to me on either side, my sister and cousin were playing around on the Internet. Of course, this was a classic thing with me. Everyone else played around while I got stuck with the short end of the stick—like when my sister always snuck out. I wasn’t about to let that crap happen again. So, I also began Internet playing.

But one day, my aunt came along, and sat beside me. Without thinking about it, the first thing I did was check my email. She glanced over at my screen and whispered, “Mac, what are you doing?”

“Checking my email,” I whispered back.

“No. Get to work.”

I blinked, about to say that my sister and cousin had been doing it too, and why was I getting blamed, but looking over at their screens, I saw strictly aunt-appropriate things. Traitors. But I wasn’t about to sink to that level. So I said nothing. I tried to do the work, I really did. But online classrooms are not my environment. I struggled (never making it past those darned abiotic factors) before they finally stopped taking me. Summer passed, and I started eighth grade that fall. I never said it to anyone, but in the back of my mind, I referred to that summer as the Summer of Hell.

While my sister was going to school in another city, I was allowed to go to high school at home. So, I got to go to school with our friend during my freshman year, when she was a junior. It was a great time. After school, she’d sometimes drive me home (again with the long detours), and others we’d go over to her house for a while and play Kingdom Hearts.

But, of course, the good times were not to last. Near the end of the school year, my sister got in trouble for staying out too late with this friend again. And now, my aunt was here to back my mom up. So, they devised the plan to put my sister on “lockdown.” She was sent to live at my aunt’s house (my cousin had moved out by this point), allowed no contact with friends, no computers, no phone, no TV, no music. Only books and school.

And then, my turn came. The last day of freshman year. Nobody taking roll, of course, so my friend, myself and some others decided to have a mini-party at A&W a couple blocks away. We were going to take my friend’s car, until she realized that was what had gotten my sister into so much trouble, so we walked. Had a great time. At the end of the day, I went home and took a nap.

Only to be yelled and shaken awake by my mother, who wouldn’t tell me what was going on, or what I had done wrong, just that I was getting in a car with my aunt.

Enraged with the dim disgruntlement of the half-awake, I grabbed my iPod (music always helps calm me down) and headed outside. I couldn’t argue with my aunt. I was too afraid of her. That’s the kind of woman who will steamroll you if you so much as look at her funny. Except, no sooner had I got out there than the iPod was confiscated. And it was a very quiet drive to her house.

There, I was told it was my turn on “lockdown.” Because I had been accepting rides from my friend when I wasn’t supposed to. And I had gone out with my friends, leaving the school grounds, without telling my mother. (Who had, actually, confiscated my cell phone when hers was broken a few months previously.) Never mind that I didn’t have her number memorized and didn’t know how to contact her without my cell phone. Or that I didn’t even think about it. My aunt assured me that yes, I did think about it, and I did deliberately spite my mother. No matter how much I protested my relative innocence in tears, I was assured of my damnation. And, realizing I was trying to break down a concrete wall, after that I just stopped talking. I listened silently as I was informed that I would not be going back to the local high school, but separated from my evil friend, and sent to the same high school as my sister. I cried myself to sleep, still trying to figure out what in the world I had really done.

Thankfully, the next day, I was taken to the library and told I could get one book. The Wizard Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, as I fondly recall. That book was my escape—my refuge from the madness of real life. I spent all day reading it until my parents came to pick me up, out of the blue.

Of course, I still didn’t have a cell phone. And I didn’t have computer access, as I was still on a less strict lockdown. So, I was cut off from all the friends I’d made once more with one brutal stroke. Most of them, I haven’t seen since that day.

And that fall, I started at a new school. Discovered the escape to be found in working at the local haunted house—an outlet for my issues. Developed the Mormon Goth persona, so there would be no more crying protestations against what I was considered too young to understand. I learned my lesson. Shut up and take it. Suck it up and deal with it. You can’t fight crazy with tears. You fight it by yelling louder. Drowning them out.

So yes, I do have social issues. I don’t tell people what I’m really thinking or feeling, most of the time. I’ve worked very hard to separate myself from feelings. That way, it doesn’t hurt as much when I’m second-best to yet another person. When I’m invisible. When I’m treated unfairly.

It took me a while, but I realized the Summers of Hell were plural. More than I could consciously remember, with all Mom had put us through over the years.

Hi, my pseudonym is Mac, and I’m a Mormon. Believe it or not, my life in a “good Mormon family” was my own hell.