Margaret G. Rutaquio
2007 by Margaret G. Rutaquio
I grew up being the daughter of the 1980s in the Philippines. It was an in between time between revolt and silence, of New Wave in music and the pervasive rock of the past two decades; the wave of mullets, teased hair bangs, and Mohawk hairstyles, of transforming ideas, and yet the cowering down still to old customs and beliefs.
I was the youngest in a brood of four, born on the seventh of the seventh month in 1978. My brothers and sister were older than me by about a mile. This means that they grew up almost close to each others’ ages while I grew up alone as a kid. The eldest of my siblings, my sister Victoria (her name was from Queen Victoria), was twelve years older than me. My brothers Hannibal (an unfortunate name from Hannibal the Great), and Alexander (from Alexander the Great) were ten and nine years older than me respectively. And I was their little sister Margaret (from Margaret Thatcher), whom they sometimes call “Pompom or Peipei” which I hated. They said that if I were born a boy, our father would have named me after Emperor Pompei, and since I looked like a boy, that would be the best nickname.
I was about five years old when my Mom left for Singapore. Due to the economic situation in the country, most parents sacrifice to be away from their children to support their families. So when she left when I was about five, my sister became my sole female influence. And since I was the only kid in the house the time that they were already adolescents, I was basically their toy. My father and my brothers would dress me up in boy’s clothes. Every time I would celebrate my birthday, I would usually have two sets of clothes – a dress or skirt and blouse, and a polo shirt and pants. To make the boy effect whole, my father would usually accompany me to get my haircut.
During those days in the Philippines, the old Samson’s-hair-in-reverse belief still prevailed amongst the elders. If Samson’s strength was based on the length of his hair, most old folks believed then that a child who can hide behind a pencil or barbeque stick, shouldn’t have long hair because all the nutrients that the child intakes simply goes straight to her hair. Thus, the long hair was the cause for being thin and sickly.
Once, he asked me to get a haircut yet again within the same month. “Your hair’s long again. It’s covering your ears,” my father said as I took several continuous bites of my hotdog.
“Tatay (Father), my classmates are wearing their hair long. Can’t I wear my hair long?” I asked with slight annoyance.
“You will lose all the nutrients if you wear your hair long. You’re already reed thin as it is. I’ll take you to the barber’s shop this afternoon,” my father replied firmly.
As we entered the Barberia, Mang Andoy, the barber, teased, “Oh, pare (friend), your junior’s here again.”
“Oh no. This is not my junior. This one is my youngest, and she’s a girl.” Tatay said.
Mang Andoy asked me to sit down. Using an atomizer, he sprayed water all over my hair, my face catching little drops of mist. Then he started nipping at my hair for a clean-cut siete hairstyle. The haircut was simple. The area on top of my ear, going to the back down, should form the number (7) seven. Then at the back of my head, the hair should be cut short to about a half inch above the hairline.
“She wants to have long hair so just leave a tail for her at the back which she can grow.” Tatay added with a smirk.
And so Mang Andoy left about half an inch of hair in the middle of my nape to serve as my “long hair” which was a tail in effect.
When we got back to the house, my father called all of us.
“We’ll all watch Dirty Dancing, and then eat at Aberdeen Court Restaurant afterwards.” Tatay announced this when we came back from the barber’s with my siete haircut with a short tail at the back. My father and mother, my sister, two brothers, and I climbed onto a taxi an hour later. I sat on my father’s lap in front. I wore my new shorts with suspenders, white shirt, and Kaypee high-cut rubber shoes.
At the Odeon theatre, we went up to the Balcony and started watching Patrick Swayze dance with an actress with blonde curly hair whom I forgot the name. After a while, I felt a need to pee. I whispered to my sister that I needed to pee.
“The CR (comfort room) is there behind us at the top behind the highest seats. See? There is a sign which says He and She.” My sister said in a whisper.
I nudged everyone’s knees and my brother tried to trip me. I almost let out a punch at him but they were all complaining that I was blocking the movie. I moved quickly and bounded the few remaining steps up to go to the door with the sign that says, “SHE.”
As I was about to enter, the lady guard outside the CR suddenly said, “Oh, why are you here? Don’t you know that this is for “SHE!” You go to “HE!”
Before I can reply, she said, “Ay, maybe you don’t know. Come here.” She said and then grabbed my arm to lead me inside the CR. She dragged me a short way to something like a lowered sink. “Here, you can pee here.” She said.
I lost it then. I started shouting, tears of anger and embarrassment in my eyes.
“What the! I’m a girl! You didn’t even allow me to speak! I’m a girl! I’m not going to pee there!” She smirked, looked at me incredulously and left. Her laughter outside the door burned my “siete-exposed” ears. I was close to tears, but having been raised like a boy, I couldn’t bear the thought of people seeing me cry.
When I finally went down the stairs back to my family, I started throwing a fit in front of my father. I told them in top speed and in an angry voice about my experience with the lady guard.
“If only you allowed me to wear my hair long, I wouldn’t be this embarrassed! Everyone always thinks I’m a boy!” I said to my father.
“Sh! Quiet!” My father said.
Nobody was listening to me. I don’t think anybody wanted to.
“Don’t you want that, you can use both comfort rooms. You can go to the men and the women’s comfort rooms. You won’t have a problem when you get to have LBM (Loose Bowel Movement).” My annoying brother Alex said.
Upon hearing this, they all started laughing while the boy and girl in the movie were shown dancing romantically. Other people in the audience turned their backs to look, finding the profile of a girl or a boy, or whatever hybrid, standing dejectedly at the aisle amidst a chorus of laughter.
I stood there, embarrassed and defined by my hair, but not quite understanding what I was. In the middle of laughing and crying, I settled for dejected silence.
After that, I got caught up in a lot of in-betweens in terms of my preferences, yet I’ve always secretly longed for long hair. By the time I got into high school, and started getting interested in boys, I found my voice and decided.
Whenever I would remember this incident, which was
actually just one of so many others, I tend to start running my fingers
through my dark brown, half-back-length-long hair, raise an eyebrow, smile
curtly, and find it all very painstakingly amusing.
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