“Super Boy and Invisible Girl” – by Sophia Haggray

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Superboy and The Invisible Girl

“False idols aren’t welcome here.” Ms. X said, glancing down at me as I clutched my mother’s hand.  My mother paused, “That’s absurd.” she said “Surely you can make an excep-” Ms. X raised her hand abruptly, halting my mother’s demur. “We don’t allow our students to worship false heroes, it goes against our Montessori values and it sets our students up with unrealistic expectations in life, which can lead to a disappointing and unfulfilling future.” (How Ms. X said it was not nearly as eloquent.) Both women examined me.

The year is 2007, I was about four. It is the first day of school at the Latin American Montessori Bilingual (L.A.M.B) Public Charter School of Washington D.C. The week before, my parents had taken me to Tysons Corner Mall for the routine back to school shopping spree. I weaved in and out of  Nordstrom, JCPenney, and Macy’s, making it my mission to purchase anything and everything Superman-themed. I watched the show Justice League nearly every day, and I adored Superman. I was constantly in awe of his invincibility, strength, and valor. He could take any blow BOOM! POW! and still manage to get back up and fight. So there I stood, decked out in a Superman top and shorts, light up sketchers, with my Superman backpack and lunchbox ready to conquer preschool. My mother sighed, “Fair enough, tomorrow she will be dressed… differently.” She looked down at me with a merciful smile while running her hands through my braids. Ms. X begrudgingly stepped out of the way from blocking the classroom door, reluctant to even let me attend school that day, being so appallingly fashioned. This is my earliest memory of expressing my values through clothing. 

School days at L.A.M.B were slow. I was the only black girl in my class, and there were maybe two white children and all the other students were Latino. My teachers ignored me. Students only played with other children from the same race. One day during recess I sat on the swingset while all the other children were frolicked with excitement. I was alone. I remember that I was wearing a little houndstooth jumper, uncomfortable itchy stockings, and my brand new shiny patent leather shoes. As I surveyed the playground, I noticed all the other playsets were packed, all but one, the jungle gym. It loomed over all of us pipsqueaks, so tall that only the big kids felt safe clambering onto the structure. We all assumed that slipping and falling would SURELY result in death. “What would Superman do?” I thought to myself. “He’d climb, and save the damsel in distress at the top,” my inner voice declared. It was decided. I hopped off the swing and marched to the jungle gym. I began to climb, and I didn’t look down until I got to the top. I felt like I was at the top of Mount Everest! I raised my arms up like Superman and screamed: “I did it!” Nobody heard me. In my excitement, on the way down my slippery shoes lost their grip. I fell flat on the ground. I rolled over and grabbed my skinned knee. Just as soon as I had become Superman, I had become the damsel in distress. It took about ten minutes for anybody to realize that I had fallen. I was invisible and realized I wasn’t invincible after all. 

Ch. 2  Setting: Washington D.C Lafayette Elementary School Playground, Age 8

As I climbed up the stairs of the playset my burgundy soccer cleats made a loud clicking sound, CLICK CLACK CLICK CLACK. When I got to the top I held tight to the safety railing, debating whether I should take the slide down or opt for the more daring route and take the fireman’s pole. As I deliberated three kids sat at the other end of the bridge, two boys and a girl. They watched me and whispered. “Slide,” I thought to myself, “it’s much safer.” As I held onto the bar of the slide, one of the kids yelled: “WAIT!” I stopped and turned, facing the trio. One of the boys giggled, “Are you a boy or a girl?” he asked giggling. POW! A verbal blow, the worst kind. I pretended not to hear them and hopped on the slide. I’d been down this slope before. By the time I was eight, I had heard that question a million times over. I was heavily influenced by my two older brothers growing up, especially when it came to my fashion sense. When I got to the bottom I looked up at the kids, who now stood leaning against the railing observing me. “I told you, it’s a girl,” the other boy said. “No, he’s wearing boy clothes,” their girlfriend indicated, pointing at me. I started analyzing what I was wearing too: burgundy soccer cleats with striped black/neon green shorts, an Under Armor T-shirt accompanied by a survival bracelet, and to top it all off my world cup soccer jacket. “I’m a girl, and these aren’t boy clothes,”  I muttered annoyed. “No he’s not,” one of the boys said to his friends, shaking his head.” I lied, they were boy’s clothes, but I felt too ashamed of myself, to be honest. As an athleisure fanatic, I frequented the boys’ section in Dick’s Sporting Goods and fished through my brothers’ basketball shorts when color coordinating my outfits. 

Walking away feeling defeated, I held back tears trying to live up to the tough reputation that was assigned to me in school: I was a strong athletic girl before it was socially acceptable. I often felt conflicted with my clothing choices seeing as I knew myself to be a girl with feminine qualities, yet I loved sports and attire that allowed me to look good and feel comfortable while being active. Like a super-suit, my attire empowered me. Unfortunately, athleticism and confidence were traits that were perceived as masculine at the time and even today. 

Ch. 3 Setting: My home, and ⅘ Academy Decatur, Georgia, Age 11

“This is so difficult,” I thought to myself as I searched through my closet for the “girliest” clothing items I could find. Unfortunately, all of my clothes were north face leggings, Patagonia tops, Nike shorts, team hoodies, and sports jerseys. Nothing was “girly” enough. I  crumpled to the floor of my new room in front of my closet, surrounded by boxes. I had just moved to an Atlanta- Georgia suburb in Decatur. Tomorrow was my first day of 4th grade, I was transferring to the school mid-year and saw it as the perfect opportunity to recreate myself as a “Girly Girl”, I couldn’t pass this opportunity up, but it was hopeless. I couldn’t find any pieces that passed off the aesthetic I was aiming for. As I rolled over and stared at the seemingly endless pile of boxes, a shining beacon of hope sat folded on the top. A box titled “Asha’s Clothes” “MY OLDER COUSINS HAND ME DOWNS!!!” I had completely neglected this package I had received just months before moving. I mustered up my courage and climbed to the top of the pile. As I searched through the box I managed to throw together the girliest outfit possible. I stood in front of the mirror, and I felt like Wonder Woman. Going into school that week I was immediately accepted, not including the jokes made about my appearance the first day I entered the cafeteria. I was so proud of myself, I had managed to mute any aspects of myself that could be perceived as masculine. Until one day at recess, I acted somewhat out of character from my performance. I watched other classmates play a ball game in the distance. I sneakily slipped away from my girlfriends who were gossiping near the swings and joined the game. Finally getting to play on a sports team was exhilarating. I held tightly to my skirt securing it from falling (it was a bit big seeing as it was formerly my older cousins) I could feel the resistance of the wind against frills on my shirt. I caught the ball, raised my arms and scored a basket. Most kids cheered, two or three stopped. A fellow classmate interrupted my celebration and, with a look of disgust and two words 

 

“What’s that?” 

 

“What’s what?” I responded, confused. 

 

She lifted my arm and pointed at it: peach fuzz. 

 

“Uhhhh… hair,”  I said blatantly. 

 

“Yeah but you’re a girl, and girls aren’t supposed to grow hair there,”  She professed. 

 

POW! I suddenly felt a rush of embarrassment for something I never knew I should’ve been ashamed of. When I got home I rushed to my parent’s bathroom and grabbed a razor. I locked the door because I believed that what I “had to do” was shameful. Instead of asking how to properly shave I rubbed the razor against dry bare skin. After finishing, I felt sharp pains under my arms, blood ran down them. My girly armor hadn’t protected me from cuts and bruises. I wore long sleeves for the rest of the year.

Ch. 4 Setting: Suburban square, Ardmore PA 2019, Age 15

As I walked through Kate Spade I picked up and examined every item that appealed to me. I have come a long way. In the past, a store like this would have intimidated me, but now I have gained more confidence in both my femininity and masculinity. I wore gender-neutral clothing and had hair where and when I wanted it to be. I had so much freedom. An older white woman eyed me from the front corner of the store, scanning me up and down. I was wearing navy blue 90s grunge Doc Martens, white and blue men’s workwear overalls, and a cerulean merino turtle-neck from Gap. After I’d had my fill of observing the products, and the staring had worn me out, I decided to leave. As I walked out the door, the woman stopped me. I put on an internal super suit, preparing for the worst.  She put her hand on my shoulder and said “You look absolutely smashing :)” BAM! The suit did nothing to protect from what I was least expecting. The shock of the complement nearly knocked me off my feet.

Ch. 5 Setting: Friends Central School, Wynnewood PA 2020

I am writing this today on February 24th. It’s my sixteenth birthday. Art and fashion have an enormous impact on who I am., They have made me unapologetically eclectic and open-minded. I am an intersectional feminist. I have a deep passion for social activism. I have grown to appreciate that femininity and masculinity are valuable and interchangeable. I have kneaded these values into my life by becoming the costume designer at the Friends Central Upper School in Wynnewood, PA. Growing up, my family has relocated frequently around the East coast. At the time, the moves felt burdensome. However, I have now come to appreciate the benefits of having lived in Washington DC, Atlanta and Philadelphia. Diverse experiences have empowered me to be comfortable in almost any environment. I find this nomadic lifestyle enthralling, and enjoy experiencing different cultures.  I realized that my super suit doesn’t depend on what I wear, but it’s been inside of me all along.