You Don’t Know What it Feels Like to be a Woman

I leave Veronica’s apartment to take the Metro North to Sarah Lawrence, my small liberal arts college, where I will be couch surfing for a week until I leave for my year of studying abroad, since the British start school in October and returning home isn’t an option. (My divorced parents recently moved into a two-bedroom house together.)  Once in Bronxville, I take a cab to where my best friend Kelly is drinking on a picnic table with blonde girls. She runs toward me. She looks skinnier than she did in May; her black fishnets hug her tiny legs. Surprisingly she doesn’t bring up how I’ve published two essays about the sexual experiences we’ve had together. I’m relieved, but I still drink too many shots while sitting on the picnic table. My summer consisted of work, bad sex, and even worse dates. Maybe if I get drunk I’ll see a boy and have the nerves to talk to him.

An hour or two later, I fall down the stairs as we walk to her dorm room. Around midnight we agree to go to sleep, she in the bed and me on a moldy wooden floor. We never fall asleep though: The Birthday Girl calls me.

“Come to the North Lawn,” Birthday Girl says. “It’s my birthday.”

Without consideration we grab our whiskey and walk to the north quad. It’s Friday. It is still summer. I want to have fun—and that’s all. I run toward the Birthday Girl and her friends, my friends: Blondie, her boyfriend, a boy who may or may not be gay, and several other girls—a typical liberal arts gender pairing.

“Look at my tiara!” Birthday Girl screams as she swings in the air alone, her friends sitting on the wet ground.  “Isn’t my tiara pretty?”

I laugh at the Birthday Girl’s outfit: A yellow 1990’s halter-top, a flowing skirt, and heels. “You’re beautiful. I love it,” I say—and I’m not lying. It takes a certain kind of person  to seem like she’s matching when she’s clashing. “I love it. I love it. I love it,” I say.

“GOOD,” Birthday Girl says. She slides off the swing, onto the ground, and then rolls onto her back. She spreads her arms out. She looks as though she’s making a snow angel out of spilled beer and grass, but she’s not. She’s just drunk.

Or maybe she’s more than drunk. “It’s hard!” Birthday Girl screams. “It’s hard to be a woman! I’m a fourth wave feminist, okay? I’m a fourth wave feminist!”  Kelly groans and starts to walk away.  Blondie and her boyfriend look at me, roll their eyes, and then follow Kelly. Eventually, I am left alone with a girl in a tiara screaming that she’s a fourth wave feminist.  I feel at home, because home has always been something I love that makes me want to throw up. She never asked about you, I think. She only asked you about herself. I remember this. I compliment her again; I just want to talk to people, but then I remember myself. I join my friends that walked away from Birthday Girl, because they are smarter than me and know that home is something you run away from, not something you compliment. I need to hang out with less girls, I think. I need to hang out with a boy who appreciates me. A boy will understand me.

***

I sit on the north quad with Kelly, the site of last night’s celebration. She wears a gorgeous Kentucky Derby style hat. I say I want to watch parents move their children turned freshmen into the dorms. A mother drives away in her mini-van with her mouth wide open. As her child snorts his first line of liberal arts college brand coke, the mother’s empty nest syndrome begins—and I don’t care. I just want to find a boy to love me during this week of couch surfing.

Kelly and I walk toward a group of R.A.’s sitting on rocks outside the dorms. One of the R.A.’s is a cute straight guy I secretly want to fuck.

“What’s up?” the Cute Straight Guy says. “I saw your pubes on that website you write for. Great article, man.” He slaps my hands as if we’re bros.

“I don’t know you, but I saw you fuck that robot, too,” another R.A. says.

“Yeah, me too,” another stranger says.

“Could I borrow your sex toy?” Cute Straight Guy asks. I wish he wanted to borrow a little bit of my heart and my entire prostate instead. I know this will never happen, so I make a joke about how my gay cock was in the sex toy; straight guys love when I make self-deprecating jokes about how I’m a faggot. But it’s okay: I have Kelly and Birthday Girl.

Later that night, I’m at a campus party. At least fifty people crowd a room designed for three freshmen. I never notice what the room smells like or what’s on the wall, because the Cute Straight Guy stands in a corner making awful jokes that I laugh at because sweat drenches his purple shirt and backwards cap, and I love the sight of a sweaty boy.  Sweat means work; I’m a workaholic. I want a boy.

Since I’ve been drinking all night, I pee every five minutes. I barge through the apartment’s bathroom that already has a broken lock. A girl sits on the toilet, but she tells me to come in.

“You’re gay,” she says.

As she washes her hands I tell her to get out. She doesn’t understand why. In retrospect I wish I said, “You’re straight.” As I pee, Birthday Girl bursts open the door in the same outfit I saw her in last night.

“Get out!” I scream. I have an average size penis that I don’t want her to see.

“I already saw your pubes on that website you write for.”

I’m done peeing. I zip up; she takes off her skirt. “You saw my pubes. Now it’s time for you to see mine,” she says. She flashes me her pubes and smiles.

Freshmen year she drunkenly walked into my room and handed me a t-shirt she said she wanted me to own. I told her it was my favorite shirt ever. This is why we’re friends.

***
At noon the next day, I sit in my R.A. friend Jamie’s dorm room with her hall’s advisees and a gay freshman she has taken under her wing. Her room looks like a Target advertisement for wacky college lamps. Her bed frame legs broke, so everyone sits on a mattress on the floor.  The advisees already dress like true Sarah Lawrence students: Floral print dresses and flannel shirts—like an Urban Outfitters catalog come to life. The Young Gay Boy dresses like me. He wears cut offs and ties a flannel shirt around his waist.

The first years ask questions about academics and sex. I give them great academic advice, but I don’t write about this in my diary.

“Just give up on your sex life,” I say. “The guys are all fags.”

Jamie laughs. “Mitchell says crazy shit. That’s why he’s the best. Just ignore him.” That’s the only reason she likes me.

“They told us not to say faggot at the diversity assembly,” one advisee says.

“You’re catching on quick,” I say. “Maybe by the end of the semester you can write an article for the school newspaper about how privileged I am.” I love being a bitch. I don’t know why I’m enjoying being this big of a bitch.

“People say I look like Justin Bieber,” the Young Gay Boy says out of nowhere.

“People say I’m a fag hag,” Jamie says. She makes a kissy face at him. He laughs and slaps her back. She never asks him questions about his interests.

By 5 p.m. Kelly was sitting on a hot rock smoking from the bong my mom bought her for Christmas. I text Mom and tell her Kelly still uses the bong. Mom says, “That makes me so happy.” That’s the love between my mother and I. It’s strong. I smile, and then I want to throw up.

***
Sitting on the top of a group of rocks at an outdoor party, I feel like Mufasa watching over a kingdom, although I only feel powerless because I’m drunk. Dozens of freshmen stand around me drinking and flirting. The straight guys seem meek; they haven’t realized any girl will fuck them yet. The gay guys look nervous; they hover around girls who can’t hurt them but can’t love them the way they need. It makes me sad. I smile when I spot Birthday Girl with Nancy and Caroline; they are my friends.

I sit with Jamie and Blair, the only gay I’m friends with whose dick I haven’t touched. I use Blair’s shoulders as a balancing beam. I push on them to stand up. Jamie calls me sloppy. I shoot her a death glare and then stumble on top of Jefferson, a friend’s ex-boyfriend.

“Are you still dating my friend?” I ask even though I know they broke up months ago.

“No. Do you want to have a threesome?”

“Doy!” My shirt falls off my shoulder.

“For the love of God, Mitchell!” Jamie says.

“You’re too honest,” Blair tells me. But the truth is I’m not honest enough.

I see a guy that pissed me off two weeks ago in the city—the boy who could have been my Summer Boy.

Summer Boy had been flirting with me for two weeks. Things got awkward on the F train. He said he loved his family. His Mom was a happy-go-lucky veterinarian.

“My Dad just got out of a coma,” I said.

“Oh. That’s funny.”

At his rooftop party the next week I showed up in a sheer shirt and eyeliner; I was going to Le Bain at the Standard with my stripper BFF from Miami.

“Why are you wearing eye-liner?” he asked.

“Cause I’m going clubbing. I’m from Florida, remember?”

“Oh. You’re one of those.”

Summer Boy waves at me from another rock. I walk over and point my finger in his face. “You’re a fucking asshole!”

“What?”

“You’re a fucking asshole!” I walk back to my previous perch. The boy who wanted to have a threesome with me is gone. I text Jamie, straight girl queen of the gays, and ask where Jefferson went. Jamie never responds. Later I see her walking with drunk gays who manage to keep their shirts on their shoulder when they’re drunk.

***
The next night I sit with Birthday Girl, Nancy, and a Straight Boy on a white bench hidden by trees behind the school auditorium. Straight Boy stands in front of Birthday Girl. He wears a white t-shirt and jeans; the girls wear tight, revealing shirts. “I’m voting for Romney!” he screams in her face. “Abortion needs to end!”

“You can’t vote for him!” she wails, like Evita in that scene where she cries for Argentina. “You’ll ruin our country!”

“He’s just trying to piss you off,” Nancy says.

“He can’t vote for Romney!” Birthday Girl screams as her ex-boyfriend joins us. He wears a white shirt and jeans too.

“I’m voting for Romney, too!” Her ex yells. “Fuck Obama!”

“They’re joking,” Nancy says. “Just ignore them.”

“I’m voting Romney!” the boys scream.

“You. Can’t. Vote. ROMNEEEEY!” Birthday girl says.

I wonder why girls hang out with these boys. Then I wonder why I hang out with girls that hang out with these boys and then I follow the girls to a lawn, where the boys continue to lie about their absentee ballots and then I follow the girls to a dorm’s common room. I can turn around at any time. On the way to the dorm I pass Jamie. I wave at her. She ignores me.

“You were sloppy last night,” she says. Then she walks away.

I’m only hanging out with gay guys at Oxford.

Although the boys’ apartment already smells like a Chipotle burrito, their couch and table is clean. I sit with Birthday Girl, Nancy, and at least four terrible straight guys. Nancy asks how she could get rid of her hiccups. A boy walks in. Hiccup. He tells Birthday Girl he’ll give her free weed. Hiccup. Birthday Girl smiles. She’s always the Birthday Girl even when it isn’t her birthday.

“Oh god,” Nancy says.

“Hiccups?” I ask.

“No. Caroline just got dumped.”

“Good. He’s an asshole. She can do better. I want her do better. But still that sucks. Oh God. I feel so bad for her. Oh God. She’s going to be so upset? Fuck. Hey, where’s the weed?” Birthday Girl says.

Caroline walks in crying. She collapses on a couch. She tilts her head toward the ceiling. She wails. “I’m so sorry for crying,” she says. Nancy pets Caroline’s shoulder. Hiccup. “I’m so sorry for crying.”

“It’s okay,” Birthday Girl says.

“You’ll be okay,” Nancy says.

She cries harder. “I’m sorry.” She’s really not. She’s miserable and wants to cry, although her tears are a waste: She will get back with her boyfriend the next day. I contemplate leaving the apartment and telling everyone that they don’t know what it feels like to be a single gay manboy surrounded by girls all the time. But I’ll look like I’m jealous of everyone giving Caroline attention.

“How do I get rid of the hiccups?” Nancy asks.

I think about writing this essay and publishing it online. I will hurt people, but I don’t care. The truth is more important than anything. I see myself thinking about what I will write, as I drive away from Sarah Lawrence the next day, listening to Madonna’s “Human Nature.”

I’m not your bitch.
Don’t hang your shit on me.
It’s human nature.

But what if I treat them like my bitch? What if I’m hanging all my shit on them? That thought doesn’t feel like home. It just makes me want to vomit.

***

I wake up in Birthday Girl’s bed in my underwear the next morning. Later, her roommates will ask if I fucked her, and she will explain that I am a gay manboy. On Facebook we see that Caroline got back together with her boyfriend.

“Why do you hang out with those guys?” I ask.

“Because Nancy and Caroline want to. I tell them those guys are assholes, but they say they’re just joking.”

I don’t understand what she’s talking about.

I go to Starbucks. The novelist I used to work for posts an essay on Facebook she read on The Cut. In “My ‘Diet Caffeine-Free Rape’” Elissa Bassist writes about the denial she experienced when her boyfriend raped her.

“We want it to be true that if we are hurt, it’s not by anyone we love.”

Suddenly, I know why home feels like vomit, and why I love home anyway.

As I drive away from Sarah Lawrence, I listen to a different Madonna song.

Hurt that’s not supposed to show
And tears that fall when no one knows
When you’re trying hard to be your best
Could you be a little less

Do you know what it feels like for a girl?

I don’t know what it feels like to have a guy I love scream in my face about abolishing abortion. I don’t know what it feels like to date a guy who treats me like a piece a shit. I don’t know what it feels like to be mocked for rolling around on the ground in a tiara screaming about feminism. But, in some ways, I know exactly what it feels like to be a woman. I know what it feels like to be hurt and ignored by the women I love.

About Mitchell Sunderland

Mitchell Sunderland is freelance writer and social media manager in New York. His work has appeared in VICE Magazine, Thought Catalog, The Billfold, Rookie Mag, the Huffington Post, and Emily Books Quarterly. He has ghost tweeted as and managed social media publicity campaigns for authors at Simon & Schuster, Crown/Random House, and Plume/Penguin and various tech companies. He tweets and tumblrs regularly. Email him about your life and his work at mitchell.p.sunderland@gmail.com.

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