On yesterday’s blog, I talked about growing up on Keiper Court on the West Side of Cleveland. I lived there until I was six or seven.
The address was 3310. On the front of our house, we had a white plastic plaque with red translucent numbers. I think I remember that because, one time, a number fell off and my father had to glue it back on.
I didn’t know what addresses were until after I started school. In my 5-year-old mind, I reasoned that the numbers on houses served the same function as license plates on cars.
I also didn’t know my name until I started school. I’d always been called Butch. Except by my older sister, who called my Jane.
She still does to this day.
On the first day of school at Orchard Elementary, we had roll call. Our teacher, Mrs. O’Malley, called our names and, one at a time, my classmates raised their hands and said, “Present.”
I remember feeling alienated because I thought I was the only kid in my kindergarten class who hadn’t been called on.
Mrs. O’Malley looked at me and asked, “Are you Irvin?”
“No, I’m Butch,” I said.
“Then your real name must be Irvin,” she told me.
It wasn’t ringing a bell. I’d never heard the name before. My father was Irvin Sr., but people always called him Ozzie or Sonny.
“No, my name is Butch,” I said.
“Your real name is Irvin,” she insisted.
This went on for quite awhile until I resigned myself to humoring Mrs. O’Malley and letting her call me Irvin.
Then she asked if I knew my address.
Things really started to go downhill from there. I thought she was asking me if I had a dress.
In spite of my sister calling me Jane, I was comfortable with my gender from a very early age. But now this.
I decided to nip it in the bud.
I grinned at Mrs. O’Malley and said, “Don’t be silly, I don’t have a dress.”
Then I got to meet Mrs. Middleton, the principal.
The three of us went round and round about my gender identity and my identity in general, but we couldn’t seem to find any common ground. I think they came to the conclusion that either I was the dumbest kid they’d ever seen or a smart-ass.
Of course, it was pure naiveté on my part. But, thanks to their persistence and the high educational standards of the Cleveland Public School system, I eventually gravitated toward the latter.