Life As I Know It

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My life, in hindsight, is hilarious. Right from birth I have been involved in all manner of ridiculous hijinks, beginning with the erroneous entry by a clerk at the registrar’s office of my gender as “male” on my birth certificate. This simple mistake did not seem particularly funny when I stumbled across it as a sensitive and moody 16-year-old whilst gathering all of the necessary documents the night before I went for my Learner’s Permit.

On the floor of my parent’s study next to the open filing cabinet, I stared down at my lap, frantically searching my mind’s archives for the detailed drawings of female anatomy we’d been shown in Year 7 Health, which I had instinctively filed away as potentially life-saving information. Mentally tracing the images, I ascertained that all of the visible bits that define one as a female were indeed intact. But my brain had already started on an alarming course of inquiry with the rampant speed of a runaway train: Why do I have that weird pain in my groin when I push on my belly button? Is it connected to where my testicles used to be?  Is that why I’m so tall? Is that why I don’t have boobs yet? Oh God, is that why I hate wearing skirts and dresses and always do hilarious impressions of dudes around my friends? And that weird scar just under my stomach, that’s got to be from something. Although it could be a stretch mark. No, it’s a scar. I didn’t even get my period until last year; maybe the lady hormones they’ve been secretly giving me hadn’t kicked in properly yet. That also explains the lack of boobs.What if I had both parts when I was born and they decided to make me a girl but they weren’t legally allowed to write female on the birth certificate because I still had a penis at that stage? OH GOD, WHAT IF IT GROWS BACK?!!!

As you can imagine, this train of thought lead me to a very distressing state. By the time I confronted my mother with the evidence of my hermaphroditism a mere five minutes after finding it, I was completely convinced that she had given birth to a little girl-boy combo. I burst into tears.

“Who else knows?” I whimpered, holding out the record of my freakdom.

Baffled though not surprised by my tears (like many teenagers, I was prone to melodramatic states of distress) she took the paper from my limp hand and shook her head slightly in total bewilderment. “What, darling?”

“That.” I pointed mournfully at the offending words. Gender: Male. 

My mother stared at the page with fixed eyes. She mouthed the words. I watched her eyes flicker and scan as she read the entire document from start to end several times, trying to process what she was looking at. Then the penny dropped and I watched her eyes widen in surprise.

Wanting reassurance that her reaction was due to the newness of the information and not due to her years of careful subterfuge being brought to a sudden end, I began to ask. “Am…am I…?”

She began to smirk, trying desperately to hide her amusement at what was, in hindsight, a completely ridiculous situation. “It’s a mistake, you silly girl. I’ll call them in the morning and have it fixed. Go and show your father, he’s the one that entered your birth record.”

Instantly my fear dissipated and was quickly replaced by indignance and rage. “IT’S NOT FUNNY! I have to show this tomorrow to get my licence. People are going to think I’m a freak! You guys are the worst parents ever! How do you not even notice that your only daughter’s birth certificate says ‘male’? WHY DON’T I JUST GROW A PENIS AND THEN YOU’LL BOTH BE HAPPY.”

Yep. That’s how it went down. By the time I saw my friends on Monday it was kind of funny. By the time I had to use my new, anatomically-correct birth certificate to prove my identity when enrolling at university it was really funny. And by the time I started a new job and was sitting around in the staff room with my colleagues, looking for a way to break the ice, it was hilarious. (NB I have since discovered that while it is indeed an extremely amusing anecdote, it is not appropriate fodder for first date material. Needless to say, that one didn’t ever call me again. Lesson learned.)

My life is full of these sorts of ridiculous, there’s-no-way-that-actually-happened-to-you misadventures. In Year 12 I macked on hardcore with a totally hot dude who I assumed was 18 but turned out to be in my cousin’s Year 9 class (yep) at St Patrick’s. My nickname for remainder of year: Polanski. (We’d studied Macbeth the previous year and unfortunately this occurred before Demi Moore and the Desperate Housewives made the idea of cougars seem acceptable.) At the time this whole situation was completely mortifying. I now appreciate the humour in it. Last year I returned from my brother’s wedding to discover an extremely agitated bird in my kitchen due to my dip-shit housemates leaving the back door wide open. During my efforts to remove it, I stubbed my foot so badly that I fractured my little toe. It also managed to shit on me twice mid-flight, once in the eye as I was looking up and trying to herd it out with a broom at the time. Five years ago my dad tried to have an affair with my best friend by turning up at her house while in the city for a business trip and attempting to woo her with the presentation of thoughtful gifts and a totally gross ‘American Beauty’ style prepared speech about the beautiful woman she’d blossomed into. (For the record, he’s no Kevin Spacey either.) 18 months ago I had a wart burnt off my leg, the pain of which resulting in my optic nerve shutting down which caused me to faint dramatically, exposing my underwear to a room full of people and receiving a whiplash injury to my neck for which I was required to wear a foam collar. Last year I was caught in a traffic jam with the window down when a really cute guy in the car next to me started to chat me up; my panicked reaction was to stare straight ahead and inch my car forward until he was no longer in my peripheral vision. A few months after breaking up with my ex I ran into him in the waiting room of my doctor’s practice where I’d just received a new Implanon birth control implant and an STI test due to all the newly-single intercourse I’d been enjoying. One time as I was driving home from work I gave my nose a really good pick, only to look up and see one of my colleagues grinning at me in the rear-view mirror. Last year at a wildlife sanctuary I was bitten on the foot by a penguin. (Okay, so the last one isn’t true, but you’re getting an idea.)

There are several ways to react to this kind of life, one that seems to be built on one ludicrous incident after another. I could lament my ill luck at having a dubious confirmation of my gender, terrible ability to accurately judge other people’s ages, shitty housemates, a sleazy dad, an embarrassing physical overreaction to pain, no flirting ability and a lack of grace in any number of social situations. Or, I could simply shake it off, laugh and embrace these awkward and absurd experiences as being the very things that make up life as I know it.

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Busted

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It is pretty fair to say that as I have matured (well, gotten older if not matured), it has become easier to deal with awkward social situations. The older I get, the less I care about what others think of me. However, there is still one social faux-pas that fills my chest with a flash of hot anxiety and drops my stomach to my knees; one particular type of incident that can turn my face redder than a baboon’s frenulum by even recalling its occurrence: being busted.

Maybe it’s a result of my upbringing by my very wholesome mother and the childhood influence of my slightly unctuous Christian grandparents – or perhaps simply the idea of having knowingly committed some kind of wrong – but whatever it is, the most shameful experiences of my life have involved getting busted in some way.

In Year 7, as a product of a tiny country primary school with a student population of around 25, I struggled to adjust to the social pressures and cultural shock at my 1000+ student high school. One day, in an attempt to appear “badass” in front of my peers, I orchestrated a jailbreak during maths class. Three of my friends agreed to provide a distraction while I vaulted awkwardly out of the open window into the garden bed below. There was no real strategy here; the plan didn’t actually extend beyond leaving the classroom. As my toe touched down on tan bark I was filled with a mixture of freedom and fear, and as adrenaline surged through my body I turned triumphantly to leg it across the oval when I was confronted with the two Year 7 coordinators strolling back from the office, staring at me with a mixture of bemusement and disapproval. I immediately considered my options – I could still leg it, although there was every chance that the fearsome and heavy-set Mrs Horner would clothesline me on my way past. I briefly considered scrambling back through the open window before the upsetting realisation that it was too high off the ground. So, with a reddening face and a leaden stomach, I waited to face the music.

That moment, and many like it, still haunt me in my adulthood. I often feel the hot sting of embarrassment and shame pricking my cheeks in remembrance of my past transgressions. The time my best friend caught me making out with a Year 9 student at a party when I was in Year 12. The day I wagged school to hang out at the local shopping centre with a bunch of delinquents and came face to face with my Dad outside Coles. The moment my ex opened the door of our walk-in pantry to find me shamefully stuffing my face with my housemate’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, straight from the box. The time when I was caught sitting at a colleague’s desk in the midst of a very caricatured portrayal of her many idiosyncrasies and stuttered out a brief and thoroughly unconvincing explanation before trailing off and staring at my feet.

Unfortunately, the frequency with which I find myself busted seems to have increased with age. A sensible person would look at this pattern and come to the conclusion that a reduction in the instances of irreputable behaviour a person engages in would in turn reduce the number of bustings that same person experiences. That’s what a sensible person would do. Instead, I have spent countless hours developing a list of potential escape routes, excuses and evasive manouevers to reduce the impact of future bustings. I have shared a few of these cover-ups below for those who are similarly inclined to be caught with their hand in the cookie jar (so to speak).

THE BUST: Ushering an “overnight guest” out the front door.

THE COVER-UP: Thank them for installing a new water-saving shower head in your bathroom and suggest that in future they make house visits at a more orthadox time of day.

THE BUST: Putting a product back on the wrong shelf in the supermarket.

THE COVER-UP: Look indignant and shout “Wait! THIS ISN’T ORGANIC PESTO!!” before storming off in outrage.

THE BUST: Someone walks into the room that you (with the assumption that you were entirely alone and would not be disturbed) have just farted in.

THE COVER-UP: Sniff the air inquisitively, moving towards the wall nearest the point of emanation before turning and saying “Dude, I swear there is a dead mouse back here. I can smell it again.”

THE BUST: Making an obscene or otherwise unflattering gesture – such as the double-handed air-wank or the pump-and-spank – behind someone’s back.

THE COVER-UP: Swivel those hips and shout “Hey, Macarena!” They will be so disoriented by your out-dated and unexpected 90’s novelty fad dance reference that they’ll probably have to sit down for a while.

THE BUST: Sneakily checking your armpits for BO.

THE COVER-UP: Launch into a series of neck and arm stretches or a full-length calisthenics routine.

THE BUST: Weird stuff in your internet browser history.

THE COVER-UP: Blame your brother/housemate/nephew/best friend. Include the phrase ‘God, he is such a weird pervert! I’ve never even heard of felching…’ for maximum effect.

THE BUST: Copping a perve at a male friend’s tightly sculpted abs/ass/chest/insert body part here (….ahem).

THE COVER-UP: “Dude, there’s a weird stain on your shirt/pants/naked upper torso. No, wait, it’s a shadow.”

**NB These cover-ups are not guaranteed to be 100% effective. For maximum protection against the after-effects of bustage, I recommend that you also practice making prolonged intense and accusatory eye contact with your appropriator. When used efficiently, it will cause the discoverer to back away in silent confusion and doubt whether they actually saw you doing anything in the first place.