Where I grew up, a real boy was preoccupied with cricket or other contact sport, was uninterested in anything remotely creative, and was outside with the other boys in the blistering heat while the girls played wedding inside the house during family parties.
I was the oldest cousin on both sides of my family. I enjoyed the attention while I could until my cousins and little brother started soon rolling in. Being the oldest male in this situation brought over my head unsought responsibility. As I never portrayed the desired characteristics of your average Sri Lankan male, my presence was automatically deprioritised once my sibling and cousins came. But I was still the default blame when someone would get hurt during playtime.
I was captivated by female cousins’ dolls, playhouses, and their sparkly hair accessories. Every time my parents would announce a visit to my Aunty’s house I would absolutely fizz up with excitement. My aunt (my mother’s brother’s ex-wife) was always such an advocate for me and would love me like her own son, always (I will write more about her soon!).
Anyway, I would greet the family and rush to play dress-up with my cousins. Much to my family’s dismay I would sit gossiping with Trisha and Tashya while braiding their hair and admiring their Barbie collection. I remember they had a few out to play with and they had seen better days, but a good handful of them would be kept in their original packages, like pristine priceless collectibles.
Trisha, Tashya, and I would create the most elaborate stories where the dolls would take center stage to play out our scripts. I quickly became a pro hair braider and would soon take my position as lead creative director for all playtime. We’d play on the veranda while the boys burnt off their lunch in the sun throwing around an aged tennis ball with a second-hand cricket bat. I can still hear my nana’s screech as the boys would throw the ball against her gate and it would ring like a church bell on Sunday morning. (For context, My nana, my family, and my Aunty’s family all loved down a very small private lane that only a Suzuki swift would fit into).
Wow, ok, so another memory just flooded in from when we were visiting some family friends who had two daughters I was close with. We were playing in their room and I remember resisting not being too indulged in their barbie dolls or fabulous accessories. We were on the topic of birthday cakes and they had asked me what kind of cake I wanted and I blurted out:
“A Barbie cake !”
I still remember the roaring cackles that followed this and the deep pit in my stomach I felt.
It was the feeling of, oh wow this is not normal, I am not normal, why am I not normal.
It’s a strange feeling reflecting back on these rainbow fuzzy moments, at the time I would think these were intrusive thoughts and the devil was trying to stray me away from what a real man is meant to be.