Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories. If you can spare a few bucks each month to help me continue to produce this podcast, because you love it, or you love me, please check out Queerstories on Patreon and consider supporting the project. Also, follow Queerstories on Facebook for upcoming events, pics and other good shit.
Adrian Mouhajer is a non-binary lesbian Lebanese writer, fighter, and all-around class clown that never really grew out of it. They specialise in over-sharing and giving good hugs which surprisingly comes in handy when they fight because they prefer grappling over striking. They currently work at ACON as a Program Coordinator of Safety, Inclusion, and Justice, and they continuously overshare in a bid to promote having conversations regarding subjects normally viewed as too much for a Maccas drive-thru.
Adrian: The slur left his mouth quicker than my fist could meet his face.‘She-male!’ Blood spurted out of his nose, the same colour as my cheeks when I’d heard the insult. I’m seething as I dive my right shoulder into his gut. I bring us both down to the ground. My ears burn red hot and I can’t tell if it’s from the pain of the collision or from his words. I squeeze my fists hard enough to turn my knuckles bone white. I clench my jaw as I reach my right arm back to swing at his face again.
Just as my knuckles are about to connect, the door behind his back disappears and I lose my balance. We fall through the doorframe and land in an entangled mess on the classroom floor. His Lynx Vanilla Ice cologne fills my nostrils and I cough vigorously before scrambling away from him. My Arabic teacher, Mrs Jameel, appears before me, wearing the same expression as my disappointed mother. Her brow is furrowed, the deep-set wrinkles highlighting her age and her lip is turned up in a sneer of disapproval. I can almost hear the same chain-smoker growl underneath her tones as she raises her voice at us.
‘Astaghfirallah! Boys and girls shouldn’t play like this!’
My cheeks redden from shame and I bite back my words of indignation. I want to tell her that I was defending myself but she doesn’t want to hear it. As far as she’s concerned, the sin was mine as soon as our skin made contact. Before Mrs Jameel interjected, I was something in between, a “she-male” but now she’s clearly defining the binary lines and I still feel just as terrible as when Bilal hurled the slur at me. Our punishment has nothing to do with the fact that I punched him. If I’m a girl then merely touching a boy is enough to brand me a slut and that means she needs to make an example of me.
We both earn ourselves a detention. There’s a room at the end of the hall that we’re marched over to, and Mrs Jameel tells us we’re lucky that she’s not involving the principal. I wish I could tell her that I didn’t care. That she could bring the whole faculty over to yell at me about how a girl should act and they probably would get about as much success as my family does.
The detention room is dimly lit, there are a few desks within it, stacks of chairs on one end and peeling art pieces on the walls. A memory of years ago when this classroom was still in use. The air is stale and leaves a dusty taste in the back of my mouth. She assigns us 1000 lines each and puts us at separate ends of the classroom so that she can discourage further interaction. It’s quiet in the room except for the scratching of our pens and the rustling of paper when we flip to a new page in our workbooks. My adrenaline had spiked because of the fight but it finally begins to ebb away as boredom sets in.
Our physical distance doesn’t stop Bilal from whispering,‘Fucking tomboy!’ underneath his breath whenever Mrs Jameel isn’t paying attention. I can see him taking time out of his work to scratch insults about me into the wood of the desk he’s sitting at. He’s quick with my name but painstakingly takes his time with the L in “Lezzo”.
My temper flares up again and I tighten my grip on the pencil in my hand. I could snap it if I wanted to but I know that would just earn me further punishment from our supervising teacher. I begin to daydream about smashing Bilal’s glasses with my closed fist. I picture the fractured glass scattering like fireworks and can almost hear his surprised yelp of pain as the shards dig into his flesh. The beauty of the image calms me and I feel secure in the knowledge that I could easily break his nose if we were outside of the school grounds.
But I can’t stop myself from taking it personally in other ways. The girls always give me a wide berth because of the way I act. I can’t help myself from thinking that they can read my thoughts. I can always catch them looking at me with judgement in their eyes.
‘Why can’t you just act normal?’
They whisper under their breath when I pass them in the halls. I repeat it to myself internally while I’m sitting at my desk, scratching out line after line of: “I must keep my hands to myself and away from the opposite sex.”
Bilal is trying to get my attention again. He’s a wisp of a boy with glasses that are far too big for his skinny face. He’s making obscene hand gestures behind Mrs Jameel’s back as she’s writing something on the board.
I find myself losing my patience with him. I rip off a piece of paper and scribble an invitation into it before furiously scrunching it up and throwing it at his head. His reflexes surprise me and he manages to catch the paper ball before it lands. He slowly unfurls it, taking care to ensure that Mrs Jameel has gone back to her own work before beginning to read. After he’s done, he lifts his head up at me and nods.
We find ourselves in the courts, surrounded by a jeering crowd. There are boys screaming for blood as only school children can and the girls, despite their better judgement, are quietly watching to witness the outcome. As always, Bilal just can’t keep his mouth shut. ‘I bet the reason the girls don’t hang out with you is because you’re such a LEZZO.’
That one hurts. It hurts so much I can feel the pinpricks of hot tears of frustration in the corner of my eyes as I swallow down the insult. I hate him so much in that moment. I hate him enough to finish what Mrs Jameel interrupted. I throw my entire body weight into him, like we’re playing rugby on the school oval and he comes crashing down onto the concrete floor. I rear my head back when he takes a wild swing at me from below, and I return it with a lurching uppercut. My fist connects to his chin, and he cries out inpain when he bites his tongue. Blood spills out from his bottom lip and splashes my knuckles.
It’s not the broken glasses fantasy I was picturing. It’s better. I can see tears start to well up in his eyes and I take it as my cue to leave the damning scene before the teacher catches up with us again.
The girls look surprised at my victory and I look away from them with a shy smile. I’m not used to the way they’re looking at me. Not with disgust or judgement but with envy? I brush off my knuckles against my plaid green skirt. I walk alone and quietly down to the pick-up zone.
Years later, I wrap my hands quietly in the corner of my combat gym. My mouthguard blazes with pink and white, and Adrian is printed on the inside along with my phone number in case I ever lose it. I pop it into my mouth and grin, the plastic finding its familiar place along the grooves of my teeth. I finish up with wrapping and pop onto the mats to greet the coach.
He’s a burly Scot, with facial hair that makes him look like a goat which is fitting since to me he really is the G O A T. He’s shown me how to turn all my anger and frustration at the world into strength and how to be kind to myself.
The GOAT smiles at me and I find myself grinning back. He bumps my fist, and calls me bro.
In training, I find myself grappling with a girl around my size and she isn’t afraid of me. She fights like I do. The girls in my class want to get stronger like me, and they’re nothing like the girls I was so afraid of in high school. They call me sister, and I’m happy to be included.
Maeve: Thanks for listening. Don’t forget to check out Queerstories on Patreon where you can support the project for as little as $1 per month. Follow Queerstories on Facebook for news and event updates, it’s been a weird couple of years what with the pandemic and me becoming a parent but I’m planning some big things in 2023 and I’d love you to be part of it.