Category Archives: Misc

She is one with the Force, and the Force is with her.

Oh, look, I’m crying again.

I’ve done that quite a few times this year. Not for myself, no — for me, in my personal life, it’s been a pretty good year, all things considered. I’m happy. I have a lot of good things going for me. But it’s been a rough year in other ways. For many of us, even if we haven’t lost someone we near and dear to us, it’s been a year of loss. We lost an election. We lost some of our heroes.

It’s hard to have lost Muhammad Ali, a man both black and Muslim, outspoken and unapologetic about his politics, at a time when Islamophobia runs rampant and people of color are fighting to get our nation to acknowledge that their lives matter.

It’s disappointing to have lost Janet Reno, the first woman to serve as Attorney General of the US, in the same year we failed to elect our first woman president.

It’s a miserable confluence to have lost David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael — all men who refused to be bound by traditional conservative ideas about masculinity — in the same year we elected a president who embodies much of the worst of toxic masculinity.

There are others, too — plenty of other entertainers and writers and public figures who were part of the landscape of our lives. People whose art comforted us, or made us feel, or taught us something about ourselves. People who inspired us to reach for the stars.

And it feels like a particularly cruel blow this year when so many of us — facing an incoming presidential administration that stands in direct opposition to our ideals — have taken up the Rebel Alliance as a symbol of solidarity and hope, to have lost Carrie Fisher.

I didn’t cry for all of those people up there, but I did cry for a couple of them. I’ve seen people sniping on social media at others for grieving publicly over celebrity deaths, but in a way, I think that kind of grief is representative of humanity at its best. How amazing our capacity for caring is, that someone we don’t actually know at all can mean so much to us.

Carrie Fisher meant a great deal to me.

I’m a Star Wars geek. My first tattoo was the symbol of the Rebel Alliance. But while Luke is the hero of the original trilogy of films, Leia was my hero.

Leia is smart. She’s tough. She’s capable. She’s handy with a blaster. And she’s a goddamn boss.

externalWatch her in A New Hope and notice how angry she gets to be. She’s been captured by the enemy, they’ve blown up her home planet, and then two borderline incompetent dudes she’s never seen before show up and declare that good news, they’re here to rescue her! So yeah, of course she’s angry. But her anger matters. Women are taught not to be angry. We’re supposed to be sweet and soft-spoken, and thankful to the men who arrive to help us in our difficulties. We’re not supposed to yell at them, tell them they’re doing a shitty job of helping us, and then demand that they start following our instructions. And yet Leia does all of this, and — here’s the kicker — she isn’t narratively punished for it. She doesn’t get her comeuppance and get put back in her place, meekly following the boys’ lead. She goes right on being an outspoken badass who is eminently capable of taking care of herself.

review_princessleiaorganaboushhtbs6_stillaWatch her in Return of the Jedi and see what a badass she is. In an echo of the events of A New Hope, she marches straight into Jabba’s palace disguised as the bounty hunter Boushh in attempt to rescue Han. Yes, she gets captured, yes, and there’s the infamous gold bikini, subject of a great many adolescent fantasies. Carrie Fisher was openly critical of this element — she resented being reduced to the role of slave and sex object. And yet, for me, this piece of Leia’s story is one of the most powerful. I don’t see a woman who has been reduced to a sex object. I see a woman whom someone else has tried to reduce to a sex object, and — this is important — I see a woman who refuses to give in to that pressure. It’s pretty clear to me in those “slave Leia” scenes that this is not the portrait of a woman beaten. It is the portrait of a woman defiant, smart enough to play along for now, biding her time and waiting for her opportunity. And when the opportunity comes, she seizes it. She strangles her oppressor with his own fucking chains. From my perspective, that’s a pretty potent feminist metaphor.

She never quits, never so much as thinks about giving up. She doesn’t shirk responsibility, or avoid danger. She leads, and others follow. She does what is right. She refuses to be the damsel in distress. She walks calmly into danger for the people she cares about. She rescues herself.

She is the vivid beating heart of the Rebellion.

Fisher’s Princess Leia was an iconic role, and one that has always had special significance for me, and for so many other woman who grew up with Star Wars — Leia was the kind of character we were often starved for. She was a badass woman who was every bit as capable and worthy of respect as the men around her.

To see her return in The Force Awakens as General Organa was pretty damn powerful. My hero Leia, still fighting the good fight, still doing the hard work, still leading and doing what needs to be done. And finally she gets a title that honors her accomplishments, rather than her (adopted) family heritage.

carriefisherdoggaryOf course, there’s more to Carrie Fisher than Leia. She became an incredible woman in her own right. She was funny. She was a talented writer. She was outspokenly feminist. She was candidly imperfect. She talked about her experience of mental illness openly and honestly, without shame. She gave exactly zero fucks about what anyone else thought of her. She lived her life to please herself. She loved the hell out of her dog.

I had the pleasure of meeting her, ever so briefly, during a photo op at a comic con only a few months ago. She was gracious and friendly during our quick interaction, and just so vibrant.

I didn’t truly know her, but I’ll miss her all the same. May the Force be with you, Carrie.

I’m With Her

Hillary 2016

Tomorrow I’ll cast my vote for the first female presidential candidate ever to appear on a major party ticket in the U.S. This information, I know, comes as a surprise to exactly no one who knows me.

I’ve defended my choice over and over again, privately and via social media, to people who disagree with me. And yet, while I’ve been very clear about the reasons I cannot support Donald Trump, I think perhaps I’ve been less clear about the reasons I do support Hillary Clinton. Recently, I’ve seen a number of people, including old friends, railing (not at me, but in general) against voting for Hillary “just because she’s a woman,” so I do want to be very clear about this.

I am not voting with my vagina. (Come on — those voting booths are tall. There’s no way my vagina could reach the ballot.)

I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton just because she’s a woman. Yes, it is meaningful to me that we are on the verge of following up the first person of color to be president with the first woman. And yes, I’m thrilled to cast this historic vote for her.

But no, I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton with my vagina.

I’m voting with my mind. I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because it’s clear to me that she is eminently qualified and capable, tough and steadfast, smart as hell and absolutely prepared to take office. Donald Trump is bluster and bravado, anger and fear, utterly lacking in substance — full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because I want a president who knows her shit and stands her ground. I want a president who isn’t going to say one thing, and then deny saying it an hour later. I want a president who knows and can employ the language and the attitudes of politics, because the United States doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and our president must take her place on the world stage, interacting with the heads of state of myriad other countries. I want a president who can stay calm and composed in tense or volatile situations. I want a president who thinks before she speaks (or tweets), who values education and intelligence, and who is willing to put in the work of actually being president. I want a president who won’t walk away when the job gets hard and thankless, who will own her mistakes and learn from them.

I’m voting with my heart. I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because I want a president who believes in America and all of its people. I’m voting for Hillary because I won’t be ruled by fear and hatred of the other, and I don’t want my country to be either. I’m voting for Hillary because I don’t believe we need to take our country back or make it great again — I believe America belongs to all of us who live in it, and there is much about it that is great already (and yes, much room for improvement as well). I’m voting for Hillary because I want a president who does not constantly mock and belittle others for the crimes of being disabled, or fat, or not pretty enough. I want a president who shows civility and compassion towards others, not one who bullies and harasses. I want a president who believes in moving forward, not back. I want a president who cares about more than just herself and her ego.

And while I’m not voting with my vagina, I’m absolutely voting with my body — my queerish female body. (Sidenote reminder: not all women have vaginas, and not all people with vaginas are women.) I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because I want a president who will safeguard my right to bodily autonomy. I want a president who recognizes that my sexual and reproductive choices are mine to make, and who will protect my right to make those choices rather than threaten me with punishment for making the “wrong” ones. I want a president who will defend my right to decide what is right for me, my family, my life, and my body.

I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton because she’s a woman. I’m voting for her because she’s smart, capable, and up to the job.

Hillary Clinton is human. She’s imperfect. Sometimes she makes mistakes, and she’ll make more.

And I don’t agree with her on every element of policy. She’s not my ideal candidate.

But here’s the thing: Never before, when I have, in every election, voted for imperfect men — men with whom I disagreed on various elements of policy, who were not my ideal candidates but who I believed were nevertheless the right choices to take on the job — have I been expected, or felt obligated, to prevaricate, to equivocate, or to qualify my vote in this way.

When I came to that realization, I made it a point to stop doing it, to stop qualifying my choice to vote for her with the language of, “Well, she’s not perfect, but…” I say it now only to make this point. I will not say it again.

I’m not ashamed to vote for Hillary Clinton. I’m not voting for her because I believe I’m stuck choosing the lesser of two evils. I am voting against Donald Trump, yes, abso-fucking-lutely, but also, and as importantly, I’m voting FOR her. I believe in her. I believe she will make a damn fine president.

And I’m not just voting for her. I’m voting for an America of forward progress, of equality, of decency. I sincerely hope that America will prove itself tomorrow to be that country, and not the country Donald Trump believes it to be.

Ruining Your Childhood

About six years ago, I wrote a personal essay about dressing up as a Ghostbuster for Halloween. It was written as an example for my students, but it was also an important story for me, that I wanted to tell.

Today, a few days after the premiere of the new Ghostbusters movie featuring four women in the titular roles, and in the wake of continued outrage from dudebros across the internet that these women dare to think they’re worthy of wearing a proton pack, I’m feeling compelled to revisit that story.

I was born the daughter of a pescatarian feminist flower child and a gearhead hippie whose number had come up in the draft. They’d grown up in rural Illinois, found each other, lost each other, found each other again, moved to even more rural Illinois, and some time later, there I was.

One of the major themes of my youth was that I could be anything I wanted to be, and do anything with my life that I wanted to do. Essentially nothing was really off limits. Want to go to church because the other local kids all do? Sure, no problem. Want to dabble in witchcraft? Sure, that’s cool, too. Want to read up on Buddhism? Yeah, of course, check it out. Want to learn about cars, or try your hand at woodworking, or play the flute, or do gymnastics? Absolutely, find what you love. Want to grow up to be a veterinarian, or a paleontologist, or an astronaut? You can be any of those things. You might have to work hard to achieve some of the things you want, but you can do them.

This is all some attempt to explain why a small moment in early grade school became such a cardinal moment in my own personal history.

The simple truth is just that I believed, like most children do until we teach them otherwise, that my world was limitless. I could be anything I wanted to be. And somewhere around the age of 5 or 6 or 7, what I wanted to be was a Ghostbuster.

maxresdefaultSo I became one for Halloween. I had the jumpsuit, I had the proton pack, I had the PKE meter, I had the trap… It was glorious. I walked into my class Halloween party fully geared up and ready to bust, and I was so excited about this costume.

And one of my classmates looked at me scornfully and said, “You can’t be a Ghostbuster. Ghostbusters is for boys.”

In retrospect, this shouldn’t have been surprising. I have one of those personalized children’s books, with my name inserted into the story, where I get to go on an adventure with the Ghostbusters. And the drawings in that book of the “Kari” character are all from the back only, so that theoretically, the child receiving this book could project themselves into it. But the drawings are all very clearly of a little blond boy. There was no option for a girl character.

In my memory, though, this is the moment the entire weight of the world’s sexism and gender expectations and bullshit crashed down around me. I’m an ardent, unapologetically vocal feminist because I have so often in my life felt mired in the swamp of that bullshit. Because I have always liked “boy things” as well as “girl things” and have been made to feel unwelcome, or sometimes simply invisible, in the hobbies and pursuits that I love. Because I have frequently straddled the line between feminine and masculine, or moved between the binaries in some way.

Because when I lost my last teaching job, my principal told me I wasn’t maternal enough.

Because men on the internet have accused me of being ugly, or fat, or sad, or lonely (as though these things are worthy of condemnation) because I disagreed with their opinions.

Because in college a young man harassed me, stalked me, broke my dorm room window, and devoted a page on his website to me, because I turned down an invitation to watch porn with him.

Because in high school a man at a bus stop reached under my skirt to grab my ass, and another man on the bus rubbed his erection against my thigh.

Because in middle school, I trained myself not to laugh out loud, because boys didn’t like girls who cackled loudly instead of giggling musically, the way pretty girls in books always do.

Because when I was a little girl, a little boy told me I shouldn’t love something because it wasn’t for me.

I could go on. Every woman you know has a litany like this. Every woman you know has waded through the bullshit, is still wading through it.

But I wasn’t, when I walked into that classroom suited up as a Ghostbuster. Not until someone else told me I should be.

I have often said that was the day I became a feminist. I doubt I knew the word at the time, but I absolutely embraced the basic concept.

I just read a lovely piece yesterday written by Violet Ramis Stiel about her father, the late Harold Ramis, and her perspective on the new Ghostbusters movie. In it, she quotes her father as having explained to her, about the ardent Ghostbuters fans in her own school who would mob him on the playground to ask for autographs, “When people get really excited about something, we don’t care if it’s ‘real’ or not. We just want to get as close to it as we can.”

2014-02-24-HaroldRamis-thumbIt’s what I was doing, when I picked out that costume for Halloween. I was the kind of geeky kid who would watch PBS science specials for hours. The Ghostbusters, especially my hero Egon, solved scary problems with science! That was awesome, and I loved it. It had never truly occurred to me that gender was relevant to any of this, or to my ability to appreciate it. I just wanted to get as close as I could to something I was excited about.

It’s been disappointing, though not surprising, to see that hordes of adult men never managed to outgrow the idea that Ghostbusters was for boys. I know that even if those outraged internet men who need to understand this somehow make it to my blog, they won’t really hear me. They’re too busy being outraged that “their childhood is being ruined” and claiming that “women aren’t funny anyway” and generally pitching a fit because any demographic other than their own is being “pandered to.”

But if you grew up thinking that Ghostbusters was for you, you were right. If you grew up thinking it was only for you, and people like you, you were wrong. It was for me, too, and for people like me and unlike me in every possible way. It was for anyone who loved it, or found some bit of themselves in it.

If you’re upset that the new Ghostbusters movie isn’t for you, then you know what, you’re right. It’s not for you. Stand back and let the people who might love it, who might find some bit of themselves in it, enjoy it, if you’re not able to.

I haven’t seen the new film yet. I’ll be seeing it this weekend, and I’ve been mostly avoiding reviews. When it was first announced, ages ago, I was so worried. “What if it’s bad? What if it’s a terrible movie and everyone takes it as further proof that women can’t front big popular movies, are not funny, and can’t pull people into theaters?” After all the cycles of vitriol and anger and fragile masculinity (oh my god so fragile), I honestly don’t care anymore. Maybe it’ll be great, maybe it’ll be good, maybe it’ll be mediocre. Doesn’t matter.

If just one little girl, anywhere in the world, watches it and believes that she can be anything that she wants to be, including a Ghostbuster, that’s good enough for me. And this time, no one can tell her otherwise. The proof is right there on the screen.

NPR’s Top 100 SciFi/Fantasy Books

Last week, NPR released a list of the top 100 science fiction and fantasy books (excluding children’s and young adult novels) according to a reader’s poll. The list is reproduced below.  I’ve color-coded it based on my own reading.  Books (or series) that I’ve read in their entirety are green.  Books (or series) that I’ve read portions of, but not the whole thing, are blue.

There are a few books that I read abridged versions of when I was younger (thank you, Great Illustrated Classics), but for some reason never read the full version later.  (Specifically, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The War of the Worlds, and A Journey to the Center of the Earth.)  I’ve marked those blue as well.  Bradbury’s Illustrated Man is in blue because, while I’ve read a great many of the stories that come from that collection, I’ve never read the collection itself, complete with frame story, in toto.

I’m more than a little disappointed by the list in several ways.  The inclusion of The Wheel of Time at #12 is irritating.  I admit, I enjoyed the first few books in the series, but it quickly devolves into interminable lengths of stagnant plot, unsympathetic characters, and bits of vague sexism.  The fact that it is ranked higher than anything by Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula K. Le Guin, or Peter S. Beagle is a real shame.

Speaking of Peter S. Beagle, I’m glad that he made the list, but he really should be higher than #55.  I really like Watership Down (#32), and I read my way through most of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series (Dragonflight makes the list at #33) when I was in junior high and high school, but I’d have put The Last Unicorn above both of those.  Beagle’s an incredible writer, but perpetually underappreciated.

Octavia Estelle Butler signing a copy of Fledg...
Image via Wikipedia

I’m also saddened by the fact that Octavia E. Butler got completely snubbed.  A black woman writing in a field dominated by white men, Butler was a treasure whose work explored a variety of social issues including race, class, gender, and sexuality.

There are, by my count, 14 women included on this list which features a total of 74 authors.  Honestly, that’s more than I expected to find (though far less that what I would like to see).

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin

6. 1984, by George Orwell

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

25. The Stand, by Stephen King

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore

74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson

96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

Girls can be ghostbusters

ghostbusters-squareI ask my students to peer review each other’s papers, but before they do so for the first time, I like to give them a practice round with a paper whose author’s feelings they can’t hurt.  Since the first paper I assigned this year was a personal narrative, I wrote my own personal narrative for this purpose.  That narrative is below.

Before I get to it, though, let me say a few things about it:

This was a quick first draft.  I wrote this in the space of an hour or two, saved it, and did not look at it again before I printed off copies for my classes.  I did not intentionally “plant” any errors or issues within it for students to find; it’s an honest draft.  My students asked me if I had done so, but that would have been counterproductive.  The purpose of the exercise was to give students a chance to practice reviewing and critiquing a draft, just as they would be expected to do with each other’s papers.  It’s not a “spot the errors” game.

It’s an autobiographical piece.  This incident really did happen, and the main event appears in my memory in more or less the way I have described.  As with most autobiographical writing, though, I have taken certain artistic liberties.  I don’t remember exactly how old I was when this happened, nor do I remember my teacher’s name at the time.  I’m 95% sure that I’m correctly remembering the classmate who said this to me, but it’s possible that I’m wrong.  We certainly were never friends, but I very much doubt that he would describe me as a “nemesis” in the way I have described him; that’s a construction from my own head.  I don’t remember if I talked to my mother about the incident immediately after it happened.  And I don’t know that I was as cognizant then of the implications about gender as I have claimed, but I do know that it’s an incident that has stuck with me and become something of a mental/emotional talisman.  It has become very symbolic of my own identity as a feminist.

When I gave it to my students, I told them that a friend of mine had written it.  Only after they’d read and critiqued it did I reveal that I’d written it.  Some of them had guessed that might be the case, but it did not seem to affect their ability to critique it.  In fact, they did an excellent job of reviewing this and had a lot of useful, constructive feedback to give.  I wish they could turn the same critical eye to their own writing, though I know how difficult that can be.

When I asked them to assign a grade to it, they offered me a C or a D.  Ouch.   They should be glad they don’t grade each other’s papers.

In one class, as they read, I overheard two students murmuring to each other about my favorite ghostbuster.  “Who likes Egon the best?  That’s ridiculous.”  Poor Egon.  Socially awkward brainiacs don’t get enough love.  Velma was my favorite Scooby-Doo character, Egon was my favorite Ghostbusters character.

A number of my students wanted to correct “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” to “I am not afraid of any ghosts.”  Apparently a disappointingly large proportion of them had never heard the Ghostbusters theme song.

And now, the narrative itself:


My parents have always told me that I can be whatever I want to be when I grow up, as long as I work hard and put my mind to it. I can be a firefighter or a teacher or a veterinarian or an astronaut or a paleontologist. I know that girls are expected to behave one way and boys in another, but I know this only in the vague way of a child for whom it has never been a real concern. At school, the boys mostly play with boys and the girls mostly play with girls, but there are always some boys who play with the girls, and some girls who play with the boys, and the segregation has always seemed to be based more on interests than gender. I move relatively freely between both groups. I play house with the girls and war with the boys. I have never been told that my gender somehow precluded me from doing something, or if I have, it has never made an impact on me. Today, it all changes.

It is Halloween. I am seven years old.

At school, every year, we hold a Halloween party. Everyone brings their costumes, and when it is party time, we get dressed up and do paper crafts and eat the cupcakes that Katie or Ashlee or Jennifer’s mother has provided.

I am particularly excited this year because of my costume. I know I can be anything I want to be, and what I want to be right now, more than anything, is a ghostbuster. This is my costume, and it is awesome. I have a stylish khaki jumpsuit with the Ghostbusters logo on the breast. I have a PKE meter so that I, like my hero Egon Spengler, can locate and measure the Psycho-Kinetic Energy emitted by supernatural creatures and events. I have a proton pack, complete with a detachable yellow foam proton stream, like a miniature Funnoodle of ghost doom, so that when I find the ghosts, I can bust them. I even have a trap, complete with a foot pedal that opens the hinged doors on top, so that I can hold the spirits until capture and hold the busted ghosts and later deposit them into the containment unit back at headquarters. Who ya gonna call? Me.

The morning drags by. Math, spelling, whatever. We fidget in our seats. The air in the classroom crackles with restlessness, barely controlled excitement. I’m still terrible at reading clocks–their faces, crowded with lines and numbers, fluster me–but I know it must be nearly time. Somewhere Mrs. Marshall has stashed the cupcakes, frosted orange with candy ghosts and sprinkles, that Ashlee’s mom brought in this morning. She must have Halloween candy hidden in her desk to give to us–Milky Ways and 3 Musketeers, and Snickers which, while no good in and of themselves, can be traded to those less discerning classmates for more Milky Ways and 3 Musketeers.

Finally, finally! It is time! We are released into the hall to collect our costumes from our lockers. Some slip them on over their clothes; others go to the bathrooms for a quick change. I suit up. Slip on the jumpsuit, zip it up. Hoist the pack onto my back, make sure the proton gun is securely holstered. Coil the trap cord, carry it in one hand, PKE meter in the other.

Into the classroom I march, head held high. Today I’m a ghostbuster, and I ain’t afraid of no ghosts. My classmates look at me, sizing up my costume. Am I a contender for the coveted prize at the Millbrook Fireman’s Halloween party tonight? I size them up in turn.

Ryan snorts softly and gives me a haughty look. “Girls can’t be ghostbusters,” he says. “Ghostbusters are only for boys.” In the years to come, he will become something of a nemesis to me. Even now, we are nothing like friends. I should not care what he says, but he is, and will remain, one of the stars of the class, whom everyone inexplicably loves, while I am well on my way to being the girl who can move easily enough through the various social circles but belongs nowhere.

“Girls can’t be ghostbusters,” he says, and suddenly everything changes for me. I don’t yet know the word feminist, but I have just become one.

Now everyone is looking at me, waiting for my response. I turn my nose up at Ryan, ignore him. I cannot think of a comeback that isn’t lame. “Yes they can,” or, “You’re dumb,” or “Shut up,” don’t seem to cut it. I am afraid if I say anything I will cry. I will not give him the satisfaction of making me cry. I clutch my ghost trap and my PKE meter and turn away. I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

It is a shock, to find that my gender matters in this way. I know boys and girls are different, they have different parts. I know that my parents did now know my gender before I was born. I know that as a baby I wore mostly neutral, unisex clothes, and that people assumed I was a boy because I wasn’t dressed in pink frills. I know that some things–some toys, some colors–are “boy” things and some are “girl” things, but no one in my household has ever bothered to worry about such divisions. What I did not know, not really, until now, was that people would try to circumscribe me because of my gender. I did not know that people would tell me I could not do certain things, could not enjoy certain things, because I have girl parts instead of boy parts. This flat proclamation–“Girls can’t be ghostbusters”–is mind boggling. What does being a girl have to do with busting ghosts?

Later, I talk to my mom. She tells me to ignore Ryan, don’t listen to him. I can be anything I want to be, and it doesn’t matter if I’m a girl or a boy. I know she’s right. I can and I will be anything I want to be. But I also know that it does matter if I’m a boy or a girl. It may not matter to me, or to my parents, or to my ability to perform any job I choose, but it matters to other people. I don’t understand why. Twenty years later, I’ll still be trying to understand why other people insist on caring which kinds of parts I have. But, at seven years old, I have learned that gender matters, and that knowledge will have a profound affect on the person I become. Because, knowing that it does matter, I can not forget it. I cannot ignore it. Instead, I will confront it. In the future, I will not stay silent and bite back the tears. I will stand proudly in my ghostbusting uniform as proof that girls can be ghostbusters if they choose to be.