I’ve started reading comics again. I used to read them when I was still in elementary school and hung out with boys. I wasn’t trying to be, y’know, cool or anything. I just preferred video games and Legos and acting out post-apocalyptic scenarios with my Barbies.
And SkyDancers. Because at the right angle, you could strafe someone and it was hilarious.
I hung out with boys because they liked those same things. Maybe other girls did, too, but they never said anything. They played house with their Barbies and thought video games were silly and boys had cooties. I didn’t have the patience for that. I didn’t quite comprehend why I wasn’t allowed to like those things. It all seemed perfectly harmless.
It was easy enough to ignore. I was in my home, with my friends, playing MarioKart and reading Spider-man and building towns out of paper and cardboard. My friends embraced this, challenging me to Pokemon battles and arguing over who was the best X-Man (if your answer is anyone other than Wolverine, you’re wrong). It was a pleasant little bubble, and I flourished.
I could handle having the other girls in my class talking about me behind my back. When my friends weren’t there, I would read under a tree during recess. I would ask the teacher if I could be partnered up with one of the boys
Then I went to a comic book section of the bookstore. And my bubble burst.
I usually just read whatever one of my friends brought to school or to my house. This involved a lot of X-Men and Spider-man, but with Marvel, there’s always crossover, and so I wanted to go check out some other characters I thought were cool. I tagged along with one of my friends to the comic book section.
I was looking at different things, sort of in a daze at just how much there all was. I recognized some stuff from what my dad told me he grew up on. I recognized characters from different issues, and was excited they had their own titles. I thought it was all really cool, and the more i poked around, the more excited I got.
As I got my bearings, I became aware of snickering. At me.
I realized very quickly that I had ventured into forbidden territory. I was a girl and this was boy stuff and I should get out. Their stares made it very clear. There are plenty of girl book for you to read. There’s a new Babysitter’s Club book out. Go read that. Stay away from the comics. They are boy stuff. These are not for you because you do not belong.
I bolted. I went to the young adult section and pretended to be super-interested in whatever the newest thing was. I didn’t read comics so much after that. I didn’t play my GameBoy in public. I kept the fantastic little worlds I built to myself.
I could handle the girls at school being mean to me. I wasn’t trying to be their friend, and all of the adults in my life told me that they were jealous of me because I was friends with the boys they had crushes on. I bought it, because hey, not really my problem.
But those boys… they liked the things I liked. And they rejected me for that. I was maybe eleven. I was just figuring out who I was and what I liked, and I was told that I was wrong. And I, for the first time, felt ashamed of being me.
I suppose I still am, a bit. I got back into comics through the MCU films. I finally mustered up enough courage to find a comic book store and check out a few things. I was stupidly quiet at first, darting in and out of the shop before anyone could say anything of substance to me. Gradually, I started to poke around a bit. I asked questions. Struck up conversations. And I was accepted. I wasn’t rejected, but I wasn’t lauded. I was just there. Which is exactly the reaction I wanted. I’m nothing special. I just like comic books.
A holdover from my formative days still remain. Every week, I walk into the comic book store, and I talk too much in this effort to get people to like me. Because maybe if they like me, they won’t figure out I don’t belong.
Except I know that, at least with that store, it’s totally not the case. I can ask a million questions and every single one will be answered without pretension I know, because I’ve done it. I didn’t feel stupid. I mean, I’m still pretty sure that the guy behind the counter wants me to stop talking, but that has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a girl and everything to do with the fact that I’m ridiculously awkward and don’t know how to take conversation-ending social cues.
It’s a step forward, believe it or not.
The store I go to, if you’re curious, is Brave New Worlds in Old City. It’s small, yes, but I like that about it. And they manage to cram a lot of stuff in there. Cozy. The word is “cozy.”