What Boys Yell Like

I clearly remember the day I started to care about what others think of me. I was a lanky, long-legged eight-year-old, fearless and free of concern. During recess, my classmates and I were playing catch. One of the catchers chased me; thanks to my long legs I was fast and challenging to get. But he was faster than I. He reached out, I yelled… and he got me.

Later my friend commented that I sounded like a boy when I yelled. I was stunned. Like a boy? When I yelled? What does that even mean?

My friend’s comment stayed with me. I listened to other girls, and realised they didn’t yell; they screeched. While I yelled loudly and in the timbre of my voice, everyone else was sporting high-pitched mouse cries. I understood what my friend meant – my yell was different from their cries.

Different was bad – my friend’s expression when she enlightened me was clear on that. The obvious next step was to change my yell to a mouse cry. I practiced when I was alone in my room. It was easy enough, even though it didn’t come naturally. It felt scratchy and I was certain a boy yell would slip out if I was caught unawares. But I could re-train; everything would be fine.

From that day on, it was all mouse cries for me. The next time we were playing catch, I happily screeched along with the other girls, and no one ever commented on my boyish yell again. It was gone, successfully replaced.

Had my retraining stopped at my yell, I doubt I would remember that particular day. Unfortunately, once I got going on changing for the better, I couldn’t stop. My new aim was to become Miss Mainstream: never stand out, only like the things the other kids like, go with the flow. I told people I liked olives, because the boy I had a crush on liked them. I worried about being too fat because the girl I most admired was even skinnier than I was. I bent my knees whenever we took a photo, because I hated how abnormally tall I was. I stood with a hunched back to hide my budding breasts.

I remained in this self-eliminating phase for a surprisingly long time, right up until teenage rebellion took hold. And if blotting myself out weren’t so sad, I would actually be proud of my strength and determination during that time. After all, I know how tough it was to look at others and want to be them – not be like them, but actually be them.

I’m turning 30 this year. And I guess it’s one of those things you do when facing a big birthday – you think about your life, about how young and stupid you were back then, and how wise and all-knowing you are now.
This story is one of the things I have been pondering. How it shaped me as a child, as a teenager, as an adult. It took me a long time to get over the urge to conform. I’m fine with disagreeing with the mainstream – I hate bacon, I don’t like Taylor Swift songs, and I totally didn’t participate in that weird mullet dress trend from a few years ago.

But sometimes I still hesitate. Especially when it comes to voicing my opinion, and especially if the topic is the latest divisive issue. And even more so when discussing it with a group of friends that I like and want to keep. Better not look like a boyish-yelling idiot. Because, clearly, that didn’t go down well. Maybe I’ll just shut up and preserve my inner stability.

And often I wonder: What would my life be like now if I’d never changed my boyish yell? I wish I had been cool enough to resist – it would have saved me a lot of trouble. Alas, back then I thought – no, I knew – that I was the weird one.