What I learned by age 10

When my knees were small and knobby

and the trees all called my name,

dirt smudged my cheeks

and I’d linger in the rain,

I was told “just be quiet”

when the thunder rolled in me.

I was told to layer my small breasts

so that the boys didn’t have to see.

When my hands were light and little

and my nose a button still,

I was told to help my mother

as my brothers “manned” the drill.

I was told to be obedient,

I was told “don’t make a fuss.”

I was punished when I hollered,

if I spat or if I cussed.

As I grew a little older

and began running to compete

I was told, “It’s not fair to boys”

when nipples hardened underneath

sports bra and athletic tank

as if the fault was mine

that the boys were taught my body

was either dirty or a shrine.

And I grew a little older still

thinking my body was a sin

for simply just existing

in the beautiful skin it’s in;

thinking that my words

weren’t as important as the boys

that my enthusiasm

was just irritating noise.

And so I’m still unlearning

what I grew up to understand:

that my body is for sex or shame

based on the judgement of a man;

that my words must be gentle

in order to be received

because if I speak too loudly

it isn’t “lady-like,” you see.

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