Donald D’Haene has spent much of his life proving he can do anything that girls can.
My ’79 graduation yearbook entry was: “Anything girls can do, I can do better.”
“Like to see you have a baby!” was my best friend’s response.
Of course, at 17, since I was a feminist before I even heard that term, let alone knew what it meant, I said that with tongue firmly planted in cheek. I just enjoyed reversing the gender stereotypes of my peers.
I was raised in a hierarchal, conservative area (small-town Ontario) in the 1960s.
I recall a girl sitting behind me in my grade 12 business class piping up, “Boys cannot be secretaries!”
Personally, I thought, was she for real? But verbally, I debated her in class.
“You do know that male secretaries came first!”
Even after our female teacher backed me up, Miss Clueless wouldn’t budge.
Technically, I would graduate with the top marks in typing and shorthand in the entire school and that award included a job placement as, guess what? Okay, for this ‘boy Friday’, they renamed it “typing clerk.”
Guess my fellow student and I were both right, but her narrow-minded thinking followed me post-graduation.
“We don’t have male tellers,” a bank manager insisted. “You’ll have to take the manager training test.”
And then, “You can’t be a check-out boy, boy!” the major grocery chain store owner proclaimed. “That’s a girl’s job. Besides, you’re over qualified.”
I first performed for an audience in’87 at the age of 27. After my second performance, “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” won a competition, you guessed it—I got the acting bug.
Along the way, I was chosen as a Top 10 Annie Lennox Look-a-like in a Much Music competition, won a London United Way Media Contest Best Performance as Madonna with the help of a Mini Me and an Austin Powers, and even won a Men Interactive contest for Best Drag in North America with $2500 US in prizes.
Gee, my year book entry sure was prophetic!
That was an interesting part of my life. Especially considering the fact I never liked dressing in drag.
I’ve always said, if I were a woman I’d prefer to dress like a lesbian. Yes, I much prefer Ellen or Rosie’s wardrobe but who’s going to pay to see a guy in makeup in men’s clothing?’
Since I hated makeup, stockings and those god awful pumps (girls, I do not know how you do it!), you can imagine drag certainly wasn’t a career of choice for me. In fact forty “performances” later I decided to try out what people called the “real theatre”.
On my first audition I nabbed a role in a Canadian play by David French, Jitters. I remember I wanted to get upset and not giggle in this comedy in my “big moment” so I asked a fellow actress to slap me back stage before I went on every night. It worked every time! She really got into it, too.
I had a fun run of shows: “House of Frankenstein,” “A Chorus Line,” “7 Stories,” “Opening Night,” “Moon Over Buffalo” and “The Drowsy Chaperone.” It’s funny the things you remember. Twenty years ago in “Lend Me A Tenor” at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre: an actor choking me in character on stage, an extremely hot summer night with no air conditioning in the house, and the mother of all—our first full run through with set and costumes was on opening night.
Those were the days.
I remember at this actor’s workshop, the instructor asked me to be a giraffe and afterwards remarked, “You weren’t a convincing giraffe.” I replied, “I can live with that.” It’s funny because for a long time I collected giraffes—I love them.
I learned a lot from all those experiences: don’t be afraid to try anything. You might discover who YOU really are and what you want to do along the way.
I did. I don’t think it is a coincidence that I’m now a theatre critic and editor.
But that old high school entry still haunts me now and again.
Like when I received an inside scoop that a television show would be looking for a replacement for a female co-host. Never one to let a little thing called gender stop me, I contacted the powers-that-be. After all, I have guest co-hosted shows with both male and female co-hosts. Even guest hosted solo on an hour-long radio show. So qualifications were not the issue. Within minutes, my going out on a limb was rewarded with a truth that broke my fall.
“We’re looking for a female replacement.”
“Does winning a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like contest count?”
“I can type 100 words a minute, take shorthand and my middle name is Michiel…”—
Nevertheless, that supposed rejection wouldn’t stop me.
I applied to replace a blond news personality who’s going on maternity leave. And what a relief, a couple of other guys went up to bat as well! I don’t know if they were “blond”, but I sure was.
This time it got real interesting as the public could vote on their favourites. I heard from people voting for me all the way in the USA! Wow, finally I have a chance to be “girl Friday”, temp though it would be!
But no guy made the top five.
I guess my best friend was right, after all. Maybe anything girls can do, boys can’t do better, but I’ve had one hell of a life trying.
Images courtesy of the author