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Too Many Boy Friends?
Kenya Clark
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My name is Kenya Clark. I wear make-up, heels, jewelry, and nice clothes. I watch basketball, play video games, play fight, and eat Doritos. I exfoliate my skin but also get down and dirty on the court. I get my hair done, my nails done, and my feet done with the girls, but I can also throw my hair in a ponytail and crack jokes with the boys. I like the balance, but it took me a while to find it.

Back before I discovered my more feminine side, I was a total tomboy. And that meant I got all my advice from boys—even romantic advice.

“I just found out this boy Shane likes me,” I told my friend Quinton one day.

“What?! Oh, no, no, no,” Quinton said, practically yelling. “Please don’t tell me you’re thinking about going out with him.”

“Well, I just met him, but he does seem nice and I would like to get to—”

“Know him? Sorry, nope, not gonna happen,” Quinton said, finishing my sentence.

Quinton is one of my best friends, and he’s very protective of me. He is never shy about telling me exactly how he feels.

“Isn’t that dude in the 11th grade, and he’s tryin’ to talk to a 9th grader?” Quinton continued.

“Yeah, but what’s the problem?” I snapped.

“The only reason he is talking to you is because he thinks you’re easy to manipulate because you’re young,” Quinton said seriously.

“How do you know?”

“Because I’ve been in the school longer than you and I know more about him. Just please stay away from him,” he replied.

This was the kind of insider advice I could only get from a guy friend, and in the end I was happy to get it. Quinton’s warning helped me dodge a big bullet: I found out that Shane was talking to multiple girls, and I was happy to be taken out of his rotation.

Always a Tomboy

I had a lot of guy friends like Quinton looking out for me. In fact, I’d always been more comfortable around boys than girls.

I wasn’t the average girl growing up, always fixing my hair and wearing dresses. I liked to run around, play basketball, get dirty, and play fight. I was like that because I had two older brothers who I idolized. Both of them were involved in sports, and I wanted to win trophies just like them.

Because I was such a tomboy, I only had guy friends. In a lot of ways, growing up with boys was beneficial. They would give me great advice on things, they looked out for me, and they taught me how to fend for myself.

Having boy friends was uncomplicated and easy when I was little, but as I got older, I realized a lot of weird things can happen to friendships when boys are involved. In fact, having guy friends became outright stressful when I began dating.

Catching Feelings

My boyfriend, Ryan, said he could handle the fact that I have boys as friends, but his jealousy came out pretty quickly. Once, Ryan called me when I was at a guy friend’s house. When I told him where I was, he didn’t like it.

“I don’t know why you’re getting mad. He’s just my friend,” I yelled.

“So? Why do you have to be in his house? Does he know about me?”

“Yes, all my friends know about you,” I replied, getting irritated.

“Not every dude is your friend and you keep calling them that. You act like if you offered them a kiss they wouldn’t take it. They’re guys,” he yelled.

“Listen, I told you I’m friends with a lot of boys before you even asked me out, so why are you acting so surprised?”

We had these arguments frequently, but I really couldn’t blame him because he himself had started out as just a friend, and then became my actual boyfriend. I knew he was afraid that one of my friends might have romantic feelings toward me just like he did. Plus, I had already gone out with three of my guy friends; we are human and if you spend so much time with a person you might start catching feelings.

At the same time, I felt like Ryan should trust me to handle myself. Adding to my problems, my friends’ girlfriends accused me of trying to get with their men. The last straw was an accusation from one girl that led to a fight.

Jealousy All Around

The drama began on MySpace when my friend Chris’s girlfriend sent me a message telling me to “stay away from him or else.” I responded by writing, “Listen, if you have a problem with me, say it to my face.” The following day in school, she waited until everyone was around to confront me in the hallway.

“What was that stuff you was saying over MySpace?” she snapped.

“You can’t read?” I asked. “I told you if you have a problem, then say it to my face, don’t write me over MySpace.”

The argument quickly turned physical. She was getting me at first, grabbing my hair, but once I got out of her grip, I started punching her face. A crowd gathered around. Finally, Chris ran over and broke it up.

“Kenya, stop!” he cried, trying to catch his breath. “What in the hell is going on?”

His girlfriend started yelling: “She tried to take you away from me! Now you’re only gonna hear her side? That’s messed up!”

“What are you talking about? I told you that me and Kenya are just friends.”

“Then why was there a message on your phone talking about a gift and that you and her gotta go together to pick it up?” she asked, looking confused.

image by Amanda Garcia

“Are you serious? I was asking her to come with me to choose a gift for your birthday. We went to pick it up last week.”

“Yeah, right,” she said. “So where is it? Today is my birthday and I want to see it,” she demanded.

Chris reached for his book bag and pulled out a jewelry box, then opened it to reveal a beautiful necklace. Everyone was shocked and quiet. When she reached for it, Chris pushed her hand away.

“Oh, so now you trust me because you see this necklace? I can’t take this anymore—you’re always accusing me of something and then you fight the girl who picked this out for you,” he said. “You should have believed me when I told you nothing was going on. But now,” he paused, “I’m done with you.”

My Transformation

Chris and his girlfriend eventually made up, but after that fight I started resenting all my guy friends. I was getting sick and tired of the dirty looks I got from girls, the arguments I had with their girlfriends, and the comments from my family when I dressed like a tomboy. I started to push my friends away and I decided to reinvent myself as someone completely new. I tried to reinvent myself as a girl.

Slowly but surely, I replaced my basketball shorts, tank tops, and sneakers with nice dress shirts, tight pants, and cute shoes. I also started doing my hair in curls and twists instead of the usual bun or ponytail. Then, for the last part of my transformation, I stopped playing basketball and started hanging out with some girls I was friendly with at school.

We hung out at the mall, nail salon, and anywhere else where you go in looking normal and come out looking nice. As the girls helped me with my transformation, they’d say things like, “Aww, you’re like a little Barbie doll;” “No, silly, that’s not where that goes;” and my favorite, “Trust me—you will thank me when I’m done.” It felt weird at first, but I did always like the results. I also liked the looks I got from the boys who once saw me as just a friend.

“Wow, Kenya, is that you?” my friend Josh said one day, amazed to see me looking girly.

“Yeah,” I replied, laughing.

“I mean, if you don’t mind, I would like to take you out,” he said.

It was weird to have someone I thought of as a brother asking me out on a date, but I generally liked the attention. It felt like boys were suddenly looking at me differently because I had on wedges instead of Timberlands, and nice-fitting jeans instead of sweats. It was as if they suddenly realized I was a girl.

‘Don’t Change Who You Are’

I missed my boys but I felt like I couldn’t hang out with them if I wanted to avoid drama. Then one day I had a good conversation with one of my old friends that made me see things differently.

“Look, there goes Kenya, Miss I-don’t-know-how-to-call-and-chill-with-nobody-anymore,” Patrick said sarcastically.

“I’m sorry, I’ve been busy,” I replied.

“Busy with what? You just changed up on us,” he said.

“No, I just need to try something new, but I haven’t really changed,” I protested.

“Yes you did. You don’t chill with us anymore or call us, and when we say ‘hi,’ you act like you don’t know us.”

“It’s not that. I just got tired of all the rumors and the constant fights I had with everyone’s girls,” I said impatiently.

“I understand, but don’t change who you are because of other people. If those girls are your new friends then they will still be there for you—like we were—when you’re being yourself.”

Finding a Balance

That last comment stuck with me. One day while sitting with my new group of girlfriends I decided to be myself a little more. So, out of nowhere I busted out saying, “Did anyone catch the game last night between the Lakers and the Heat?”

Once those words left my mouth, I thought I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. But then one of my friends said, “Naw, I only watched the last couple of minutes, but did you record it?”

I was so shocked I started laughing. The conversation switched to basketball, even though they didn’t know that much about sports. I helped fill them in on what they didn’t know, and just like that I started being myself again. It felt so good.

After a while, I realized that I could chill with the girls without worrying about being exiled for not knowing what a press curl was. And I could chill with the boys and just ignore the drama their girlfriends might try to cause. Eventually, I found my perfect balance. I learned a lot from both sides, from how to walk in heels to how to throw a mean left hook if a boy gets too close without my permission. My friendships—with guys and girls—have made me the person I am now.

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(NYC-2011-05-20)

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