The In-Between

by Jane Palmer


When you are young
you are taught
that blue and yellow
make green.

You are taught 
girls cannot be boys cannot be girls
nor somewhere in between.

You are taught
the ABCs
and the 123s.

You are taught 
to keep the peace
to stay quiet
and to say please.


You are taught
what should have been known.
You can’t go alone.

You learn 
to play with your brother 
and the other boys
until the streetlights come on.

You learn 
there are good guys 
and bad guys.

You learn 
right from wrong.
You learn to go along.

You learn
to keep your head down
and to do what you’re told.


At thirteen you learn
you are somewhere in between.
You still want to play with toys
but also have crushes on boys.

You meet your first love.
He has a skateboard and 
a Nirvana t-shirt. 

you sing: ‘Come as You Are’
as you try to learn the guitar.

You learn 
to take risks
to have your first kiss

your first smoke
your first drink
your first joint
you don’t get caught.
Until you do.


Like that time
Your dad came home early
from work.
For once.

You learn
to be more careful.
To tell better lies.

You learn
to get them to
leave you alone.

You learn to be the 
good kid 
who is also a deadhead.


You learn 
how to tease the boys.
You flirt.
You lift your skirt.

You learn
these boys don’t listen
when you say “no” or “please”
or “stop.”

You learn
you aren’t the first girl
to be called a whore.

You learn
to change how you dress.
You wear combat boots and
XXL shirts on your small frame.

You learn 
to perfect 
a mean girl glare 
in the mirror.


You learn
to be an expert at being 
avoided; unseen; 
invisible; not beautiful.

You learn
to survive.

To avoid blame. 
To avoid shame.
To avoid pain.

You learn
to fight so the other kids
leave you alone.

You learn
Your brother can’t protect you
since he left home.


At fourteen you learn
to embrace the in-between
a girl dressed like a boy
ready to destroy.

You meet your second love.
She has an Anais Nin book and 
a Cure t-shirt.

you sing: ‘Boys Don’t Cry’
in her car.

You sing so loud, while so high.

And you think: This is a lie.
They do cry.
At night.
When they think no one can hear.

You think about
your brother’s tears. His fears.
What he has to hide. 
What remains unclear.


You are taught
by the girl in the Cure t-shirt
to unlearn
what came before.

You are taught
to be loud,
to be seen.

You are taught
to be open,
to be loved.

To be wrong,
to be right.
And you are taught

to love living in-between.

About the author:

Jane Palmer (she/they) is a (social science) professor, researcher, and activist in Washington, DC. When she’s not reading, writing, sewing, or hanging out with her family and friends, she is dreaming of—and working toward—a world without violence. Twitter: @riskhope

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