Luckily it didn't matter because boys could watch Clarissa too. She was cool. She was actually a cool enough girl that it was okay for boys to like the show too. In fact, my sister and I watched the show religiously. I even remember one year we were at my grand parent's house and had to sneak away from a family event down the TV in the basement so we wouldn't miss that week's Clarissa Explains it All. It was the one where her and Ferguson are contestants on Double Dare.
Okay, before I get further into this, let's slow down just a minute for those of you who grew up without cable or lived in Mongolia or some other country where American pop culture isn't the only topic of thoughtful discourse. What the heck is Clarissa Explains it All and who the heck is Clarissa Darling?
Well, let me start by saying simply "na na na na na."
Okay, yeah it was those neon years of the late 80s and early 90s.
Clarissa Explains it All was a basic family sitcom that centered around a fourteen year old girl as she navigated school, crushes, career aspirations, family, friendship, jobs and life. Clarissa would often break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience in little asides where she would give her thoughts on the episode's topic. She was smart, sarcastic, rational and witty, but also anxious too. She tended to overthink things and obsess over worst case scenarios.
|There was also her pet alligator, Elvis.|
What really made Clarissa stand out, and I think what really had an impact on me, is that she felt real. She wasn't a "type." You know, a type. Like how quite a lot of shows, especially kids shows, try to create characters in easily marketable categories based on a single characteristic; the smart one, the funny one, the jock, the artist or the posh kid. Throughout the series Clarissa was all of those things, or at least dabbled in them the way that we all really do. She was smart and creative and anxious like Lisa Simpson but also funny, irreverent and scheming like Bart. She was a three dimensional character. I think that's why people liked her. That's why I naturally liked her too.
|How could you not like those pants?|
That's why Clarissa was such an important character for me. As a young transgender girl still trying to figure out this whole gender thing, I had found a show that was cool for a boy to watch and that featured a cool, smart, well-rounded three dimensional girl as the star. It's still amazing to me to think that this even existed.
I knew I wanted to be a girl but wasn't sure quite what being a girl meant. Luckily, Clarissa was there on TV for me to see. She showed me that girls can be funny and sarcastic and outspoken. They could be weird and creative and design their own video games. Girls could be smart and being smart didn't mean that they couldn't also have a cool fashion sense. Girls didn't all have to like the same thing.
You could be a girl and have your own taste in clothes or music or TV. It was okay for girls to be ambitious but it was also okay to be anxious too. Most importantly, Clarissa Darling taught me that being a girl meant that you could be yourself and it was okay, even if you didn't quite know who you were yet. It's okay to just be yourself.