iamdrowninginmusic said: Hey, I love your blog, you're such an inspiration to me. I wondered if I could be cheeky and ask for a promo? :)
Sitting down to dinner overlooking the Pacific Ocean she asked me, “Have you ever had a near death experience?” “No”, I was quick to answer, “at least not that I know of.”
“I have this recurring fantasy- if you can even call it that- that there’s this hitman hiding up on a hill somewhere with a loaded sniper rifle taking aim at all sorts of people. He has them in his crosshairs and his finger on the trigger…then he calmly says, “Bang.” But he doesn’t fire; he takes his finger off the trigger and dismantles the rifle, gleaming inside knowing that he holds the controls over life and death, and most of all, that no one would even have a single clue.
Sometimes I feel like he’s already taken aim at me and I just don’t know it.”
Courtney McCullough photographed by Haoyuan Ren
Courtney the Child
While driving through my childhood neighborhood with some friends, I pointed out my old elementary school when I was asked, “What were you like as a child?” I thought for a moment before answering, “I got good grades and did my work. I was also a loner who played by myself at recess.” Immediately, vivid memories of me on the playground reenacting scenes from my imagination came pouring in. I would act out every part of the play, even changing voices to be different characters. I knew all the lines, blocking, and imaginary prop list. In essence, I was my own writer, director, casting director, actor, script supervisor, and art department in one 6 year old girl.
Except that I didn’t think I was a little girl either.
In pre-school one of my teachers used to called me “Sybil” on the playground. I didn’t understand what she meant by that until years later.
During naptimes I was unable to sleep and wanted to keep playing so my teachers came up with a compromise: I would sit quietly and color while my classmates slept.
I switched schools in kindergarten and decided to create a whole new story for myself. I was absolutely convinced I had an older brother named Michael Jordan who played basketball for the Chicago Bulls. When my classmate’s parents picked them up, I’d always say hello and tell them about my brother. One of the moms asked, “What’s his name?”
“How old is Michael?”
“He’s older and really tall.”
“Is he in college?”
“No, he lives in Chicago.”
“Why is he in Chicago?”
“He plays basketball there for the Bulls.”
Given my young age and precocious nature, she simply smiled and played along.
I also had a mean streak in kindergarten. In my earliest known case of fat shaming, I called one of my classmate’s obese father a “fatso” when he came to pick her up. It was an un-provoked attack and very juvenile, to say the least. The other attacks were much more provoked. I had a classmate named Bianca who was a very spoiled girl. One day I was playing in the sand while she was swinging nearby. She kept kicking sand at me while bragging about her new sweater that her grandmother made- baby blue with a clown on it- and told me my clothes were ugly. I filled a bucket with sand, walked over to her, and poured the sand right onto her prized new sweater. She began screaming immediately and I was hauled to the teacher’s office to get chastised. In another incident, we had Show & Tell so I brought my Peter Pan and Captain Hook action figures to class. After lunch I noticed Peter’s sword went missing and I later found it on the playground dangling from a boy’s mouth like a toothpick. I asked him to give it back and he said, “its mine now.” When his father came to pick him up, I went and told him but he just laughed and dismissed me. In retaliation, I went to the cubbies and stole another boy’s Super Samurai action figure because I had just learned that it was okay to take what you want. I’ll never forget the way that boy cried and cried when he couldn’t find his Super Samurai. I realized that same day that taking what you want has consequences. I still have his toy to this day.
I was also tricked into eating ants once because a girl told me they tasted like strawberry jelly.
At home I played with Legos and action figures, spent my time drawing, and was obsessed with “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, Leonardo DiCaprio, and singing No Doubt songs.
I switched schools again and went through elementary school playing with the boys at recess. We played basketball, football, dodgeball, kickball, and soccer and I never saw myself as physically weaker or smaller though in pre-pubescent elementary school, I really wasn’t.
It wasn’t until middle school that I couldn’t physically keep up with the boys anymore. They ran faster, jumped higher, pushed harder and didn’t want me to ruin their games. I had to start hanging out with the girls on the lunch benches. For them, recess wasn’t playtime; it was sit around and talk about boys and put on makeup time. I couldn’t relate. Most of the girls pretended I wasn’t there and the few who did acknowledge me dismissively told me to go back to the boys. I remember one girl shouting, “You’re like a boy! You don’t even wear girl’s clothes!” She was right though. Even though we were required to wear school uniforms, I always chose long khaki pants and polo shirts, never shorts or skirts, and wore tennis shoes. To try and fit in more I begged my mom to buy me one of those monstrosities of a sweatshirt emblazoned with “GAP” on the chest that were popular at the time. I chose the orange one and my classmates teased me since apparently only gray and navy blue were the cool colors. When Adidas Superstars were the big thing, I begged my mom for a pair and even had them laced horizontally as was the trend at the time. After a few days, I decided they needed additional color, so I took a Sharpie to the toe and colored some lines in. You can guess that didn’t go over well with my classmates.
While all my classmates were being paired off in a systematic coupling cycle, I was left alone. None of the boys wanted to date me and the two boys that I thought were cute didn’t even know I existed. I went through the motions of day to day school life; went on field trips that I hated because I knew I’d have to sit on the bus next to someone I didn’t know- another loner perhaps- and then go through the all consuming struggle of finding my “group” to travel with during said field trips. In class I hated group and paired projects because I either got paired with a student no one wanted to work with or I got paired with a delinquent who wanted to copy my notes since I was regarded as one of the “smart kids”.
Yes, I was one of the smart kids. Until the end of middle school, I was taking advanced level English, math, and social studies classes and was even in Journalism and Yearbook when only 8th graders were allowed to contribute. I wrote some of the better articles for my middle school newspaper (and even came up with the paper’s name until I was overruled by the editor who was OBSESSED with “The X Files” and changed it mid-year the “The B Files”) and created photo collages that were published in the yearbook. One teacher regarded me as “mature for (my) age in (my) understanding” but that I also needed to “lighten up because childhood only comes once.” He was absolutely right and I’ll never forget those chilling words as he died from his battle with cancer some short years after that. What I couldn’t tell him then was that I hated every minute of the social experience of middle school; my classmates were mean, I “hung out” with a group of girls that didn’t even acknowledge me just so I wouldn’t have to sit by myself and became physically inferior to the boys I used to play sports with.
During down time in class, I would sit and draw roller coasters and design imaginary theme parks complete with lines, restaurants, bathrooms, and shops. When I tried to engage in my classmates, I was told to “go back and draw your roller coasters.” So I did.
I was never physically violent but I remember punching one boy in the back of the head as hard as I could because I was so upset by how he was treating me. He was taken by surprise as much as I was.
Outside of school, my childhood was filled with activities like piano lessons, league basketball, Chinese school, and Tae Kwon Do. With the exception of Tae Kwon Do, I hated all of them and tried to find any excuse not to go but my mom was insistent saying “You’ll appreciate this when you’re older.” I think of all the things our parents tell us, there is nothing more true than this.
Career wise, I wanted to be all sorts of things as a child; the possibilities were endless. I wanted to be a cartoonist, comic book artist, Lego designer, professional basketball player, Walt Disney Imagineer, and architect.
Now that I’m older, I realize that these experiences have shaped so much of who I am today. And when I think about those girls who told me I was a boy, I just laugh silently and realize that my modeling career has capitalized on this very notion. As a social media honor, Buzzfeed listed me as one of their “Top 15 Androgynous Models to Follow” and a new legion of fans have surfaced who love my androgyny, short hair, tomboyish-ness, and personal style. As someone who always liked to draw and design things, I went on to become a choreographer who composed entire stories onstage using dance as my medium and now as a photographer, I create pictures that tell my stories. And of course, talking to myself and reenacting scenes on the playground has led to my pursuit of an acting career.
Child Courtney was a talkative, creative, athletic, imaginative, poorly dressed, intelligent, slightly antagonistic tomboy with a chip on her shoulder. I don’t know that any of this really changed as I’m sure the people who know me would say, “You’re kind of still like that!”
Photos by Thompson Chan / Makeup by Yuki Lam in Vancouver
Silent Nights // Courtney McCullough
Photographed by Haoyuan Ren in the 626