Although I grew up singing the songs from Rogers and Hammerstein musicals with my mom, “the king and I” of the title refers to a relationship with a woman from my past. No, it’s not what you think, but it’s an illuminating story nonetheless.
When I was in college back in the early 1970s, I worked at a co-op job in the Neurological/Experimental Unit of Boston State Hospital. On my first day of work, I felt terrified at being surrounded by seven people — all seven patients of the small unit — who were allowed the freedom to act and be as psychotic as they wanted.
In fear, I retreated to the nurse’s station, where the head nurse prodded me out to interact and relate with the patients. Dr. Simeon Locke, the neurologist who ran the unit, had created an environment where no external controls were needed or wanted. There were no psychotropic drugs allowed. No quiet rooms allowed. No locked doors permitted.
One woman patient I interacted with referred to herself as “the king.” She’d repeatedly tell me I needed to have an operation on my genitals. I discovered one night while reading her records that in her youth, decades earlier, she was an unconventional woman who was admitted to the hospital for (among other presenting symptoms) not wearing panties.
Just recently, I considered how far we’ve come with gender equality. How wonderful it was that same sex marriage is now the law of the land. Certainly, women in my daughter’s generation have more opportunities available than those in my mother’s generation or even my sibling’s generation. Women in the US have indeed come a long way, baby.
Then my thoughts shifted to North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” (i.e., HB2). I wondered if we’ve really come as far as I imagined. That I happen to live in the state now makes it doubly troubling.
I find myself wishing for the day when no one feels trapped by gender — or maybe more accurately, by the societal constructs of what it means to be a man or a woman. I can still recall “the king” fondly. I wonder if her life would have been different had she been born in a different time. I’d like to believe that yes, it would have been different. Thank you, king, for challenging me to look beyond gender stereotypes.
Behind this good writer is a great editor; Mark Bloom. Learn more about Mark’s talents at
Lola by the Kinks
Well I’m not the world’s most masculine man,
But I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man,
And so is Lola.
Lola. Lo-lo-lo-lo-Lola. Lola-lo-lo-lo-lo-Lola