I Know Something You Don’t Know









My brain consists of:

  • High school diploma

  • BA in English and Feminist Studies

  • MA in Women’s Studies

  • Writer

  • Editor

  • Non-profit advocate worker

  • Mental health advocate volunteer

  • Reader of many books

  • Waitress

  • Barista

  • Bookstore manager

  • Too-many-years-of-working-in-retail worker

  • CPR certified

  • Certified restorative justice peace-keeping circle keeper

One would think I could claim knowledge of many-a-things. And hopefully I do have me some knowledge—the college degrees and work and volunteer experience not totally worthless. I can explain what “queer” means, and I can do MLA citations in my sleep. I know what DSM stands for. I know what POS stands for—both in reference to a type of car as well as a type of software food service industry workers are required to know. I know what person-first language means in regards to mental health, and I have a mental Rolodex of book titles and authors I have never actually read but can recommend each one of them on the spot. I know the difference between arabica coffee beans and robusta coffee beans, and I can mediate a dispute between two gang members in a restorative and nonviolent way. I know how to compute sales tax in my head, and I will keep you from dying should you be choking on something in my presence. I know how to verb a noun and adjective a verb.

One would think I am qualified to know many things.

But after spending thirty years on this planet, I have grown out of the “I fucking know everything” teenage mentality and have become humbled by all of the things I do not know.

These things are:

  • Requirements for passing as femme

    • application of mascara

    • walking in high heels

    • painting nails

    • shaving legs while standing in a shower

    • the language for describing skin tones

    • how to pull off pastels


  • Requirements for passing as butch

    • application of hair gel as necessitated for a faux-hawk

    • successfully wearing boxers underneath jeans without having them bunch up

    • throwing a spiral football

    • not crossing legs in any way while sitting

    • the language of head nods and whistles

    • how to pull off wearing a baseball cap

(And my Feminist Studies BA and Women’s Studies MA degrees should tell me I am being stereotypical here. And they do. And yet I can still make, can still believe in that list, can still be impressed by my lack of knowledge).


More lack of brain matter:

  • Vocabulary definitions

    • Is noisome used when discussing volume level?

    • Is tortuous a descriptor for the physical properties of a certain kind of road or for how my last girlfriend treated me?

    • Is peccadillo a type of salsa?

    • Is lugubrious a personal issue involving nasal dripping?

    • Or wait, is it phlegmatic that’s a personal issue involving nasal dripping?


  • Spelling

    • privelege

    • travelling

    • tripple

    • occaisionaly

    • kindergarden

    • perscription

    • decipitate


  • Correct application of words

    • Affect or effect?

    • Further or farther?

    • Elicit or illicit?

    • Hoard or horde?

    • Evoke or invoke?

    • Irrupt or erupt?

(And my English BA, my freelance writing and editing career, and my management of a bookstore for seven years should tell me I am being lazy and/or ignorant. And they do. And yet I can still make, can still believe in that list, can still be impressed by my lack of knowledge).

I could go on. I could explain how I cannot look at a piece of meat and differentiate if it’s chicken or turkey. I could explain how I have no idea what a logic model is nor how to create a pivot table. I could explain how I have never been able to hear the distinguishing rhythm of iambic pentameter, nor how to pronounce chimera or palimpsest.

I could explain how I’m never quite sure if I’m supposed to use “nor” or “or”.

Or does the period come before the closing quotation mark?


To this day, I still have to use Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey.

In fourth grade I learned how to spell “family” by saying “Father And Mother I Love You.” It was the first example of a mnemonic technique I learned, and while it was an excellent acronym, I didn’t actually love my father so the device was not applicable for me. But I used it anyway because I have always been a horrible speller, thus needing the mnemonic assistance. And even though I am thirty now and obviously know how to spell family without declaring my love for the parental units, I still mutter the acronym under my breath as I write out family, more out of habit than belief.

Other examples of my epistemology (if I am implementing that concept correctly):

  • I learned how to spell Chicago by saying “Chick in a car and it won’t go.”

  • And in regards to how many feet are in a mile, “five tomatoes.”

  • Then there’s the whole planetary alignment knowledge based on the fact that My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies.

  • During college I switched majors from Biology to English and Feminist Studies. And even though I was ecstatic to wave biology and its Latin words and tougher-than-shit vocabulary goodbye, when it comes to taxonomy I will never forget that Kids Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach.


But about the gender. If one were to list the top five objects in one’s childhood according to gender stereotypes, the list would look like this:


  1. Barbie

  2. Easy-bake Oven

  3. My pony

  4. Pink princess dress

  5. Plastic tiara



  1. Football

  2. Trucks

  3. GI Joe

  4. Tools

  5. Guns (hopefully fake)

It’s an easy enough category to win in the final around of Family Feud. But if one were to say, “Name the top five objects from Chelsey Clammer’s childhood” there would be no survey says, would be no items that anyone could guess based on my gender and age. No consensus could be made. I did not wear the pink, and also did not want the football. I owned no dolls in my childhood, and the idea of a gun never entered my mind. Thus,

The Objects of Chelsey’s childhood:

  1. Swiss army pocket knife

  2. The Boxcar Children book series

  3. Teal mountain bike

  4. Nerf basketball hoop hanging on the back of my bedroom door

  5. A picture of the cast of “Who’s the Boss?” under my pillow due to a wicked crush on Alyssa Milano

I list these things and I think of my older sister—the daughter who followed the expectations of what constitutes what a little girl is. And I think of how un-alike we are, how I never wanted to learn anything from her. As where I built doll houses out of Legos for my sister to put her made-up stories and plastic dolls inside of. As where I never owned a stitch of make up, but my sister bi-weekly insisted on plucking my eyebrows. My sister’s lacy bras to my sports bras. Her heels to my softball cleats. Her posters of New Kids on the Block to mine of beautiful female characters from TV.

My lack of knowledge in these areas—gender stereotypes and grammar/vocabulary skills—have made room in my brain for other types of knowledge to grow. Two negatives combining to make a positive in some way, perhaps? I think that’s right.

All of this is to say that while I do not know correct definitions of words I should have learned a decade ago for the SAT, and while I have never known how to act like a woman “should” act, I am now in the position in which I finally have me some useful and radical sexuality/gender knowledge. Thank you, life experiences.

My awesome new vocabulary:

  • Cisgender

  • Compersion

  • Pre-op

  • Post-op

  • Hir

  • Ze

  • Teleogical

  • Praxis

  • Bangover

  • Intersectionality

Yes, the life experiences have helped me to learn, to understand the ways of the world, the rules of the tongue, the standards of our bodies. But more importantly, the life experiences have helped me to know how to oppose these “expectations” of knowledge, how to find my own knowing while disregarding societal “norms” of knowing. As where I rolled my eyes at my third grade teacher Mrs. Buttons (no joke, that was her last name) when she said every experience is a learning experience. How corny. And yet with each addition of a year in my life, I get it, I understand it, I know it to be true.

In conclusion,

  • High school diploma (understanding social cliques)

  • BA in English and Feminist Studies (learning how to eloquently say fuck you to stereotypes and oppression)

  • MA in Women’s Studies (see above)

  • Writer (ability to kick this column out the day before it’s due)

  • Editor (“i” before “e” except when you run a feisty heist on a weird beige foreign neighbor. And, an added bonus: bad grammar makes me [sic])

  • Non-profit advocate worker (using “stakeholders”, “over-communication” and “thought partnership” in one sentence)

  • Mental health advocate volunteer (I’m not bipolar, I have bipolar disorder)

  • Reader of many books (23 boxes of books I lug across the country with me every time I move)

  • Waitress (keep straws on you at all times)

  • Barista (awe, that foam looks like a heart. How cute!)

  • Bookstore manager (Random House allows you to keep damaged books)

  • Too-many-years-of-working-in-retail worker (the customer is always right)

  • CPR certified (a tilt of the chin)

  • Certified restorative justice peace-keeping circle keeper (master of the ability to say that title without stumbling over its syllables)


Chelsey Clammer
Chelsey Clammer is the author of the award-winning essay collection, Circadian (Red Hen Press, 2017) and BodyHome (Hopewell Publications, 2015). Her work has appeared in Salon, The Rumpus, Hobart, Brevity, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Normal School and Black Warrior Review. She teaches online writing classes with WOW! Women On Writing and is a freelance editor. Her next collection of essays, Human Heartbeat Detected, is forthcoming (Fall 2022) from Red Hen Press. www.chelseyclammer.com