Content warning: Descriptions of verbal harrassment, gender dysphoria
I would never really describe myself as feminine. The last time I wore a dress was when I was forced to for our end of A-levels social. I haven’t worn makeup that isn’t nail polish since I was 16 (again forced). There was a way to be a girl, and I definitely wasn’t that.
I bought a dress yesterday. I almost bought two. I bought myself an entire wardrobe of things that aren’t “gaming tshirt and hoodie”. In a really odd way, it feels like coming out all over again. Let’s unpick this!
When I was a kid, there was nothing I wanted more than a ponytail. All the girls had lovely long hair and ponytails. I had short hair. It just didn’t really grow. It grew down to my neck and then grew out instead of down. My dad used to tease me all the time, call me his “little boy”. I wore dresses a lot, but it’s not like you have a lot of choice as a child. Still, I remember some of my childhood dresses fondly. I’m old enough, or my school was backward enough, that I wasn’t allowed to wear trousers to school until I was 14. I did wear a ponytail when I was 6, but had my hair cut short again when I was 8 and didn’t have long hair again till my mid-teens.
When I had the choice, I never chose to be feminine. Puberty is cruel to everyone, but I went into it pretty early. There’s nothing much like getting catcalled when you’re just ten years old to give you shame over the femaleness of your body. Being female was a show; my first bra fitting was over my Sonic tshirt at the age of 9 with my dad making a fuss about it. My first period at 11 was announced to my mum’s friend, I ‘became a woman’ that day. To me, being a girl was a thing forced upon me and I rejected it.
I rejected everything feminine. I had very few female friends, I refused to wear dresses or skirts. I remember freaking out because my parents bought me a pair of trainers that had a streak of pink in the laces. I’m not like the other girls right? The boys all like me, I’m a nerd. The girls were never going to like me, the only way I could popular was to hang out with the guys. Around this time I started to identify as male. Why would I want to grow up into a woman? Being a man is so much easier. I’m like the other boys. Wearing anything feminine would destroy that whole premise; boys don’t wear pink or have dresses. When I was reading up on transition, I read lots of stories of people navigating the NHS gender clinics. There was (and likely still is) a lot of outdated thought in this area, and I knew they’d never let me become male if I still liked girl things.
It’s an awkward mix of internalised misogyny and toxic masculinity. This is still something I struggle with. When I feel masculine, I buy into a lot of this stuff around “boys don’t cry”. I still buy into the “queer uniform” bullshit a lot, that to be non-binary and genderqueer I need to be a skinny girl in boy clothes.
Let’s talk about weight for a moment. I’m a fat person. Puberty fucked me and I’ve never really fixed it. This has pushed me into men’s clothing out of necessity on occasion. It’s super easy to buy large men’s tshirts and pullovers. Fat people, particularly fat women, are not really allowed to exist. A couple of months ago, a man told me to “eat less” as I pushed past him to get off the tram, a week ago in Leeds a drunk man called me a “fat cunt” on my way home, with his friend asking if I “want a go”. We’re not fuckable, therefore we have no point. It is transgressive to be a fat woman and wear revealing or well-cut clothing. We have very few places we can shop and those shops aren’t all that good. It is hard to be feminine and fat. I hate this body sometimes because it’s gendered and sometimes because it is big, and it can be hard to tell those feelings apart.
People sometimes ask me why I make everything about gender, and I would argue that society makes everything about gender. I just like to remind people that while they are doing that, they are leaving me out. Feeling left out is deeply unpleasant. It takes a lot of energy to keep telling myself that I’m doing the right thing by being out non-binary. I think I was worried a lot about how this fits in with femininity. If I’m a AFAB person in a dress, doesn’t that just make me a cis woman? Is it the easy way out, to fit in outwardly while being a “special snowflake” on the inside.
I saw an amazing talk at Alterconf about being a femme person in tech. Her description of her teenage attitudes matched mine so closely. She spoke about how, by presenting more femme, the men around her take her less seriously. It made me think a lot about how I present myself. I wear the developer uniform a lot. Are the men around me only listening to me because I look like them? Not completely I’m sure, and certainly not consciously, but maybe a little. Is it then more transgressive for me to be a AFAB non-binary developer in a dress than it is to pretend to be a cis woman in jeans? So yesterday I spend £200 on clothes with no tshirts in sight. I worry a little that nobody will know I’m a nerd, but like I don’t have to show everything I am on the outside.
I didn’t wear a hoodie to work today. Nobody really cares, but I haven’t been this scared about how I look in a long time. I feel like I’m crossdressing. It’s pretty cool actually. I’m not genderfucking by being a skinny girl in boy clothes, but by being a fat queer with sequins. It’s taken me about 15 years, but I’m finally confident enough in my gender to know what I look like doesn’t disprove my identity, in fact I think it works with it quite nicely.