Last Friday, I wore a dress to work. For most girls, I doubt this would be significant. For me, it was the first time I’d ever worn a dress to my new workplace. My gay co-worker on the downlow was one of the first people I ran into, and I said to her, “I almost pass for a girl, don’t I?” with a wink. She laughed, but I wasn’t really joking. When I wear a dress, that’s how I feel, like I’m “passing.”
And a bunch of you are now wondering, “So, are you trans?” And I know because I’ve been asked enough that I’m no longer surprised to get the question. The answer is a definitive NO. I actually have quite a few friends who are trans and I have an immeasurable amount of respect for these people. I know how tough being butch can be, so I can’t even imagine the kind of bullshit transgender people have to deal with on a regular basis. Not to mention that in most states in the US, it’s still legal to fire or evict someone for being trans (in even more states than it’s still legal to do the same for being gay). Hence, one of many reasons the pursuit of marriage equality at this point in time irks me to high heaven. Trans people aren’t legally entitled to a job or shelter, but let’s pour all our energy and money into making sure the government approves of your relationship! (Not to say that I don’t understand the importance of equal marriage rights, but it seems like a luxury when compared to, you know, not having a place to live.)
Tangent aside… I’m not trans. I am blessed to have been born with genitalia that match my sex. But I am gender… weird. Genderqueer, genderfucked, butch, butchy femme– I’ve been called all kinds of things (including straight up femme). I’m a girl, and there’s no conflict about that for me, but I’m not girly, and in that there is conflict for me. The dress doesn’t help. You can dress me up like a girl–skirt, heels, make-up and pluck my eyebrows even–but there will still be a notable lack of girlishness about me.
I don’t quite know how to explain it. I’m just a natural tomboy. I was never good at climbing trees, but I always chose to play kickball with the boys rather than have a tea party with the girls. Bugs don’t gross me out, I hate shopping, and I get too much dirt under my nails to see a point in painting them (most of the time). All throughout grade school I always chose to hang out with the boys if given the chance. Girls didn’t gravitate to me and neither did I to them. What it boils down to, I think, is that I’ve always cared more about what my body can do than how it looks. Not that I don’t take pride in my appearance, but left to my own volition I would never spend upwards of an hour doing my hair, for example. Fashion? Looks great… on other people. (I’ll keep my ties and sweater vests, thank you very much.)
Now, granted, is liking race cars over dolls or sports over clothes inherently boyish? Of course not! That’s like saying that liking oranges is masculine, but preferring apples is feminine. They’re just tastes, but somewhere along the line, someone decide that certain activities were suited to boys and others to girls. Oh, and also there are only two genders.
I’ve always felt like I was missing some kind of girl “gene” that would’ve made all the “feminine” things I loathed not just palatable, but supposedly desirable. And while my wardrobes, tastes and friends have changed many times over the years, I ultimately end up the butch one. I really do my best to appreciate who I am, but some days it’s just… exhausting. I know people are always making assumptions about me based on my attire, questioning my gender, and sometimes just have no idea how to interact with me (a problem I’ve been weathering with my new supervisor… If I were a femme he’d flirt with me, and if I were a guy he’d treat me like one, but I’m somewhere in between and often his solution to this is to simply act like an ass).
All the other women in my department are quintessential depictions of high femmes. They have “the look:” the dresses, the heals, the make-up, the hair, the cleavage… Even when I have attempted to be girly, I could never pull off skirts that short, heels that high, or any cleavage whatsoever (unless I push ’em together reeeeeal hard!). I don’t even have a booty to speak of, which means I can’t wear pants without a belt– they literally do not stay up. Many pants for women don’t even have belt loops! And the assumption is that if I have a broad back it comes with a HUGE rack, and (somehow) petite shoulders. The fact that I eventually gravitated to men’s clothing is no mystery to me. But why I can’t wear a button-down shirt and slacks as a woman in 2012 without being seen as “mannish” is beyond me. Then again, maybe it IS me.
I shouldn’t compare myself to the femmes in my office. I shouldn’t berate myself for not being more like them, or waste energy wondering if people would find me more “approachable” if I dressed more demurely and feminine. But I do. (And my supervisor isn’t helping. He keeps telling me I should be exactly like So-and-so. At first I thought he meant in passion and work capability, but now I’m starting to wonder if he doesn’t mean in dress, too…) Part of me thinks I brought this on myself– that if I could just BE more like them, somehow, it’d all be better. Even though that feels like a betrayal. Even though that’s completely counter-intuitive. Even though I hate insincerity more than most things. But the other part? The other part says, “This is who I am, take it or leave it.” Of course, I only get one choice.