Before I start anything, let me say this: I love my body. I love its scars and scrapes and bruises, its imperfections and inflexibility and periodic infirmity. I love the ache in my shoulders after I lift, the burn in my quads after I row. I love the calluses on my hands and the freckles on my nose. Even when I don’t like what I see, I still appreciate and love what I have. Sometimes though, my mind tries to fight me on this. I look in the mirror and I can’t decide who’s looking back. Girl? Boy? Genderally ambiguous middle ground? All of the above? Some days, it’s hard to tell.
I live mostly in flannel shirts and jeans, band tees and shorts and boots. Beanies and ski hats are my best friends. It’s hard to catch me in a dress, and forget about finding me in heels. They don’t fit and they’re hard to walk in- why bother? Most days, my body and clothing don’t hinder me. I layer up the tee shirts and flannel, rock the skinny jeans, and wear down the soles on my Doc Martens or Vans, same as always. Some days, I coordinate my socks with my shirts, and if I’m feeling really fancy, sometimes with my hair. Those are good days.
Let me talk about my hair. Right now it’s a short floppy mess, turquoise fading to teal with pink roots and messily buzzed blondeish sides. It’s getting to the point where it’s trying to eat my eyebrows, so I may have to take the scissors to it soon. We’ll see.
I first cut my hair in April of my junior year of high school, right before I started visiting colleges. As much as I denied it at the time, chopping it all off was really a part of my coming out process. I went from past my shoulders orange and red wavy lengths to spiky messy pixie cut in fading shades of peach, and I loved it. It was terrifying, but I felt free, not just from the work of long hair but from the expectations it brought. I could finally dress like a boy. So there I was, freshly shorn, heading off to college interviews in button down shirts and sweaters and skinny jeans and boots, reveling in my gender-bending glory. I thought I’d found my niche, filling my closet with men’s pants, unisex t-shirts, and sweaters culled from the clearance racks at fancy menswear stores. Some days, I’m still there. Other days (rarer days), I want to feel pretty.
A few weeks ago, I found a dress I thought I’d left at home in the back of my closet. It’s tight, black, and scoops down in the back. I wore it a few times, and brought it to college on a whim. When I told my friends that I had it, most of them said they couldn’t picture me in a dress. Most of the time, I can’t see it either. I skew masculine of center, and prefer a mostly androgynous appearance. However, for one night, I threw all that out the window in favor of seeing my friend’s faces as they beheld me in my girly, tight dress. Shaking up other people with gender was fun, but shaking up myself was surprisingly scary.
I didn’t realize I could still allow myself to conform to “traditional” gender norms. I worried that I had to cut off that part of myself, deny my occasional need to feel girly, in order to keep my queer card. I worried I’d be undermining my carefully cultivated androgynous appearance in one fell swoop if I let myself wear makeup. Thankfully, I realized that like anything, gender and gender expression are fluid. I can occasionally girlify myself and freak out my friends with a dress, or suit up with a blazer and tie and pretend I’m a dapper 1920’s gentleman but without the misogyny and sexism. I can wear makeup if I want to, just like I can dye my hair pink if I feel like it. Pink doesn’t mean I am feminine, just as men’s pants don’t make me a dude. I can do both. I can be both. Gender, queered.