reclaiming my femininity

i’ve worn clothes from the “boys’” and “men’s” sections** for most of my life. those are just the clothes i like and they make me feel comfy.

sometimes i wonder, though, if maybe i like those clothes cuz society tells me they’re for “not-girls/women.” like, how much of my gender expression is mediated/informed by society? i occur in this societal framework and it’s not like i can just fuck off and live in a vacuum. i definitely need to examine the ways i construct my gender expression.

i spent a long time trying to live as a tomboy/butch-y woman. i experienced very little backlash (no bullying, no parental pressure, etc.), but it wasn’t right for me cuz reasons. old gender things i’d forgotten/buried started to unbury themselves, so i went looking for something.

i went through a phase where i presented as a femme-y woman. it was weird. i mean, i wore whatever clothes i wanted to wearyou look so goood, just like i always had, but it turned out that i just wanted to wear femme-y clothes for a while. and people kept telling me i looked pretty, that they much preferred my new look, that i looked funky and fun (i’m always fucking fun, k? i’m fucking fun even when i’m wearing plannel*** and work boots.), and that they were glad i’d finally “found myself.”

holy fuck, right? i was experimenting with my gender expression and all these people came outta nowhere to “reward” me for finally expressing my gender in a way that made them comfortable. so i ended up deciding to wear my old clothes again (stuff “for” boys/men). sure, i often wear fishnets under my torn-up jeans, but that’s nothing. not much, anyway.

i do love my fishnets, though. just sayin’.

maybe i should go to school wearing a tutu over some skinny jeans. or something. just to fuck with people and to show them (and myself) that i can wear whatever the fuck i want. that i’m not a dfab trans* stereotype, ya know? cuz i’m starting to feel a little trapped by people’s expectations.

thing is, i’m also trapped by my tits. that probably sounds totes weird, but it’s true. i can’t wear shit that emphasizes my tits; the dysphoria is crippling. as it is, when i get dressed, i’m always searching for the magic shirt that’ll make my tits look flatter. as though i can hide triple d tits even with binders. (spoiler: nope.) so i don’t really know i’d go about reclaiming my femininity even if i decided i definitely wanted to.

i mean, how do we go about reclaiming our femininity or masculinity? how do we reclaim our stories? the way society is set up, we have to “prove” the validity of our gender(s)/genderlessness; when we don’t dress “right,” that gets used against us. how the fuck do we navigate this toxicity? i don’t have the answers, lovelies; i think this is one of those things that needs some serious conversation. so, thoughts?

**i don’t think clothes should be gendered at all. there is nothing inherently masculine about dinosaurs and dark colors. there is nothing inherently feminine about flowers and pink. this is the paradigm i’m living in, though, and just ignoring it won’t solve anything.

***plannel = plaid + flannel

11 responses to “reclaiming my femininity

  1. Yeah…this is a toughy. I know I like wearing my “boy” clothes cause I feel so comfortable in them. But I also know that part of the reason I don’t like the femme-y clothes is the expectations people attach to me when I wear them. And that’s fucked up.

    I’m very comfortable in the clothes I wear. But I hate that I have to wear things to prove a point to others…which I am, partly. I’m dressing to feel comfortable, but part of me feeling comfortable is how others react to me. I have to work in their paradigm, which is fucking lame.

    And what I learned a long time ago is that even if you don’t fit any of the labels (perhaps especially if you don’t) people like to make a whole new set of labels for you. It’s like, ok, I accept you’re not these other things….but I’m making up all of these RULES about how you are, and if you violate those, I get upset. Goddamnit leave me out of your little RULES altogether!

    It’s like picking you poison. I love ties. So people getting upset when I’m not wearing a tie is not upsetting to me (anymore at least), but that’s because my ties protect me. but people getting upset about the way I wear other things, is less ok with me because of the other crap that people tend to attach to it.

    I know I’m a reactionary social person. I’d sooner be the exact opposite, than conform. But really, I don’t want to be a REACTION to the bullshit, I want to be OUTSIDE the bullshit. but it’s hard when everyone else is playing by RULES….sigh…

  2. Also, I really had the gender reinforcement around presentation even when other people get it!
    I work with a lot of female-identified peeps, who wear lot of t-shirts and ripped jeans…cause that’s what they need to do their jobs. And anytime one of them is seen in a dress, or with make-up for a special occasion there’s always this slew of: “You look so pretty, you should wear dresses more often!” Which always makes me want to punch them in the face. Mostly because I hate when people tell people what they SHOULD look like. People will look how they want and need to look…if you think it’s cool, give them a high five, if you don’t, keep your mouth shut it’s none of your business….Unless your opinion is: You’re awesome!, don’t say it.

    Sigh…I’m done ranting now….

  3. Oh my god. Those times when I want to wear a skirt but don’t because then I’d look like a girl.

  4. It isn’t the clothes that are gendered, it is how each culture views/interprets them. Thank you Judith Butler. Last February (2012) I spent a month in southern India, where a lot of the men wear lungi (think wrap skirts), and the women wear Salwar Kameez (think tunics and loose leggings). I wore jeans and button down shirts and was frequently read as male. I considered having a Salwar Kameez custom made (many foreign women did and they looked lovely), but couldn’t get my mind around it because I generally don’t wear women’s clothes, I have difficultly doing what is considered female appropriate. And the white guys in lungi looked totally dorky (to me). If the men were wearing the Salwar Kameez I probably would have bought a set. Go figure.

  5. I wish I had the answers. They say you can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools but there’s very little in functional fashion that’s all that new. Not to mention even gender neutral clothing or unisex clothing is still considered feminine because it’s not masculine and that’s just a small example of how “top down” and dumb our society is.

    When people honestly try to tell me that “the patriarchy” is just some feminist fable I can only look at them dumbfounded because of this and many other things that seem pretty obvious.

    I don’t know, maybe the answer is mixing things up, like wearing skirts with tuxedo jackets? The thing is I think that a lot of things will have to change, including gender roles, fashion, and most importantly language before these things become less of an issue.

  6. @ sonic rhubarb: holy fuck cat, so true. especially the bit about people making up new rules for you to follow. bleh.

    it’s like when i started wearing feminine-coded clothing, people were like, “hey! you can’t just stop following the mx. punk rules we gave you! unless you’re gonna start following the ‘girl rules.’ cuz we’re cool with that.” people are fucking weird.

    also, yes to your entire second comment! but no to using “lame” cuz it’s an ableist term. but all the yeses to ranting about this shit, cuz holy fuck is there a lot to rant about.

    it’s always fucking neon to hear from you, cat! huzzah! <3 i really value your input.

  7. @ jamie ray: when i talk about clothing being gendered, i’m referring to the process wherein people in a given culture (north american monoculture, in this case) attach gendered connotations to said clothing. it has nothing to do with believing that clothes experience gender or “naturally” belong to certain genders.

    ^^^^^verbosity! whew.

    also, hi new commenter! it’s always plasmic to see new faces around here! <3

    @ bia: "The thing is I think that a lot of things will have to change, including gender roles, fashion, and most importantly language before these things become less of an issue."

    yep! i think language is particularly important, but yes. yesssssss. yes. (i slept horribly and it's still early; typing is haaaaaaaaaaard.)

    i am so so sorry about this comment. i'm sure i'll come back and fix it when i'm more awake.

    also, <3 to you all for being lovely.

  8. hahaha I totally read “plannel” and saw a plaid flannel shirt in my head all the while completely failing to register that there was anything abnormal about that word.

    also everything sonicrhubarb said. its totally picking your poison and it’s pretty infurating sometimes. I hate feeling pressured to prove my gender via clothing when I know clothing doesn’t actually mean anything about your gender at all, but since everyone else believes in this totally made up arbitrary system of gendering items (and practically everything else) my choices still have a connotation that I don’t intend but can’t escape.

    This is why I just want to stay in my room by myself sometimes, because when I’m alone all that stupid gender bullshit people believe isn’t real and I don’t have to worry about “putting my gender on” so to speak.

  9. @ rivercitymongrel: awesome thing is, i totes said “plannel” for years til someone pointed out to me that it wasn’t a “legit” word. i always make up words without realizing it. and holy fuck, yes to your whole comment. especially this:

    “I hate feeling pressured to prove my gender via clothing when I know clothing doesn’t actually mean anything about your gender at all, but since everyone else believes in this totally made up arbitrary system of gendering items (and practically everything else) my choices still have a connotation that I don’t intend but can’t escape.”

    ^^^^ cuz yep.

  10. Adrian Riley

    I saw the title of this post and my heart jumped right up into my throat. I’m femme, and that’s such an important part of my identity – but so is my gender (androgyne). Mix this all with the fact that I was assigned female at birth and you get a giant mess of misgendering and cis assumptions and god can I please just stay home today I can’t deal with this shit.

    I went through a period of trying to present more butch so people would read me ambiguously (or at least as male – that’s still wrong, but at least it’s different, so maybe it would feel better?) or perhaps be a bit more respectful of my gender. I knew I was femme and acknowledged it, but I tried to swallow it down and ignore it as well as I could for the sake of being read correctly. I couldn’t stand it, and after a few realizations I stopped that shit. The things I realized:

    1. I’m getting read as female no matter what I wear. Butching it up just causes net misery.
    2. I don’t owe cis people any amount of butchness for my gender to be respected. Cissexist people will continue to be disrespectful no matter how much I cater to them: people (and myself, in my own mind) are always going to move the goalposts. If it’s not because I’m too femme, it’ll be because I have boobs. If I bind or get top surgery it’ll be because I’m too curvy, if I go on T and smooth out my curves it’ll be because of my genitals, if I get any kind of lower surgery it’ll be because of my (assumed) chromosomes and there’s no changing that now is there. Trying to play at their game will only result in me being dysphoric as hell (I have some body dysphoria, but I’m actually quite euphoric about my curves) and my gender STILL won’t be respected.

    I wish I could say that I wear literally WHATEVER I want and don’t give a shit about other peoples’ opinions, but… well, social dysphoria’s still there, and I still have to deal with it. I do present femme most days ( not female, there is a big gigantic difference between presenting femme and presenting female and I would give away any material possessions to stop being read as female while preserving the femininity in my dress), but I modify it in some way to try to differentiate myself visually from the women around me. Sometimes I’ll bind, sometimes I’ll genderfuck, sometimes I’ll go really high-femme-goth, but the femininity HAS to be there for me to be comfortable in my own skin. The genderfucky aspect has to be there for me to be remotely comfortable around other people. The thing that’s changed is that I don’t prioritize my desire for visibility over my personal comfort, and I feel loads better now that I acknowledge and honor my femme identity.

    My own chest dysphoria is fickle and really socially influenced. Some days I’ll be really upset about seeing my breasts in my clothes at all, and some days I’ll love seeing them peek out of my shirt. Some days I’ll love it until I step outside and thinking about the assumptions that other people are tacking on to them makes me dysphoric and I’ll have to go back inside to change into a binder. So, I can relate somewhat to your own dilemma, but not entirely since it’s very fluid for me (also they’re pretty small, so binding them isn’t difficult if I decide that I want to). I guess the overall sentiment resonated enough with me that I felt the urge to draft a chapter of my autobiography as a comment on your blog =P

  11. @adrian riley: holy shit, cat, the feels! your whole comment resonates with me pretty strongly, but this is my favorite thing this year:

    “I don’t owe cis people any amount of butchness for my gender to be respected. Cissexist people will continue to be disrespectful no matter how much I cater to them…”

    exactly. this is exactly what i needed to read, honestly. so, thank you. <3

    at this point, i'm so fucked up about my physical dysphoria and my social dysphoria and cis-spectations that i can't tell if i secretly have a femme side or what. i just know that i'm all fucked up and i need to reconsider some things.

    anyway, thanks, cat. <3 it's always fucking fantastic to hear from folks, but your comment really says all the things. yay!

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