I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my gender expression recently, partly because I’m questioning my gender and partly because I work in an office environment where I am significantly more androgynous than my colleagues. This is a comprehensive run-down of my gender expression and presentation over the years (with, occasionally cringeworthy, pictures included).
As a child, I can’t say that I had much authority over my gender expression. I mostly wore oversized hand-me-downs, but I remember really liking large clothing and enjoying different textures in clothing. I looked pretty androgynous as a young child until my hair grew out, I definitely remember enjoying my life more when I had shorter hair, I think mostly because it was convenient and less messy (despite what this picture may suggest!).
As soon as I got the chance, I got my hair cut. I think the first time I had a substantial amount of hair cut off I was around 8 years old. The next time I got my hair cut I was 12. I wore my naturally curly hair straight for a number of years and got really into alternative fashion. I didn’t wear much make-up, mostly eyeliner. My style inspiration came from mostly male, mostly gay, emo YouTubers at the time and I thought I looked pretty cool to be completely honest. The ’emo’ style (while it is a little cringeworthy looking back at it) felt very freeing for me, it was androgynous and rebellious. Around this time, my facial hair and excess body hair started growing in and I felt conflicted. I had no problem with these but as people were supposed to see me as female I was supposed to shave. This was a frustrating battle which continued for almost ten years, until last year, when I decided to remove myself from the expectations of others (I still struggle with the issue of facial hair though, due to using public bathrooms).
The teachers at my school were, in the most polite terms, not very nice people. They made fun of the way I looked and made it clear that unless I made an effort to fit in, I would not be accommodated. Around age 15 I began to fluctuate between hyper-femininity (which I thought would help me to ‘fit-in’) and hyper-masculine punk, which was a complete rebellion against everything everyone wanted me to be. It was at this time that I also started going to parties as a sort of drag king. I didn’t know that drag kings existed but I was very excited about drawing on a beard with eyeliner and wearing a bow-tie. By this point in my life I was openly queer and I had wonderfully accepting friends who embraced my quirks. It was a great time in terms of my freedom of gender expression in my social circle.
The years between 2012 and 2014 (between age 16 and 19) mark a very difficult period in my life. Initially, I felt the most free I had ever been. However, as my family life became increasingly unstable and I was told that I may be removed from my sixth-form college I had some kind of split in identity. I tried desperately to totally transform myself. I wanted to be someone whose life wasn’t falling apart. I lost a lot of weight and bought dresses, in the hope that I could be the daughter that my family had dreamed of having. I felt uncomfortable, often even feeling dysphoric. I would cry in changing rooms uncontrollably, wishing I could wear things which made me happy. I continued to fluctuate between different styles but my sense of identity became more and more unclear as my life continued to be a rollercoaster. Despite all the issues in my life at the time, when I look back I realise that one of the most damaging things for me was being in denial of who I actually was.
This all brings me to last year, when I started a form of self-therapy in the hopes of recovering from CPTSD, which can cause issues with unstable identity. I gradually began reforming my sense of identity, including my gender identity and expression. It’s taken me up until the last few months to really begin feeling at home with myself again. I’ve lived much of my life being told to ‘fit in’ for fear of being pushed out. There is a verse in a Lang Leav poem which expresses what I always feared may happen to me,
You forsake all that you hold dear
for a dream that’s not your own,
you would rather live a lie
than live your life alone
Aged 22, I’ve come to realise that ‘fitting in’ isn’t worth it. Self-acceptance and validation take time and patience and fighting spirit. But to live the rest of my life free from denial and self-hatred is worth minutes and hours of practising self-acceptance. I’ve reached a point where I look at myself in the mirror with kindness and that’s all I could ever ask for from myself.
Tell me about your gender expression in comments- what style makes you feel confident and comfortable? Even better- make your own post with pictures and link me to it!- AB
disclaimer: all pictures are my own, please do not use elsewhere