There’s a picture of me from when I was about two or three years old, wearing a polka-dotted swimsuit and standing in my mother’s heels, leaning forward at an awkward angle, looking at the camera with my little face twisted up in perplexity. Clearly, I was uncomfortable with the entire concept of heels.
Among friends and family, I say with a laugh that my parents wanted a girl and got me instead—but the truth is that I’m not very feminine, and I had to learn to be okay with that.
When I was a baby, I ripped bows out of my hair. I hated to be held (my mom admits that she wouldn’t let me hold my own bottle for the longest time because I only tolerated being held when I was hungry) and even as an adult, I’m not overly affectionate. I don’t want kids of my own, and my maternal instinct is pretty much limited to cats and dogs; but people continue to insist that I’ll change my mind when I’m older, perhaps “when I meet the right man.” I don’t know when I decided I hate the color pink, but I cringe every time I see a child being dressed in it from head-to-toe, lest anyone mistake her for a boy. I participate in a fantasy football league every year, and people are always surprised about this—not that I waste such a colossal amount of time on a useless hobby, but that I can understand football. I deal with these ridiculous types of gender stereotyping every day.
My point is: the gender binary is kind of a scam. You might not have noticed because our culture insists that there is only Option A or Option B, but the truth is that gender, like sexuality, exists on a spectrum, and it’s totally okay to fall wherever you want to. Yet we live in a world that suffocates us with gender stereotypes; we’re mocked when we don’t adhere to them, and punished when we fit them too well. A woman who prefers little to no make-up, tennis shoes, and baggy clothes gets as much harassment for her appearance as a woman who likes a full face of make-up, heels, and a tight dress. Not feminine enough? Butch, dyke, lesbian. Too feminine? Look at that whore, she’s trying too hard.
I fall somewhere in the middle. Most days, I only wear foundation and powder. I’ll fill in my eyebrows if I’m feeling really motivated. When I do put on full make-up, it’s usually because of a special occasion. I also suffer from trichotillomania, or the compulsive urge to pull my hair out. Learning to be comfortable with my own standards of beauty had a lot to do with realizing that having bald spots doesn’t damage my self-worth unless I allow it to.
I’ll jokingly Instagram my lazy outfits with #fashionista. I, like many young women in college, often fall into a habit of convenience, wearing yoga pants or leggings with an oversized top. Even when I’m dressing similarly to a hundred other women on campus, I suspect I look ridiculous. It just never quite feels right on me, like I’m trying just a little too hard to fit into someone else’s idea about how I am supposed to dress and look.
Once, I lamented to my father about how bad I am at being a girl. This statement, like most I make, was encased in dry, deadpan humor. But my father didn’t laugh. He told me, earnestly, not to be so hard on myself. In retrospect, I wonder if he was reassuring me or reassuring himself. One of my brothers is a wood-chopping, deer-hunting, carbon-copy of my dad and the other is a well-dressed, intellectually-stimulated gay man, so I think my dad stays on edge about the whole thing. I know I’m not the daughter he was expecting, but I’m fortunate to have a fairly open-minded family.
We’re too absorbed with Option A or Option B to realize that Options C, D, and E are possible, too—and, honestly, the list of potential gender identities and expressions goes far beyond that. Some people just don’t identify as male or female and not fitting society’s mold of what a man or woman should be doesn’t make anyone less of a person—and when we realize that gender stereotypes aren’t the ultimate dictation of gender, we’ll all be better off.