Tonight has been beautiful, in spite of the fact that I can’t seem to sleep more than four hours per night and I am absolutely wired. There was lots of quality girl-time, which is something I’m still getting used to. Having girl friends can be such a hassle that I tend to avoid it, but something in me is starved for that sort of connection. I hate how competition is automatically a factor in so many interactions between women, and how early on that becomes a prescribed condition. But lately, I’ve been lucky – my almost-neighbor Kiah (who is crazy-articulate and awesome and sex-blogging for the month of April as well, so check her out) has pretty much moved in with me and Marshall, and my for-real neighbor Claudia (also sex-blogging, and this girl is like Blanche Devereaux in training!) comes around more often, sometimes bearing hot girly clothes I get to model on the spot. The world is warming up, and I’m seeing people like Holly and Liz and Kelly and Jordanna again, and I’m coming to a place in my life where the sort of safety I crave is much easier to summon when I’m in the company of women.
So, in celebration of that fact, and because it’s something that’s been on my mind all week, tonight I’m going to bare my soul about my femme angst, once and for all. Because it’s not something I’ve ever articulated fully, not even to myself, but you can be sure that it colors nearly every aspect of my life. I mean, how could it not? I cannot get dressed in the morning, interact with the guys who work the grill at Highsmith, or walk anyplace after dark without being painfully conscious of the fact that I’m a girl. It determines the way people talk to me, the way my work is critiqued in writing workshops, the way people look at me and how seriously they take me. It means that people – men and women alike – very often feel entitled to comment on my body, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me, and it means that I hear them at a different pitch than I would if I were male, if looking in the mirror wasn’t such an intimidating notion. And I had nearly accepted that this would always be the way of it, before I came out and realized I could fuck around with gender presentation as much as I wanted to, that I had unlimited options.
That was the idea, anyway. But the fact of the matter is – and this is still hard for me to say without rolling my eyes – I’m a femme. I did everything in my power to fight it. I bound my breasts for hours at a time, dressed in my brother’s clothes, and drove two towns over to see if I could pass as a boy. I stopped reading JANE even though I have an inexplicable weakness for women’s magazines. I wore boxers beneath my jeans and buzzed my hair. Nothing works: my hand gestures and girly voice give me away, and the sight of a stranger’s baby leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy for hours. I can’t use less than six shower products even if I’m in a real hurry. I still can’t change a tire, but I can rock a baby to sleep like no one’s business. I’m such the stereotypical girl, and living in Asheville only makes it harder, because being a femme renders one invisible here, amidst all the obvious, genderqueer dykey types. About two weeks after I came here, I wrote in a letter to a friend, “There’s totally a uniform here – boys’ cargo shorts, white t-shirts, that cocky kind of stance and the butch nod to top it all off. It’s mindblowingly hot, and totally out of my range. But if you don’t wear the uniform, you don’t get to play the game. So maybe I need to suck it up and fake it ‘til I make it?”
Part of it’s a safety issue – I want to be able to get lunch without being hit on, and there’s always the fear that I’m sending off the wrong signals somehow, inviting disaster. And a lot of it has to do with that strange blend between desire and admiration – because my knees go weak for women who wear boy clothes and have calloused hands, I hate myself for not being that way. Any joy I might take in desiring someone else is countered by the self-loathing I feel upon comparison.
Here’s a letter I wrote myself about a year back, just to show how far back the problem goes:
“The thing is, I hate being femme. Hate it. I hate having to wear a bra every day, I hate worrying about whether a particular sweater makes me look fat, I hate sucking my stomach in the second someone pulls out a camera, and I really, really hate the word ‘panties.’ I hate all these stupid trappings of femininity – which is not to say that I can’t enjoy being girly, sometimes, but it doesn’t even feel like a choice, anymore, because people can only see me as femme. If I’m wearing boy clothes, then I must be in drag, and it’s something cute and funny and completely unrealistic. If I shove my girlfriend against a wall, then I’m ‘acting butch.’ I got a fucking buzzcut, and Eve said it looked ‘chic.’ Anytime I do anything unfeminine, people treat it as something cute or rebellious or incongruous, and I hate that. I am not happy in my body, and I never have been, and I think that’s because I’m stuck in this femme mindset that I never asked for. Because I’ve always admired butch women and flaming queens and genderqueer folks, always, and found them unbearably attractive and alluring, but when it comes to my own body, I judge it by all these stupid beauty standards advocated in Cosmo. That’s what’s wrong.
I try to escape all of that: I cut all my hair off and stopped shaving and I can’t remember the last time I wore makeup. And I feel good about these decisions, but not about myself. Why is it that, when someone calls me hot, my first instinct is to get away as quickly as possible? Even when the compliment comes from my girlfriend, who loves me on so many levels and appreciates my mind first, who is clearly not objectifying me or saying anything I should find threatening? Why can’t I wear a bathing suit out in public, not even amongst strangers? I mean, really, I don’t understand, because I love curves; I love real bodies and I like for my arms to be full when I hold someone close; I love girls with some solidity to them, because it’s real and it’s too fucking hot. None of my sexual fantasies revolve around women who could pose for beauty magazines; they’re all too fat or too butch or too short or too tough or too something to ever make it in those pages, and I love that. So why can I love all these traits in others when I still used some pretty fucked-up standards for myself? It isn’t right.
Also, you know what? The only time I’ve felt comfortable in my body all week occurred last night, and took some stealth and preparation on my part. Here’s what I did: I dug out an old polo shirt of my brother’s and some knee-length shorts, slipped into boxers and pulled on a sports bra, and mussed my hair up so it looked almost boyish. And I put on the most embarrassing songs: ‘Faded’ by Soul Decision, ‘Here We Go’ by N Sync, ‘The Way You Like It’ by LFO. And I fucking broke it down. And I don’t even dance, not outside of my room, not ever, but last night, in here, I let go and rocked out and watched myself in the mirror the whole time, and let me tell you: it looked good. I did. Before last night, I can’t tell you when the last time I thought that way was, but it’s been ages. But then, last night, it was like really seeing myself, all sweaty and frustrated and letting go for the first time in ages, and it felt like validation.
I wish it didn’t come down to a choice, because that’s not even one I could make. I can’t even allow myself to ask questions like 'What if I’m trans?' because I know what I’ll do with the answers, and that is nothing. I like wearing boy clothes and boy deodorant and washing myself with my brother’s Axe bodywash (after trying several, I’ve decided that Phoenix is the only scent for me). I like doing the butch nod, and I like looking down and not having breasts in the way. As much as these things thrill me, they also feel comfortable and safe and right. But at the same time, I could never live as a male. I love men – nearly all my friends and favorite people are male – but I don’t love maleness, not as a construct. I hate the patriarchy, and I couldn’t let myself buy into it by changing my body and my name and taking on all the privilege that would entail. That wouldn’t feel lucky; it would just be this terrible burden I have no interest in claiming. Plus, taking testosterone is so dangerous; it elevates your risk for cancer and shortens your lifespan, and I can’t commit to that kind of risk, not when I don’t want it with everything in me. I respect that some people – a lot of people – transition hormonally and surgically because they can’t live full, honest lives otherwise, but that isn’t me. Not right now, anyway. Because I like wearing twirly skirts and the smoothness of my skin, all these little girly things, too, and wouldn’t want to be without them.
So once again, I want it all. But what’s unfair is that my attractions don’t match up with who I want to be, not at all. Because I’m traditionally attracted to women on the butcher side of the spectrum, and those women are almost always looking for femmes, so that puts me in a weird place. And if I were a boy? I would be so fucking gay. Already, look at the company I keep, and the people who take up most of my thoughts: they’re all gay men, mostly flamboyant. I would make the nelliest man ever. I would be all the time calling people “girl” and singing along to Cher and snapping at people; I would be a karaoke queen. I would want to be like Prior from Angels in America, or Emmett from Queer As Folk, someone who can be fierce and vulnerable at the same time. So here’s a question: do I feel that I can’t live that way now, as a woman? And if so, what is that about?”
I still don’t know the answer to that question, even though it’s on my mind every single day. Even now, tonight, there’s nothing more I can write, because it would be lying to wrap this up tidily, to claim that I’ve since embraced my femme self. I wear dangly earrings and lip gloss now, and I can occasionally make it through a bra-shopping venture without breaking down sobbing in the dressing room. It would seem that I’ve come into my own, or had at least started down that path. But the truth is, I still believe I’d be safer, happier, less prone to these bouts of self-loathing if I were less girly. It’s hard to settle into a femme identity without taking on the traditional feminine beauty standards; it’s hard to break the associations between femininity and commoditization, and to exist outside of that fucked-up system. But either society has to shift dramatically, or my thinking’s got to undergo a major correction, and while I understand that it has to be the latter option, it’s hard for me to visualize a way out of this.
Here’s where you guys can help: who are the most kickass girly-girls you can name, whether they’re fictional or completely corporeal? Really, I want to know.
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