When I watch my young nieces play with fairy toys and show off their latest little dresses I sometimes wonder whether they had a choice in liking fairies or dresses at all. Sure, the oldest one loves her princesses and unicorns and the younger one, well, I’m not quite sure. She reminds me most of me. I know she loves cats at least.
I wasn’t given the choice, not at first. I was put in dresses I hated wearing and by the time I was old enough to dress myself I stopped wearing them. During those years I still had the girly stereotype pushed upon me as though the way I chose to dress and style my hair was wrong.
These days I look around at people who watch me or talk to me and I don’t get the usual feelings I did when I was a kid, ones where I felt judged for wearing jeans, a t-shirt and had short black hair with a wispy little fringe. And the two dozen or so hats I owned. These days girls can dress how they want and people don’t give them as much grief as they did in the early 90s. At least, that’s what I’ve gleaned from my observations. I haven’t set foot in a school playground for a long time. I would begin to raise eyebrows if I did.
I’ve been told all my life to act more lady-like in some of the most ridiculous ways. It was hinted to me that I should want to have a small fluffy dog instead of the large wolf-like breeds I often wanted. I even got told that girls drink wine and guys drink beer. Not being one to back down to social conventions I stood my ground, called the person old fashioned which was received as an insult – because telling a young woman she’s acting more like a guy because she chooses to drink beer isn’t insulting enough – and then returned to the drinks cooler and picked up another beer.
I have heard snickers from strangers about me being gay but I’ve taken it upon myself to only be hurt by the truth. Just because I dress a certain way and keep my hair short doesn’t mean I’m gay or want to be male. They’re just clothes and a haircut. I come from a family of three girls and one boy and I looked up to my brother because he was the less bossy one but I was still intimidated by him a bit especially in his teen years. According to some I worshiped the ground he walked on and what he was into I also wanted to be into.
Even earlier than that I was deeply absorbed in children’s films and related most of the young protagonist who was often male and when I like characters I tend to dress like them, mimic their accent and mannerisms and feel like I am them. Because of an isolated childhood of having my own voice stuck in my own mind because of a severe social anxiety disorder called selective mutism and autism that made me feel comfortable in this isolation, I spent many hours in front of the TV watching such films, from The Never Ending Story to the Home Alone films and The Three Ninjas and hell, even Small Soldiers in my teen years.
I really do believe that early in life we’re influenced about how to dress and act by the people around us and I ignored a lot of those people, had absolutely no interest in fitting in or sharing with them and was influenced most by the films and TV characters I watched.
Androgyny is a word that often has a negative connotation attached to it in Western society because if you don’t fit society’s view of what a girl or woman should be then you deserve a label such as tomboy, something I was called quite a lot in my childhood and teen years. It never really bothered me much being called that because I liked being different but at the same time knew there were others out there like me. To be honest I see nothing negative about being called androgynous.
I’m very comfortable with the way I am, the way I dress and my constant need for a messy mop of hair that tends to stick out. It must have first come from my desire to look just like an anime character. Then, in my early 20s I seemed to fit snuggly into the emo scene and now I both watch and photograph a lot of rock bands with unkempt hair. There’s also the whole writer thing; if I’m spending most days locked in my room in front of a PC I really have no need to keep my hair tidy. Seems a waste of time to me too as I seem to just end up running my hands through it in frustration over having absolutely no focus on the topic at hand be it writing a few new scenes or reading a physics or mental health article someone posted on Facebook.
There was a time where I tried to dress more ‘girly.’ It took a great deal of effort to do that and I was often tired by the time I had to go out. I couldn’t keep up with the changing fashion nor did I have much variety in my wardrobe, but what made me finally decide to stop dressing up was that it made me feel like a fraud. I was even uncomfortable in clothes. The thin material that seemed to stick to my skin often itched and I was just aware that I was wearing it. On every corner of my body I could feel the itchy suffocating material like my body was inside a vacuumed sucked bag.
I wasn’t even dressing up for myself but for other people and that didn’t feel right to me. It was just one night to dress up and hope males found me attractive and then it would be over. I saw no point in it and had better luck with guys who took me in all my emo garb.
The truth is I feel more comfortable in my variety of geeky $10 t-shirts with an opened buttoned down long sleeved check shirt (also, to avoid a skin allergy flare up) and cargo pants. Not to mention the Captain America belt. Even skinny black jeans become uncomfortable to wear, though I still force myself into them whenever I go see live bands. As for shoes you can’t beat a pair of Macbeth Elliots. I’ve been wearing them for over ten years. I tried another type but it just didn’t work out.
I’ve even made it quite clear that I will not wear a dress to my sister’s wedding later this year. Instead, I have put my hand up to be the official photographer. I just so happen to have some camera equipment worth a couple of grand and 10 years experience in photography behind me. And all it’s costing me is a couple hundred dollars worth of travel insurance to avoid wearing a wasps nest for a dress. No photographer that doesn’t usually shoot weddings would offer their services for free, especially a band photographer, but I’d rather not face the day itching, fixing up my clothes and walking like a zombie or robot for most of the day. My clothes should feel like an extension of my skin. Anyway, it’s no harm to my sister because I’ve already driven most of my family crazy with my little anxiety related freak outs over travelling overseas to go to this wedding.
I had to get through a childhood of being mocked for having air force (which is awesome, by the way) short hair, striped shirts and hoodies and classic 90s blue jeans. And the latter I still like to wear. These days I get less of that and I breathe a sigh of relief for the other girls who don’t have to be teased by their peers about looking like a boy or being gay or have people seriously tell them ‘you can’t do that – that’s what boys do.’
And I know my brother and my sister in law. They are intelligent and opened minded people and I’m sure if their girls decided one day to drop princesses for pirates they’d be met with a lot of support.