“Can we say that you’re the prince of Morocco and ask if there’s a discount for royalty?” my partner’s sister asked as we crossed the parking lot toward the movie theater. With my jacket and tie, pocket square and vintage tie clip, my sunglasses and my shiny black shoes and a lovely lady walking on either side of me, I did feel like a prince.
We went into the bathroom and a woman did a violent double take, then hurried out the door. I smirked to myself and admired my reflection in the mirror before I claimed a stall.
“Did you see her expression?” asked my partner’s sister, laughing.
“Happens all the time,” I said.
“What about it?” my partner said. “I didn’t see.”
This is such a normal part of being in public with me that my partner sometimes doesn’t even notice it anymore.
Let’s back up a bit. When I was in high school my wardrobe consisted of baggy t-shirts, baggy cargo pants, baggy fleece jackets, and sneakers. I figured that the best way to present as genderless was to look as shapeless as possible. Unfortunately, shapelessness just looked like sloppiness, so in college I added baggy button-down shirts on top (collars are classy). After college I discovered that sneakers are not the only kind of shoe and I began wearing oxfords.
Living in the Real World for the past couple of years, I came to two realizations:
- Clothes that fit look good.
- I’d rather look good than look genderless.
And, let’s be honest, the shapeless thing wasn’t making me look genderless anyway, probably because I had waist-length curly hair. I gave it up and started buying the smallest clothes in the men’s department. I now figured that the best way to look genderless was to present as masculine and let my female body balance it out.
Then I began spending more time with my partner in public, and it occurred to me that we might, on occasion, look like a straight couple. Her gender is fluid and I don’t have one, but she presents as feminine and I present as masculine, so when we don’t look like your typical femme and butch lesbian couple, we look straight. Weird. If I have to be seen as something I’m not, I’d rather be seen as a gay woman, not a straight man. When in doubt, be more subversive.
In fact, it feels more subversive in general for a genderless person to present as feminine. When society considers masculine the default and androgyny is actually just masculinity lite – when every genderless, gender-neutral, and genderqueer person I know presents as masculine – being feminine is an act of rebellion.
I don’t have the money to be buying new clothes all the time, but I did try on skirts in the dressing room. I looked at myself in the mirror, and I felt like a man. It was the strangest thing; I’ve felt masculine before, and I’ve enjoyed knowing that others thought I was a man, but I’ve never felt like a man until then. I tried to change the way I stood, tried to remember how women stand, and I could not shake the unsettling feeling that I was a man in a skirt. Possibly a gay man in a skirt. It was unclear.
One day I wore the most feminine shirt I own, which is purple with a flower pattern and has a low v-neck and short girly sleeves. (If the sleeves were any shorter you would be able to see my underarm hair, which would kind of ruin the effect. I try not to wave my arms too wildly while wearing it.) I put on my sandals and walked with a touch of sway. I let my fluffy hair blow in the wind. San Diego is a wonderful place to be feminine. I bet that’s why there are songs about California girls.
“Excuse me, miss,” said a man who had to reach past me.
I gave him a sunshiny smile and said, “No problem,” and as soon as he was gone my phone was in my hand and I was typing a giddy message to my partner to tell her about how I was called “miss”. I stopped in the middle of typing. What the heck? People called me “miss” almost every day and I had to fight disappointment. Why was I so happy about it this time?
This is how I learned that my disappointment is not entirely about being seen as something I’m not. I’ve come to accept that I will always be seen as something I’m not, as long as society is so determined to see gender everywhere it looks. What disappoints me is when I make an effort to communicate something and people don’t get my message. That day I consciously, deliberately communicated femininity, and people understood. And there was much rejoicing.
Since it’s not hard for me to present as feminine when I feel like it (I just have to stop actively presenting as masculine) I won’t be changing my wardrobe anytime soon, but inwardly a couple of things have changed since the last post I wrote about my gender.
- The most peaceful way I’ve found to deal with my lack of gender is to not care what gender people see when they look at me. It’s almost guaranteed that they’re going to be wrong, but… so what? Rolling with their assumptions is kind of fun. Playing with their assumptions is even more fun.
- The most subversive pronoun I can use is “she”, because “he” is both masculine and neutral in this society, and that’s not right. Masculine should not be the default. Therefore, even though I still would like people to use “they” whenever possible, I no longer mind when people use “she” for me. I mean, hey, use “he” if you want to, whatever, I don’t really care anymore, but I feel more connected to “she” and it’s officially my second choice.
Nowadays, I practice laissez faire genderlessness.
Strolling along the sidewalk from the library to the coffee shop, I noticed heads turning. Every eye lingered. In slim jeans and a slim button-down shirt, with my short hair de-fluffed by gel, my messenger bag’s strap across my bound chest, headphones in my ears and sunglasses highlighting the angles of my face, I probably looked like a small metrosexual man. Today, that was the goal.
I grinned. Let them stare. I’ll just pretend they’re checking me out. Because – I mean really – could you blame them?