Like a Girl
This one’s a little personal.
I’ve been growing my hair out on and off since I was about thirteen years old. Normal enough for a teenager, especially given my inclination towards metal music, you might think. Yet it was only when I got broad and tall-ish and got stubble that the ‘cut your hair’ heckles died down. There was a time when I would scarcely go a day without a skinhead in a car giving me fashion advice seemingly at the expense of their ability to drive at the speed limit.
I don’t want to accuse these people of shouting ‘CONFORM’ at me, although it certainly seemed like that was it at the time. They probably just didn’t understand why a boy was growing his hair out. Why would you want to look more like a girl?
As much as I’d love to get all pedantic and pull out the ‘long hair was the default in the past’ card, the average heckler doesn’t know about the Victorian-era’s rediscovery and reverence of Roman culture (the short back and sides of the ancient world). Is this how I offended? Did you think that my Y chromosome would come out sword in hand and lop off my locks once they grew past my ears? Did you mistake me for a girl for a second? Did that make you uncomfortable? Is the idea of a gender binary so rigid in your head that something as simple as neglecting to get a haircut makes you freak out enough to shout at strangers?
Needless to say there is a scale between male and female that some people just cannot see and those that don’t fall one hundred percent on one side should be able to present as such without getting called out in public. On that, I think most of us can agree.
Yet still I feel like I have to explain why I might be wearing a shirt designed for women, as if I’m breaking some rule, when most of the time I doubt people even know which side of the store I bought my shirts from. Most people probably don’t care, but the people that do care, that would rather shout at strangers than look the other way, are still on my mind. I don’t know whether it is these experiences specifically, or societal attitudes in general, that have led to internalised guilt on my part for pursuing typically non-male avenues of presenting myself, but I do feel ashamed, just as strongly as I feel the need to express myself.
And I have been. I grow my nails, although I have to make an excuse for it every week or so. When I wore some glittery varnish on them in the past I had to cringe through a few ‘are you trying to tell us something’s and raised eyebrows, but I understand that. I understand that because if you don’t conform to your birth gender you raise alarm bells. There’s a whole series of jokes in various comedy shows and routines that stems from transphobia and rigid views of gender expression, and that bleeds through into real life, and people’s confusion turns into bigotry and hatred.
I refuse to be bound by that.
Some people grow up in very religious communities, or countries where they have no choice but to conform to a specified gender binary. Without the finances to move away from these situations, merely expressing themselves can be harmful, or even deadly.
I am lucky. I live in the UK in a time period where understanding is encouraged.
And yet I fear, and I hide myself away, and I have periods where I don’t know how I’ll make it through the day.
If you are scared, please understand that you can act. There are little things you can do to express yourself, there are doctors and there are therapists even if you cannot turn to your family or friends, and if anyone tells you that you cannot be yourself, screw ’em.
There’s nothing wrong with being a boy. There’s nothing wrong with being a girl. There’s nothing wrong with being neither.
And there’s nothing wrong with being who you are, no matter what your birth certificate says.