Normalising Femininity

Hello again,

Yes, I am still alive.

My latest quibble is that femininity still isn’t quite ‘normal’ for me. As it turns out, nineteen years of exclusively masculine gender presentation can be a difficult series of personal norms and comfort zones to work out of oneself. Indeed, I’m in one of the most tolerant, open-minded environments in the world – a university English course full of friends across a range of sexual and gender identities – but it’s still not easy. Damn entrenched gender norms.

For instance, when I get dressed in the morning – provided I’m not feeling aggressively masculine or aggressively feminine, in which case all logic goes out the window and I dash for the nearest pair of tracksuit trousers or heels respectively – I float towards jeans and t-shirts. Putting on a skirt involves some additional effort, some conscious decision to ‘be more feminine’; more feminine than what? I’m currently naked, don’t have a lot of facial hair and was probably dreaming about nail care products; yet even when I am at my least obviously masculine, engaging with femininity is still a bit of a challenge.

Obviously, this is something that will improve with time. There was a time where the thought of doing injections before every meal terrified me, and now I’m honestly so used to diabetes that sometimes I take dosages of insulin, and then forget to eat after them; if self-medication can become more normal than even eating, wearing eyeliner should become normalised fairly quickly.

The end goal to all this is a paradox of the critically important and the completely meaningless. I want to be more feminine, sure, and that’s important to me. But I don’t want to be seen and valued exclusively as such; whether I’m in a dress or jeans, I’d like people to talk to me because I have interesting things to say, not for how I’m dressed. This exact thought led to a lot of insecurity around this time last year; if you just want to be exactly the same person, but dressed differently, why is this so hard? my subconscious would ask, why can’t you just wear a dress and be done with it, why the change in name and pronouns, the self-absorbed blog post and the angry emails to UCL to get them to change my ID card?

Honestly, that voice speaks a lot of sense, and I can’t say with any certainty if I completely agree or disagree with it. But I do know that what makes me comfortable, and has made me more willing to see my friends, and get out of bed in the morning, and generally be proud of who I am, is a wardrobe that includes a few more cute skirts, and a morning routine that is just about long enough to allow me to wear eyeliner most days.

And so in the absence of any grandiose conclusion, about the nature of gender and its relationship to human identity, I’m just doing what’s comfortable. Admittedly, what’s comfortable is still a bit weird, but not as weird as it once was; when I started wearing heels, every step was a physical reminder that something was different, that I was different, and that this was a novelty to be savoured; but now I accept that heels are heels, they’re pretty, they’re painful, but they oughtn’t reshape my whole perception of myself.

So I’ve started wearing skirts around the house, and garish colours of nail paint, or makeup when I know I won’t go out. Because, for me, masculinity isn’t the default, and femininity not an acceptable, but ultimately mostly sidelined, set of values reserved for special events and big nights out. I’m slowly shuffling towards the centre of the gender spectrum, it’s just taking a while.

And doing it in heels will, for the first time in human history, get me there faster.

Baby Steps

Hello,

Yes, I am both alive and writing! This impromptu hiatus came from the good old-fashioned ‘shit I have a year’s worth of revision to do in three weeks’ fear, which is quite a reassuring kind of piercing dread compared to the other sources of piercing dread in my life these days.

And it’s that piercing dread, and assorted painful emotions prefaced with violent adjectives, that I want to write about today: shattering fear, gouging regret, gut-ripping despair, and the like.

This last year, from September to now, has been the hardest of my life. Certainly not the worst, but absolutely the hardest. I’ve fallen out with at least two close circles of friends twice each, and painstaking rebuilt the bridges I myself burned in operations about as easy as constructing a 1:1 scale replica of the Empire State Building out of matchsticks, chewing gum and discarded zippers from Sports Direct tracksuits. I also shed my assigned gender in scenes closely resembling the emergence of a butterfly from a cocoon, except if that butterfly suffered from crippling insecurity issues and fled back to their boring cocoon state whenever they hung out with their more beautiful and experienced butterfly mates who have been doing this butterfly malarkey for much longer. I started a magazine, lost interest, picked it up again, lost it again, and generally behaved as inconsistently as Rowan Atkinson’s character in the first season of Blackadder, and I was simultaneously distant from all of my societies, yet fanatically interested enough to sign up for two committee positions – including a presidency – next year, all but ruining any fledgling hope I still had of getting a first.

It’s been a year of swings, from wanting to get all dolled up in heels and makeup one minute, to loathing myself and anyone who comments on my appearance the next; from feeling painfully lonely one second, then being afraid of my friends at any social gathering with alcohol and/or more than five people. I was once told that this year has been like a pendulum, and I’m swinging wildly now, but it will soon settle into a more composed and coherent middle ground.

And last night, for the first time, I began to see that middle ground.

I was invited to a three-tiered social extravaganza, promising to whisk me from pub to flat to club like a Disney princess, only with fewer anthropomorphised lizards and more crushing social anxiety. In first year, I would have jumped at such an opportunity; I’d have put on one of my many shirts that falls into the ‘edgy and offensive but not quite insulting enough to result in my being barred from a club’ collection, rocked up painfully punctually, and enjoyed an evening of watching my friends fall into drunken, and hilarious, stages of affection, poor life choices and endlessly retweeted regret. This year, however, such interactions have filled me with horror; for reasons both personal and tediously complex I’ve developed a de facto fear of alcohol, for reasons mental I’ve fallen into increasingly unstable voids of non-confidence about my gender and appearance, and for reasons relating to my personal failures I’ve neglected a lot of my friends, turning social interactions into awkward bridge-rebuilding exercises, rather than anything necessarily fun.

Last night, however, these factors were more nuanced. The fear of alcohol was still there, and it honestly made the night difficult. Even the diabetes tried to screw me over, making everything a little more stressful and painful. But gender wasn’t an issue; I wore a dress and did my makeup and felt genuinely pretty for perhaps the first time ever. I talked to friends, and instead of our early exchanges being awkward and forced, I thought they were fun and relaxed. People were open and talkative, rather than shunning me in the way that I perhaps would have done had our roles been reversed.

Because ultimately, I don’t fit into a lot of ‘conventional’ (in heavy air quotes) social circles: I don’t drink but quite enjoy dancing but hate being in large, loud groups but love being lost in a crowd; I like playing sports but hate the afterparties but enjoy becoming stronger and fitter but hate gyms. If every social scene has, say, ten key features, I usually enjoy about five of them, and am repulsed or scared by the other five.

However, this is not to complain aimlessly, but to provide a starting point for next year. If there aren’t enough non-drinking socials at a sports club, I’ll invent some; I’m a president for gods’ sake. If I like dancing but hate most club music I’ll find new venues and drag my well-meaning but confused friends along to those. I’ve spent two years trying every social niche I can find – arts societies, magazines, sports clubs, after-work socials, you name it – and instead of getting frustrated at not fitting into one or two, I should be looking for new things, and if that fails, making my own amusement.

And I’m sure I’m not the first person in the world to think this. Surely not everyone at KOKO genuinely feels as elated as the handful of grinning dancers in photos they plaster all over their Facebook page, so I don’t want to set up a ‘me against the world’ approach where all my friends represent mainstream enemies, and I’ll find enjoyment by shunning them to start one-person moshpits in my bedroom. I’ve tried that, and it sucks.

I don’t know where this approach will lead me, but I’m excited to find out. In year one I tried everything under the sun, in year two I tried nothing out of fear and spite; now let’s find some events I’ll love with the people who are important.

Casey