A skirt doesn’t alter my identity

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At the start of high school, I dressed in baggy clothes and clunky boots. My head was shaved. If it weren’t for my short stature, I might’ve easily been mistaken for a boy. I was actively creating distance between myself and my idea of femininity. Like many others, I associated my femininity with weakness and ignorance. I had grown to hate it over time, to hate the way it enabled people to view me and treat me. I did what I felt would protect me from those misconceptions. By presenting androgynously, I convinced myself that I would be perceived as stronger and more intelligent. I thought I would be taken more seriously. I was insecure in my femininity and, while I didn’t know it at the time, insecure in my identity as a woman overall. 

I had for so long associated being a woman with the trauma that accompanies it. Misogyny didn’t wait for me to be sixteen, couldn’t even wait for me to understand the word. I had experienced multiple instances of harassment based on my perceived gender before I became a teenager. I resented being perceived as a woman because of this, inadvertently internalizing the very misogyny I had experienced. When I first started questioning my gender identity, I experienced severe imposter syndrome and convinced myself that my choice of expression was a trauma response and nothing more. It took a lot of good friends and a lot of learning to confront how I was feeling and realize that I was non-binary. 

There is a freedom to be found in realizing something about yourself, especially something like this. When I realized that I wasn’t a woman, I allowed myself to wear the clothes I kept hidden in my closet. Crop tops, skirts, even the color pink suddenly felt safe for me to enjoy. I gave myself permission to be feminine and engage with the things I had viewed as limiting for so long. I had to relearn a lot about what femininity meant to me and how gender expression and identity differed, but I eventually reached a place of being secure in both.  

Obviously, I experience some issues being an AFAB (assigned female at birth) person who presents femininely. People around me tend to default to the “she” in “she/they.” I’m aware that I will usually be perceived by people who don’t know me as a “woman” rather than a non-binary person. While these things used to hurt me, I find that I don’t care about them as more time passes. I am comfortable in my identity, and I am validated both through my own experience and the experiences of those close to me.  

Since coming to Lawrence, I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by people who have undertaken similarly weird journeys with their gender. Some of the people I’ve talked to are still figuring it out, and it makes me feel better because I feel like I’m still figuring it out too. I might not ever find that destination point at which I fully understand my feelings on the matter, but that’s fine, because I am happy right here and right now. I don’t need to figure everything out and I don’t owe any explanations about it to anyone. 

So maybe I’m failing at being non-binary. It’s a conclusion I’ve come to after multiple experiences of being misgendered and a conclusion that has been expressed by others previous to my adopting of it. I do not fit within the confines of the skinny, perfectly androgynous non-binary person that many people expect. I won’t cut my hair, and I won’t perform. My gender is not aesthetic or simple, but it’s mine. It’s mine, and that’s good enough for me.