I’ve been having a lot of gender-anxiety lately. You’d think that semi-openly identifying myself as genderfluid and getting a tattoo about it and all would quell this anxiety somewhat, but if anything it seems to have gotten worse. It feels like I constantly have to perform my identity and that if I don’t do it 100% correctly 100% of the time, then I’m a fraud.
The whole thing’s ridiculous, I know – as if I’m expecting the Nonbinary Police to kick down my door one day, revoke my genderfluid card, and officially declare me a “confused ciswoman” – but the anxiety’s still there. And recently, it surfaced in a completely unexpected setting: a queer-friendly comics expo.
The cupcake dress
Queerness and nonbinary-ness were just about everywhere I looked at the expo – from the amazing indie comics for sale (and their authors) to a panel I attended devoted entirely to the exploration of genderfluidity in a sci-fi context. But in spite of the great variety of gender expression I saw in people’s appearance, I started to feel very self-conscious about my own.
That day I wore my pink cupcake dress. By “pink cupcake dress” I mean a sweet, floofy, borderline-lolita dress complete with a petticoat. I look goddamn adorable in that dress. And let’s face it: adorable is the only kind of look I can pull off. I got a lot of compliments on my appearance that day by all kinds of people at the expo, including one of the genderfluidity-in-sci-fi panelists.
But still I worried about what those same folks would think of how I dressed if they knew I identified as genderfluid. In spite of the “fluid” part, a lot of people seem to equate genderfluidity with perfectly-balanced, effortless androgyny – not with doing what makes you feel comfortable, including changing things up and playing with the extremes of gender norms.
I like playing with extremes. I mentioned lolita fashion earlier, which is a style that has long fascinated me, and I think one of the things I love most about it is that it seems to take certain youthful feminine ideals to an extreme degree. It’s as if someone said “Oh, you want me to be cute, modest, and frilly? I’LL SHOW YOU CUTE, MODEST, AND FRILLY!” and created the most adorably excessive thing they could think of.
There’s nothing wrong with androgynous style, of course, and I try to rock it whenever I can. But style should be about self-expression. And since my gender is in constant flux, shouldn’t my style be a little bit in flux as well?
The more I think about it, the more it bothers me that I was bothered at all. I shouldn’t feel like some kind of gender traitor just because I like to wear floofy dresses sometimes.
The pronoun dance
Of course, this isn’t just about appearance. For me, it’s also about that much-mocked subject of personal pronouns. I’ve been feeling a strange amount of discomfort about my lack of discomfort with the pronouns I’ve lived with my whole life: she/her.
Part of me does want to switch pronouns – probably to they/them – but the rest of me is exhausted by the thought of giving them out to everyone and correcting assumptions and dealing with the “but it’s grammatically incorrect” crap. And I get doubly exhausted thinking of how much more pressure a switch in pronouns would put on me to discard my feminine side completely, which I frankly don’t want to do.
More than laziness, though, there’s also my worry about being a bother to other people, which will probably kill me one day. I can’t even bring myself to ask friends if I can have a glass of water when I’m over at their homes; imagine me trying to ask them to change the entire way they talk about me. It’s downright laughable.
The understanding partner
During a recent visit from my partner, I was driving us home from dinner with a friend when our conversation somehow got on the subject of my gender identity. More than merely accepting my genderfluidity, he seems to have embraced it; so I felt comfortable telling him about some of the anxiety I’ve been having about it.
Sitting at a stoplight, I told him how nervous I felt about the whole issue of personal pronouns, and whether not changing them meant that I wasn’t really genderfluid. Staring at the light, I tapped the steering wheel nervously and he put his hand on my knee to comfort me.
“You don’t have to prove anything to anyone,” he said gently.
I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding and the light changed. It was such a small, simple thing to say, but after being stuck in my own head for so long, I really needed to hear it. I suspect a lot of nonbinary people do.
So in case you have no one in your life to say it to you, I’ll repeat it: you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. You really, really don’t. Nobody can take your identity away from you just because you don’t look or talk or act the way they expect you to. And fuck anyone who tries.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bunch of floofy dresses to buy.