“I’m a girl but I REALLY hate wearing dresses. They just make me feelsuper uncomfortable. On New Years Eve my mom said I had to wear a dress. I didn’twant to, I explained why and wore a button down, collared shirt and corduroy pants instead. My brother was wearing something very similar to me. My mom said that I didn’t look nice enough and said many terrible things that really hurt my feelings. When I wear something slightly boyish she tells me its not appropriate and makes me feel terrible. How do I deal with this?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Anita Dolce Vita as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.
This sounds like a very painful experience and I am sorry that this happened to you. First and foremost, if you feel that you may be in an abusive situation or that your physical and/or emotional safety is at risk, please reach out to a trusted teacher, mentor,social worker, counselor, coach, health care provider, or other supportive adult. Your safety is of primary importance.
Having said this, parents often express unfavorable opinions about their children’sbehaviors, which may feel abusive but may not necessarily manifest in immediatedanger to anyone’s safety. All of us, including our parents, are socialized from the moment we come out of the womb to adopt social norms, many of which are rooted in harmful “-isms” and phobias. Your mother’s behavior is more a reflection of how she has been socialized into the norms of mainstream culture, rather than a reflection of your worth. As Will Smith once rapped, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” We often feel hurt when our parents disapprove of our partners, our identities, our careers, our clothing, our friends, our weight, etc. When it comes to self-care, the key is to understand that, while validation feels good, your mother’s lack of understanding is less about you and more about her own issues. She may come around one day. She may not. Either way, you have to know your own worth. You are valuable irrespective of her criticism.
You can participate in conversations and exercises to help educate her about style and gender and to discuss how her criticism makes you feel. Qwear has a great article that includes conversation starters, such as each of you talking about your favorite outfits and commenting on why these outfits make you feel empowered. Another helpful exercise recommended by Qwear is to have your mother make a list of stereotypes of how women are “supposed to act” and then identify the ways in which she doesn’t fit those stereotypes. You can point out that, like her, you do not fit all of the stereotypes of how women are “supposed to act,” with your clothing preferences being a non-stereotypical trait that makes you special. In your conversations, you can sit with her and explore empowering queer style sites like I Dream of Dapper, Qwear and dapperQ. Show her successful female-identified “menswear” models, like Elliot Sailors, who are changing the way we look at clothing. When you talk to her about the way her criticism makes you feel, you can also refer to anti-bullying projects, such as The Dapper Chicks of New York, which uses a common love of “menswear” to address cyber-bullying. If your mother would be open to therapy, you can always look for a professional therapist who specializes in sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to help facilitate conversations.
In the meantime, it is important to feel supported and I highly recommend building your own social networks that can provide you with a safe space. In addition to your local LGBTQ center and/or gay-straight alliance (if you have either of those nearby), here are some great places to start:
"I want to cut my hair short, but I am a competitive dancer and this would go against company rules. It’s getting to the point that the femininity isn’t comfortable. What less radical/ less permanent changes can I make to feel better about how I look?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Anita Dolce Vita as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.
First off, I am terribly sorry to hear that your company’s rules do not support diversity of gender expression. Unfortunately, this type of discrimination is a common occurrence, so much so that dapperQ recently launched a new “CorporateQ” series, which explores the intersection of style, identity, and workplace gender politics. I invite you to check it out, as you may relate to many of the readers’ stories of feeling pressured to conform to normative binary gender roles in the workplace and you may also find support in how these readers dealt with said pressure. (We also invite you to submit your story to dapperQ@gmail.com, which you can do anonymously if you wish.)
That said, I understand that you prefer to have short hair. Many people, regardless of where they fall within (or outside of) the feminine-masculine gender spectrum prefer shorter cuts. However, if your goal is to achieve a masculine look via a short hair cut, I can say this: long hair does not have to be associated with femininity. Part of dismantling the normative gender binary is to challenge traditional notions about what constitutes femininity and masculinity. There are plenty of long hair style options for masculine and androgynous presenting folks. The article “Styles and Cuts for Long-Haired dapperQs” is a good source of inspiration. I have also created a Pinterest board with additional masculine/androgynous long-hair options for you, which you can find here. Included in the Pinterest board are several images of “muns” (masculine buns), a style that is all the rage right now for masculine presenting celebrities and “menswear” models, as well as some examples of how you can style long hair into a faux pompadour.
Another less permanent change you can make to achieve the look you desire is to dress in more masculine/androgynous leaning attire. For smaller impact, you can start with adding accessories such as bow-ties, suspenders, and “menswear” inspired shoes. Or, if you feel comfortable and confident doing so, you can don pant suits, button-downs, and trousers with traditionally masculine silhouettes. dapperQ has a wealth of resources, including a store guide, to help get you started on your style journey.
"I am a feminine-appearing person who recently realized that I am genderqueer. How do I strike a balance between wanting to be open about who I am (pronoun preferences, I don’t like to be referred to as "miss" or "lady", etc) and not wanting to have to explain my admittedly confusing gender identity to every family member, friend, and co-worker?"
- Question asked by Anonymous and answered by Red Davidson as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.
I‘m going to be 100% honest with you: these are things I am also currently struggling with, down to finding my own gender confusing. So first I’d just like to say: coming out to yourself is just as hard (if not harder) as coming out to other people. So good job and congratulations.
I’m so glad that you know you don’t have/want to explain everything about your gender to other people. Because you really don’t owe an explanation to anyone (not even yourself, remain confused about your gender for however long you please). Assuming you are surrounded by nothing but wonderful, accepting people, the way you come out doesn’t have to involve anything beyond saying “I don’t identify as a girl, and I’d prefer you use [your pronouns] to refer to me.” And you can also specify what sort of gendered (or non-gendered) language you’d like people to use for you (here’s a list of gender neutral/queer titles!) As long as people are respecting you, and referring to you using the language you prefer, you really don’t need to worry about whether or not they know the complexities of how you identify.
Of course, not all people are wonderful. I would brace yourself for invasive and insensitive questions—even if you’re surrounded by well-intending people. In that case you can direct them to trans 101 resources online (or just tell them to google it themselves). A quick Google search pulled up a “Tips for Trans Allies” article on GLAAD’s website. I obviously don’t know your family, friends, or co-workers, and I definitely hope that they will at least try to be accepting, but if there is a chance someone will react with outright transphobia and hate, please know how to prepare yourself for that. Is it safe to come out at work (physically, emotionally, and for job security)? Is it safe to come out to all of your friends and family, or will you need to make some difficult decisions about who you come out to and who you don’t?
Also know that you can come out to different people at different times and in different ways. If you know a few people who are likely to respond really well, tell them first so that you have a system of support in place in case coming out to other people goes poorly. If it’s easier to come out to some people via written words, send e-mail or write a letter. If you want a large group of people to know at once, you can make a Facebook status about it. Maybe try buying or making a pin with your pronouns on it. I occasionally write my pronouns on my wrist in sharpie, although that’s something I do more for myself than for others. And if you want to give a more detailed explanation to some people, do!
Also know that if the way you identify and think about your own gender might change over time, and that’s okay! It might mean you are asking for different things from people, or that the way you come out may change over time. Gender (and sexuality) can be just as much of a process as coming out is.
"Dannielle, how do you stop yourself from getting angry about people (strangers, etc) making assumptions/comments about your gender presentation in public?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous
A few months ago I was apple picking (DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT) and a 6-year-old referred to my gf and I as “you and the girl.” Which, I KNEW was because he knew FOR SURE my gal was a gal because dresses and long hair, but he had no idea what TF I was… like was I a boy or a girl and how would he even ask and was it worth the time? He decided to just bypass the whole issue and move on bc the point of his conversation was, if my gf sat on my shoulders, she could easily reach the apples without needing the apple-picking-wire-tool. THAT WAS THE POINT, THE POINT WASN’T TO HAVE A LONG CONVO ABOUT MY GENDER. This six year old knew that and moved on without question.
Later talking about it, I thought it was pretty cool. He didn’t need clarity because it didn’t matter. I was a person and he wanted to talk to me and he didn’t give a fuck what I was peeing with, you know? (BC when you’re six, that’s all gender is, that’s it)
Gender, of course, is not that simple. HOWEVER, I felt I needed to start there because it wasn’t anything I’d thought about. I’d only thought about my experiences being referred to as the wrong gender in so many situations. I’d only thought about feeling uncomfortable and destroyed because I can’t dress the way I want or feel comfortable without being mis-identified by people who know nothing about me. AND THIS IS ALL BASED ON WHAT I’M WEARING AND HATS… it makes no sense and I hate it. I do get angry, I get VERY angry, especially because it isn’t about me. It’s about the thousands of people we talk to every day who go through what I’m going through. People who struggle even more with their identity and don’t know how to react. People who struggle and don’t know how to talk about it, who talk to, why it’s okay to feel comfortable, ANYTHING. People who don’t live in big-progressive-city-bubble like me. I get sad for my own feels, yea, but I get way more sad for all the other humans with feels.
I try to bypass those feelings by paying attention to all the positive shit that’s going on. AND I try to be a part of that positive. I like to have conversations with people close to me, or people I work with and let them know my stance on gender. My stance is confusing, because gender is confusing. BUT THE POINT IS, you can really get into someone’s brain and make them start to live life in a more inclusive way if you simply bring up the idea that (1) you don’t always know someone’s gender just by looking at them and (2) you don’t ever NEED to know someone’s gender… Honestly, why do you have to say “ma’am can we borrow your salt” when you can just say “excuse me, can we borrow your salt?” It’s a small change, but if we all made it, the world and the people around us would feel a lot more comfortable. We are lightyears ahead of where we were 20 years ago. And “progress” is an active word, we are in motion, currently changing how people think and act and speak. We can’t expect the entire world to change over night, we can just try as hard as possible to continue making that change. And I think we are doing just that.
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