I’ve been thinking a lot about gender. If you look around online, there are a lot of theories about gender and what it means and how to do it and express it. My conception of gender is that you are what you say and know yourself to be, but what does it mean to apply a label to yourself? I’ve often pondered what exactly I should call myself. My internal conception of gender has been changing, not to mention my outward presentation and my ideal aesthetic. Through virtual and real life means, I’ve been doing my best to explore who and what I am but…I’m not sure if this is ever going to be a process I’ll finish. Maybe I’m not supposed to finish.
My earliest memories of experimenting with gender were strictly in virtual spaces, since my mother strictly refused to entertain my notions of dyeing my hair a bright teal. I would often roleplay online as someone with a radically different look than I had, and I would select pictures of girls with dyed hair, facial piercings and tattoos to represent myself online. Sometimes, when I was feeling particularly daring, I would pick an anime boy to be my avatar and I would romance all of the other girls in the roleplay. Pretending to be someone who had the courage to experiment with their look was addicting, and I adored roleplays for the chance to explore the character I got to write. But I didn’t just try on new personalities and have cool supernatural powers; I got to try on new modes of gender expression. I would explore different fashions, aesthetics and new ways of being a woman (or a man!). Perhaps this love of trying on new identities has sparked my eternal admiration of the concept of shapeshifters. To this day, I still love writing, and I’ve learned to love it for it’s own sake. But there’s an especial sweetness to it when I get to be someone far more interesting looking than the basic athlete I was in high school and college.
Through the exploration of online spaces, I also began exploring my gender in reality through changing my own expression through fashion. One of my most recent purchases that I’m particularly proud of is my new leather motorcycle jacket. It is black, with beautiful silver hardware and a buckle at the waist and it gives me the sexiest biker look imaginable. When I slide into my leather jacket and pair it with my Doc Martens, I slide into a more comfortable version of myself. Wrapped in leather and flannel, I feel a pure aesthetic bliss. That thrill that I felt when I pretended to be an edgy anime girl online is something I get to feel now, but a thrill that’s based in my reality and presentation.
Gender-fuckery is something of a personal subject with me. I think I developed a particular love for androgyny and androgynously beautiful characters because I had a somewhat repressive household. Growing up in the South and in a white, conservative and Christian household, I had a lot expectations already put upon me for how I should look and act as a girl. These expectations were mitigated because I was an athlete, so I got to have some lee way when I cut my hair short or wore unfeminine clothing in the service of sport. But I didn’t fully escape the female beauty expectations. One of the more ridiculous examples was when my mom taped a sign to my mirror that read: “Don’t leave the house without eye makeup!”. The sign even had a little black and white clip art of an artfully made up eye. That sign didn’t exactly force me into wearing makeup, but I remember it very strongly.
Another instance was when I timidly suggested to my mother that I wanted to dress up as a male character from one of my favorite mangas. I remember feeling flutters in the pit of my stomach as I thought about binding the mosquito bites I called breasts. This conversation didn’t lead anywhere, and I didn’t end up cosplaying as a cute anime boy, but this notion of ‘cross-playing’ as it is called, stuck with me. After these timid gender mixing beginnings, I found myself drawn to drag and drag artists in a visceral way. I consumed all drag content with an all consuming appetite; from RuPaul’s Drag Race, to the classic To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, to the edgier alt scene of Dragula. I started following drag artists on Instagram, watching how people transformed themselves into a sensual and glamorous spectacle and I long for that. Watching drag artists love themselves so much and make themselves into art has been pushing me into more honestly embracing my own gender aesthetic. I know drag is a spectacle; it’s an illusion and a show, but it makes me want to try to bring a little sparkle of that into my quotidienne existence.
My long history with gender-fuckery and the slow evolution of how I relate to my gender has led me to question a lot of things. For a while, I explored the non-binary identity, trying it on to see if it would fit better than the strict confines of ‘being a girl’. I confided in a few friends that I didn’t ‘feel like a woman’, and I asked a few of them to refer to me with they/them and she/her pronouns, as well as by a chosen name. My friends, as wonderful as they are, had no problem adjusting when I asked this, and I couldn’t be more grateful to them for giving me the time and space to explore my gender. As I’ve grown, I feel that the label non-binary doesn’t really fit me as well as I’d hoped. I don’t know that I feel like the term ‘woman’ fully embodies my identity and mental landscape, so I’ll keep exploring my expression and how other people explain their gender to get a grip on these messy feelings.
Gender is messy. For me, it’s a slow process of aesthetic joy and frustration and trying to find terms that fit me best. Being online and having good friends gave me the space I needed to begin examining my presentation and altering it to suit me better. Even if you’re cis, I highly recommend taking the time to sit and think about why you do your gender the way you do. You might discover some surprising truths and come out of your exploration with a new mode of expression, or, a deeper understanding of why you love your aesthetic. I shared my story of anime and drag queens to show you how I’ve altered it over time. Now, I hope this inspires people to tell their own stories and start their own journeys of gender and expression exploration.
How would you describe yourself? How would you describe your expression and style? What’s your gender?