I wear clothing from the men’s section of the clothing store. My leg hairs are longer than most of the hair in my head. I never wear any makeup, no matter if I’m going out to buy bread in the morning or if I’m going to a party. People often call me “sir”. Others hurl slurs at me, sometimes calling me a “dyke”, sometimes calling me a “faggot”, both showing their disapproval of my physical presentation. I see little kids asking their mothers, in whispers, if I am a boy or a girl. And people ask me all the time, why do I want to look like a man?
The answer is simple. I don’t.
And I do not look like a man.
I look like a woman who refuses to perform femininity.
My unshaven legs do not make me like a man, they’re MY legs, and MY hair, and I am a woman. My “boy’s” clothes are worn on my body, the body of a woman. My naked, unpainted face is the face of a woman. I am a woman, and this is not defined by a haircut or a choice of attire, or by lipstick or high heels, or boxer briefs and men’s deodorant worn over fuzzy unshaven armpits. There’s nothing manly about me.
I am a woman, not by choice, but by fact. Because “woman” is a reality imposed to me, from the day I was born and given a woman’s name, to the day I was six and I was told I couldn’t take off my shirt in a blazing hot summer day because one day I would have breasts, to last night when I walked home in a state of hyper-awareness, my house keys tightly clutched between my fingers, tracking the movements of every man in the dark streets.
I am a woman because, since before my own birth, when an ultrasonography picture informed my parents that I would be born with a vulva, I have been groomed to be a member of the woman class, the breeding stock class, the sex class, the lower class. I was taught to be accomodating and speak softly, to not bring attention to myself and to spare men’s feelings. I was taught that the boy who pulled my hair and threw his toy train at me, aiming for my head, probably did it because he liked me, and boys will be boys anyway. I learned that, if I did the same to him, I was a troublemaker. That my assertiveness is unladylike. That one day I would bear some man’s children, and this was pretty much destiny. That my worth was in my looks, more than in my brain. I am a woman because I was taught all these things, and I am a woman because people expect me to know these lessons by heart, and follow every one of them.
When people ask me why do I want to look like a man, what they’re actually asking is why am I not marking myself as a woman. They’re asking why do I fail to perform the role of femininity, to make myself pleasing and unthreatening to the eyes of the upper class, the man class. My mother once voiced her concerns to me, that my looks would make me a target for male violence, and she is right to be concerned. I am perceived as a member of the lower class who refuses to bear the marks and play the role imposed to me. I refuse to shave my legs to look like a pre-pubescent girl, innocent and vulnerable, or to wear shoes that force me to walk on the tips of my toes, slow and precariously balanced, and this makes men angry, because this is a counscious act of rebellion. This is me saying I am not theirs. I will not please them. I do not desire their approval or their attention. And men often get violent when we refuse to cater to them.
My choices of visual presentation make me a cautionary tale. I am the hairy, ugly, lesbian feminist, the one they warn other women about. “Don’t be like her”, they say, “or no man will ever want you”. But I don’t want them either, and I do not want to look like them, or be like them, or have anything to do with them. I want to be free from men and their bullshit standards. I want to strut around proudly, shamelessly unladylike, looking like a woman looks when she’s not covered in face paint and restrictive clothing, when she doesn’t care about pleasing men.
I do not look like a man, and nothing will ever make me look like one. I am pure, unadulterated woman. I choose myself over them, I choose women over them. If that makes them hate me, so be it. Because I am a woman, they would hate me no matter what I did.
This post was originally released on Tumblr back in February 4th 2014, exactly three years ago, and it is still one of my most reblogged and most commented posts, both for good and for bad. The text was originally inspired by a conversation I had with my mother, right after I walked home with a fresh haircut, which prompted an angry comment from her: “it’s OK to be a lesbian, but why do you want to look like a man?”.
I chewed on what she had said for about a week and came up with this text, more as a vent than anything else, and I got so many interesting responses and thought-provoking comments that it ended up starting discussions on femininity and womanhood that changed my world view. I’m grateful for all the people I met and interacted with because of this post, including the wonderful woman who would later become my partner. I am a different woman today because of it.
I don’t think my mother will ever read this text, and I don’t think she will ever know what she inadvertently started. But in a way, I’m thankful for it as well. She taught me what it means to be a woman, and by challenging her teachings, I’ve found my own path through womanhood.
I’m hoping this blog can start just as many new discussions and that it becomes a space for exploration and self-reflection. Let’s see where we are three years from now.