This is a guest post by CloudNoodle.
I have a confession to make. I used to have the worst case of ‘I’m not like other girls’. And the funny thing is, it took me realizing that I’m not exactly a girl at all to be able to see the internalized misogyny that contributed to that sort of thinking. Only then I was able to accept and embrace the fact that I am, actually, a lot like other girls and that the ‘girly’ part of myself is just as important and deserves love as the rest.
It started with the simple things, like clothes. Going as far back as my earliest memories, probably as soon as I realized there was a difference between boys and girls, I hated color pink with a passion, I refused to wear or have around anything that had the least bit of pink on it; my feelings are less strong now, but I’m still not fond of it. Around the second grade, I started taking my brother’s clothes to wear to school, and I was actually pretty lucky because my Mom caught on pretty quickly and I started getting my own boy clothes, no questions or arguments.
Then there were friendships with girls. At around 10 years old, everyone I knew broke up into groups of girls and boys. After spending most of my early childhood hanging out with boys, I found myself having no choice but to become friends with girls. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them, but I couldn’t understand them. I felt lonely and wanted to fit in, but I never felt like one of them. One of my most vivid memories of that time is this one time when I was hanging out with a group of girls from my class and they decided to play Spice Girls but there were too many of us and so I got the role of assistant which meant that they were practicing their dance moves while I was left alone pretend-organizing their tour. I feel like this pretty much sums up my relationship with my girl friends during that time and even later on.
In time I developed a mental separation of sorts: I was with them for the time being, but I wasn’t like them. I changed my tactics. I took pride in doing things that separated me from the girls. I was a good student and liked learning in general, but I decided to focus on science. The girls in my class were the ones who often learned the material by heart without understanding it, so I took extra pride in being better than them and not needing to put an effort to memorize things because I understood them. And the fact that I sometimes cried over homework when I couldn’t understand something? I tried to ignore that. I was not like other girls and that was very important to me.
That was all I had words for. I had no concepts of ‘transgender’, ‘gender identity’ or ‘genderqueer’. My native language uses the same word for sex and gender. I didn’t know of any people who weren’t straight and cisgender. I didn’t know that I could be something other than female since that was what everybody saw me as, that’s what they said when I was born. But thing is, I did feel somewhat female and perhaps it was the worst part. Because, quite unconsciously, while separating myself from everything to do with ‘other girls’, I also developed a sense that being a girl meant being worse or lesser – less serious, less able, less lovable, just less.
It was only a few years ago that I began questioning my sexuality, which coincided with me starting university too. So I started exploring the corners of the internet talking about sexuality and gender. Suddenly I found all the words that had been missing in my vocabulary before – ‘genderfluid’, ‘genderqueer’, ‘non-binary’. I found out that you could be transgender without identifying solely as the opposite binary gender and that, in fact, there were a lot of gender identities and experiences. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone and my experiences began making sense to me, little by little.
As I was learning about gender and sexuality and examining my own, I also started learning about feminism. I read about girls and young women being told that they just aren’t suited for science, that they can’t be leaders, and I got really angry and I realized it was because it applied to me too – I was one of them. Yet, still, I thought, these women who were scientists and leaders were not like most women, they were better, they were like men.
Thankfully, this was not the end of my story. I learned that one can internalize the toxic ideas society imposes, such as hateful and demeaning attitudes towards gay, bisexual people, and women. I realized that people could participate in bigotry against others who are like them and hate parts of themselves, which is the same thing really as hating your whole self. If you don’t accept a part of you, you don’t accept the whole of you, because how can you separate the different parts of yourself? You can’t put your bisexuality or femaleness into a Horcrux and hide it away. That’s no way to lead a happy life.
Like many others, I realized that the society as a whole works to teach us that being feminine equals being frivolous, demeaning and inherently lesser than being masculine. It took some time but I finally convinced myself that feeling like a girl and liking things men are expected to frown at with contempt was OK. There’s nothing wrong with devoting time to things that are happy and fluffy and cute and make you feel good about yourself and your femininity. In fact, it’s great and you’re stronger for it because it means that you love your whole self.
Once I’ve accepted the feminine side of myself, I finally felt comfortable with my whole self. At last, I could say that I’m non-binary (or genderqueer) with ease and without the uncomfortable feeling that I’m saying so just because being a woman is somehow demeaning. I was also able to recognize that, despite not liking many traditionally girly things, I do, actually, feel like a girl sometimes. And even when I don’t feel female at all, I still feel like I’m one of the girls, like I belong.
Honestly, right now, I’m not sure if I would experience gender in any way at all, if so many things in society weren’t gendered – movies, occupations, character traits, clothes. As it is, though, I can’t fully separate society-imposed gender roles and traits from the way I experience gender. All I know is that I don’t fully identify with either ‘male’ or ‘female’. Sometimes I feel more like one, sometimes more like the other, sometimes I feel like something else entirely or nothing at all. You could call me genderfluid, I suppose, because it explains how my gender changes day-to-day, but I prefer genderqueer or non-binary, because it better describes my overall experience (and to be perfectly honest, I just like the word better). But no matter what I feel like any given day, femininity feels like an important part of myself. My friendships with women don’t feel fake or forced anymore, I’m proud to be one of the girls.