Struggling With Female Masculinity
I was never a tomboy
I was never a tomboy. While younger, there was no ounce of masculinity in me. I wasn’t out in the field playing with boys, I didn’t put my foot down and refuse to wear the frilly dresses. In fact, I loved those dresses. I clamored after them and forced my mom to get them for me. Always, I donned them complete with a hat that was just as frilly, lacy socks and white flats. I was a very girly girl, surrounded by other girly girls. So, you can understand my shock when I started getting the urge to dress more ‘boyish’.
I grew up in a home and in a society that had strict social roles and responsibilities. My parents occasionally say things like, ‘why would a boy pierce his ears?” We were walking in town last Saturday, and a boy walked by my mother and I. He was wearing a red sweater and lime green shorts. My mother was aghast. She asked why he would wear that, claiming that the material (of the shorts) was for ladies. Chuckling, I wondered when we started gendering fabrics.
I am confused.
When I used to think of masculinity, I used to think of the social roles that have been assigned to men. What came to mind were the emotional (or lack thereof) attributes that men were given. Thinking back, the romance novels and comedies I devoured, must have also played their part in cementing these ideas in my head. I thought of masculinity and maleness as one thing. Attributing to masculinity, male characteristics: dominance, leadership, aggressiveness. Thinking of my own secret desires to dress like a boy as deviant.
Coming out as gay didn’t help things. Through physical and online interactions, I have met masculine presenting women. There are everywhere now, in the shows I watch, the women I love, the women I befriend. I was surprised at my attraction towards them. Though, I keep saying that I do not have a type there is something about these women that stirs something in me. For the longest time, I used to hate admitting it because I thought it had to do with my attraction to men. That I only liked these women because they reminded me of men. I may have figured out that that wasn’t the case, but I still haven’t figured out my hidden desire to be more masculine. Is it rooted in self-expression, or am I trying to show that I am gay so that I can attract women seeing as masculine women are more visible?
In his book, Female Masculinity, (Duke University Press, 1998), Jack (Judith) Halberstam seeks to identify what constitutes masculinity. Though he does not claim to have definitive answer to the what is masculinity question, he asserts that, “although we seem to have a difficult time defining masculinity as a society, we have little trouble recognizing it and indeed we have spent massive amounts of time and money ratifying and supporting the versions of masculinity that we enjoy and trust.” He argues that masculinity is tied to maleness and to power and domination. That female masculinity affords us a glimpse of how masculinity is constituted and that the shapes and forms of modern masculinity are best showcased within female masculinity. Another point he raises is that it is okay for girls to be tomboys up to a certain age. Girls are expected to be more girly after adolescence strikes and it’s a wonder that there are masculine women who emerge at the other end of adolescence.
Jack or Judith himself, has an interesting story. Assigned female at birth, he uses the pronoun he/his. He acknowledges that he is a bit of a free floater when it comes to pronouns. He is sometimes referred to as Judith, even on the books he has published and completely refuses to resolve his gender ambiguity.
Dad shirts and baggy pants
For the most part of my life, just as Jack/Judith captured in his book, I have tied masculinity to maleness, linking them in a way that remains hard to separate. Even when presented with female masculinity, I viewed it as an alternative form of masculinity. A kind of little almost playful construct. Like these masculine women were just playing with a toy which they would put back soon. Masculinity has little to do with sexed bodies, that’s what I am learning. I am starting to see it as sort of a vibe, an aura that has nothing to do with men. Constantly, I am unlearning all the male attributes I had affixed to it. I am learning that there is no one way to be masculine. That masculinity doesn’t have to fit a certain mold, or look a certain way. It is more than a sharp fade, dad shirts and baggy pants.
Now, I have a desire to dress in a way I have been told all my life is masculine. I have traits within me that I have been taught to assign to men. As I am very femme presenting, these desires are constantly warring within me. It’s hard to put into words but inside, I feel ‘masculine’. The thing however is, I still don’t know what masculine is and what it means and I am still learning. I worry that if I am too ‘masculine’, whatever that is, I won’t attract the masculine presenting women I am attracted to. It’s a circus, this mind of mine. I have no idea what to do with all these thoughts. However, I am opening myself up to learning, to challenging some of my strongly held beliefs about gender and to unlearning.