In which I chart the self
Monday was National Coming Out Day in my home country. I have no specific coming out to do, but I thought I would reflect on how my understanding of myself has evolved especially over the past few years.
I’ve always identified as female, and while I don’t necessarily foresee that changing, the way I choose to express my gender identity never ceases to surprise me. My longstanding fascination with baby-name books once led me to a book that organized names into categories (as well as the typical alphabetical listing). My name fell into a category called Feminissima, whose description went something like, “If these names were dresses, they would have frills and flowers covering every inch of them.” I remember resenting this imposition—I didn’t consider myself an overly feminine girl, or at least not a consistently feminine one—and feeling that resentment on behalf of the other names in the category. Would all those people really be okay with this narrow definition foisted upon them by sheer virtue of their names? I doubled it.
My sartorial gender expression varies depending on how I’m feeling toward my body, and has done since I was thirteen. I’m pretty sure I don’t know anyone who hasn’t suffered from some body-image issue, and from my limited vantage point I judge mine to be rather run-of-the-mill: I haven’t experienced the dysphoria that some of my friends and acquaintances confront. Suffice it to say the ability to think of myself as unconditionally beautiful and capable of different types of beauty is an active journey that I choose to go on every day, and that it still lapses from time to time, despite having a much firmer foundation than it used to. A baffled what did I think was wrong with the way I looked? now accompanies my every viewing of photos from adolescence.
Since being on my own in a city with a lot of options, I’ve discovered and explored a desire to experiment with more structurally androgynous looks (as opposed to, say, the androgynous looks of my teens, which I put together less thoughtfully in a shamefaced attempt to hide my body). On the flip side, I’ve even more recently begun to experiment with eye makeup, which heretofore intimidated me given my significantly impaired eyesight. Both of these pursuits have freed me up to try things it never occurred to me that I might like. They’ve helped me to appreciate my physical features and give love to parts of myself that I may have neglected—for example, I’m admiring my nose more often. I’ve been admiring noses in general more often. It could be the positive influence of Instagram. Yes, that exists.
Perhaps paradoxically, they’ve also nudged me along the self-expression pathway by allowing me to imitate others. This is where my notions of female presentation and femininity get muddled, because I have a history of styling myself after my favorite musicians, many of whom are male and of a certain era. (See above selfie, created last weekend.) Within this group, the ones with the strongest draw to imitation are the ones I’m sexually attracted to, which leaves me with the question of whether I want to be them or be with them. I think those desires can coexist; still, it’s a question I continue to consider as I come into my own as an artist.
Nor am I sure if this is a fixation I’m supposed to outgrow or have outgrown. For now I don’t see the need for self-judgment, especially if such style studies are making me more comfortable in my skin and boosting my confidence, which seems to be the case.
The way I analyze and discuss things, particularly music, has been a flirtation with masculinity/masculine presentation throughout my life, as I’ve noted, regardless of how I present physically. Essentially, I’m looking forward to deeper engagement with the aspects of my person and personality that fall all along the gender spectrum. I think the more I commit to that openness, the more complete I will feel.
P. S. I can’t go without mentioning that a smidge of external validation here and there hasn’t hurt, although it is 100% not the point. A friend and former coworker once called me a fashionista and frequently says that seeing my looks inspires her to put extra effort into hers. Having never expected to be the kind of person who had that effect on people, I found my self-perception changed for the better. So if you think someone looks good, tell them!