She’s a tomboy.
Why does she dress like a boy?
It’s a phase, she’ll grow out of it.
When I was a kid, my signature outfit was always completed with high-top sneakers and a flat-brimmed hat. My straight brown hair was cut into a Dora-style bob and my favorite activities were centered around playing sports and getting muddy. Needless to say, I was familiar with all the things people say about kids that don’t fit into the gender binary that society is obsessed with preserving.
To many people’s discomfort, I did not “grow out of it” and still dress however I want in my day-to-day life. It always seemed odd to let my biological sex determine how I was going to present myself, and I never understood why what I wore mattered so much to other people.
As I grew up, the commentary on my choices started shifting a bit. I dressed very casually, for the most part, wearing sweatshirts and leggings paired with crocs for a majority of my high school days. But that didn’t mean I never dressed feminine. In my eyes, I wore what I wanted when I wanted. Why wouldn’t I?
But it seemed like everyone always had something to say about it.
Do you know how everyone has a thing? Something that everyone relates back to you and you’re just known for? Mine is backward-facing baseball hats. I don’t know why I don’t like wearing them forward, but I refuse to do so unless I am actually at a baseball game. It’s just something with the vibe of it that throws me off. It’s not like I purposely started wearing them backward to draw attention. I wasn’t in any way aware that it was a big deal or out of the ordinary. But for some reason, people became obsessed with it.
Why are you wearing your hat like a boy?
Are you a lesbian?
You know you look like a d*ke, right?
What did my sexuality have to do with my hat being turned in a different direction? I don’t know. I literally couldn’t tell you where this idea came from.
Women are in a trap no matter what they do. They’re either man-haters who are trying to be “one of the boys” or they’re anti-feminists who are “giving in to gender roles”. People love to throw around the terms “basic” and “pick me girl” to the point where we can’t like anything just for the sake of liking it anymore. Everything has to be justified.
I’m not going to pretend I didn’t struggle with this. (In fact, I still do). It took a lot out of me as a closeted queer woman to constantly feel invalidated and have to defend my sexuality. I was already so scared of people realizing that I might like men and women that I was on the lookout 24/7. Then I began policing my wardrobe and refusing to call any extra attention to myself or the way I expressed my identity. I was living life as if I was being watched every second of every day. And it sucked.
When I did dress feminine, they no longer told me that I dressed like a boy. Instead, the issue was with my shirt being low-cut, or my shorts were too short, or my stomach was showing too much, or anything else they would find that would tear me down. It’s a double-edged sword when it comes to these things.
I would watch FRIENDS and see Rachel playing football in her backward hat and braids wishing I looked like her. (Looking back, I was also wishing I could date her). I would see girls walking around looking confident in themselves and feel jealous that I questioned everything I put on my body.
Fast-forward some time, I finally got more comfortable in what I was wearing. Did I still flinch over questions that probably had no ill intent behind them? Yes. But at least I was pushing myself. The most important lesson I’ve learned about surviving in this world as a woman is that you are always going to be told that something you’re doing is wrong. The way I see it, you might as well do what you want.
Then came the problem of accepting my sexuality. It wasn’t just a matter of coming out. It was a matter of admitting that I had been lying for years. Now I had to admit the truth about the time I got defensive telling people I didn’t dress like that because I was bisexual. Which, to be fair, is still true in a sense. I don’t equate my sexual orientation to my gender expression. I see them as two separate parts of my identity that happen to overlap sometimes.
But it’s a lot harder to tell people that you’re bisexual when you’ve spent 18 years insisting that you’re straight. I felt like I was giving in and letting them think they were right; that they could stereotype anyone based on the way they dressed. I felt like I was in the wrong.
This is the part of the intersection between gender expression and sexuality that is so often disregarded. Everyone is different in the way they choose to show these things. Assumptions are one of the most harmful forces keeping young people from wanting to explore their sexuality.
I’m proud to say that I have grown a lot since coming to college. I express myself how I want to and, for the most part, don’t care what people have to say about it. I think there’s always going to be parts of us that want to please others. Or even parts of us that want to fit into what we’ve been told is “right”.
But, at the end of the day, it’s your body and there is no one “right” way to exist. Life is a series of choices that only you can make. As cliche as it sounds, my biggest motivation is making choices that would make that little girl in the high-top sneakers and flat-brimmed hat proud.