I figured it might be a good idea to start off by letting you get a look at one of the first pieces I wrote on examining my own gender. It’s about three years old now, but still highly relevant to how I understand myself, which of course colours how I understand the people around me. So without further ado, The Haircut:
On Tuesday evening, I was walking home from the bus stop at Smith and Broadway (a walk of a mere 4 blocks). It was a brisk evening; the wind was to my face and I was eager for the warmth of my apartment. Leaning forward into the wind, my mittenless hands thrust deeply into my pockets, I felt my hair whipping around my face, caught up in the wind, defying gravity as I strode along Broadway. At that moment, I became extremely aware of the length of my stride, the shape of my silhouette beneath the street-lamps, and the speed and feel of my gait. This awareness transported me back to my childhood for a moment, and I had a very vivid memory of what I feel was a formative gendering moment.
I was maybe ten years old, I think. I was at my aunt’s house. She took me aside and told me very straightforwardly that I walked like a boy. She demonstrated this very stiff- looking, awkward walk that teetered side-to-side and seemed like more of a waddle than anything else. Initially I didn’t feel that my walk was something that should be such a big issue, but the way my aunt spoke, it was as if I should feel shame for my stride because I wasn’t “doing it right.” Looking back on this from where I am now prompted an immediate and powerful “what the actual fuck was THAT all about?!” response, but in my memory, the ten-year-old Sarah did feel that shame and inadequacy because, well, she was a girl and she should have looked like one, right? My aunt proceeded to instruct me on how to properly walk like a girl: your steps should be in front of each other in as close a straight line as possible, not a zig-zag. Take small steps. Allow the hips to sway in an easy, weightless, feminine way. Keep your pelvis tucked in toward the spine and try not to step heavily. Doing all these things, she told me, would make me more of a girl. After this feast of gender lessons, I was offered a dessert in the form of a lesson on manicuring my own nails to keep my hands soft and delicate. To this day, I push back my cuticles out of habit without even realizing I’m doing it.
Snapping back to my reality, back to my awareness of how my body was moving through space and the shape of my gait, I gave a more thorough consideration of how I have come to perform my gender. My dress is neither overtly masculine nor extremely feminine, and as much as I enjoy fancying up from time to time and wearing a dress and makeup, one of these days I really do want to show up to a formal event wearing a suit instead of a dress. My hair was long (well, long for me, past my chin), and though I usually wear it short, I have worn it in a very feminine bob-type cut for the last several years. That has been fine, but in the last little while, I’ve been feeling restless and ill-at- ease with myself in a way that is difficult to pinpoint and put into words. Maybe I’ve been depressed. Maybe I’ve been in a rut. Maybe it was time to make an adjustment, to experiment, to branch out and change something.
As these thoughts rolled around in my mind, I realized how comfortable and confident I felt, striding down Broadway in such a masculine way. It felt easy. This small moment, this seven-minute, 4-block walk caused a total shift in my understanding of both my womanhood and my queerness, and how I inhabit these spaces. I realized in that moment that I am under no real obligation to constantly, consciously construct myself as feminine if I don’t feel like it. This moved my thoughts to another aspect of my life, specifically the fact that although I am very, very gay, I pass as straight most of the time.
That is to say that when I meet people, they assume that I am straight until I tell them otherwise. I want to pause here for a moment and specify that there is nothing inherently *wrong* with passing, so long as you don’t wield your passing privilege as power in a problematic way, and I don’t think that I do (but I can never be 100% sure, but anyway). My passing relates mostly to these carefully constructed performances of femininity both in my physical presentation and in my general manner—performances that I have been growing increasingly uncomfortable with.
These realizations led me to a decision to engage in a personal experiment. I decided to methodically deconstruct my gender performance, and try making a few changes that would better reflect on the surface how I perceive myself. Conveniently, I had a hair appointment booked for last night, so I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to change things up a bit. My hair cut was drastic. I cut almost all of it off. My stylist is amazing and skilled, and gave me a pretty fucking fantastic (and pretty fucking short) hair cut that is definitely well beyond anything I’ve done before. It is, for lack of a better descriptive term, a VERY DYKEY HAIR CUT. Which is exactly what I wanted. I have never felt so good about my hair. When I saw the finished result, I said “Oh. HELL yes. Perfect.” So today was my first day inhabiting a body that does not pass. Today was my first day in which I had consciously constructed my appearance and performance to match who I feel I really am. And who I feel I am is not a butch lesbian, not a boy or even a tomboy. I feel like I am a woman marbled with masculinity, a woman who loves women (and some feminine men, heh), a woman who loves to occupy both sides of the gender binary at once, as well as playing on both farther sides of the scale from time to time. And I feel like I am living that with just a little more integrity today.