When I was a teenager I didn’t eat. The reason I didn’t eat is because I wanted to be thin. I wanted to be thin because I wanted no discernible physical indicators that I was a woman (or becoming one). As a naturally “large” child (not overweight, just naturally bigger than my peers in height and gait), I suspect the desire to appear androgynous was rooted in this. I was, always very noticeably, a “girl”. I had long hair, big eyes, full lips. I had breasts and periods before any of my peers did. I LOOKED like a woman before any of my peers did. I had unwanted attention before any of my peers did. Frankly, it was a bitch. I wanted to be invisible. No, I wanted to be androgynous.
Interestingly, when I decided to starve myself sexless, I didn’t cut all my hair off. I was terrified of cutting all my hair off. The reason for this is that I wanted to hide. I didn’t want anyone to see my face: my face was proof I was a girl. So was my hair, but my face gave more away, so the hair stayed and the face hid.
It was blissful, being thin and 17. I have no idea why I so closely associated the idea of being thin with being androgynous. I blame Brian Molko and my teenage angst. They are the easiest to blame, anyway. It was probably caught up in a history of Bad Experiences. There was also the preoccupation with wanting to be childlike. I so longed to look like a child when I was a child. It was inevitable really.
I spent a lot of time in gay bars in my formative years. I remember one snarky little DJ commenting to me “you may look like a dyke but you’re sure as hell not, so why don’t you get out of here?”. I threw my drink at him and flounced out. I left not because I “wasn’t a dyke” but because I did not want to dance to the set of a DJ who was closed-minded and a twat. What the fuck was it to him if I wanted to dress “like a lesbian” (also, wtf)? Actually, the comment on my appearance was a compliment, the attitude that “straight” (as perceived by him) females who dress how they want to were dress were not welcome was unacceptable. I never went to that bar again (and believe me, they missed out – in those days I could drink 20 shots of Tuaca in one sitting and still buy champagne for the taxi ride home).
By the way, said DJ looked like a walking toilet brush – not that I would discriminate against him because of it.
Anyway, I got to my twenties and it didn’t matter so much. I had reached a place where I was comfortable in my skin. It made sense, it did its job, I was healthy and I was attractive. What more do you need? I used this self-contentment as an opportunity to cut all my hair off. I had a pixie cut, and indeed I looked like a very angry pixie. But then something bad happened. I became ill and hospitalised with a gynealogical condition. I remember staring at myself in the mirror at the hospital, IV drip stand propped up behind me, tethering me to the inevitable: I am a woman. I am here because I am a woman. I am sick because I am a woman. This isn’t fucking fair. I had short hair and was androgynous in my demeanour; I could not match the reflection in the mirror with the reason I was standing in that fucking hospital bathroom.
So I started to grow my hair out. Suddenly I felt ridiculous pretending I was “of no fixed gender” because it was so obvious that I was. Biology had failed me. Not really, but somehow that is what I perceived it to mean. The illness was like a punishment for denying my gender.
Soon afterwards, I got pregnant. During the pregnancy my hair grew immensely and I obviously did not retain any vague semblance of a waif. Pre-pixie I hadn’t had my hair longer than a short bob for years. During the pregnancy it felt important to me that I let my hair grow as long as possible. I have no doubt now that this was tied up in the gender thing. A pregnant person is a woman, a pregnant person HAS to be a woman. Ergo, I will grow my hair, I will grow a baby, I will look like a woman and perhaps I will finally be ok with being a woman.
Nice try. The pregnancy turned out to be the easy bit. I assumed I could just grow this baby, push it out and go back to being unconventionally-gendered. Nope. There was breastfeeding to contend with. I had never wanted these breasts, let alone wanted to feed an infant with them! There was the strange shape I had become. I was no longer slim with lines (I was always shaped like a ruler – I wasn’t thin but I wasn’t curvy), I was no longer evidently pregnant, I was… well I was everywhere, to be honest. My stomach was saggy and stretchmarked, my face was puffy, my clothes didn’t fit, I looked like I had been eaten by pregnancy and spat out with the fat and the gristle. I looked like a woman, or someone who had been a woman once. I couldn’t look how I wanted to look so I just let my hair keep growing and started hiding again. This time I genuinely wanted to be invisible because I knew I could no longer become physically androgynous the way I did when I was a teenager. My body simply wouldn’t let me. I couldn’t starve; I knew this. I had to eat to maintain a plentiful supply of milk for my child – and besides which, I LIKED eating. I hadn’t had to starve myself for years – I was happy at the size I was and I still FELT androgynous. Now I didn’t. Now I felt resigned to being a woman and I hated it.
So then came the depression. I didn’t shrink. I didn’t give a fuck. I wasn’t anyone. I was a woman who wanted to be invisible. There was nothing to me or my identity but the fact that I had spawned a child. I felt utterly used up.
Over time (and antidepressants) this changed. I started remembering who I was, or at least who I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be the drab, invisible woman who wore mum jeans and baggy t-shirts and occasionally hacked at her hair to make it easier to manage. I wanted to feel like me again. Problem was, pregnancy and motherhood HAD changed me. I finally felt less consumed by womanhood, but I didn’t necessarily feel as though I needed to reflect this physically as much as I did when I was younger. After all, I didn’t need to hide anymore. I was no longer that awkward teenager who equated androgyny with simplicity. Mo’ gender mo’ problems, right?
Still right. And there are bloggers who can address that sentiment much more eloquently than I can. After all, this post is a hideous compilation of introspection, nothing more political. These days I am subscribing less to physical androgyny and more to not giving a fuck what you see when you look at me. I shaved off half my hair in tribute to all the fucks I have ever given. I wear dungarees. I wore a crop top this summer (with dungarees; but still, my stretchmarked sides were bare for all to see)! I do occasionally get sneering looks from mummies in the playground but I just think back to Bog Brush and remember he’s probably still working in that little bar with his little mind, never understanding what a joy it is to accept others for who they are or who they think they are. Why SHOULDN’T I be androynous? Why shouldn’t I be a woman? Why shouldn’t I be whoever the fuck I want to be?
This post is dedicated to Twitter and all the fucking weirdos I follow on it. I would probably still be giving fucks if it wasn’t for realising that there are others like me: they may not live next door but they are out there and they understand. The rest is unimportant. If you don’t like what you see, don’t lick it, and all that.
(But you will. Because you’re curious. And if you’re not curious you might as well be dead.)